Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Imitating Nature Through Robotics

by Claire Watry, Terra Linda HS

What do Olympic swimwear, Velcro, and office buildings all have in common? They are all inspired by nature and created through the process of biomimicry. According to the Biomimicry Institute, biomimicry is “a new discipline that studies nature's best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems”. The high-tech swimsuits worn by Olympic swimmers (before they were banned from competition) to be able to swim faster are based off of shark skin. Velcro is a hook-and-loop product created by Swiss engineer George de Mestral based on a burr. Termite dens serve as the inspiration for office buildings because of the ability of their cooling chimneys and tunnels to maintain a constant internal temperature.

Meet Terra Linda High School grad Ian Krase, a junior at University of California, Berkeley studying mechanical engineering who will be presenting at the upcoming Marin Science Seminar. In his presentation Bioinspiration: Bird-bots and Bug-bots at Berkeley, Ian will discuss how robots are developed through the process of biomimicry. In college, Ian joined the Fearing Lab, a group that works to create small, efficient robots by mimicking nature. Ian’s explanation of the Fearing Lab is “in university research, each professor runs a lab, with several graduate students who are working on their PhDs or Masters degrees. Each student has a project, and the whole lab has a unifying theme with its own laboratory space and shared resources. Fearing Lab is Professor Fearing's lab, and is focused on biomimicry and small-scale robotics.” The interview below shows how Ian became interested in robotics, what kind of work is done in the Fearing Lab, and advice on how to become involved in robotics.

What sparked your interest in robots?
I've been interested in mechanical things for as long as I remember, and robots are a developing field with some of the most interesting open questions. While I tried building a robot in junior high on a whim, my current interest began when I saw some robotics labs while visiting colleges. 
What past project are you most proud of?
Probably the work I did on BOLT (Bipedal Ornithopter for Locomotion Transitioning), a hybrid running and flying robot. I designed a carbon fiber frame for it to allow it to steer. My work on flight evolution was also pretty cool, but the part I actually worked on didn't end up panning out very well. 

Read more about BOLT here
What project are you currently working on?
Currently, I'm working on an upgraded ornithopter and on a project to study the evolution of flight in birds by building robotic models of extinct birds and test-flying them. 
What lessons have you learned from mimicking nature?
Natural systems are incredibly complicated, even the ones that seem simple. You need a LOT of iterations. And there is almost always a reason for everything -- you have to look a long way for something you can actually change. Also, natural systems seem to be incredibly strong and damage resistant. It's actually a little creepy. 
What do you see as the future/potential of biomimicry? 
We can expect some much more efficient equipment, especially small UAVs. I also expect to see prosthetics to get much better, although Fearing Lab doesn't work on things of that scale. I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of equipment replacing motors or manual latches with shape-shifting actuators. 

How can students learn more about and get involved with robotics and biomimicry?

Robotics is pretty popular, and easy to get into -- you can pick up a Lego robotics set or use an Arduino and a simple driving base. On the other hand, if you want to go Fearing Lab style, you'll do better starting with the mechanical parts. (Most of our work is more about mechanical systems and controls than about software). In the last five years there's been an explosion in the availability of cheap and easy to use 3D printers and electronics development kits. You might want to join a hackerspace -- these often have classes or workshops in electronics and other subjects. If you want to get your hands on a Fearing Lab project, you can check out Dash Robotics. And there is also a project to make gecko tape in a school chemistry lab environment on the Fearing Lab website.

Gecko Tape
For more information: Gecko Tape Activity
As far as college goes, you'll probably want to go to a research institution for mechanical, electrical, or bioengineering. Fearing Lab at UC Berkeley, the Poly-Pedal lab at Berkeley, the Biorobotics Lab at Case Western Reserve University, and the Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation lab at Stanford are all biomimetic robotics labs. General robotics labs are quite common at universities with engineering research. You should also look at joining TL's FIRST Robotics team. 

For more information about the Biomimetic Millisystems Lab click here

Learn more about biomimicry in engineering on NOVA's Making Stuff: Wilder. You can watch it online here

Learn more about robotics and biomimicry at BioinspirationBird-bots and Bug-bots at Berkeley" with Ian Krase, TLHS grad and junior at UC Berkeley on Wednesday, October 30th, 2013, 7:30 – 8:30 pm, Terra Linda High School, San Rafael, Room 207


Claire Watry

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Entering the Medical Field

by Jessica Gerwin, Drake HS

Dr. Art Wallace, who is a cardiac anesthesiologist and the Chief of Anesthesia Service at the San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center (SF VAMC) will be presenting at the Marin Science Seminars this Wednesday. His presentation “Making Medicine Safer”, will explore the vital roles that drugs, devices and software play in modern medicine. I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Wallace and was given insight on how to enter into medical professions. Our interview is below.

  1. Your B.S. was in Engineering and Applied Sciences. Did you start off wanting to be an Engineer?  If so, what first sparked your interest in the field of medicine?
    1. I always wanted to be a doctor. My mother died when I was a young child and this experience focused my interest in medicine with a goal of preventing this problem in others.
    2. I started off in college with a goal to go to medical school but with an interest in physics and engineering as well. Electrical engineering appealed to me, so I majored in Engineering and Applied Science with a focus on electrical and biomedical engineering.
    3. I am fascinated by how stuff works.

  1. What kept you motivated to go through the intensive level of schooling needed to become an anesthesiologist?
    1. I was fascinated by medicine and research.
    2. In medical school, I my girlfriend developed cancer. This second experience with terminal illness drove me even harder to try to find therapies to help patients.
    3. I was driven to invent therapies that save lives.

  1. What makes you excited about going to work everyday?
    1. Providing the best care possible for patients.
    2. Creating the future of medical care. I focus on inventing therapies. Testing therapies. Making therapies better.

  1. What attributes, both teachable and non-teachable, do teenagers need to have to start pursuing a career in medicine?
    1. Fascination with science, medicine, people.
    2. Caring about people.
    3. Desire to understand how stuff works.

  1. What sort of local opportunities should teenagers be looking for?
    1. Exposure to science.
    2. Exposure to medical care – volunteer in a hospital.

  1. Do you feel that teenagers today underestimate what it takes to become a successful?
    1. Teenagers need to realize that it takes a  long time to accomplish something significant. I worked for almost 30 years to become a doctor. Once I was a physician, it took 10 more years to get good at it.
    2. One can master a video game in a week (less than 168 hours). Becoming a doctor takes a minimum of 12 years of work 100 hours a week. That is more than 60,000 hours of work to become a doctor.

  1. What message would you like to give teenagers today about joining the medical field?
    1. It is great. I love it. I can’t imagine a better thing to do with my life.
    2. It takes a lot of work.
    3. Make sure it is something that fascinates you.
    4. There is enormous joy in providing care to patients. They are relieved. They don’t die. They are no longer in pain. It is a tremendous experience to be able to help a patient.
    5. It is a tremendous experience to invent a therapy that prevents morbidity and mortality.

To learn more about recent advances and methodologies in modern medicine, check out our next seminar on October 23rd  featuring Dr. Art Wallace speaking on “Making Medicine Safer with Drugs, Devices, Software and More” The event will take place at Terra Linda High School Room 207 at 7:30 pm. To download the Fall flyer, click here.

Click on the link below for more information about Dr. Wallace

Image credits

-Jessica Gerwin

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Process Behind Medical Innovations Revealed

by Claire Watry, Terra Linda HS

This week Dr. Art Wallace returns to the Marin Science Seminar to present “Making Medicine Safer with Drugs, Devices, Software & More”. Dr. Wallace is a cardiac anesthesiologist at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center (SF VAMC) and the Chief of the Anesthesia Service. He is also a professor of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Care at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Wallace provides clinical anesthesia care to patients at the SF VAMC and has a laboratory that works on reducing perioperative risk. He has compiled an impressive list of innovative theories for perioperative cardiac patients. Dr. Wallace will explain the process of developing a new drug, device, or software and answer your burning questions: How is a drug or device developed? How is a new product tested? How is it determined whether the therapy is successful or not?  How do new technology and therapies change medical care? For a sneak peek preview of his presentation, check out part of my interview with Dr. Wallace below. 

What is the process of researching, developing, and implementing a new drug, device, or software?

a. The first step is to identify a problem and then identify the likely etiologic factors (what causes the problem). When we looked at patients having heart attacks around the time of surgery we first did an epidemiologic study to find out how often they died. We then put holter monitors (small portable ECG monitors) on the patients. We found that they had myocardial ischemia (not enough blood supply to the heart muscle).

b. The next step is to test likely therapies. We tested 20 different drugs to find ones that would prevent myocardial ischemia. We found four that worked.

c. The next step is to implement the programs. We implemented programs in our hospital to use those medications. Those programs decreased the mortality of patients about 35%.

d. The next step is to disseminate the program to other hospitals. We helped more than  1000 other hospitals implement the programs and they found similar reductions in mortality.

e. For devices the approaches are similar – 1) Identify a problem. 2) Find possible causes. 3) See if you can create a device to eliminate the problem. 4) Test the device to see  if it reduces or eliminates the problem.

How long does the process typically take?
The development of perioperative cardiac risk reduction takes many years and many billions of dollars. It depends when you start the clock. When did you identify the problem? When did you find a likely solution? When did you prove it works? When did you get others to use it? Science takes a long time. Once you find a therapy, it takes the average doctor 17 years to adopt it.

When asked about what serious health issues he believes can be alleviated by the development of new technology, Dr. Wallace answered that even with new technological advances, prevention is key because “many of the health care problems we face are related to behaviors”. Dr. Wallace cited using birth control and HIV prevention, not smoking, taking illegal drugs, becoming obese or drinking excessively, and exercising regularly as prime examples of how proper education and behavior alterations can dramatically reduce health problems. He maintained that “it is vastly easier and more effective to avoid having a problem than to attempt to fix it” and mentioned computerized reminders to eat reasonably, to avoid drugs, cigarettes, and excessive alcohol, and to exercise as an effective way to avoid having a problem.

Dr. Wallace stressed that even with advanced technology “developing some miracle drug or therapy for a disease is really, really hard. Avoiding getting the disease in the first place is vastly easier and cheaper. Literacy, flush toilets and sewers, washing your hands, chlorine and fluoride in drinking water, refrigerators, pasteurization, electricity, seat belts, and social security did vastly more for people than medicine.”

Learn more about the development of new medical therapies at Making Medicine Safer with Drugs, Devices, Software & More” with Dr. Art Wallace M.D. Ph. D. on Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013, 7:30 – 8:30 pm, Terra Linda High School, San Rafael, Room 207


Claire Watry

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Public Health Plays More Roles In Your Life Than You May Think

by Jessica Gerwin, Drake HS

When you hear the term public health, ideas that may come to mind might be about immunizations or food recalls. However, many of us don't realize how big of a role public health plays in our everyday lives.  From the faucets that we fill our drinking cups with to the seat belts that we wear in our cars, almost all aspects of our well being relate to Public Health in some way. On October 16th, 2013 Julie Pettijohn did an exemplary job of explaining the topic of public health and talked about what being in the field really involves. As an industrial hygienist, a typical work day for Julie is not just filling out paperwork in an office. Wearing a full outfit of protective gear, Julie often goes to a site to detect possible lead amounts in a work environment. Her job keeps us safe by enforcing the proper health requirements. The work and service of people like Julie in the public health field may often be taken for granted. Nevertheless, by attending the seminar many of us learned that being in the field is not just a job, it is establishing safe and healthy ways of life. I had the honor of asking Julie some questions about both herself and her field. Our interview is below.

1.) I’d like to learn a little about you. What made you decide to go into biology and then public health?

        I have been interested in science since junior high (now called middle school). I had a fantastic physical science teacher that really brought science to life for me. His teaching was unconventional, and his class time was spent mostly applying scientific principles through experiments instead of reading a text book. I was also a child of parents that went to community college while my sibling and I were kids. My parents met a fantastic professor that later became our good family friend. He was a Native American expert and professor of astronomy and geology. We would spend evenings at his home looking through his telescope and I often attended his college geology field trips along with my parents. While in college, I first majored in biological sciences and completed internships at the local community health center; I was thinking of going to medical school after graduation. I was fortunate to attend UC Santa Barbara, a university that is well known for aquatic biology coursework. I switched majors midway through college from biological sciences to aquatic biology and graduated with a degree in this major. This was done to pursue my due to my deep love of the ocean. My first 'real' job was with a state department, where I was a contractor working on public health issues related to fish contamination. My mentors at that position encouraged me to get a Master’s Degree in public health, where I could continue to learn about issues related to health, but also environmental issues, thus combining two of my interests (health and the environment).

2.)  I think that public health and public policy are difficult subjects for teenagers to relate to. Can you explain the role of public health in Marin County?

        I work at the state level, so I'm not as knowledgeable about public health issues in Marin County. However, the County Public Health Department provides a number of direct services to Marin residents and the one that I am most familiar with is Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention. County public health nurses and environmental health specialists conduct home visits where children have elevated blood lead levels, putting them at lifelong risk for learning and behavioral problems. The purpose of these site visits is to determine possible sources of the lead in the child's environment, so that they can be reduced or eliminated.. See http://www.marinhhs.org/content/public-health-updates for some public health updates for Marin. My talk will include asking teens questions, and by the responses that I anticipate, I’m pretty sure that most of them know quite a bit about public health already, but may not automatically associate this knowledge with the field of public health.
3.)  Can you talk a little bit about the sampling equipment you are bringing? What are you sampling for? What personal protective equipment are you bringing?

        I'm bringing with me air monitoring equipment. I use the air monitoring equipment to measure lead in workplace air to assess if workers are being excessively exposed above legal limits and to make recommendations on lead safety. I'm also bringing lead check swabs which are used for immediately assessing the presence of lead surface contamination or the presence of lead in paint. I'll be demonstrating the use of these during the talk. I'll also be bringing wipe sampling equipment that can be used for quantitatively determining the amount of lead (or other metals) on surfaces in workplaces, homes, and other places of interest. As for personal protective equipment, I'll be bringing respiratory protection used for reducing the amount of a chemical of concern (like lead) that may breathed in by workers in workplace air. I'll also be showing tyvek coveralls which are worn in many industries to keep lead (also other contaminants) from contaminating your street clothes while working. I'll be bringing a hard hat, gloves, and a traffic safety vest too.
4.)  What are a few examples global climate change that are impacting Marin County?

        Extremes in weather, flooding, and water quality issues.
5). What do you consider to be the largest public health issue involving teens in Marin County?

        This is a great question. From my perspective, public health issues that affect Marin teens are wellness and injury prevention. What I mean by this is that teens should be thinking about personal physical fitness and nutrition. Many teens in our Country are unfortunately overweight putting them at risk for lifelong health issues, particularly as they age (heart disease, diabetes, etc.). In addition, teens are often new and inexperienced drivers, new to employment outside the home, may become sexually active for the first time and may have peer pressure to drink alcohol or take illegal substances. As a result, teens are at greater risk for accidents, particularly on the road, in the workplace, and may be exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, which if left untreated, can have serious health consequences. Besides this, a goal of my talk is to get teens to also think about global climate change and things that they can do to help.
6.)  What steps can our community take to better ourselves on these issues?

Get informed and get involved in the issues, and take care of your health to prevent or reduce future injury or illness.
7.)  Is there anything else that you’ll be talking about?

              The field of industrial hygiene, the program that I work for (Occupational Lead Poisoning Prevention Program of the California Department of Public Health), how lead impacts your health, where lead is found in various industries, and recent work by CDPH on making recommendations to reduce the allowable levels of lead in workplaces, which would be a major change in public health policy for lead workplaces. Also, I'll briefly cover some career opportunities in public health.

Julie is one of the many people that work in the STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). If you are interested in learning more about these fields or just science in general, attending a Marin Science Seminar can be a great way to expose yourself to new topics and learn about a few different environments. Come check out our next seminar on October 23rd “Making Medicine Safer - Drugs, Devices, Software and More” presented by Dr. Wallace. The seminar will take place at Terra Linda High School in Room 207 so come check it out!
October is Nova’s “Innovation Month”. You can learn more about different seminars that are taking place by clicking on the link below.
-Jessica Gerwin

"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.