More Computer Science Classes are Needed, Educators Say

More Computer Science Classes are Needed, Educators Say

The Westmoreland Central School District is on the verge of introducing Computer Science and coding program that will be in each level. The district initially started by adding a coding program in kindergarten and second-grade curriculum.

According to Superintendent Rocco Migliori, each year, the district made sure to include two more grades until this year when the high school started offering the program with a dual credit class through Mohawk Valley Community College. The high school is intended to provide more courses in the future.

However, the journey has not always been rosy. They encountered challenges such as training of staff, curriculum development, certification, finances, and equipment.

“Some of this is about STEAM programs. Some are about creating relevance to mathematics. Some were to meet the demands of business partners who provided us with these ideas and insight. Some has been in response to kids’ interests,” Migliori said in an email.

Unfortunately, many districts face obstacles when rolling out computer science sources. Currently, only 45 percent of all high schools teach the subject according to a 2019 State of Computer Science Education report.

The report is a joint effort by, Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance, and Computer Science Teachers Association.

In New York, for example, only 44 percent of high schools offered at least one computer science courses during the 2017-2018 academic year. However, educators say that more is to be done.

“We live in a technological society, and any advantage we can give to our students is important, including exposure to the computer sciences as a viable career path,” said Steven Falchi, administrative director of curriculum and instruction K-12 in the Utica City School District.



New Strategy to Tackle the Math and Science Shortage

New Strategy to Tackle the Math and Science Shortage

Yvonne Baker expresses her gratitude to her teacher, who encouraged her to go into engineering. According to Baker, her teacher inspired her at a time when it was unheard for girls to consider engineering. She was glad that she made her choice; as a chartered chemical engineer, she now focuses on persuading people to choose science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM).

Baker said that teachers can change things and that they are a crucial part of solving the engineering skills shortage and encouraging more girls. She is currently heading the STEM Learning, which provides education and career support.

Concerned over the lack of math and physics teachers, the government is currently focusing on finding more and hanging on to them with a new recruitment and retention strategy started this year. It supports teachers and offers flexible work. With some bonuses of up to £10,000, the government hopes to encourage math teachers to remain after training, in total £406m is invested precisely on math, digital, and technical education.

According to Helen Staton, who teaches biology and science in Southampton, Hampshire, she would not leave if she got paid. She joined via Teach First, a charity which focuses on recruiting for shortage subjects in 2016. Staton says that for her, it is about teaching what science is because kids do not know the fantastic careers available.

However, there are not enough teachers like Staton. Half of math and physics teachers stay on in-state schools for more than five years, which is worse than the overall retention rate of sixty percent according to a 2018 report from the Education Policy Institute shows. Presently, there are more pupils, 17 per teacher up from 15.5 in 2010. In 2025, a population increase means that there will be 15 percent more pupils in secondary schools than in 2018.



Researchers Develop a Way to Manipulate Brain Cells Using Smartphones

Researchers Develop a Way to Manipulate Brain Cells Using Smartphones

A team of scientists in Korea and the United States has developed a device which controls neural circuits using a tiny brain implant controlled by a smartphone. The researchers who published their study believe that the device could speed up efforts to find brain diseases like addiction, pain, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and depression.

The equipment, using Lego-like replaceable drug cartridges and robust Bluetooth low-energy can target specific neurons of interest using light and drug for prolonged periods. According to the lead author Raza Qazi, a researcher with Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and University of Colorado Boulder, the wireless neural device enables chronic chemical and optical neuromodulation which has never been achieved before.

Qazi mentioned that the technology significantly overshadows conventional methods used by neuroscientists that involve rigid metal tubes and optical fibers to deliver drugs and light. Besides limiting the subject’s movement due to the physical connections with heavy equipment, their relatively rigid structure leads to a lesion in soft brain tissue over time. This makes them not appropriate for long-term implantation.

As much as some efforts have been directed to partly mitigate negative tissue response by incorporating soft probes and wireless platforms, the previous solutions were limited by their failure to deliver drugs for more extended periods as well as massive and complex control setups.

To enable chronic wireless drug delivery, scientists had to solve the crucial challenge of exhaustion and evaporation of drugs. Researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and the University of Washington in Seattle cooperated to invent a neural device with a replaceable drug cartridge that could enable neuroscientists to study the same brain circuits without worrying about running out of drugs.

The plug-n-play drug cartridges were put into a brain implant for mice with a soft and ultrathin probe which consisted of microfluidic channels and tiny LEDs, for ample drug doses and light delivery.



Researchers Find a Way to Imitate Softness

Researchers Find a Way to Imitate Softness

A team of engineers and psychologists at the University of California San Diego explored the question of the factor that affect how human touch perceives softness for instance, a fingertip against a marshmallow, a rubber ball or clay. They discovered tricks to design materials that imitate different levels of perceived softness.

The findings of the study show fundamental insights into designing tactile materials and haptic interfaces which can recreate real touch sensations. These materials could be applicable for electronic skin, prostheses and medical robotics.

According to Charles Dhong who co-led the study as a postdoctoral fellow at UC San Siego, they are providing a formula to recreate a spectrum of softness and in doing so, they will be helping close the gap in understanding what it takes to recreate aspects of touch. Dhong is currently the assistant professor in biomedical engineering at the University of Delaware. He worked with Darren Lipomi, the study’s co-responding author and a professor of nanoengineering at UC San Diego.

Dhong said that the interesting thing about the study is that they found two new ways to tune the professed softness of an object, micropatterning and changing thickness. Said that Young’s modulus is what scientists usually turn to in terms of what is soft or hard. This is a factor that they could now show that it is only one part of the equation.

The researchers started by examining two parameters engineers use to measure the perceived softness of a material: indentation depth and contact area between the fingertip and the object. Usually, these parameters change simultaneously as a fingertip presses into a material. Touch a piece of soft rubber for instance, and the contact area will increase deeper a fingertip presses in.

Lipomi, Dhong and colleagues got more interested in how indention depth and contact area independently influenced the perception of softness. They specially engineered materials which decoupled the two parameters and then tested them on humans.



Virtual Reality Helps To Solve Minor Problems

Virtual Reality Helps To Solve Minor Problems

A recent study shows that conversation with yourself embodied as Dr. Sigmund Freud works to improve people’s mood as compared to talking about your problems in a virtual discussion with pre-scripted comments. Some researchers claimed that this method could be used clinically to help people dealing with minor personal issues.

Usually, people are better at giving others useful advice when they are in trouble than when they are dealing with their problems. As much as people typically have a continuous internal dialogue, people are trapped inside their ways of thinking with their history and points of view, finding it difficult to take an external perspective regarding their problems. But, with friends, especially those who know people know well, it gets simpler to understand the bigger picture and help them solve their problems.

A team of researchers from the University of Barcelona (UB), IDIBAPS and Virtual BodyWorks, a spin-off of both institutions and ICREA used immerse virtual reality to see the effects of talking to themselves as if they were someone else with the help of virtual reality.

Mel Slater and Solene Neyret who are researchers at the Experimental Virtual Environments Lab for Neuroscience and Technology (Event lab) led the study, a research of the Faculty of Psychology of the UB. Guillem Feixas, a clinical psychologist of the UB Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychobiology and the Institute of Neuroscience of the University of Barcelona, was also part of the study.

Studies in the past developed by the research team showed that, when people adopt a different body using virtual reality, their behavior, perception, and attitude towards things change. According to Mel Slater, they showed earlier that people could talk to themselves as if they were another person, body-swapping to two different avatars and that the moods and happiness of the participants improved.



Biomass Fuel Conversion Improved Through Supercomputing

Biomass Fuel Conversion Improved Through Supercomputing

Fuel produced from forestry or agricultural waste, also known as lignocellulosic biomass, has always been a champion in the process of reducing the use of fossil fuels. However, plant cell walls have some innate defense system, which makes the process of breaking them down to be costly and complicated.

To understand how plant biomass could be a game-changer and can be further broken down efficiently, a research team from the University of California, Riverside joined forces with groups at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Central Florida to create a chemical roadmap to breach the defenses.

For access the energy-rich sugars found in the plant cell walls to be possible, they renewed focus on solvating lignin, a complex polymer is found in plant cell walls that act as a natural shield, preventing both chemical and biological attack. Lignin is also useful in avoiding commercial enzymes from digesting cellulose that makes up the bulk of sugars in biomass.

Previously, different specialized chemicals and pretreatment methods had been used to improve enzyme access to cellulose; however, they were ineffective at removing lignin. Using strong acids, ionic liquids, ammonia, and sulfite treatments have somehow developed the digestibility of cellulose; however, the methods still leave lignin behind making cellulose costly to recover. Other methods used co-solvents like ethanol and acetone solvate to remove lignin. They still required very high reaction temperatures, which also cause the remaining sugars to degrade.

Due to this, economically viable methods of transforming biomass into biofuels are yet to be discovered. The assistant research engineer at the Center For Environmental Research And Technology in the Marlan called Charles Cai and Abhishek S. Patri, a doctoral student in chemical and environmental engineering and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering at UC Riverside, led a team of researchers to focus on identifying highly specialized co-solvents, substances added to a primary solvents to make it useful and can facilitate milder temperature salvation, releasing lignin from plant cell walls.



Prosthetic Arm Which Can Sense Touch and Move with Your Thoughts

Prosthetic Arm Which Can Sense Touch and Move with Your Thoughts

For anyone, picking up an egg is nothing but typical, except for Keven Walgamott who had a good feeling when he picked up an egg without crushing it. It felt like a Herculean task for Walgamott who had lost his left hand in an electrical accident seventeen years ago. He was testing a prototype of a high-tech prosthetic arm with fingers that can do more than just moving; it can proceed with his thoughts.

This was made possible thanks to a biomedical team at the University of Utah. They made it possible for him to feel the egg well enough so his brain can tell the prosthetic arm not to squeeze it. The team led by a biomedical engineering associate professor Gregory Clark developed a way for the LUKE Arm, named after the robotic hand that Luke Skywalker had in ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ to imitate the way human hands feel on objects by sending correct signals to the brain.

According to George, they changed the way we are sending information to the brain so that it matches the human body. He added that by matching the human body, they were able to see improved benefits and is making biologically realistic signs.

This meant that an amputee wearing the prosthetic arm could sense the touch of something hard or soft, understand better how to pick things up and perform delicate tasks which would at times be possible with a standard prosthetic with metal claws or hooks for hands.

According to Walgamott, it almost put him to tears when he used the LUKE Arm for the first time in a clinical test in 2017. He felt that it was terrific, and he never thought he would be able to believe in that hand again. He is a real estate agent from West Valley City, Utah and was one of the seven test subjects at the University of Utah.



Is your supercomputer stumped? There may be a quantum solution

Is your supercomputer stumped? There may be a quantum solution

Some math problems are so complicated that they can bog down even the world’s most powerful supercomputers. But a wild new frontier in computing that applies the rules of the quantum realm offers a different approach.

A new study led by a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), details how a quantum computing technique called “quantum annealing” can be used to solve problems relevant to fundamental questions in nuclear physics about the subatomic building blocks of all matter.

The algorithm that Chang developed to run on the quantum annealer can solve polynomial equations, which are equations that can have both numbers and variables and are set to add up to zero. A variable can represent any number in a large range of numbers.

Chang said that the quantum annealing approach used in the study, also known as adiabatic quantum computing, “works well for fewer but very dense calculations,” and that the technique appealed to him because the rules of quantum mechanics are familiar to him as a physicist.

The data output from the annealer was a series of solutions for the equations sorted into columns and rows. This data was then mapped into a representation of the annealer’s qubits, Chang explained, and the bulk of the algorithm was designed to properly account for the strength of the interaction between the annealer’s qubits. “We repeated the process thousands of times” to help validate the results, he said.

While it will be an exciting next step to work to apply the algorithm to solve nuclear physics problems, “This algorithm is much more general than just for nuclear science,” Chang noted. “It would be exciting to find new ways to use these new computers.”


Can mathematics help us understand the complexity of our microbiome?

How do the communities of microbes living in our gastrointestinal systems affect our health? Carnegie’s Will Ludington was part of a team that helped answer this question.

In order to reveal a potential evolutionary trajectory biologists measure the interactions between genes to see which combinations are most fit. An organism that is evolving should take the most fit path. This concept is called a fitness landscape, and various mathematical techniques have been developed to describe it.

Like the genes in a genome, microorganisms in the gut microbiome interact, yet there isn’t a widely accepted mathematical framework to map the patterns of these interactions. Existing frameworks for genes focus on local information about interactions but do not put together a global picture.

Joswig and Ludington then joined with Holger Eble of TU Berlin, a graduate student working with Joswig, and Lisa Lamberti of ETH Zurich. Lamberti had previously collaborated with Ludington to apply a slightly different mathematical framework for the interactions to microbiome data. In the present work, the team expanded upon that previous framework to produce a more global picture by mapping the patterns of interactions onto a landscape.

But the sheer diversity of species in the human microbiome makes it very difficult to elucidate how these communities influence our physiology. This is why the fruit fly makes such an excellent model. Unlike the human microbiome, it consists of only a handful of bacterial species.

“We’ve built a rigorous mathematical framework that describes the ecology of a microbiome coupled to its host. What is unique about this approach is that it allows a global view of a microbiome-host interaction landscape,” said Ludington. “We can now use this approach to compare different landscapes, which will let us ask why diverse microbiomes are associated with similar health outcomes.”



Tiny motor can ‘walk’ to carry out tasks

Years ago, MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld had an audacious thought. Struck by the fact that all the world’s living things are built out of combinations of just 20 amino acids, he wondered: Might it be possible to create a kit of just 20 fundamental parts that could be used to assemble all of the different technological products in the world?

Gershenfeld and his students have been making steady progress in that direction ever since. Their latest achievement, presented this week at an international robotics conference, consists of a set of five tiny fundamental parts that can be assembled into a wide variety of functional devices, including a tiny “walking” motor that can move back and forth across a surface or turn the gears of a machine.

Previously, Gershenfeld and his students showed that structures assembled from many small, identical subunits can have numerous mechanical properties. Their work offers an alternative to today’s approaches to constructing robots, which largely fall into one of two types: custom machines that work well but are relatively expensive and inflexible, and reconfigurable ones that sacrifice performance for versatility.

Using this simple kit of tiny parts, Langford assembled them into a novel kind of motor that moves an appendage in discrete mechanical steps, which can be used to turn a gear wheel, and a mobile form of the motor that turns those steps into locomotion, allowing it to “walk” across a surface in a way that is reminiscent of the molecular motors that move muscles.

The new system is a significant step toward creating a standardized kit of parts that could be used to assemble robots with specific capabilities adapted to a particular task or set of tasks.