Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Green Homes and the Greenhouse Effect

A sustainable-energy house.

   Climate change has integrated itself into our daily actions. It’s in the green recycle bins, marked with the immediately recognizable triangular arrow symbol, the paper versus plastic, the electric cars humming down the road and the grass-fed cows. Becoming environmentally-conscious has affected many communities, some more than others. 
    It’s still not enough. Ice caps are still making the news as they melt into the ocean, and this summer’s record-breaking temperatures have cast an ominous shadow onto the future. People are largely aware of this, but oftentimes brush the frantic cries of environmental scientists off. To many, global warming has faded into the background, a part of the ever-changing scenery and a doom so large and so distant there’s no point in actively searching for ways to slow it. ‘Going green’ is too unwieldy, too time-consuming, too costly or too much effort.

    However, global warming cannot be dismissed so easily. Ice caps seem to constantly make the headlines because they are crucial to the state of our world, down to the very particles of air bouncing off the walls of our homes. Cyane Dandridge, founder of Strategic Energy Innovations (SEI), painted a gruesome picture of what Earth could look like if current climate trends continued in the next couple decades. A sweltering drought would suck the world of water, and the USA by three million dollars. Freshwater fish would begin dying out, and wildfires would ramp up in frequency. Sea levels rise from one to two feet, submerging familiar coastline cities. In her powerpoint presentation, Ms. Dandridge pointed out a couple sections of Marin that were projected to be underwater.
    So global warming affects us in our lifetime, and holds serious consequences. Studies that connect human activity and industry with the increased amount of greenhouse gases in the air brush away feeble suggestions that perhaps Earth’s overheating was natural. There is no forgetting the Industrial Revolution of the past to the oil-fueled commuters today. The question then becomes: beyond recycling, what else can we do to prevent disastrous climate change?

    Ms. Dandridge and her company, Strategic Energy Innovations, offers one solution: energy-efficient housing. Solar panels are certainly one of the better-known aspects of green housing, but make no mistake—green housing comes in many forms at many levels.
    Light bulbs are one of the easiest energy-wasters to rectify. The round, bulbous light bulbs with the     yellowish glow bleed energy. Much more efficient, the coiled white lights use less energy to produce brighter light.

An eco-friendly light bulb.

    Another aspect of housing are appliances. Leaving appliances plugged in, even when they aren’t in use, still uses a certain amount of watts. Unplugging appliances, and certainly turning heaters and such off before leaving are crucial. In fact, heaters and coolers could be replaced with thick blankets, jackets, or the absence thereof. Why waste watts when body heat can be circulated to our benefit instead?
    Don’t dismiss solar panels yet, either. Solar panels make use of an ever-present energy source: sunshine. They are a bit costly, but not for the reason most people think. Oil and gas companies are given so many government subsidies that they enter the market at artificially cheap prices. Gas might be cheap in the short run, but in the long run, fossil fuels not only harm the environment but are bound to run out, getting more and more expensive and supplies draw short and subsidizers grow frantic.
    Outside of the house, the infrastructure of a community can be laid out to expend energy efficiently. Placing groceries and stores in close proximity to the freeway, and offices close by to homes, can shorten the commute that clogs highways and sends greenhouse gases into the air. More importance on bike trails, and their connection to workplaces, neighborhoods, and areas around the community can shift the commute onto cleaner, man-powered bicycles.
    Speaking of commute, cars are a major cause of pollutants and greenhouse gases. New technology is cranking out hybrid and electric cars, every new model being more efficient and more affordable. Some examples are the Nissan Leaf and Teslas.
    Also important in every person’s life is food. Consider buying local produce, which has the advantage of not coming millions of miles away on puffing cargo ships. Grass-fed beef is not just another organic oddity; corn-fed cows produce serious amounts of methane through their burps that contribute to the greenhouse gases.

    Energy-efficient housing really extends to more than just the house. When Ms. Dandridge presented on alternatives, she essentially redesigned whole communities. Efficient housing can extend to communities, from food to transport to hot summers and cold winters. Much like how entire neighborhoods can be designed with the environment in mind, so must counties, states, countries and continents redesign their infrastructures.


This article was written using information from Cyane Dandrige’s presentation on “Building and Unbuilding a Climate Change Crisis,” on Wednesday, November 28. Ms. Dandridge is the founder of Strategic Energy Innovations and the director for the School of Environmental Leadership (MSEL).


Sandra Ning

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

More than a Surgeon's Sidekick: The Anesthesiologist

An anesthesiologist at work.

      Dr. Art Wallace is a professor of anesthesiology and perioperative care at UCSF, and an attending anesthesiologist at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Hospital. He is a man of sharp wit, wry humor, and countless analogies to explain the complexities of anesthesia. He was also kind enough to answer a couple of questions for me over the phone.

What exactly is anesthesiology?
      An anesthesiologist makes patients become compatible with surgery. They put patients in a state in which they can undergo painful operations and surgeries. Anesthesia requires the use of several powerful, lethal drugs and is extremely dangerous. Its cultivation over the last 150 years has been geared toward making it more effective, more efficient, and thus more safe.
      Anesthesiology has helped reduce the risk of surgical care tremendously. Around the 1950s, the ratio of fatal to nonfatal procedures was 1:200 to 1:1500. The present day ratio of 1:100000 to 1:1000000 looks multitudes more reassuring.
      In particular, Dr. Wallace has researched ways to reduce stress during surgery.

What’s the difference between stress and pain?
      Pain is a sensory experience and can cause stress, such as increased heart rate or blood pressure. Stress is the physical effects of the strain, which can ramp up to heart attacks and strokes. While a person can be unconscious and not experience pain, stress can still occur.

What can anesthesiologists do?
      Anesthesiologists can manipulate what a patient experiences under surgery. Consciousness, feelings of pain, autonomic responses, movement, and even memory can all be suppressed by an anesthesiologist during surgery. A patient could not remember the operation at all, or, during the operation, “feel pain but not care.”
      The range of parts an anesthesiologist can turn off allows more people access to safe surgery. People terrified of surgery can choose to be unconscious or not remember any of it at all. Mortality rates of women in childbirth have lessened from a ratio of one death in ten survivals to one death in ten thousand, or even one death in one hundred thousand. As Dr. Wallace put it, anesthesiology serves a “nice, noble cause.”

 A venn diagram on some uses of anesthetics.

How do you decide what to give a patient?
      There are typically two main components to deciding what to dose a patient. The first are the patients themselves. Are they terrified? Are they at risk of heart attack or stroke? Do they have a cardiovascular or lung disease that drugs could possibly irritate? Depending on the attitude and the physical condition of the patient undergoing surgery, different doses with different effects might be prudent. 
      The second component is the type of operation. Depending on the severity of the injury and the operation needed to fix it, more or less anesthetics are required. “What I’m going to give for a broken finger, versus a heart transplant, will be a lot different,” Dr. Wallace explained.

What sorts of fields come into play in anesthesiology?
      The general knowledge of medicine that comes from med school, residencies and internships are all pre-requisites for any practicing doctor. Anesthesiologists need an understanding of physiology and cardiology, as well as the ability to interact with surgeons. Fixing the monitors that check on the patient’s condition—in other words, some engineering—is also needed.

What are monitors and how do they help anesthesiologists?
      Monitors are the screens connected to machines that watch a patient’s physical condition, including things like blood pressure, cardiac output, isofluorine concentration, EKG, etcetera. The ability of a computer to constantly monitor a patient’s condition when the patient is unconscious and unable to give indications of discomfort is incredibly useful and critical to the safety of patients undergoing surgery.

What sorts of problems are being worked on by anesthesiologists today?
      Drugs still need to be developed to better prevent heart attacks and strokes for patients. In general, anesthesiology is constantly working towards safety. Safer drugs, more efficient methods, and less room for error means less risk in surgery.

How would you go about becoming an anesthesiologist?
      The usual track is four years in college with any major. Afterwards is medical school, where the pool of majors narrow down to the general field of medical science. Then there’s clerkships, where students rotate through a multitude of different medical professions, usually a month or two in each. Afterwards is an internship, where young doctors hone the glorious ability to write prescriptions. Throughout all of these stages, the medical student is narrowing down their field of study, until they can go through their residency, where real hands-on experience and learning begins, and specific fields are explored. Afterwards, the newly minted doctor has enough experience to begin practicing.

How do robots come into the whole thing?
      The robots that are going to be the topic of this Wednesday’s seminar are new technological developments used for training young doctors. Originally, beginning doctors spent ridiculous hours—maybe even 110 hours out of 160 in a week—writing prescriptions and deducing problems. The sheer amount of work tired the doctors and caused them to make errors on very real prescriptions, for very real patients. Instead, robotic patients are being developed for doctors to practice on. Like a simulation, the robot patients can simulate everyday illnesses to rare diseases, or specific instances that seldom arise. All of these situations prepare doctors for as many different occurrences in their career. “You wouldn’t want a pilot to crash on the job,” Dr. Wallace explained, “and you don’t want a doctor to mess up on a real patient.”

How did you become interested in anesthesiology?
      Already interested in becoming a doctor since his mother’s death in middle school, Dr. Wallace pursued the sciences straight into college (though he preferred the challenges of physics over the memorization of biology in middle school). He majored in electrical engineering but, after a summer job doing surgery, he became interested in medical school. Initially a surgeon, Dr. Wallace became an anesthesiologist later in his career. 


      Then we got talking about some wacky things. Take Michael Jackson, for instance. His doctor had prescribed him drugs more under the jurisdiction of an anesthesiologist. According to Dr. Wallace, had Michael Jackson hired a trained anesthesiologist instead, he might still be alive.

      Exactly how lethal are those anesthetics, anyways? Narcotics more than a hundred times more potent than heroin, barbiturates that send patients to sleep, drugs that stop the heart, invoke paralysis, stop nerve transmission, and stop brain function, are all used by anesthesiologists. “All of them can be  fatal,” confirmed Dr. Wallace.

      Any jokes about rising to evil overlord-ship dissolve in the face of Dr. Wallace’s actual occupation. Not only does anesthesiology help terrified patients undergo necessary surgeries, but Dr. Wallace works as an anesthesiologist at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in San Francisco. At the VA, surgery is free. Veterans can access the procedures and the treatment they need, easily. They do well under the care of surgeons, doctors, and anesthesiologists like Dr. Wallace. Nothing could be farther from nefarious deeds.


Come see Drs. Art Wallace and Hirsch present “Computers, Robots, and Medical Education, Oh My!” on Wed., December 5th, at the Marin Science Seminar. The Marin Science Seminar takes place on Wednesdays in room 207, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. 


Sandra Ning

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bringing the Ecosystems Back

Bothin Marsh, in Marin County

       Nearly all continents and countries on Earth share one constant: the concrete, plastic, steel and asphalt of any cities’ infrastructure. The sidewalks, highways, subway systems and airports that have become so necessary in life are slowly expanding outwards. Urbanization spreads, developing countries develop, and people worldwide work towards more efficient and convenient lives. Since the Industrial Age, humankind has been working towards this goal.
       Yet, today, we exist in another movement, another age: the Environmental Age. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring sparked a movement to protect, conserve, document, and heal the environment—a movement that’s still going strong. National parks have appeared all over the world, and conservation has risen to political importance. Nowadays—especially in Marin—people are constantly reminded to ‘Go Green,’ and from personal shopping bags to newly electronic buses, efforts to cut down waste have become mainstream.

       Outside of environmentalists, several different branches of science have come together to protect the Earth’s ecosystems, as well. Habitat restoration employs the expertise of biologists, botanists, ecologists, and engineers to analyze how to best protect valuable ecosystems in urban landscapes and sprawling parks.

       Several projects focus on previously destroyed or damaged ecological systems that need to be patched up. On this front, biologists and botanists provide valuable information about what types of plants need to be replanted, and what kinds of native species need to be re-introduced. Engineers might want to examine how to prevent excessive soil erosion, flooding of the area (especially concerning wetland restoration), and consider whether or not groundwater is available for harnessing. 

Freshly planted vegetation in a site for ecological restoration.

       Ecosystems are complex. There are nutrients in the soil, recycled by the valuable little decomposers in the ground. There are plants, the autotrophs, and consumers—primary, secondary, tertiary and onwards. Yet, specific ecosystems require specific plants. In an underwater ecosystem, corals and different species of anemones are crucial to support the vibrant aquatic life that resides in them. The same is true for a marshland; specific plants must be provided to attract and support specific consumers. Then the predators of primary consumers have to be considered, and the predators of those... the web of an ecosystem is dense with detail.
       Even the multitude of scientists working on the restoration of a habitat can’t do it all. A lot of growth has to be left to the seeds they plant. When the environment is right and vegetation is growing, the rest will come soon enough. As a result, ecological restoration takes a while, often years at a time. Scientists must frequent the project area to check on its progress, document things that are working and things that aren’t, and then make adjustments as necessary. Threats to the ecosystem, like runoff water from acrid highways or non-native species, must be dealt with. The water must be acceptably pure. The pH of the soil needs to be right for the plants.

       Reconstruction takes a while. The nuances of an old, long-standing environment can’t be matched by the freshly planted reeds in a carefully monitored marshland. Yet, as climate changes (affecting everything from the polar caps to the tropical storms), and humans expand their reach, some delicate ecosystems can’t adjust quickly enough. The sprigs and sprouts of an ecosystem-in-progress and the patient observance of dedicated scientists might be just what habitats need to survive on the rapidly changing Earth.


Come see Greg Kamman speak further about ecological restoration in his presentation, "The Role of Physical Sciences in Restoring Ecosystems," at the Marin Science Seminar this Wednesday, November 7th. The Seminar will take place at Terra Linda High School, room 207, from 7:30 - 8:30 p.m.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Space, the Enigmatic Frontier

A pie graph of the universe's composition.

    When most people think of outer space, they don’t usually imagine space

    The first thing that comes to mind are stars. Tiny white pinpricks of light in the sky that, in reality, are blazing spitfires of roiling gases. We envision bands of them, flung out into the inky blackness, coiled tight into galaxies or let loose in vibrant splashes of nebulae.
Then people may think of comets, bulky intergalactic travelers remembered by their brilliant icy trail. Perhaps the asteroid comes to mind, one amongst millions drifting lethargically in the thick belt that separates the inner planets of our solar system from the outer. We could imagine planets and constellations, nebulae and supernovae, quasars and pulsars!

    Yet the yawning black stretches of nothingness between these extraterrestrials bodies remain overlooked.

    Of course, ‘nothingness’ isn’t quite the correct term. What really fills the blanks between the occasional blimps of planets, galaxies and star clusters is a combination of dark energy and dark matter.

    Dark energy makes up approximately 70% of the universe. Dark matter takes up another 25%. That only leaves around 5% for the stars, comets, planets, continents, cities and people that seems to encompass us one hundred percent of the time.

    Matter composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons—in other words, everything we perceive on a daily basis—is known as baryonic matter. For hundreds of years, humans have studied the composition of the Earth, discovering elements upon elements that steadily defogged the mystery of substance. It’s bewildering that only five percent of the universe could be so densely packed with different elements, while the other ninety-five percent remains so large and undiscovered.
    When gravitational effects in space didn’t match up with the amount of visible matter, scientists began hypothesizing the existence of a ‘missing mass.’ A recent discovery that the universe’s rate of expansion is accelerating instead of slowing spurred the idea of dark energy, some sort of invisible, unidentified energy that helps propel the expansion of space. Likewise, strange gravitational incidences and the fact that the visible matter of a galaxy often doesn’t match the amount of matter detected suggested the presence of unidentified matter.

    If dark matter does exist, as studies suggest, then what is it made of? One of the leading theories today is the existence of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, aptly abbreviated WIMPs. 
     Before delving into what WIMPs are, it’s pertinent to know what ‘weakly interacting’ means. Weak force is one of the four forces of the universe: gravity, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. Weakly-interacting particles have been observed for a while, for example, images of neutrinos. True to their name, weak particles interact so little with other substances that they can pass through incredible amounts of matter without collision. This detachment makes them difficult to detect in comparison to the constantly colliding protons, neutrons, and electrons of baryonic matter.

A neutrino is a type of weakly interacting particle.

     Immediately after the Big Bang, the incredible energy and heat released allowed for the creation and destruction of particles. After the universe cooled, settled, and stopped producing more particles, most of the particles decayed and disappeared. However, weak particles can’t decay entirely. These remnants of particles, as old as the creation of the universe, hypothetically linger and affect matter According to scientists, the existence of a stable, weakly-interacting particle around 100 times the mass of a proton would fit the bill for the amount of dark matter measured.

    Though dark matter and WIMPs are compelling, fairly supported hypotheses, they are still, to some extent, hypotheses.WIMPs could be floating through space right now—or another theory, the axioms, make up dark matter instead. Even broader, dark matter could exist—or the mechanics of gravity need to be reexamined.

    Scientists are searching for confirmation now, in the form of evidence. CDMS, or the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search, is an experiment taking place in Soudan, Minnesota. Using Z-Sensitive Ionization and Phonon (ZIP) detectors, placed underground to minimize the amount of disturbances, the detectors are attempting to pick up nuclear recoils from WIMPs. Though hardly ever colliding with other particles, WIMPs still do crash into other particles. When one does, CDMS is hoping to pick up on it.

    Join the Marin Science Seminar on Wednesday, October 24. Guest speaker Dr. Nader Mirabolfathi, member of the CDMS research team at UC Berkeley, will speak in depth about dark matter and WIMPs, including how they fit into the puzzle of space, and how the CDMS experiment is attempting to uncover them.


Sandra Ning

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Science Right in Your Bloodstream

     There are a lot of words that begin with the prefix ‘bio-.’

     Biology, for instance, and then biochemistry, biotechnology, bionics, biopharmaceutical... the list goes on and on, advancing further afield the deep, often obscure world of biological sciences. 
pH is one of many properties used to analyze chemicals in body fluids.

     And, why shouldn’t it? “Bio” as a prefix means ‘life’, the study of which starts at the very core of our existence. We have been fascinated with everything to do about life: plants, animals, people, and the chemical breakdown of them all. Food chains, weather, evolution, natural selection, and how they all shaped the world we live in today. There’s a lot of “bio” in this world, and a lot of different ways to study it! Some of them we can recognize right off the bat, like biomedical, or zoology. Other fields are a bit more esoteric.

     Take bioanalytics, for instance.

     By parsing the word into two bits, ‘bio’ and ‘analytics,’ it seems bioanalytics is the analysis of life. That’s true, to some extent, but it hardly sheds light on the depths of this exciting field.

     On television, blood is tested for deadly toxins. Before games, athletes are tested for performance-enhancing drugs. The measurement of these xenobiotics, or external/unusual compounds, falls under bioanalysis. 

     Being able to analyze the amount of an active drug, and what it does once within the body, is hugely important to the development of pharmaceuticals. Dosage requirements and limitations take cues from what levels of drug concentration are safe. How often a person can take medication is also dependent on how long a drug stays in the bloodstream. Overdose is a serious threat that can be avoided by analyzing xenobiotics within the body.
Bioanalysis also appears in tests for illicit drug use, forensic science, and anti-doping testing for sports. It presides over the detection of external substances in the body, and how the drug is affected and affecting the body.

Some bioanalytic methods, and fields that use bioanalysis.

     Another part of bioanalytics is immunogenicity risk assessment. Immunogenicity concerns an individual’s immune system, and its genetic-based tendencies toward rejecting or accepting medication. Immunogenicity risk assessment uses bioanalytics to determine whether or not a prescribed drug would be rejected or accepted by a patient’s body. Backfiring medication would only add to the woes of an ill patient.

     As technology advances, so does the development of medicine. The ability to detect and quantify newer, more potent, and thus less concentrated amounts of drugs, has spurred the improvement of bioanalytical technology as well. For example, medicine has progressed from smaller molecules to large chains of biomolecules, a change that demands adaption in the quantifying process as well. As equipment becomes more precise, so does knowledge of drugs, and prevention of their potentially dangerous usage.

     Every advance in medicine comes with the keen reminder that human bodies are comprised of complex, often fragile systems--immune, cardiovascular, respiratory, etcetera. Medicine has done leaps and bounds for the lifespans of entire generations, providing respite from diseases and illnesses that plagued our ancestors. The balance between a drug’s potency and the body’s ability to withstand its foreign influence is crucial to every individual’s well-being. Bioanalytics helps shed light on that balance.

     Join the Marin Science Seminar and Dr. Erik Foehr in exploring this very important aspect of drug development and forensic investigation on Wednesday, October 10. Dr. Foehr, an expert on bioanalysis, will delve deeper into the topic of bioanalysis and its many uses, including measurement techniques, immunogenicity risk assessment, and drug development.


Sandra Ning

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

MSS launches its 6th year with UAV ONLINE!

Marin Science Seminar Presentation: "UAV OnlineThe Challenges of Engineering Autonomous Drones for the Open Worldwith Pavlo Manovi, TLHS grad and junior at UC Santa Cruz (September 19, 2012) Download the flyer here.

This presentation will introduce the SLUGS autonomous development platform being developed at UC Santa Cruz's Autonomous Systems Lab.  Pavlo will discuss the goals, the science/ aerodynamics/ controls/ programming/ physics aspects of the project, and the challenges and considerations faced in adapting SLUGS for the open source world.  There will be hands-on demonstrations and Q/A.

Pavlo Manovi is an alumnus of Terra Linda High School who studies robotics engineering at UC Santa Cruz. His interest in research stems from his love of prototyping and the prospect of learning and collaborating with like-minded, creative, intelligent individuals on the forefront of their field. Pavlo is a two time winner of the Marin Physics Olympics, and is a strong advocate for youth education in robotics and engineering. Pavlo hopes to build bridges between constituencies in the open source community and ensure the flow of free information in STEM fields. Pavlo plans to pursue a PhD in controls.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview with Robotics Engineer Pavlo Manovi

by Sandra Ning, Terra Linda HS

UC Santa Cruz junior and TL alumnus Pavlo Manovi gives a taste of his upcoming presentation on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles with an interview:

A SLUGS UAV simulation tour around San Francisco, using Simulink 
(uploaded 26 Jul., 2011; created by Samuel Toepke)

What makes robotics engineering so compelling?

-   What makes robotics engineering engender such a strong interest in me is the fact that the skills you need to be a competent robotics engineer encompasses most STEM fields and allows students and engineers both in academia or industry to be involved in projects from all studies of science.  Choosing a type of engineering was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make, as I didn't want to find myself focused on one field of engineering.   What I really wanted was to do everything that I loved, which is to say that I was looking for a balance of physics, computer science, math, and materials science that just didn't exist in most traditional engineering tracks.  I found that robotics engineering neatly wraps up all of the aforementioned studies in the umbrella study of Mechatronics.  Having this aggregation of skills and foci lays the foundation for a strong field where one gets approached to build the tools that scientists and governmental agencies require to do their jobs, and that aspect of robotics keeps the work fresh and feeds my insatiable appetite for knowledge.

In general, what’s the focus of research at the UCSC Autonomous Systems Lab?

-  Autonomous robotics (aquatic, extra-terrestrial, terrestrial).  Controls theory.  Curriculum development.

What projects are you currently working on?

-  I am currently working on:
  • An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle development toolchain. (The SLUG-TUG)
  • An open source, affordable, robust four quadrant brushless DC motor controller (SLUGGISH)
  • Extreme Low Cost UAV (No silly acronym for this one yet :[ )
  • UAV Localization for Autonomous Swarms
  • Porting and refactoring Existing SLUGS UAV code to work with commercially available UAV systems
  • Creation of a UAV Curiculum for graduate students at UCSC

What is the SLUGS Autopilot?

-  This explains it pretty well.  Primarily it's a flight algorithm development platform.  I'm currently developing a cheaper, lower power version for academia and simple missions/swarm research.

How does it differ from other UAV autopilots?

-  The biggest difference between our UAV project and other projects is that we aim to develop every bit of the UAV and not rely on off-the-shelf solutions to ultimately create an easy to use UAV.  With an entire toolchain that adapts itself to the problem presented to it, the end user can focus on solving their problem rather than focus on trying to get a piecemeal UAV to work.  Simply put, we're trying to make a good tool that is within grasp of anyone that compromises as little as possible through a modular design and abstracted C code.

Why is it important to develop?

-  Developing easy to use, robust, powerful tools allows for innovation.  We are rapidly approaching a time where our airspace is going to be filled with more autonomous air traffic than could have ever been imagined.  Now more than ever a tool like this is necessary to allow for innovation that may solve many of the localization problems that will impede the growth of air travel/autonomous aerial vehicles in non-military airspace.  Further, there is little to no curriculum on UAV development and I am to work with a few professors with my SLUG-TUG toolchain to change that.

How soon do you think the SLUGS will be in use? Or, is it already in use?

-  SLUGS is already in use in space, military UAVs, academic UAVs, ground vehicles, and aquatic applications.  The scope of which and specifics I am not at liberty to explain.

What’s your role in the development of SLUGS?

-  I am the primary investigator of the SLUG-TUG project and I work on all aspects of the SLUGS system (electrical, code, hardware, etc).

What is the most rewarding or exciting part of being a robotics engineer? What is the most difficult?

-  The most rewarding part of being a robotics engineer is the opportunity to work with people that are as passionate about what they do as I am.  The work is always challenging and comes from all fields of study, which keeps me on me engaged and allows me to learn about everything from micro-biology to art without fully committing myself to those fields.  What is most difficult about this field of study?  That's a very personal question and I think it varies greatly between individuals.  Contrary to what most believe I don't consider the science to be hard as it just requires time, patience, and practice to master.  Personally, what is difficult is turning it all off.  I'm lucky enough to have many great friends and other physical/mental outlets for all of my energy, but when I find myself without anything to do coming off of the heels of a big project...  I just can't stop.  I'd say dividing my time amongst projects and keeping myself sane when I have free time and can't work on things are the most difficult parts about being an engineer who loves what he does.


Come see Mr. Manovi present 'UAV Online: Challenges of Engineering Autonomous Drones for the Open World' at TLHS room 207, Wed., Sept. 19th from 7:30 - 8:30 p.m.

The intro page and facebook event for the presentation are linked here.



The UAV simulator video was created and uploaded by Samuel Teopke on 26 Jul. 2011.


Sandra Ning

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Math in the Movies

by Julia Moore, Drake HS

On April 4th, Tony DeRose Ph.D. came to the Marin Science Seminar to discuss the many applications of mathematics at Pixar studios.  As a high school student, it can seem like hours of abstract math each week is a strange use of time, but calculus, geometry and other advanced mathematics are used on a daily basis at Pixar to make the incredible animations we know and love.

The process of making an animated film involves many steps with fine tuning at each to create the incredible worlds we see on the screen.  First, the story is drawn by hand into a "storyreel".  For each character, sketches of the character's main facial expressions are made to understand the character's personality.  The characters and sets are then modeled from the sketches on computers.  There are controls for the movement of different body parts of each character.  To simulate face movement, there are over 300 controls for the face movements of each character, each for a specific part of the face.  Algorithms are then applied to the scenes to simulate gravity and other movements not directly related to character movement.

In the animation stage of the process, flat polygons are used to represent curved surfaces.  Dr. DeRose showed a program in his presentation that allows polygons to be manipulated into a curved surface using midpoints and geometry.  Lighting in the movies involves many complex integral algorithms used to calculate how the light scatters across the various surfaces on the screen. 

Dr. DeRose concluded his talk by discussing the Young Maker's Program: ( a program which allows children and teens to develop their own building projects and make them.  This program promotes math and science education and allows kids to build awesome things to share at the Maker Faire each year with other builders.  

Written By: Julia Moore 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Interview With Dr.Susan Fisher

by Julia McKeag, Terra Linda HS

Susan Fisher, Ph.D. is the Director of Translational Research in Perinatal Biology and Medicine at UCSF. She is also a Professor in the Departments of Oral Biology, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Anatomy and Faculty Director at the Biomolecular Resource Center, UCSF. She is also a member of the UCSF Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program (BMS).
(Figure 1- refer to end of interview) 

What type of experiments does your lab do?
We study the early stages of human development. One of the approaches we use includes deriving human embryonic stem cell lines.

How did you become interested in stem cell research?
Stem cell research is rooted in developmental biology, which I have been interested in for as long as I can remember. I have always been fascinated by how one cell becomes an entire human being.

How do you think stem cell research will benefit humanity?
Eventually we will understand how to cure human diseases using cell-based therapies.
(Figure 2)
Do you think Stem cell research will continue in the future despite its surrounding controversy?
Yes. We have learned so much already using stem cell models. This is a very compelling reason for continuing these lines of investigation.

Are animal stem cells similar in structure and function to human stem cells?
There is not a clear-cut answer to this question. We know from comparative analyses that there are similarities and differences. My personal conclusion is that work in both areas is important.
(Figure 3)
What is the most interesting thing you've discovered about stem cells during your research?
We have developed a new method of deriving human embryonic stem cells that appear to be less differentiated than analogous cells derived by standard methods.

What is an average day as the Director of Translational Research in Prenatal Biology and Medicine at UCSF like? What does this position entail?
I am also head of the UCSF Human Embryonic Stem Cell Program. as Director of Translational Research, I lead programs in which we study placental function in normal pregnancy and in pregnancy complications. My job in the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Program focuses on embryonic rather than placental development. Therefore, between both jobs I get to study the cells that form the placenta and the offspring, which it supports. The work is mesmerizing and extremely rewarding! We get to ask questions about processes that very few people get to study.

Figure 1: Human Embryonic Stem Cells- in a recent medical case, Doctors at Glasgow's Southern General Hospital grew stem cells into neural stem cells, then injected them into a stroke patient's brain

Figure 2: Cluster of Human Embryonic Stem Cells

Figure 3: Humans, Animals, and Plants have clusters of stem cells that sustain growth and replace damaged tissues.  

Join Dr. Fisher and Marin Science Seminar this Wednesday to learn more!

Wednesday, March 28th
From 7:30 to 8:30pm
Terra Linda High School
Room 207

Julia McKeag

Monday, March 5, 2012

Teaser video for Hormones & Genetics in the Skeleton with Ed Hsiao MD PhD of UCSF
Video by MSS Intern Julia McKeag

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Interview with Edward Hsiao MD PhD of UCSF

by Julia Moore, Drake HS

How did you become interested in musculoskeletal disorders?
I’ve always been interested in the skeleton. Although we typically think of bones as being solid and unchanging, they undergo a variety of very significant events throughout our lifetime, including growing and repairing after injury. In addition, bones are central to us as a living organism. They provide structure to our bodies, protect soft or vital organs, allow us to move efficiently, and provides bone marrow space for blood formation. We now know that many medically important diseases including osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, and heterotopic bone ossification are all a result of problems affecting normal bone formation.

How are we currently treating different types of musculoskeletal disorders?
Since we don’t  understand how many musculoskeletal disorders develop, our ability to prevent them is pretty limited. Treatments for established disease are also very rudimentary and mostly symptomatic. For example, many inherited diseases of the bone can only be treated by surgery to remove the affected bone. In some cases, we can use metal implants or joint replacement, but these have a relatively short lifespan. Even common diseases, such as osteoporosis or arthritis, have only limited medical treatments.

How do you do your research?
My research is driven by a desire to understand how hormones and genetics control human skeletal growth. Since getting samples of diseased tissues from patients is often difficult, I use a variety of model systems to study skeletal disease. This includes mouse models where I can control hormone signals, and human stem cells created from patients with genetic skeletal diseases (human induced pluripotent stem cells). Together, these models are helping us understand what causes disease and how we can develop new treatments.

What are artificial hormones and how are they advancing research and treatment?
Nature uses hormones as a way to communicate between different parts of the body. One major class of hormone molecules is called G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). Since there are over 500 GPCRs in the human genome, figuring out what each individual receptor does is a huge challenge. Our strategy uses a synthetic receptor that only responds to a synthetic drug. This system acts like an artificial hormone – if we add the drug, we can turn the system on; if we take away the drug, we can turn it off. This system allows us to “mimic” a normal hormone system and control that pathway using our drug. This model has proven useful for studying hormone signaling in complex organ systems, including cardiac disease, the brain, and now bone.

What do you think is the future of treatment and prevention of musculoskeletal disorders?
I think that developing robust prevention strategies is important. We also need to develop better combinations of surgical and medical management that have fewer side effects. Much of this can be gained by a better understanding of what happens in normal growth and how those mechanisms go wrong in disease. Finally, I believe that human stem cells provide a valuable new tool in this effort by allowing us to study lab-derived human tissues directly. These stem cells are already providing insights into some rare and dramatic bone diseases. We hope to be able to extend our findings to more common disorders.

Edward Hsiao will be speaking at Terra Linda High School in Room 207 on
Wednesday February 29th at 7:30-8:30pm

Written by: Julia Moore 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hydrology and Restoring Ecosystems

Hydrology and Restoring Ecosystems: Applications in Engineering and Earth Sciences

By Julia McKeag, MSS Intern, Terra Linda High School

We are water. Well, anywhere from sixty to eighty percent of our body anyway. We may be mostly water, however, our body still requires a daily intake of this substance. Not saltwater, not marsh water, not swamp water, not muddy water, not vitamin water, but clean, fresh, water. This need has been known since the beginning of time, an instinct stored within the very fiber of human being, and has resulted in many conflicts.
One of history’s famous “water wars” occurred between the farmers and ranchers of Owens Valley and the City of Los Angeles. In the 1800s, when Los Angeles outgrew its local water supply, the city searched for a new source of water. The mayor of Los Angeles, Fred Eaton, suggested that water from the Owens Valley could be diverted by aqueduct to Los Angeles. Owens Valley, a once fertile agricultural environment, supported various species of migrating birds, farms, and businesses. Naturally, Owens Valley inhabitants were outraged when their once fecund valley dried up into a second Mojave. The balance between the need for water, and the preservation of environment and agriculture was not reached, leaving some discouraged and many angered. 
This is where the study of hydrology comes into place. The field of hydrology not only concerns the sciences, but also the environment, politics, and public health. We have genius engineers and inventors, such as Archimedes and Louis Pasteur to thank for making modern society possible. However, the job of a true hydrologist requires more than engineering skills. Rachel Z. Kamman, a consulting hydrologist at Kamman Hydrology & Engineering, not only holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Lafayette College, but also an M. Eng., in Hydraulics, Coastal Engineering, Hydrology and Geomorphology from UC Berkeley.
The work of Kamman Hydrology and Engineering (KHE) focuses mainly on ecological habitat restoration, and revolves around projects involving fishery, wetlands, and riparian habitats. KHE has projects throughout California, most of which are on public land. In the words of Ms.Kamman, “We can not turn back time, (so) KHE works to understand how the landscape has changed and how best to improve, restore or protect ecological communities in the context of people and their infrastructure. Since water is fundamental to nature, understanding the landscape in terms of hydrology is a logical starting point for both evaluating the impacts of change and restoring ecological function.”
Ms. Kamman believes that one of the biggest problems affecting local watersheds is that people are disconnected from their environment. If people don’t realize that their actions are directly linked to the health of a local watershed, people won’t think twice about what goes into the storm drain. Fertilizers, Paint, and Soap are all deposited directly into the nearest creek or bay when vacuumed into a storm drain. 
Overall, the work hydrologists such as Rachel Z. Kamman is crucial to the structure and function of our society today, and a healthy watershed is critical to a healthy and functioning community. Without advances in hydrology and engineering, our society would be eons behind what it is today.

Written By: Julia McKeag

Marin Science Seminar
with Rachel Z. Kamman, P.E.

Upcoming Seminar: Wednesday February 7, 2012 from 7:30 to 8:30
Terra Linda Highschool, Room 207

Monday, February 6, 2012

An Interview With Prominent Hydrologist: Rachel Z Kamman

Rachel Z. Kamman, P.E.
Consulting Hydrologist of Kamman Hydrology & Engineering
Interview by Julia McKeag, Terra Linda High School

1) Why did you become a hydrologist? What inspired you to study hydrology and engineering in college?

RK- I always loved sciences in school and entered college as a biology major. In my freshman year I heard that there were some cool water classes in the engineering department, so I sat in during my second semester and as a sophomore, signed up for a class in fluid mechanics (the study of the physics of water movement).  I was hooked after the first class.  Hydrology 101 was next and I loved that even more because it focuses on the movement of water across the landscape.   I studied both biology and water resources engineering in College, and wanted to combine the majors but the departments had no combined program (this was before environmental engineering existing). Eventually I had to pick a degree, and chose engineering because I wanted to focus on applied science. 

2) What types of projects do Kamman Hydrology & Engineering do?

RK- Most of KHE’s projects are focused on ecological restoration of wetlands, creeks and rivers and estuaries.  We have projects throughout California; almost all of them are on public lands (parks -  open space -  baylands).  Most of our project entailed site assessment, monitoring, engineering and geomorphic analysis, and collaboration with other natural resource scientists.  Each project is as unique as the place, the critters or habitat we are trying to improve, and then impacts and constraints created by human modifications of the landscape.    Since we can not turn back time, KHE works to understand how the landscape has changed and how best to improve, restore or protect ecological communities in the context of people and their infrastructure.  Since water is fundamental to nature, understanding the landscape in terms of hydrology is a logical starting point for both evaluating the impacts of change and restoring ecological function. 

3) What kinds of problems are affecting our local watershed?

RK- One of the biggest problems affecting our local watersheds is that people are disconnected from the natural landscape that they live in.  Once disconnected from our natural setting, we are no longer aware of our day to day impacts.  If you don’t recognize that the water in your driveway or yard is connected by a storm drain to the creek and the bay, you probably don’t think twice about rinsing your paint brush, washing your car or fertilizing your lawn. 

The second biggest problem is that there is a disconnect in our local government between individual development projects and a cumulative and long term impacts of those developments on the surrounding watersheds.   We need to get better as stepping back from a proposed development and looking at the landscape context and real costs (environmental and infrastructure) associated with new development.  These are costs that communities will have to shoulder for generations to come.  This is particularly true in the context of seal level rise.

4) What can we do to help our local watershed?

RK- One of the biggest things we can do to help our local watershed is to understand that our watershed, our communities our homes ARE habitats. The more we can integrate our neighborhoods with the native plant and animal communities and the physical landscape they depend on, the more likely they are to thrive in our midst.    Everyone who lives in a watershed is responsible for it’s care; a term often used for this is stewardship.  Every action has an impact, our daily choices determine the ecological integrity our community.   

Another important thing you can do is to act in any way possible to protect and restore the ecological integrity of our watersheds.  Protecting what we have left is critical, since, even with the best science and all the money in the world,  rarely can you replace the diversity and resiliency of a wild ecosystem. 

5) What is your opinion on the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir? Do you think the Hetch Hetchy Valley should be restored?

RK- Hetch Hetchy is a great example of an amazing natural resource lost in an era when we focused solely on meeting human demands for water without placing adequate value on natural resources.    It would be wonderful to see it restored.  

6) In your opinion, what invention (related to water) was most crucial for the success of our society today?

RK- Water treatment and delivery systems, and waste water treatment.  These systems are critical for our health.    We take them for granted.  

7) What do you think is water’s most interesting quality?

RK- Two actually:  1) The way water effects light, water colors almost everything we see.  2) The amazing power and energy contained and transmitted by water.   Consider Tsunami in Japan last year.  Water transmits energy over vast distances and timescales, think about ocean circulation, waves on a beach, water washing down the street after a downpour, raindrops on your roof.  Now shift contexts - think about role of water in a single human body, and then expand your thinking to world populations. 


Interview By: Julia McKeag

Upcoming Seminar: Wednesday, February 8th, 2012
Terra Linda High School, Room 207
7:30-8:30 p.m.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How we Know What we Know about the Brain

by Julia Moore, Drake HS

On January 25, 2011, Dr. Raymond Swanson explained to the youth and community of Marin the modern devices and techniques used in neuroscience.

About the Seminar:
            Dr. Swanson is the professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Neurology at UCSF.  He first became interested in neuroscience when he took at class in Physiological Psychology as an undergraduate.  His lab (Swanson Lab) does medical research to understand what will keep neurons alive, in hopes of improving the lives of patients suffering from strokes.    

            He discussed the past and current methods of neurological research.  Comparing normal brains and brains with differences is how we determine what certain parts of the brain do.  He gave the famous example of Phineas Gage who had his frontal lobe destroyed through an accident when building a railroad.  We saw major differences in Gage’s abitlity to have normal human controls (eg: sit still) and plan ahead, indicating that the frontal lobe had to do those human traits ( the story of Gage in song form).  Dr. Swanson referred to this method of brain research as “breaking the brain”.

            The current method of brain research that is superior to breaking the brain is using a  fMRI  (functional magnetic resonance imaging).  The fMRI began dominating neuroscience research in the early 1990's.  This machine gives us non-invasive magnetic resonance imagery into the inner workings of the brain.  While this has progressed neuroscience research greatly, it can only show major energy shifts in the brain, so we cannot yet understand all the neurons involved in every process. 

fMRI Machine

fMRI Brain Scan

Please check out the links below for more information about the seminar and Dr. Swanson.
Video of the Seminar:
Written By: Julia Moore

"Transportation Research Panel" - An Interview with En-Ya Zhang from the MSEL Transportation Team

by Shoshana Harlem, Terra Linda High School En-Ya Zhang is a Sophomore at Terra Linda High School. She is part of MSEL's Transportati...

About Us

Marin Science Seminar is a one-hour science lecture/presentation with a question and answer period open to all interested local teenagers, educators and community. Seminar sessions are held 12 Wednesday evenings during the school year, from 7:30 to 8:30 pm in room 207 at Terra Linda High School, 320 Nova Albion Way, San Rafael. Seminar speakers are scientists, mathematicians, engineers, physicians, technologists and computer programmers. The topics presented are in a specific area of the speaker’s expertise, geared to interested high school students.