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Jacob Comments on Interface Technology for Tech Review

In an article published in MIT Tech Review, Professor Rob Jacob in the Department of Computer Science commented on a new 3D interface called “Leap Motion” that allows users to gesture to interact with their computers.

According to the company, since the launch of the product in late July, users have downloaded more than 1 million apps that connect with the technology.

MIT Tech Review reports, “Yet after one month and a raft of ‘meh’ product reviews citing problems like difficulty controlling apps and tired arms, the sardine-can-sized gadget—which connects to a computer’s USB port and tracks the movement of your hands and fingers as they move above its sensor—seems to have lost its steam.”

“Things involving human-computer interfaces often move extremely slowly. It may take a while before the Leap reaches its full potential,” Jacob, told Tech Review.

This story was first reported in MIT TechReview, August 29, 2013, by Rachel Metz.


Engineers Develop Early Warning System for Cholera Epidemics

In two recently published papers, School of Engineering researchers have established new techniques for predicting the severity of seasonal cholera epidemics months before they occur and with a greater degree of accuracy than other methods based on remote satellite imaging. Taken together, findings from these two papers may provide the essential lead time to strengthen intervention efforts before the outbreak of cholera in endemic regions.

Cholera, caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, is rare in the United States and other industrialized nations. However, globally, cholera cases have increased steadily since 2005 and the disease still occurs in many places including Africa, Southeast Asia, and Haiti. According to the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 3–5 million cholera cases every year, more than 100,000 cases are fatal. Image credit: CDC.gov

The team, led by Shafiqul Islam, professor of civil and environmental engineering, used satellite data to measure chlorophyll and algae, organic substances, and flora that also support growth of the cholera bacteria. Using satellite images, the researchers created a “satellite water marker” (SWM) index to estimate the presence of organic matter including chlorophyll and plankton based on wavelength measurements.

In a separate paper published online in the journal Environmental Modeling and Software, ahead of the September 1 print edition, Antarpreet Jutla, EG13, Islam, and Ali Akanda, EG13, showed that air temperature in the Himalayan foothills can also be a factor in predicting spring cholera.

“A Water Marker Monitored by Satellites to Predict Seasonal Endemic Cholera,” Antarpreet Jutla, Ali Shafqat Akanda, Anwar Huq, Abu Syed Golam Faruque, Rita Colwell, and Shafiqul Islam, Remote Sensing Letters, published on line before print June 3, 2013, Vol. 4, No. 8, 822–831.http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2150704X.2013.802097

The research reported in this paper was supported, in part, from National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants 1RCTW008587-01 and 2R01A1039129-11A2.

“A Framework for Predicting Endemic Cholera Using Satellite Derived Environmental Determinants,” Antarpreet S. Jutla, Ali S. Akanda, Shafiqul Islam, Environmental Monitoring and Software, published online before print http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envsoft.2013.05.008

The research reported in this paper was supported through NIH funding under award number 1RCTW008587-01. Dr. Jutla acknowledges the support from Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV.


Entrepreneurial Engineers Design Water-Saving, Color-Changing Shower head

Engineers Brett Andler, E13, Joo Kang, A13, Sam Woolf, E13, and Tyler Wilson, E13, designed a water-saving, color-changing showerhead.

The recent graduates worked on their project, Uji, as part of their senior capstone thesis with Senior Lecturer Gary Leisk. The Uji team members were winners in the 2013 $100K business plan competition hosted by Tufts Gordon Institute.

The shower turns from green to red after seven minutes of use. In initial reports submitted to the School of Engineering, the team determined that, on average the Uji showerhead, will shorten shower times by over 10 percent. This estimate is now being reported as a 12 percent decrease.

The team and the technology was featured on National Public Radio’s weekly innovation blog  “All Tech Considered”  and was subsequently featured by FastCompany, and USA Today.

The team is now piloting the technology on university campuses. The Uji website claims that Uji showerheads count as low flow showerheads enabling universities to earn LEED green credits toward certification.

Follow Uji on Twitter (@UjiShower) to keep up with the team.


Silkworms Stitch Together Engineering and Art

Professor Fiorenzo Omenetto in the Department of Biomedical Engineering collaborated with the Mediated Matter Research Group at the MIT Media Lab to produce the Silk Pavilion–a stunning geometric structure constructed by silkworms and guided by engineers.

The Silk Pavilion explores the relationship between digital and biological fabrication on product and architectural scales.

SILK PAVILION from Mediated Matter Group on Vimeo.

The primary structure was created of 26 polygonal panels made of silk threads laid down by a CNC (Computer-Numerically Controlled) machine. Inspired by the silkworm’s ability to generate a 3D cocoon out of a single multi-property silk thread (1km in length), the overall geometry of the pavilion was created using an algorithm that assigns a single continuous thread across patches providing various degrees of density.

Overall density variation was informed by the silkworm itself deployed as a biological “printer” in the creation of a secondary structure. A swarm of 6,500 silkworms was positioned at the bottom rim of the scaffold spinning flat non-woven silk patches as they locally reinforced the gaps across CNC-deposited silk fibers. Following their pupation stage the silkworms were removed. Resulting moths can produce 1.5 million eggs with the potential of constructing up to 250 additional pavilions.

Affected by spatial and environmental conditions including geometrical density as well as variation in natural light and heat, the silkworms were found to migrate to darker and denser areas. Desired light effects informed variations in material organization across the surface area of the structure. A season-specific sun path diagram mapping solar trajectories in space dictated the location, size and density of apertures within the structure in order to lock-in rays of natural light entering the pavilion from South and East elevations. The central oculus is located against the East elevation and may be used as a sun-clock.

Parallel basic research explored the use of silkworms as entities that can “compute” material organization based on external performance criteria. Specifically, we explored the formation of non-woven fiber structures generated by the silkworms as a computational schema for determining shape and material optimization of fiber-based surface structures.

Research and Design by the Mediated Matter Research Group at the MIT Media Lab in collaboration with Prof. Fiorenzo Omenetto and Dr. James Weaver (WYSS Institute, Harvard University). Mediated Matter researchers include Markus Kayser, Jared Laucks, Carlos David Gonzalez Uribe, Jorge Duro-Royo and Neri Oxman (Director).


Trimmer to Head New Journal on Soft Material Robotics

Barry Trimmer heads up a new journal, SoRo, focusing on soft material robotics.

Barry Trimmer heads up a new journal, SoRo, focusing on soft material robotics.

Barry Trimmer, Henry Bromfield Pearson Professor of Natural Sciences, adjunct professor of biomedical engineering, and Director of the Neuromechanics and Biomimetic Devices Laboratory, has been named editor-in-chief of a new journal dedicated to soft material robotics.

The new journal, called Soft Robotics (SoRo), will be published quarterly online with Open Access options and in print. SoRo combines advances in biomedical engineering, biomechanics, mathematical modeling, biopolymer chemistry, computer science, and tissue engineering to present new approaches to the creation of robotic technology and devices that can undergo dramatic changes in shape and size in order to adapt to various environments.

“The next frontier in robotics is to make machines that can assist us in everyday activities, at home, in the office, in hospitals, and even in natural environments,” says Trimmer director of the Soft Material Robotics | IGERT doctoral program at Tufts. “Soft Robotics provides a forum, for the first time, for scientists and engineers across diverse fields to work together to build the next generation of interactive robots. This journal provides biologists, engineers, materials specialists, and computer scientists a common meeting place, and we are very excited about this new forum.”

This article first appeared as a press release from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers, July 18, 2013.


Omenetto’s Research Provides Basis for Bionic Ears

Last year, a research effort led by Michael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, Naveen Verma, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, and Professor Fiorenzo Omenetto of Tufts University, resulted in the development of a “tattoo” made up of a biological sensor and antenna that can be affixed to the surface of a tooth.

Scientists used 3-D printing to merge tissue and an antenna capable of receiving radio signals. (Credit: Frank Wojciechows

Scientists used 3-D printing to merge tissue and an antenna capable of receiving radio signals. (Credit: Frank Wojciechowski)

A new project, however, is the team’s first effort to create a fully functional organ: one that not only replicates a human ability, but extends it using embedded electronics.

“The design and implementation of bionic organs and devices that enhance human capabilities, known as cybernetics, has been an area of increasing scientific interest,” the researchers wrote in the article which appears in the scholarly journal Nano Letters. “This field has the potential to generate customized replacement parts for the human body, or even create organs containing capabilities beyond what human biology ordinarily provides.

This story appeared as a press release on EurekAlert, May 1, 2013.

 


Levine Studies Cat Contributions to Wildlife Loss

Cat attacks are one of the most frequent causes of injury to wildlife that are brought to the veterinary school. (Photo: iStock)

Cat attacks are one of the most frequent causes of injury to wildlife that are brought to the veterinary school. (Photo: iStock)

Felines are responsible for large loss of indigenous wildlife, says a group of Tufts researchers, and they suggest remedies.

Cats are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as one of the 100 worst non-native invasive species. They kill more wild animals in the United States than any other human-linked cause, according to the IUCN, and they have caused or contributed to 14 percent of all modern bird, mammal and reptile extinctions. The estimated annual environmental and economic cost of feral and free-roaming cats in the United States is $17 billion, according to a 2005 article in Ecological Economics.

Feral and free-roaming cat populations cause tremendous and often irreversible damage to indigenous wildlife populations in both urban and rural environments around the globe. Currently there are no methods that will easily and effectively eliminate a population of feral cats. On the other hand, damage caused by owned free-roaming cats can be solved effortlessly, simply by keeping your pets indoors.

According to Associate Professor Steven Levine, in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, computer models indicate that vasectomy and hysterectomy should be much more effective at eliminating feral cat populations, but this still requires validation in actual populations of feral cats.

This story (“A Cat-Eat-Bird World“) originally appeared in TuftsNow, July 8, 2013.


Aussie Water Dispute Could Resolve with Islam’s Water Diplomacy Tactics

Robin Stonecash, a strategy consultant and director of executive projects at University of Technology Business School in Sydney, presented “Water – our need for a new brand of diplomacy” on at a Holistic Management Conference  in Orange, Australia on August 6, 2013.

Stonecash was a participant in last year’s Water Diplomacy workshop hosted by Professor Shafiqul Islam in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, director of the Water Diplomacy | IGERT doctoral program. She was featured in TheLand.com, discussing her work in Australian water conflicts and her experience at the Water Diplomacy workshop.

Stonecash may contribute to resolving Australia’s ongoing water disputes in areas such as Murray-Darling Basin. In July, the South Australian Government formally signed the Murray-Darling Basin Plan agreement, which is the first step in returning 3,200 gigalitres of water to the area.

Thirty-two participants from 17 countries participated for the inaugural water diplomacy workshop held in 2011.

The next workshop will be held June 23-27, 2014. Visit the Water Diplomacy site to learn about registration details.


Team Hoyt Recognized at ESPYs

The father-and-son team of Dick Hoyt and Rick Hoyt–Team Hoyt–was recognized at ESPN’s awards event called the ESPYs on July 17, 2013.

Rick, now 51, was born with cerebral palsy and though unable to use his hands or legs he and his 73-year-old father have run in more than 1,000 endurance events—including triathlons and marathons—with Dick pushing his son in a custom-made running chair.

In 1972, Tufts engineers gave Rick his first ability to communicate with his family. Engineers built Rick an interactive computer he used to select letters by tapping his head against his wheelchair.

At the ESPYs, ESPN recognized Team Hoyt with their Jimmy V Perseverance Award, given to a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination.


Levin Lab Looks at Cell Voltage as Cancer Treatment

Professor Michael Levin, in the Department of Biology in the School of Arts and Sciences, and doctoral student Brook Chernet, are exploring how changes in cell voltage affect cellular development and, potentially, cancer treatment.

“We have to get away from the idea that it’s always physical matter that’s at the root of the problem – that there’s a damaged gene, or a chemical toxin,” says Levin, also an adjunct biomedical engineering professor. “It’s not always that.”

Levin and Chernet injected messenger RNA that encodes human oncogenes – genes that can transform normal cells into tumor cells – into tadpoles. Next, they soaked the frog larvae in fluorescent dye. This dye was voltage-sensitive, fluorescing more brightly when the cell polarization was greater.

In Michael Levin's lab, fluorescence is used to highlight cellular development in tadpoles.  (Credit: Brook Chernet)

In Michael Levin’s lab, fluorescence is used to highlight cellular development in tadpoles. (Credit: Brook Chernet)

Levin and Chernet separated out tadpoles exhibiting a dark patch of low fluorescence. They found that, over several days, such patches of lowered polarization nearly always developed into tumors, confirming the link between cell polarization and cancer.

Cells become polarized when there is an imbalance of the positive and negative ions that flow in and out of cells through channels in cell membranes. But polarization itself regulates the operation of so-called transporter proteins, which pump signalling molecules through the channels. Through their experiments, Levin and Chernet have found that a lowered polarization inhibits the function of a transporter protein that draws in the signalling molecule butyrate, which, through various enzymes, controls the expression of growth genes. With less butyrate in the cell, these genes are free to instigate abnormally high, cancerous growth.

As a next step, Levin and Chernet split their oncogene-injected tadpoles into two groups. One group received injections of messenger RNA that encodes proteins for new ion channels. The new ion channels drew more negative ions into the tadpole cells, thereby increasing the cells’ polarization. The injected group of tadpoles did not develop nearly so many tumors as the untreated group, demonstrating that polarization is indeed a way to reign in tumors – at least in tadpoles (Dis. Model Mech. 6 595). To pave the way for clinical trials, Levin and Chernet will now have to show that the same results can be found in mammals.

This article was originally published in the July 2013 issue of Physics World magazine, a special issue on the physics of cancer. For a limited time only, you can download a PDF of the issue free of charge from physicsworld.com.