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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


U.S. Losing Its Technological Edge? No!
Christian Science Monitor (06/07/11) Mary Helen Miller

The U.S. Congress, concerned about the country losing its technological edge, preserved funding for education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields in the latest round of budget cuts. STEM education programs enjoy bipartisan support and President Obama recently compared boosting the U.S.'s technology competitiveness to the earlier space race with the Soviet Union. "The number of jobs out there that require a strong foundation in STEM has grown dramatically," says Change the Equation's Claus von Zastrow. "The fact is that if students aren't able to keep pace with these demands, we can really question whether we'll remain at the forefront of innovation." However, although recent reports indicate that the United States is falling behind other countries in STEM education and research, some researchers say that U.S. students have kept pace with their overseas peers over the last 15 years. According to RAND Corp.'s James Hosek, the U.S. accounts for 40 percent of the world's research and development spending, and it increased that spending more than any other region between 1993 and 2003. Meanwhile, the percentage of the workforce in science and engineering occupations grew from 2.6 percent to 4.3 percent from 1983 to 2007.


A European Project Applies the Social Networking Principle to Scientific Research
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (06/06/11) Eduardo Martinez

Researchers at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid's Ontological Engineering Group (OEG) are participating in the Wf4Ever project, which is applying the principles of social networking to scientific research. Wf4Ever project researchers have developed a software architecture and reference implementation for the preservation and efficient sharing of scientific work. The software focuses on research objects and developing tools that provide support for the research objects. Wf4Ever runs on the myExperiment platform, which relates to research object management. The Wf4Ever software will focus on astronomy and genomics research. OEG researchers are developing workflow evolution resources for maximizing the participation and reuse of research objects.


Using Clusters to Display Disaster Data on Smartphones
New Scientist (06/07/11) Niall Firth

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth and Monash University have developed a real-time system for plotting massive amounts of data on a smartphone screen. The researchers use clusters to highlight areas on a map where the most data is being generated, which, in the case of a natural disaster, could indicate where the most damage has been done or where most of the injured people are. The clusters get bigger as more data is received about an area. The clusters automatically adjust in size and scale as the situation develops, so that the screen does not become overloaded with information.


Penn Researchers Develop Biological Circuit Components, New Microscope Technique for Measuring Them
University of Pennsylvania (06/06/11) Evan Lerner

University of Pennsylvania researchers have developed a method for integrating biological molecules directly with electronic circuits so they can operate in open-air environments. They also have devised a new microscope technique for measuring the electrical properties of these and similar devices. The innovation involves artificial proteins stamped onto sheets of graphite electrodes that convert photons into electrons and, when they are exposed to light, pass them to the electrode. The torsional resonance nanoimpedance microscopy method enables the researchers to quantify the circuits' properties with nanometer sensitivity using an atomic force microscope. "What we've done in our version is to use a metallic tip and put an oscillating electric field on it," says Pennsylvania professor Dawn Bonnell. "By seeing how electrons react to the field, we're able to measure more complex interactions and more complex properties, such as capacitance." Bonnell says that in the short term the research is being applied to biochemical sensors, while further out is the possibility of photovoltaic applications.


NHK Develops an Automatic Sign Language Translation System for TV
PhysOrg.com (06/06/11) Katie Gatto

A new automated sign language translation system has the potential to make communication more effective for deaf TV viewers in the event of a disaster. Developed by a team at the NHK Science & Technology Research laboratories, the system is designed to take a string of words in Japanese and translate them into signing. The system will broadcast gestures that make up sign language, showing a virtual avatar that is dressed like a reporter. When there is no direct translation for words in sign language, the system will replace the words with a synonym in order to get the idea across to viewers who are hearing-impaired. The system could replace subtitles, which can be a less effective way to communicate a state of emergency or important breaking news to the hearing-impaired. The automated sign language translation system also could be used in an entertainment capacity. The technology features a built-in manual system, which enables users to fix translations to enhance accuracy.


Leia in Your Living Room: Projecting a Star-Wars-Style Hologram With a Microsoft Kinect
Popular Science (06/06/11) Dan Nosowitz

Michael Bove, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Object-Based Media Group (OBMG), recently purchased a Kinect for his graduate students to experiment with in his lab. Bove's students used the Kinect and a laptop with an off-the-shelf graphics card to produce holograms at 15 frames per second. The Kinect feeds the data into the laptop, which relays it over the Internet, where a PC with three graphics processing units computes the diffraction patterns. One of the key challenges for OBMG's researchers is making the real-time holographic video system work on less-expensive equipment. Most of the existing equipment is extremely costly and requires manipulating huge amounts of data. "[We're] trying to turn holographic video from a lab curiosity into a consumer product," Bove says. The current holographic display is a complex acousto-optic modulator that diffracts and shifts the frequency of light using sound waves. The OBMG researchers plan to replace the expensive modulator with a less expensive consumer model.


Microsoft Research Virtualizes Idle Desktops to Save Power
IDG News Service (06/06/11) John Ribeiro

Microsoft Research India scientists have developed LiteGreen, power-saving technology that can virtualize enterprise desktops in a virtual machine and migrate them between the users' physical desktop and a virtual machine server, depending on whether the desktop is being actively used. An idle virtual machine will continue to run on the server, without disrupting the network connectivity or other background compute activities. Although computers are often idle, users are reluctant to put them to sleep because it would break long-running network connections such as log-in sessions, Internet messaging, and file sharing, or background computations such as the syncing and automatic filing of new mails. LiteGreen will wake up the machine when the user returns, providing access within about 10 seconds through a remote desktop connection to the desktop virtual machine running on the virtual machine server. It will also migrate the desktop virtual machine back to the user's physical desktop machine without the user noticing in about one minute in a typical local access network environment. The researchers say the technology can be scaled to a wide-area network and the virtual machine server can be hosted in a cloud.


Virtual Mouse, an Invention to Help the Disabled
Gulf News (United Arab Emirates) (06/05/11) Rania Moussly

Khalifa University computer engineering student Sultan Ahmad Sultan Al Sharif has developed software that enables people with disabilities to control the onscreen mouse of a laptop or desktop machine with the movement of their eyes. The Virtual Mouse: Human Eye based Mouse Control program makes use of two-dimensional (2D) face detection software and the camera embedded in laptops and desktop computers. The software enables the camera to track users while they look at the screen and follow eye movements to operate the mouse. "2D face detection already exists, we just modified and upgraded it to implement eye detection," Al Sharif says. The user closes one eye to perform a click, either the left or right eye to perform a left or right click, and closes both eyes to send the computer into sleep mode. "Sultan's method is one form of human computer interaction, but using the eyes is very natural because you must anyway look into a monitor to use a computer," says Khalifa professor Harish Bhaskar. He notes that the software requires no special equipment, which makes for easier implementation and wider accessibility.


Touch-Screen Steering Wheel Keeps Eyes on Road
Discovery News (06/06/11) Alyssa Danigelis

University of Stuttgart researchers have developed a steering wheel prototype that acts as a touchscreen for all the instruments and dials required by drivers. The prototype is made from 11-millimeter-thick clear acrylic ringed in infrared light-emitting diodes and an infrared camera, which is attached to the bottom. The driver can control the radio or navigate a map with simple movements along the surface. "We use a standard tracking framework, very much like Microsoft Surface and those interactive tables," says Stuttgart professor Albrecht Schmidt. The researchers conducted a study that asked participants what movements they would make for each of 20 commands to determine the control gestures. In testing, the prototype wheel has substantially reduced visual demand compared to a conventional console, according to University of Warwick researcher Paul Marshall. The wheel could be combined with automotive heads-up display technology that projects information directly onto the windshield, Schmidt says.


Researchers Map, Measure Brain's Neural Connections
Brown University (06/01/11) Richard Lewis

Brown University researchers have developed software to create two-dimensional maps of the human brain combined with a Web-based digital map interface that enables users to create three-dimensional (3D) images. "In short, we have developed a new way to make 2D diagrams that illustrate 3D connectivity in human brains," says Brown professor David Laidlaw. The 2D neural maps are simplified representations of neural pathways in the brain. The representations are created using medical-imaging technology that measures the water diffusion around the nerves and myelin of the brain. Medical researchers can use the maps to locate spots where the myelin may be compromised, which could affect the vitality of the neural circuits. Users can analyze the 2D images and display them in Web browsers using Google Maps. "The advantage of using this mode of distribution is that users don't have to download a large dataset, put it in the right format, and then use a complicated software to try and look at it, but can simply load a Web page," says Brown's Radu Jianu.


Defense on the Offense
Wall Street Journal (06/06/11) Walt Mossberg

U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) director Regina E. Dugan says in an interview that the agency's mission is "the prevention and the creation of strategic surprise." She says that DARPA's innovations have cascading ramifications for society as a whole, given that defense is basically a mini-society that faces the same issues as society at large. Notable DARPA projects Dugan cites include technology to produce vaccines from tobacco plants for biological warfare defense, plus a hypersonics program allowing transport by air to anywhere in the world in one hour. Dugan says that another area of investigation is "how you design hardware and software within a computer so that you can determine yourself, or the computer itself can evolve, based on its own experience with threat," using the human immune system as a template. Dugan says that such an approach has not been previously explored because its economic viability is often called into question. "We're approaching, I think, a time ... where the technology as we move to smartphones, for example, allows us to investigate new fundamental architectures that could alter the cybersecurity landscape fundamentally," she says.


Leakage of Private Information From Popular Websites Is Common, New Study Finds
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (06/02/11) Eileen Brangan Mell

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researchers recently conducted a study of more than 100 popular Web sites and found that about 75 percent of them directly leak either private information or users' unique identifiers to third-party tracking sites. The researchers, led by WPI professor Craig Wills, demonstrated how the leaks, such as email addresses, physical addresses, and the configuration of a user's Web browser, could enable tracking sites to create detailed profiles on individuals. The researchers also say that previous legislative and regulatory efforts to stop the leaks of personal information would be mostly ineffective. "With the growing disconnect between the existing and proposed privacy protection measures and the increasing and increasingly worrisome linkage of personal information from all sorts of Web sites, we believe it is time to move beyond what is clearly a losing battle with third-party aggregators and examine what roles first-party sites can play in protecting the privacy of their users," Wills says. The researchers focused on sites that encourage users to register, since most registration processes require users to submit personal information. The study also examined different techniques Web users can employ to prevent their information from being leaked, such as blocking cookies or using an advertising blocking tool, but found that these techniques miss some types of leakage.


Social Networks for Engineers
IEEE Spectrum (06/06/11) Sue Karlin

CodePlex is one of several new social networking sites that enable engineers and computer scientists to share projects and ideas. Microsoft Health Solutions Group software engineer Uri Kartoun used the site to work with Northwestern University professors, Datascope Analytics founders, and Microsoft Research staff. "I don't think I would have gotten the same input from these people without a networking site, because I can show what I've done, and they can read other comments before making suggestions or contacting me," Kartoun says. Other sites that are geared toward engineers, computer scientists, and scientific researchers include CR4, Element 14, Mendeley, MyNetResearch, ResearchCrossroads, ResearchGate, and LabRoots, all of which target specific fields by offering different applications. "We've tried to make it one-stop shopping within specific science portals, so that you never have to leave the site," says LabRoots CEO Greg Kruikshank.


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