Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mission Control with Jay Trimble

by Gillian Parker, Tamalpais HS         

Have you ever wondered what happens down at mission control? Who supports astronauts from below? Jay Trimble leads the User Centered Technology Group at NASA Ames Research Center (NASA-Ames Website). The UCT Group is a collection of people with various specialties from  anthropology to computer science that work together to create software for mission control. Jay also led another team called Mars Exploration Rover Human Centered Computing Project, which worked on Mar Rover Operations. Read the following interview with Jay Trimble to find out more about mission control.

Jay Trimble

1. What are some of the projects that the User Centered Technology (UCT) Group at NASA Ames Research Center has worked on?
The UCT Group has focused on component software that allows users to build their own software with compositions, meaning users can essentially assemble their own software using drag and drop. The software is open source, it’s called Open Mission Control Technologies. You can learn more about the software at, or on GitHub at The UCT group has also built software to assist scientist in archiving planetary science data. 

2. What is the process of making software at the UCT Group like?
The process for making software is focused on the users. We use a range of methods to connect with users and translate what we’ve learned into the design of the software. We observe users doing their work in their own environment. This is important because observing users gives you a perspective that you won’t get by talking to them, though talking to users is also important. We interview users as well to better understand their work. We develop prototypes and iteratively improve them. Ideas are communicated and tested visually before committing to code. 

3. How did the Mars Exploration Rover Human Centered Computing Project improve the process and technology of Mars Rover Operations?
For Mars Rover Operations we worked with the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). We were part of a team looking at science processes. We developed software that ran on large touch screens that allowed the scientists to plan several days out what they wanted to be doing. 

4. What are your favorite/ least favorite parts of your job?
My favorite parts of my job are being part of space exploration and the people I work with. My least favorite part of the job is the uncertainty of the federal budget process. 

5. What do you see in the future of the UCT Group, and space-related technology in general?
That’s a very broad question. My group is working on a Lunar Rover Mission to conduct surface exploration in polar regions to prospect for water and other resources. That’s our focus at the moment. We are also continuing to work with JPL on software for monitoring solar system exploration spacecraft. I think space technology in general in focused on moving us beyond low Earth orbit and out into the solar system. 

6. How did you decide your career path?
I decided my career path based on my interest in the space program that began in grade school when we were landing on the Moon. 

Come to the Marin Science Seminar on Wednesday May 21 at Terra Linda High School, San Rafael; Physiology Lab 207 from 7:30-8:30 to learn more

Monday, May 19, 2014

NASA in the Silicon Valley: An Introduction to the NASA Ames Research Center

by Claire Watry, Terra Linda HS

Located in the heart of the Silicon Valley, the NASA Ames Research Center is one of ten NASA field centers across the country. The Ames Research Center has been a leader in space research and development for over 60 years. It was established in December of 1939 as part of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and was absorbed into NASA in 1958. The Ames Research Center currently employees 2,500 people and contributes $1.3 billion annually to the U.S. economy. It is involved in a variety of fields and a multitude of areas of ingenuity, lists of which can be seen below.

Ames' Key Goals are as followed:

Just out the video below for a more thorough overview of the Ames Research Center or check out the official NASA Ames Research Center YouTube channel 

The focus of the presentation will be on the Human Factors Area of Ames Ingenuity. The human factors area involves "advancing human-technology interaction for NASA missions." The human factors research is currently conducted by over 150 researchers in more than 20 labs to improve safety, efficiency, and mission success. The rapid advancement of new technology requires humans to make competent, critical decisions in a complex, technological environment. Human factors studies the interaction between humans and engineering systems to ensure safe, effective, and cost-effective operations, maintenance, and training. Ames human factors encompasses a wide range of projects from simple visual perception and motor control to the more complex areas flight deck design and crew operational procedures. One of the featured examples involves placing human subjects in a centrifuge to simulate the vibration and enhanced g-forces experienced during launch and measured the subjects' gaze stabilization reflexes, eye-movement reaction-time, accuracy, and precision, and hand-movement reaction-time, accuracy, and precision. Ames human factors includes research and development in the following areas:

  • Human-Machine Interaction improves NASA software through careful application of human computer interface methods.
  • Human Performance: develops new technologies, human performance models and evaluation tools to enhance human productivity and safety for both space and aviation environments.
  • Integration and Training: develops and evaluates methodologies to integrate human factors principles and improve aviation capacity, safety and training.
  • Intelligent Systems: conducts user-centered computational sciences research.
  • Aviation Systems: conducts research and development in air traffic management and high-fidelity flight simulation.                                              (From the NASA-Ames human factors website)

 A subject being prepared for an advanced controls and displays studies (left); a Human Computer Simulation Lab (right)

Join us this Wednesday, May 21 for this week's Marin Science Seminar "This is Mission Control" with Jay Trimble of NASA-Ames in room 207 of Terra Linda High School in San Rafael.

~Claire Watry

Monday, May 12, 2014

High Tech Mannequins

by Gillian Parker, Tamalpais HS   

Oftentimes it is nerve-wracking or even dangerous for new medical staff to carry out certain procedures on real patients. At the VA Medical Center in San Francisco, the Simulation Center has high tech mannequins to help train staff in a low-risk environment. These mannequins simulate a normal patient and allow new staff to practice various procedures like chest tube insertion and IV catheter insertion, among others. They can also be hooked up to monitors that are often used to observe patients.
     Abi Fitzgerald practices one day every week in the emergency department at the SFVA as part of her one year fellowship in advanced clinical simulation. She is an RN and achieved her MSN at San Francisco State University. Read the following interview with Abi Fitzgerald to find out more about her experience with the simulators!

1. What is the best part about having the high tech mannequins to practice on?
    The manikin's ability to simulate human functions allows clinicians to practice going through the physical motions assessing patients in both emergent and non-emergent situations, as opposed to verbally walking through the process.  This develops muscle memory and skills for recognizing normal vs. abnormal breath sounds, heart sounds, mental status, neurological functions and more.  

2. How would medical staff be trained without these medical robots?
    They could practice on actors, in which case the abnormal functions such as wheezes or heart murmurs are difficult to simulate.  They would also practice on real patients, which they still currently do, but using a manikin allows them more freedom to perform procedures and other tasks that they wouldn't necessarily be able to do on a live patient. Working with manikins allows students and clinicians to refine their skills before working with actual patients.
3. What procedures have you performed on the simulators? Could you describe some?
This year the VAMC sim lab acquired a few new simulators that have allowed us (the simulation fellows) and the clinicians who train on them, to become more familiar with a lot of new procedures.  We now have an endovascular trainer which simulates procedures that take place in the cath lab such as non-open heart valve replacements.  This is when the doctors access the heart valve through a long wire and tube that is inserted in the leg and follows the artery all the way up to the aorta and into the heart where they can replace replace a heart valve using fluoroscopic imaging. We also have a new manikin that simulates ultrasounds and displays a three dimensional virtual reality image on a computer screen.   
4. Are there any flaws/negatives to the simulators?
The cost of acquiring the simulators and the repair costs can be high, but the quality of training and knowledge gained are very much worth it.  Additionally, ongoing research projects have resulted in the acceptance of grant proposals which has made the acquisition of some of the simulators possible. 
5. What are some things that the simulators can't fully prepare you for?
  Even though we do our best to make simulated scenarios as real as possible, there are always some elements such as smells and unexpected outcomes that can be difficult but not impossible to simulate well.

Come to the Marin Science Seminar on Wednesday, May 14th, 7:30-8:30 to hear Abi Fitzgerald and Richard Fidler talk about medical education robots at Terra Linda High School in Room 207, 320 Albion Way, San Rafael, CA 94903

The Future of Medical Education: Death-Defying Robots

by Claire Watry, Terra Linda HS

This week the Marin Science Seminar introduces a unique presentation on medical education with Rich Fidler PhD MBA and Abi FitzGerald MSN RN of the VA Medical Center and their special guests - robots! These humanlike robots are utilized by medical practitioners at the Simulation Center at the VMCA in San Francisco to learn how to perform a variety of procedures and respond appropriately to different emergency scenarios. 

Rich Fidler is the Director of the Healthcare Simulation which places him in charge of all of the simulation research, education, training, and process evaluations that take place in the entire hospital, including emergency, critical care, surgery, and disaster preparedness. Fidler is also the Co-Director of the Fellowship Program in Advanced Clinical Simulation. Fidler explains this role in the following quote; "I am responsible for ensuring that our advanced fellows are receiving challenging experiences, quality didactic education in statistics, research design, thoughtful data analysis. I also ensure that they will be able to go out to conduct clinical simulations independently." In order to obtain these job titles, Fidler has collected numerous degrees and gone through extensive medical training. 

Read the interview with Rich Fidler below and be sure to attend this weeks's Marin Science Seminar. 

What degrees and training do you have, and how do they relate to each other?

PhD in Physiological Nursing from UCSF--allows me to apply knowledge and principles of physiology to understanding biomedical engineering solutions to clinical problems.
MS in Human Factors Engineering--allows me to understand human-technology interfacing, and allows me to more completely understand the reasons that people have problems operating medical equipment. 
Anesthesia Training--allows me the skill set for airway and physiologic patient monitoring and surgical perspective for a well-rounded clinical practice
Critical Care Training--allows me the experience to provide care for the sickest of hospitalized patients, applying physiology, chemistry, and pharmacology to improving patient conditions.
Primary Care Training--allows me the perspective to understand how diseases evolve over long periods of time, and also allows me to see how patients choose to participate in their healthcare
MBA--having a master's of business administration allows me the knowledge to understand people operating in a system, particularly with skills related to managing people. Frequently, it is important for me to elicit a particular behavior from our staff, but this needs to be done respectfully so that the employees WANT to do a good job.

How did you become interested in the medical field? 

I developed a special interest in healthcare when my grandfather became ill with heart problems while I was young. As early as 8 years old, I would go to spend every evening with my grandfather to try to make him feel better by pushing the fluid out of his legs. From there, I got more interested in why his heart was failing and how I could make it better. I got more interested in cardiac resuscitation after my grandfather had a sudden cardiac death event and we saved him. Then my own father had a series of 3 cardiac arrests which he survived from high quality CPR and early defibrillation, but he eventually died with the fourth cardiac arrest. 

How did you become involved in the Simulation Center?

I have always liked teaching, and I think that learning with your hands is better than someone talking you to death. When I told my father about what I did with simulation, he said, " You can't make a living playing with dolls." I guess I showed that you should do what you like to do, even if your parents don't think it's worthwhile. You have to make yourself, not your parents, happy with your career. The harder stunt is to figure out how to make lots of money doing what you love!

Example of a Simulation Center

What projects have you worked or are you currently working on in the Simulation Center?

Heart monitors.
Disaster evacuation from the hospital in the middle of surgery.
Should we unwire a jaw wired closed or do a cricothyrotomy to get oxygen to the patient?
What is the best way to open a chest for bleeding in the immediate post-open heart period?

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Seeing people that did not know how to do something not only learn how to do it, but also gain a certain amount of confidence and mastery doing the new task. 

What advice do you have for young people aspiring to have a career in the medical field? 

Do it! My grandfather said that I should either be an obstetrician or an undertaker, that way you can get people either coming or going! If you aspire to go into the healthcare field, explore your options. Becoming a physician or nurse is not your only option to make a meaningful contribution to healthcare. Medical research, especially with the human genome, is really exciting. If I were growing up now, I would probably be fascinated with that. Also, the roles of pharmacists and therapists are frequently overlooked as vital members of the healthcare team. The money should NOT be a factor in your decision. No job is worth getting up every day if you hate going. I love going to my job every single day.

Check out this very exciting presentation "Death-Defying Robots in Medical Education" with Rich Fidler PhD MBA and Abi FitzGerald MSN RN of the VA Medical Center on Wednesday, May 14 7:30 – 8:30 pm, Terra Linda High School, San Rafael, Room 207. 

Read an excellent article about Rich Fidler here 

~Claire Watry


"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.