Friday, December 18, 2009

Where Computer Meets Brain


In turns out that our brain is remarkably elegant but not especially efficient or reliable -- in its galaxy of 100 billion neurons, synapses fail to fire 30 percent to 90 percent of the time, which is a startling and dismal statistic. But perhaps even worse is a brain that’s firing on all or most cylinders in a body that can’t respond to the brain’s commands. What do you do for people in those situations?

The University of Michigan Direct Brain Interface (DBI) Project is developing plug-and-play brain-computer interfaces that can operate commercially available assistive technology. The Project is at the cutting edge of wide-spread research that, in the last decade, has moved from speculation to the development of devices that enable neurologically disabled patients to play Pong, Twitter, check email, send text messages, change TV channels, steer wheelchairs and even begin to speak.

The research is fascinating for those who look at it only as science. It's inspiring and thrilling for those who're doing the work. But for those whose disabilities this technology might someday overcome, the work is the essence of hope.

Where Computer Meets Brain


In turns out that our brain is remarkably elegant but not especially efficient or reliable -- in its galaxy of 100 billion neurons, synapses fail to fire 30 percent to 90 percent of the time, which is a startling and dismal statistic. But perhaps even worse is a brain that’s firing on all or most cylinders in a body that can’t respond to the brain’s commands. What do you do for people in those situations?

The University of Michigan Direct Brain Interface (DBI) Project is developing plug-and-play brain-computer interfaces that can operate commercially available assistive technology. The Project is at the cutting edge of wide-spread research that, in the last decade, has moved from speculation to the development of devices that enable neurologically disabled patients to play Pong, Twitter, check email, send text messages, change TV channels, steer wheelchairs and even begin to speak.

The research is fascinating for those who look at it only as science. It's inspiring and thrilling for those who're doing the work. But for those whose disabilities this technology might someday overcome, the work is the essence of hope.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Celebrating Flight -- December 17, Wright Brothers Day


On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright slipped the surly bonds of earth when their Wright Flyer became the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard.

The brothers launched the Wright Flyer four times on that windy, bitter cold day, from level ground to altitudes of about 10 feet. Orville had the controls for the historic first flight covering 120 feet in 12 seconds at a speed of 6.8 miles per hour. Wilbur climbed aboard for the second flight, which took the Wright Flyer about 175 feet. Orville squeezed out an additional 25 feet in flight number three. The fourth and final flight of the day with Wilbur at the controls was a long-distance marvel -- 852 feet in 59 seconds. 



In 1914, just 11 years after the Wright brothers ignited flight mania, the University of Michigan saw an educational niche to fill and established the first collegiate aeronautics program in the United States. Today, that program ranks third among similar programs throughout the United States.

The Wright Flyer hung in the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries building from 1948 until 1976, when officials moved it to the new National Air and Space Museum. In 1984 and 1985, during a refurbishment to preserve the craft, technicians uncovered a number of surprises that have made the craft all the more interesting.

The Wright brothers were small town businessmen in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where they made and repaired bicycles before developing a technology that helped define the 20th Century. Although the Wright Flyer earned its wings in 1903, it wasn't until 1906 that the U.S. Patent Office granted patent 821393 to the brothers for their "Flying Machine."

Celebrating Flight -- December 17, Wright Brothers Day


On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright slipped the surly bonds of earth when their Wright Flyer became the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard.

The brothers launched the Wright Flyer four times on that windy, bitter cold day, from level ground to altitudes of about 10 feet. Orville had the controls for the historic first flight covering 120 feet in 12 seconds at a speed of 6.8 miles per hour. Wilbur climbed aboard for the second flight, which took the Wright Flyer about 175 feet. Orville squeezed out an additional 25 feet in flight number three. The fourth and final flight of the day with Wilbur at the controls was a long-distance marvel -- 852 feet in 59 seconds. 



In 1914, just 11 years after the Wright brothers ignited flight mania, the University of Michigan saw an educational niche to fill and established the first collegiate aeronautics program in the United States. Today, that program ranks third among similar programs throughout the United States.

The Wright Flyer hung in the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries building from 1948 until 1976, when officials moved it to the new National Air and Space Museum. In 1984 and 1985, during a refurbishment to preserve the craft, technicians uncovered a number of surprises that have made the craft all the more interesting.

The Wright brothers were small town businessmen in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where they made and repaired bicycles before developing a technology that helped define the 20th Century. Although the Wright Flyer earned its wings in 1903, it wasn't until 1906 that the U.S. Patent Office granted patent 821393 to the brothers for their "Flying Machine."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rosetta -- Grabbing the Tail of Comet C-G


For decades, researchers relied on modeling to investigate how comets -- loosely assembled icy boulders -- hung together well enough to withstand the tortures of space. However, the European Space Agency-led Rosetta Mission took that research out of the realm of modeling and made a direct assault.

Since 2002, Claudia Alexander, has been the project manager and project scientist of the U.S. Rosetta Project, the NASA contribution to the International Rosetta Mission, which launched an unmanned spacecraft in March 2004 to study comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (C-G). Alexander said that she hopes data from the mission will "help reveal conditions in the primordial solar system, before the planets formed."

"Rosetta has the most instruments of any spacecraft -- that makes it challenging and one of the most exciting missions ever," said Alexander, whose alma mater, the University of Michigan, has a number of investigators involved with two instruments: VIRTIS and ROSINA. Bruce Block  managed the team that built the electronics for VIRTIS, an imaging spectrometer that combines three observing channels in one instrument. Two of the channels are devoted to spectral mapping (mapper optical subsystem), while the third channel is devoted to spectroscopy (high resolution optical subsystem). Tamas Gombosi is the primary investigator analyzing data from VIRTIS. Mike Combi is a co-investigator with the VIRTIS team. Block, Lennard Fisk, K.C. Hansen, Andy Nagy, Martin Rubin, Valerily Tenishev and Hunter Waite are co-investigators analyzing data collected by ROSINA, the main mass spectrometer on the Rosetta orbiter.

The Rosetta spacecraft will intercept C-G in 2014 at a speed of 75,000 miles per hour and become the first spacecraft to soft-land a robot on a comet. Rosetta will also be the first spacecraft to accompany a comet as it enters our inner solar system, observing at close range how the comet changes as the Sun's heat transforms it into the celestial ghost that terrified the ancients, mystified people of the Middle Ages and still baffles scientists who've been waiting for a mission like Rosetta to reveal C-G's inner workings.

Interest in Rosetta waned slightly in the years following launch, but halfway through the 10-year mission, Rosetta has been getting more attention.




Read more about the Rosetta Mission:
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Rosetta -- Grabbing the Tail of Comet C-G


For decades, researchers relied on modeling to investigate how comets -- loosely assembled icy boulders -- hung together well enough to withstand the tortures of space. However, the European Space Agency-led Rosetta Mission took that research out of the realm of modeling and made a direct assault.

Since 2002, Claudia Alexander, has been the project manager and project scientist of the U.S. Rosetta Project, the NASA contribution to the International Rosetta Mission, which launched an unmanned spacecraft in March 2004 to study comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (C-G). Alexander said that she hopes data from the mission will "help reveal conditions in the primordial solar system, before the planets formed."

"Rosetta has the most instruments of any spacecraft -- that makes it challenging and one of the most exciting missions ever," said Alexander, whose alma mater, the University of Michigan, has a number of investigators involved with two instruments: VIRTIS and ROSINA. Bruce Block  managed the team that built the electronics for VIRTIS, an imaging spectrometer that combines three observing channels in one instrument. Two of the channels are devoted to spectral mapping (mapper optical subsystem), while the third channel is devoted to spectroscopy (high resolution optical subsystem). Tamas Gombosi is the primary investigator analyzing data from VIRTIS. Mike Combi is a co-investigator with the VIRTIS team. Block, Lennard Fisk, K.C. Hansen, Andy Nagy, Martin Rubin, Valerily Tenishev and Hunter Waite are co-investigators analyzing data collected by ROSINA, the main mass spectrometer on the Rosetta orbiter.

The Rosetta spacecraft will intercept C-G in 2014 at a speed of 75,000 miles per hour and become the first spacecraft to soft-land a robot on a comet. Rosetta will also be the first spacecraft to accompany a comet as it enters our inner solar system, observing at close range how the comet changes as the Sun's heat transforms it into the celestial ghost that terrified the ancients, mystified people of the Middle Ages and still baffles scientists who've been waiting for a mission like Rosetta to reveal C-G's inner workings.

Interest in Rosetta waned slightly in the years following launch, but halfway through the 10-year mission, Rosetta has been getting more attention.




Read more about the Rosetta Mission:
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Surveying Tsunami Damage in American Samoa


On September 29th, 2009, an 8.3 magnitude earthquake generated a tsunami that devastated the island of American Samoa. Three waves, the highest reaching almost 36 feet, crushed coastal structures, shorelines and coral reefs, killed 150 people and left a laboratory for researchers who study the mechanics of what is one of the most destructive forces in nature.

Using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), Professor Julie Young and a team of researchers in the University of Michigan's Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering surveyed the coastal seabed.


A tsunami, a series of huge waves that travel in all directions from the area of disturbance, can reach heights of 100 feet and travel in the open sea as fast as 450 miles per hour. It ravages not only the visible coastal area but nearby seabed. This video shows some of the underwater wreckage that the American Samoa tsunami left behind -- in the first half you'll see marine debris washed out on to the coral reef offshore of Poloa, a village wiped off the southwest corner of Tutuila, American Samoa, during the tsunami. The debris includes metal sheet roofing, tires, clothing, plastics and other more unusual odds and ends. The second half of this video shows the tsunami-inflicted damage to the coral reef off the coast of Leone, which is also on the southwestern coast of Tutuila.

Surveying Tsunami Damage in American Samoa


On September 29th, 2009, an 8.3 magnitude earthquake generated a tsunami that devastated the island of American Samoa. Three waves, the highest reaching almost 36 feet, crushed coastal structures, shorelines and coral reefs, killed 150 people and left a laboratory for researchers who study the mechanics of what is one of the most destructive forces in nature.

Using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), Professor Julie Young and a team of researchers in the University of Michigan's Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering surveyed the coastal seabed.


A tsunami, a series of huge waves that travel in all directions from the area of disturbance, can reach heights of 100 feet and travel in the open sea as fast as 450 miles per hour. It ravages not only the visible coastal area but nearby seabed. This video shows some of the underwater wreckage that the American Samoa tsunami left behind -- in the first half you'll see marine debris washed out on to the coral reef offshore of Poloa, a village wiped off the southwest corner of Tutuila, American Samoa, during the tsunami. The debris includes metal sheet roofing, tires, clothing, plastics and other more unusual odds and ends. The second half of this video shows the tsunami-inflicted damage to the coral reef off the coast of Leone, which is also on the southwestern coast of Tutuila.