Archives for the month of: June, 2013

From Technology Review: Perhaps it’s not surprising that people from countries with experience holding back the sea see the potential of building an artificial island to store wind energy. Belgian cabinet member, Johan Vande Lanotte, has introduced a planning proposal for a man-made atoll placed in the North Sea to store energy. The idea is to place the island a few kilometers off shore near a wind farm, according to Vande Lanotte’s office. When the wind farm produces excess energy for the local electricity grid, such as off-peak times in the overnight hours, the island will store the energy and release it later during peak times. It would use the oldest and most cost-effective bulk energy storage there is: pumped hydro.

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From Popular Science: NASA’s new heavy lift rocket isn’t the only massive space propulsion system the agency has in the works. The largest solar sail the solar system has ever known is headed to the launchpad in 2014 on a mission that will eventually take it nearly 2 million miles from Earth. The demonstrator mission aims to show that the technology lessons learned from NASA’s smaller NanoSail-D mission and JAXA’s IKAROS solar sailing space vehicle can be leveraged into a large-scale space-traversing propellantless propulsion system.

From the Center for Digital Education: In an effort to better prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Chicago has launched a pilot program that will offer Web development courses at local high schools and city colleges. Chicago Public Schools, the City Colleges of Chicago and local startup The Starter League will work together on the pilot, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on Monday, Jan. 28. The Starter League — formerly called Code Academy — teaches beginners how to code, design and ship Web applications.

ImageFrom BBC News: In a tiny classroom tucked inside one of Nairobi’s sprawling slums, the 34 class eight students of Amaf primary school wait anxiously for the 4 o’clock bell. At this time, twice a week, headmaster Peter Lalo Outa instructs students to put away their textbooks, assembles them into groups, and pulls out seven sleek tablet computers for the after-school lesson. One day, the students watch a video explaining the process of composting manure. On another, they’ll watch the animals they study come to life through videos, pictures, and interactive games. “Our curriculum in Kenya is like a punishment to children, they feel they have to do it because it’s compulsory,” explains Outa. “With these tablets, our students really enjoy learning.”

From Associated Press: The federal government’s push for drastic reforms at chronically low achieving schools has led to takeovers by charter operators, overhauls of staff and curriculum, and even school shutdowns across the country. It’s also generated a growing backlash among the mostly low-income, minority communities where some see the reforms as not only disruptive in struggling neighborhoods, but also as civil rights violations since turnaround efforts primarily affect black and Latino students. “Our concern is that these reforms have further destabilized our communities,” said Jitu Brown, education organizer of Chicago’s Kenwood-Oakwood Community Organization. 

From Nature: The outgoing US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, last week launched a project that will lower obstacles to scientific education for Arabic-speaking people across the world. In one of her last acts as America’s top diplomat, Clinton launched the Open Book Project (OBP), which will make high-quality educational resources freely available online in the Arabic language. The OBP – a joint initiative between the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALESCO) and the US State Department – will focus mainly on science and technology. It came about after the first US-Arab League Dialogue last year.Image

From Education Week: The latest draft of the common science standards is sparking criticism from some engineering education proponents, who say the document gives the discipline short shrift and represents a step backward from an earlier public draft. “The whole process started very well, and they did a very good job in the beginning,” said Ionnis Miaoulis, the president of the Museum of Science in Boston, which developed the Engineering Is Elementary program. “Engineering appeared as a core element, but now it has been diluted significantly.” He adds, “Kids should know both how scientists discover, and how an engineer designs…Everything we drive, we wear, we live in, has been touched by an engineer.”

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From The New York Times: For years — and especially since 2005, when Lawrence H. Summers, then president of Harvard, made his notorious comments about women’s aptitude — researchers have been searching for ways to explain why there are so many more men than women in the top ranks of science. Now comes an intriguing clue, in the form of a test given in 65 developed countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It finds that among a representative sample of 15-year-olds around the world, girls generally outperform boys in science — but not in the United States.

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From Technology Review: In 2011, a Corning researcher named Terry Ott faced a problem that nobody else had needed to solve in the company’s 160-year history: how to make sheets of glass that could be rolled onto spools. The challenge arose because Corning had developed a new kind of glass, known as Willow, which is as thin as a sheet of paper and acts a bit like it, too—if you shake it, it will rattle, and it can bend enough to be spooled. It could be the basis for displays in thinner, lighter cell phones and tablets—or for entirely new products, like displays that fit the curve of your wrist.

From Popular Science: 

By the end of next year, robots will walk into a disaster zone. They won’t roll in on wheels or rumble in on treads. They will walk, striding across rubble, most of them balancing on two legs. Compared with human first responders, the machines will move slowly and halt frequently. But what they lack in speed, they make up for in resilience and disposability. Chemical fires can’t sear a robot’s lungs, and a lifespan cut short by gamma rays is a logistical snag rather than a tragedy. They’ll have the mobility to do what robots couldn’t at Fukushima, navigating a crisis that unfolds in an environment lousy with doors, stairs, shattered infrastructure, and countless other obstacles. Where previous humanoid bots could barely trundle over the lip of a carpet, these systems will have to climb ladders and slide into vehicles that they themselves drive. And while the ability to turn a doorknob is now cause for celebration even in top-tier robotics labs, these bots will open what doors they can and use power tools to hammer or saw through the ones they can’t.Image