GRS prof’s work has remote sensing, mobile robot implications
By Amy Laskowski
Gail Carpenter is not an electronics engineer, but that didn’t stop the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) from offering her afellowship. Carpenter, a Graduate School of Arts & Sciences professor of cognitive and neural systems and of mathematics, received the honor earlier this month for her development of the adaptive resonance theory (ART) and modeling of Hodgkin-Huxley neurons, both of which play a crucial role in neuroscience. ART can be used to model how the brain or a machine can quickly learn, remember, and recognize objects and events, and it can be applied to challenging engineering problems.
“I enjoy working with engineers,” says Carpenter. “Engineers appreciate the notion that the brain is a working model, and they’re used to having mathematical models that describe what they are trying to build and to predict what the bridge can hold or where the rocket will go.”
Virginia Sapiro, dean of Arts & Sciences, says she is delighted for Carpenter. “It is an important and well-deserved recognition of her work,” says Sapiro. “And it will shine a light on the first-rate science for which Boston University faculty are responsible.”
Carpenter says the fellowship shows how far neural modeling has come since she began her work in the field four decades ago. “Back then, neural modeling wasn’t even a field,” she says. “A small number of us would go to conferences in mathematics or psychology and maybe give a talk that was really marginal. It has evolved in a way that none of us would have anticipated.”
In 1987, Carpenter, working with Wang Professor of Cognitive and Neural Systems Stephen Grossberg, a CAS professor of mathematics and statistics and of psychology and a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering, developed the adaptive resonance theory. Their work has real-world applications in remote sensing, medical diagnosis, automatic target recognition, mobile robots, and database management. For example, when engineers at Boeing design systems for airplanes, they often redesign parts already in existence, because it takes so long to sort through the archived designs. Using an ART model, they can quickly learn how to retrieve designs that match a rough sketch of a new design.
Carpenter’s research includes the development, computational analysis, and application of neural models of vision, synaptic transmission, and circadian rhythms. Her work in vision has ranged from models of the retina to color processing and long-range figure completion.
Carpenter is a founding member of the Center for Adaptive Systems and the department of cognitive and neural systems and former co–principal investigator for the National Science Foundation’s Center of Excellence for Learning in Education, Science, and Technology (CELEST). She has been elected to successive three-year terms on the board of governors of theInternational Neural Network Society (INNS), received the INNS Gabor Award, and was named an INNS Fellow. She was the first woman to be given the IEEE Neural Networks Pioneer Award. She has also served as an elected member of the Council of the American Mathematical Society and is a charter member of the Association for Women in Mathematics. Carpenter earned a BA in mathematics from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a PhD in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
The IEEE, with more than 400,000 members worldwide, is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence. Carpenter was one of 298 scientists named an IEEE Fellow this year.
Walk This Way: Peter Paul Awards boost research of SAR’s Cara Lewis and other promising junior faculty
By Patrick L. Kennedy
You were taught to read and write. You were taught to do arithmetic. But chances are, you taught yourself to walk. And quite possibly you got it wrong, and are now walking in a way that could damage your hips. If that’s the case, says Cara Lewis, an expert on gait and the musculoskeletal causes of hip pain, you could be the recipient of one of the 250,000 hip replacements that are performed in this country each year. Lewis is developing methods—including a robotic device—to teach people how to correct a hip-battering walk.
“My goal is to intervene early on, so that osteoarthritis doesn’t progress—or doesn’t even develop,” says the Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences assistant professor of physical therapy.
Her research has convinced her that hip pain can’t be written off as a burden of old age. That wouldn’t explain the increasing number of young people, especially runners and other athletes, who suffer from acetabular labral tears, an injury to cartilage in the hip socket that increases the risk of developing arthritis.
The repetitive stress from an improper gait, Lewis believes, will cause hip pain, “which then progresses to a labral tear; you then start losing stability in the joint, which then leads to the arthritis—which [may result in the need for] a hip replacement. The replacement might be happening when you’re 60, but it’s because of something you did when you were 30.”
The 20- and 30-somethings are the population to target. “If you change the way they’re walking now, you can change their pain after they already have a tear—or maybe change it before they get the tear,” she says.
BUT HOW DO YOU CHANGE THE MECHANICS OF A PERSON’S GAIT?
For Lewis, the answer came at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she did postdoctoral work on robotic exoskeletons for the ankle joints. She built a robotic orthosis, a pneumatically powered exoskeleton consisting of a brace each for the waist and two legs.
In a newly built lab at Sargent College, where Lewis has been teaching since fall 2009, healthy subjects wear the orthosis while walking on a custom treadmill with two plates measuring force separately for the left foot and the right foot. Electrodes on their legs record their muscle activity. And they are covered in reflective markers monitored by several motion-capture cameras.
“The computer system picks up the marker positions and then can re-create a model of the skeleton,” she says. “From that we can tell differences in angles and figure out when we want to apply the robotic force, and how much.”
When the subjects exhibit what Lewis calls “the lazy walk”—straining their hips by using them to swing one leg forward while the other leg lags far behind—she presses a button. Air from a large pressurized air tank bursts into the orthotic actuators and corrects their gait.
“It’ll start bringing your leg forward sooner,” Lewis says. “It keeps you out of that bad position. I can wean people off of the bad position and they can walk normally on the street.”
Lewis has also had success correcting lab subjects’ gait with decidedly low-tech verbal cues. “Some of it is just saying, ‘Hey! The way you walk doesn’t work; push more with your foot!’” Lewis says with a laugh. “Or ‘Change your posture’ or ‘Take shorter steps.’”
Lewis’ lab is now focusing on research, rather than intervention, but she envisions a time when her systems are put to work in clinics. People recovering from hip injuries could work out on the treadmill until they trained themselves to walk properly. And healthy people could use the orthosis to improve their walking and prevent a hip injury.
Professor Barba was selected to participate at the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Frontiers of Engineering Education (FOEE) symposium. Here is a reflective note she wrote after coming back from this event.
Engineering education changes slowly. At the first engineering schools in America—West Point (1819), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1828), University of Virginia (1833)—a professor lectured at the blackboard just like today. It took decades for engineering faculty to focus on engineering science, motivated by the demand for research created by WWII and influenced by immigrant European professors (Seely, 1999). But in the 1990s, many engineering schools began to revert that emphasis on engineering science and search for a new balance. The common complaint from industry that graduates were not prepared well in practical engineering skills drove reformers to refocus on design and problem-solving.
With reform efforts still not finalized, the 21st century hit hard with new challenges. Globalization has intensified with the immediacy of internet communications and the fast rise of economies abroad, especially India and China. The threat of terrorism has painted every profession with new concerns related to security. And the tight economy, with rising student debt and decimated college budgets, has everyone wondering how to deliver quality engineering education while bringing costs down.
In view of these challenges, the need for innovation in engineering education is greater than ever. How to catalyze this innovation? In formal scientific research, we have a social dynamic that helps progress, dissemination and change. We meet at conferences to communicate the latest research, we establish collaborations, and we publish continually our results. A similar social dimension in education can help progress and innovation. The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Frontiers of Engineering Education (FOEE) symposium serves this goal: to catalyze change by bringing together recognized innovators in engineering education.
At the 2012 FOEE symposium—the fourth such event—invited speakers focused on modernization efforts providing flexibility in the curriculum, study abroad and experiential learning, and use of technology in the curriculum. To kick-off, GE’s Eric Ducharme spoke about the needs of industry. The fundamentals of engineering science are important, he said, but industry places equal priority on systems thinking, multi-disciplinary skills, communication, ethical standards and integrity. The silos of engineering —mechanical, electrical, industrial, civil— are often not conducive to systems thinking, so he suggested that to be responsive to industry needs universities need to allow flexibility in the curriculum. Ducharme called for more opportunities for students to work in projects, saying ”we look for people who have built stuff.”
The next speakers were right on target. Prof. Alice Agogino talked about “authentic” project-based learning, and described the new product development course at Berkeley, where student projects are judged by industry representatives. According to alumni surveys, students valued most learning to work in teams, over all other course objectives. Prof. David DiBiasio presented WPI’s program of study-abroad and off-campus experiences, in which about half of all undergraduates participate. Prof. Mary Boyce described MIT’s flexible and customizable engineering degree, with a concentration designed by the student, and half-semester courses that allow for greater flexibility.
The poster session and break-out groups enabled participants to discuss their educational innovations. Recurring themes in these discussions were moving away from the lecture format, using technology in the classroom and adopting active-learning methods. The ”flipped classroom”, where content is delivered on video and class time is used for problem-solving and team work, was the talk of the town. Perhaps finally we’ll move away from the chalk-wielding, sage-on-the-stage professor lecturing at the blackboard.
CAS prof’s book: hope, advice on easing childhood anxiety
by Susan Seligson
For years, as she shared wisdom gained from treating childhood anxiety disorders, colleagues urged Donna Pincus to write a book. Released last month, that book, Growing Up Brave: Expert Strategies for Helping Your Child Overcome Fear, Stress, and Anxiety (Little, Brown and Company, 2012), Pincus, director of research for the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program at BU’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, walks readers through techniques to reduce or eliminate childhood anxiety.
The book, which weaves science and anecdotes into an enlightening guide for parents, teachers, and health care workers, offers a readable counterpoint to the many less informed prescriptions kicking around on the internet. A College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of psychology, Pincus is currently principal investigator of a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health to develop a treatment for young children with separation anxiety disorder. She gives numerous talks and workshops on child anxiety, which affects one in eight children, according to theAnxiety Disorders Association of America.
BU Today: Will most parents who read this book recognize themselves in it?
Pincus: Parents will likely relate to the many difficult situations we are all regularly faced with—for example, knowing when to follow our so-called instincts to protect and when to take a step back and allow a child room to navigate certain challenges on his or her own. Most parents have faced this challenge of knowing how to strike the best balance. Numerous parents have related that they recognized themselves in the chapter on parent-child interaction styles that affect anxiety—and that their awareness of these parenting styles was the first step in modifying the ways they interact with their children.
Children have always endured hardship and stress. Do you believe childhood stress and anxiety is on the rise, and if so, why now?
Throughout history we have always faced stressors—from polio to wars to current day terrorism. Although stressors have always been present, our awareness and understanding of stress, anxiety, and its effects on children have improved, as have our diagnostic practices. Thus, it is unclear whether rising rates of child anxiety disorders reflect our better identification of these disorders or an actual shift in their occurrence. Given that we currently have more routes through which the news can reach children—television, the internet, mobile devices—children today may be receiving a more constant stream of information telling them the world is dangerous, thus focusing their attention on their lack of control over their environment.
What is the likely effect on a child when adults dismiss fears by saying, “That’s silly” or “Be a big boy”?
Sometimes parents respond to children that way because they are unsure how to help. But these statements minimize children’s feelings and shut down important opportunities for communication about why the child is afraid. Parents may use these statements with the intention of getting kids to know that there is nothing to worry about, but there are much more helpful and effective ways to help children learn this.
Can you describe one or two important coping skills you recommend for fearful or anxious children?
One important skill is to teach a child to understand the cycle of anxiety and how to break down anxious feelings into thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This helps give kids an appreciation for when anxious feelings are normal, how anxious feelings can become interfering, and how they can use tools to, as we put it, break the cycle. Another important skill is to develop a Bravery Ladder, which essentially is creating a hierarchy of situations, in order from easiest to hardest, that the child has previously avoided. The child then learns how to begin to enter these situations to retrain their brains to not experience fear. Essentially we help children understand on a basic level the concept of why exposure therapy works to make kids feel less afraid.
It seems when parents rely on their instincts, often the problem gets worse. In what ways might common sense fail to help anxious or fearful children, and why?
Parents’ instincts are shaped by many factors, including their previous experience—so, for example, if a parent is anxious, his or her instinct might be to prevent a child from entering an age-appropriate situation or to overprotect a child from a new challenge. As a result, children may lose out on important opportunities for developing new coping skills and gaining self-confidence.
You write about age-appropriate fears—can you give a few examples parents need not be overly concerned about?
Fears of strangers in infancy, fears of monsters or fears of the dark during the preschool years, as well as many other specific fears, such as of spiders or of costumed characters—most of these arise at predictable stages in development, are adaptive, and tend to dissipate naturally as children get older without necessarily requiring any intervention.
What are the implications of the interaction of genes and experience in helping children suffering from anxiety and phobias?
Investigators are researching the genetic markers that are associated with treatment outcome in children with anxiety disorders. Children with a specific genetic marker, for example, may be more responsive to our cognitive behavioral treatments than those without this marker. Research on the interaction of genes and experience underscores the importance of creating early environments that teach children effective ways of regulating their emotions, and provide children with early experiences of control and security. Even if the genetic vulnerability is there, the right environment may even prevent these genes from being expressed.
What are your feelings about medicating anxious children?
Given the tremendous amount of empirical support for cognitive behavioral interventions for child anxiety disorders, it is best to start with a course of cognitive behavioral treatment and to consider medication if a child has not responded to therapy. Although some clinical trials do show benefits of medications as well as therapy, medications are often accompanied by unwanted side effects, and the rush to medicate is in most cases unnecessary
Should parents try to conceal their own worries from young children?
It is important for parents to remember that they are models for their children on how to perceive the world and how to react to situations. It is important to help young children feel a sense of security and safety; thus, it is best to not discuss adult issues or worries with young children who are likely not cognitively equipped to understand these concerns. Though stressors do inevitably occur in life, and sometimes even young children pick up on parents’ worries, it is best to model healthy ways of coping with these stressors.
Is it a good idea to shield children from sad or frightening events in the news?
Parents should try to limit kids’ exposure to frightening news events. This has become more difficult to do given the many streams of information available to children through the internet, television, mobile devices, radio, peers, and other parents. Parents can teach older kids about the differences between the possibility and probability of a negative event occurring, which helps reassure them that they are safe. For very young children, unless the child brings it up, it is usually unnecessary to discuss frightening news events with them. Rather, it is healthier to help children to keep their focus in the moment rather than on anxiety about the future.
When it comes to fears and anxieties, how much influence do children, siblings or playmates, have on one another?
Siblings and peers are important and influential models for each other. For example, peers and siblings can model the use of good coping or problem-solving skills and can have a positive influence on one another, but they can also transfer their fears to one another and model unhealthy emotional responses to stress.
Your book has some fascinating examples of children who develop rituals to cope with stressful situations. When should parents be concerned?
When rituals are taking up excessive amounts of time, are interfering with a child’s normal functioning—for example, when falling asleep is disturbed by repeated, excessive checking of door or window locks—and when a child cannot stop the rituals despite attempts and a desire to stop, these are all red flags indicating that there is a need for parents to seek professional attention.
Can you explain how child-directed interaction works to help reduce anxiety?
In child-directed interaction, which is one component of the empirically supported treatment parent child interaction therapy, parents learn specialized skills to use during a five-minute-a-day playtime that helps them to interact with their child in a way that reinforces a secure attachment, increases warmth, and improves parent-child interactions. I think these skills could be beneficial for most any parent.
What is the most important message of Growing Up Brave?
I want to communicate the hopeful message that there are many strategies parents, teachers, clinicians, and other health care professionals can use to help children learn to cope effectively with stress and anxiety, and that cognitive behavioral treatments should be the frontline treatment of choice for helping children with anxiety disorders quickly return to normal functioning. Research on anxiety disorders in childhood and their effective evidence-based treatments have grown tremendously in recent years, and in Growing Up Brave I have tried to translate this knowledge to the public.
$9 million NIH grant founds BU-based center
Imagine a world where a simple mouth swab could predict lung cancer, a blood test could warn of a recurrence of melanoma, and a rectal scan could tell if you would benefit from a colonoscopy.
That world is the vision of the Center for Future Technologies in Cancer Care (FTCC), founded here in July with help from a five-year, $9 million grant from theNational Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering(NIBIB) at the National Institutes of Health. The center will foster collaboration among doctors, engineers, and public health and business professionals at BU and elsewhere who hope to develop technology to diagnose, screen, and treat a variety of cancers faster, cheaper, and better than is done now.
BU is one of three recipients, with Harvard and Johns Hopkins University, of a U54 award, given by NIBIB’s Point-of-Care Technologies Research Network (POCTRN).
Catherine Klapperich, a College of Engineering associate professor of biomedical engineering and of mechanical engineering and the FTCC director, says this isn’t the first time that BU engineers and clinicians have collaborated to tackle major health problems. The FTCC effort is unique, however, in its focus on cancer care. The new center will draw expertise from programs like the W. H. Coulter Translational Partnership Program and the Boston University/Fraunhofer Alliance for Medical Devices, Instrumentation and Diagnostics and will try to develop and commercialize promising prototypes.
“Cathie understands that cancer is not a high- or middle-income country problem; it’s a global problem,” says Jonathon Simon, director of the Center for Global Health & Development and the School of Public Health Robert A. Knox Professor. “With the increasing longevity of populations in low- and middle-income countries and our ability to manage the infectious disease and maternal mortality burdens, there’s just a lot more cancer that comes about because of the age structure of populations, but also because the competing risks on what else is getting people have been diminished.”
The center’s first five seed projects focus on lung, colon, skin, and liver cancers. Avrum Spira (ENG’02), a School of Medicine professor of medicine, pathology, and bioinformatics and a pulmonologist at Boston Medical Center (BMC), has found a way to detect lung cancer at an earlier and therefore far more treatable stage than it is usually found, by studying changes in cells in the windpipes of smokers. With help from the FTCC, he hopes to develop a blood test or mouth or nose swab that could reveal a high risk of lung cancer.
Irving Bigio, an ENG professor of biomedical engineering and of electrical and computer engineering, and Satish Singh, a MED assistant professor of medicine and a BMC gastroenterologist, have teamed up to develop a prescreening tool for colon cancer, the second leading cause of death by cancer in the United States.
Doctors recommend that everyone age 50 and over have a colonoscopy at least once every 10 years, yet compliance is low, Bigio and Singh say, because people dislike the invasive nature of the procedure. Singh notes that only half of those people who undergo a colonoscopy actually have intestinal polyps, and half of those have precancerous polyps. With this in mind, Bigio developed a fiber-optic probe that uses light and a spectrometer to detect potentially cancerous polyps, and thus signal a real need for a colonoscopy. FTCC funding will advance their research, and if it’s successful, help develop a prototype that is disposable and affordable.
Klapperich herself is working with San Francisco–based Wave 80 Biosciences to develop a blood test to detect liver cancer. The researchers are designing a cartridge that would separate the nucleic acid RNA from blood or plasma samples and use isolated nucleic acid to flag liver cancer, which kills more than 20,500 yearly in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
Rhoda Alani, MED’s Herbert Mescon Professor and Chair of dermatology, chief of BMC’s department of dermatology, and one of four NIBIB co–principal investigators, hopes to develop a similar technology with colleagues from the University of Texas at Austin that will analyze RNA within patients’ blood samples to determine the likelihood of a recurrence of melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer discovered yearly in more than 76,000 people in the United States, according to American Cancer Society figures.
The center’s fifth seed project, a collaboration between MIT and Michigan State University called My LifeCloud, is a cell phone–based system aimed at empowering patients at risk for colorectal cancer—particularly the African American population, which the American Cancer Society says has the highest incidence of, and mortality rate from, colorectal cancer of all racial groups in the United States.
Over the five-year NIBIB grant period, Klapperich says the center will encourage several new proposals, weed out a few, and provide funding for an annual summer innovation fellowship to transition lab research to a working prototype.
The grant will also allow another NIBIB co–principal investigator, Bennett Goldberg, a CAS professor of physics, an ENG professor of biomedical engineering, and director of the Center for Nanoscience and Nanobiotechnology, to lead training workshops and informal meetings at BU and around the country for students, clinicians, and faculty interested in an interdisciplinary approach to tackling cancer.
The other two NIBIB co–principal investigators are David Seldin, a MED professor of medicine and microbiology and BMC’s chief of hematology-oncology, and Arthur Rosenthal, an ENG professor of the practice of biomedical engineering and former director of the Coulter Translational Partnership Program.
Franklin Huang, a fellow in the department of medical oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, will guide the public health side of the center’s pursuits, determining population needs and assessing which advances might have the greatest impact. “One criterion for screening technology,” says the CGHD’s Simon, “is that the movement forward of science should to the greatest extent possible benefit the largest numbers of people.”
Klapperich echoes Simon’s objective to do the greatest good. As engineers, she says, she and her colleagues could sit around and “impress each other with the stuff that we made,” or they could apply their expertise in ways that will do the greatest good.
- “Each of these individuals has demonstrated a passion and commitment to using CUDA and the power of GPU computing to help solve some of the worlds’ most challenging computational problems,” said Bill Dally, chief scientist at NVIDIA, in reference to the CUDA Fellows.
- “We look forward to working with them to continue spreading the word about the industry-changing impact GPU computing offers to developers, researchers and academics worldwide.”
The invitation-only CUDA Fellows program was established in 2008, with the inaugural nomination of Prof. P. J. Narayan of the Institute of Information Technology at Hyderabad, and Prof. Mike Giles of Oxford University.
- ‣See Prof. Giles on this press video receiving his award
Three CUDA Fellows were named in 2010, followed by the latest announcement which sums to nine individuals having been appointed so far. Of these, Prof. Barba is the first female appointee.
Prof. Barba is an early adopter of GPU technology for scientific computing, having been involved in this field since 2007. She was the first to advocate that GPUs are an important technology for scientifically developing countries, allowing them to access high-performance computing.
Owning and operating a cluster of GPUs is within reach at many institutions in middle-income countries, and Prof. Barba has personally driven the adoption of GPUs at Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María, which in 2011 became the first CUDA Teaching Center in Chile.
In January 2011, Barba led the NSF- and DOE-funded Pan-American Advanced Studies Institute “Scientific Computing in the Americas: the challenge of massive parallelism”, which was held in Chile. Almost seventy graduate students and postdocs from the US and Latin America participated, receiving instruction on parallel computing and GPUs from world-leaders, including Prof. Takayuki Aoki (TokyoTech) who has also been named 2012 CUDA Fellow.
Prof. Barba is co-principal investigator of the NSF grant that brought to BU the first GPU cluster, currently being used by her group and by other researchers across campus. She has also recently received the prestigious NSF CAREER award for her research in scalable algorithms on heterogeneous systems using GPUs.
About the CUDA Fellows Program
- The CUDA Fellows Program recognizes individuals who are committed to leading the use and adoption of the CUDA architecture and GPU computing. CUDA Fellows have demonstrated the benefits of GPU computing to advance their fields of research, and have been instrumental in introducing GPU computing to their peers. Each CUDA Fellow receives a number of benefits, including the latest NVIDIA GPUs, a travel stipend, access to NVIDIA technical staff, and priority in receiving early releases of NVIDIA GPU hardware and software. CUDA Fellows receive continued support for their leading GPU computing research, and are invited to share their expertise at universities and technical conferences around the world.
The Flipped Class Meets the Open Class
Those two words sum up Lorena Barba’s approach to teaching. I don’t say that to make her sound reckless or flippant. Far from it. Like any good computational fluid dynamicist, she makes her decisions based on as much data as she can bring to bear. But at every step, when she’s come upon a challenge or thought about incorporating a new technology or pedagogical approach, she’s asked herself that question. And more often than not, things that looked initially like roadblocks simply weren’t.
Lorena, who teaches at Boston University but arrived there via the University of Bristol in the UK, CalTech where she got her PhD, and Valparaiso, Chile where she was born, has undertaken a pedagogical journey that started with an electronic whiteboard and now has her teaching to people on five continents while presiding over speed dating in Boston.
She began recording her lectures in 2007 for the benefit of the students in her classes. She started by using a device for capturing the content on a whiteboard, then distributing the lectures via her university’s Blackboard server. But she found both of these technologies clunky. She moved to a graphical tablet for recording whiteboard style interactions, which enabled her to write on and annotate slides. It felt more natural, and she could do it entirely on her own with no production assistance from the university.
But a bigger change happened when she came to the United States and began distributing her lectures via iTunes University. Since almost the day she got to BU, her classes have been the most downloaded at BU, and she’s just passed 10,000 views on YouTube. Computational fluid dynamics is not what you’d call a dilettante’s course. Lorena was reaching smart people who weren’t getting this content anywhere else, and they expressed their gratitude practically every day.
Having her lectures recorded gave Lorena another idea: why not have students watch the lectures before the class meets? We’ve talked about the “flipped classroom” before on our blog. Srinivasan Keshav does something similar at the University of Waterloo. Once you get into Lorena’s classroom, there’s a lot of experimentation.
Here’s one example: Navier-Stokes Speed Dating. No doubt readers of this blog will be familiar with the Navier-Stokes equations, which describe the motion of fluid substances. OK, perhaps you’re not familiar with those equations, but maybe you’re familiar with speed dating. Imagine you could spend five minutes with each of your fellow students as they describe their solutions to Navier-Stokes problems, then you could choose the best solution for a “second date.” If nothing else, that sounds much more interesting and engaging than listening to a lecture.
(I should add, by the way, that Lorena’s lectures are probably pretty good. When she’s not doing fluid mechanics, she sings jazz. Isaac Newton by way of Ella Fitzgerald would have to be pretty interesting.)
She does other experiments, too – like pair programming labs and problem-solving games. There is a good deal more “oohing” and “aahing” than one normally experiences in upper division or graduate courses, and a lot more interaction with the professor, too.
Lorena’s classroom sounds like just the kind of dynamic, stimulating, intellectually rigorous experience that you’d want to have as a student. If I were at BU (and could still do math), I would love to be in her class. But what about those people following the lectures at home, on iTunes U or YouTube?
That’s where Lorena’s next innovation comes in: an open classroom on Piazza. This was another one of those “why not?” moments. Once she’d decided to distribute the lectures via YouTube and iTunes, and once she’d decided to take full advantage of face-to-face interactions by flipping her class, why not invite people from the outside to participate via Piazza?
Why not, indeed.
So Lorena went to the Computational Fluid Dynamics interest group on LinkedIn – which, believe it or not, has over 11,000 members – and invited people into her Piazza. The results are enough to renew your faith in our collective intellectual curiosity even after years of “America’s Top Model.” Hundreds of people from all over the world replied to the post, and over 150 ultimately joined the class. Lorena’s distance students come from all over the world including Germany, China, Arkansas, the Netherlands, Brazil, Ukraine, and Libya. Libya! The whole country is exploding in revolution, and this person is studying Computational Fluid Dynamics out of BU! If that doesn’t get you excited about the future of education, you are cynical beyond hope.
So what do these students do when they’re in Lorena’s Piazza? They tend to be pretty quiet. They don’t ask a lot of questions. But many of them are extremely diligent. One of the most consistent readers is a student from the French overseas department of Réunion, which is conveniently located in the southern Indian Ocean, 120 miles from the nearest landmass. It is unlikely that this student can get this level of fluid dynamics instruction where he is, and he’s getting it absolutely free from Lorena, Piazza, BU, and the Internet.
Not to get too portentous for the blog, but what does that mean for education? The content is free. The collaboration is free. It’s open to anyone Lorena lets in. Does this interfere with anyone’s business model? Say, BU’s?
Lorena is characteristically blunt on this point. “If a professor can be replaced by videos, he probably should be,” she remarked astringently. Content is only one small part of what universities should furnish. Real face-to-face interaction with the professor and other talented students is a huge part of the value equation, and it’s also the most expensive thing to provide. If a university can provide the other things — content, online interaction, even assessment, to a broader population — isn’t this a tremendous service to the public and the world? And (to lurch gauchely from altruism to pragmatism) isn’t this a tremendous marketing opportunity for BU? In a free and open marketplace, BU should get a lot of people coming to campus who want to study computational fluid dynamics, because they’ve got a great person teaching it there. Replicate that a few dozen times and you’re a juggernaut!
And, I might add, that having more students in the Piazza should also improve the experience of the students in the physical classroom, if the distance students are asking good questions and providing interesting answers. I think Lorena is inventing not just a better way to teach her classes, but a way forward for universities vexed by an eroding economic rationale.
As Lorena might say, “why not?”
Professor Lorena Barba has been awarded the prestigious CAREER award of the National Science Foundation for her research and educational endeavors in scientific computing and applications in fluid mechanics and computational biology.
The award will fund Prof. Barba’s research in scalable algorithms for extreme computing on heterogeneous systems. Recent trends in high-performance computing (HPC) are clearly in the direction of computing systems involving various structurally different types of hardware (i.e., heterogeneous), of which a prominent example are GPUs (graphics processing units). Prof. Barba is one of the early adopters of GPU hardware for scientific computing, and was recognized by an NVIDIA Academic Partnership Award in August 2011 for her research in this booming field.
“Receiving the CAREER award will give my research program considerable momentum, at a time when computational science is rising in the national agenda,” Barba said.
“The field is challenged to reach the milestone of ‘exascale computing’ in a few years, that is, computing a thousand times more powerful than today’s. With rapid changes in computer hardware, the algorithms and software used in science need to be re-invented, they need to be parallel like never before.”
High-performance computing can help scientists solve the most enduring problems: understanding climate, predicting natural disasters, simulating the proteins that are the building blocks of life. But first, algorithms will have to be adapted to work in massively parallel hardware and scientists will need to learn to compute at extreme scales. Prof. Barba’s research group now has the support of NSF to serve this priority national goal.
Among the matters of highest priority are development of scalable algorithms that can exploit the enormous parallelism of new systems, and educating the next generation of computational scientists.
Prof. Barba is developing algorithms that offer ideal scaling with problem size, growing linearly with the number of unknowns in a problem, and that map with excellent performance to many-core hardware such as GPUs. Barba’s target applications are computational fluid dynamics and computational biology, such as the simulation of proteins interacting through electrostatics.
The goal of Barba’s educational program, on the other hand, is preparing students for interdisciplinary research in computational science. She builds on a long track record of success both in the use of technology to support learning, and in catalyzing international collaboration and outreach. She is aiming to enhance educational environments using technology, including new media, for both curricular instruction and to increase the nation’s science literacy (via open educational resources). Her goal of fostering the next generation of computational scientists will be pursued via advanced studies institutes and extra-mural workshops that aim to bridge the gap of educational offerings in computational science, hampered today by the discipline-based structures within academia.
Prof. Barba is already recognized as a leader in these activities. She previously organized and obtained funding from NSF and DOE for the Pan-American Advanced Studies Institute “Scientific Comuting in the Americas: the Challenge of Massive Parallelism” [http://www.bu.edu/pasi/ ]. She has also been contributing open educational resources (OER) in the last few years [http://barbagroup.bu.edu/Barba_group/News/Entries/2011/10/28_BUs_top_provider_of_educational_media.html ], with several of her courses showcased on iTunes U.
The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of the early-career development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of integrated contributions to research and education.
Three College of Arts and Sciences faculty members have been awarded 2012 Sloan Research Fellowships. Robinson Fulweiler, Margaret Beck, and Tulika Bose are among this year’s 126 recipients. The two-year fellowships are given to young academic scholars who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in their respective fields of science, mathematics, economics, and computer science. This year, the fellowships were expanded to include ocean sciences. Each winner receives $50,000.
“These fellowships acknowledge the outstanding scientific accomplishments of our early-career scientists and scholars and are a great honor for Boston University,” says Virginia Sapiro, dean of Arts & Sciences.
The fellowships are granted by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, named for a former president and CEO of General Motors. The philanthropic organization was founded in 1934 to support research in science, technology, and economics, based on the belief that “scholars and practitioners who work in these fields are chief drivers of the nation’s health and prosperity,” according to the foundation.
Fulweiler, an assistant professor with a joint appointment in earth sciences and biology, is associate director of the BU Marine Program and runs the Fulweiler Laboratory, which focuses on biogeochemistry and ecosystem ecology. She earned a PhD in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island and joined BU in 2008 after completing a postdoc at Louisiana State University.
Her research includes how the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has affected the Louisiana wetlands along the Gulf of Mexico as well how humans and climate change are impacting coastal erosion at various locations in New England. She plans to use her fellowship award to hire another graduate assistant and to buy equipment for her lab to study the DNA of bacteria found in these different areas.
“It’s especially nice to be recognized because there’s a lot of rejection in science,” Fulweiler says.
Bose, an assistant professor of physics, has been working since last fall in Switzerland at the Large Hadron Collider, located outside Geneva. An experimental particle physicist, she is among a number of physicists at the world’s largest collider, many from BU, pursuing fundamental questions about how the world is constructed. Her research examines how particles gain mass and why some are heavier than others.
“It’s very special to get this award,” Bose says. “You have to be nominated for it, and senior members in your field submit letters on your behalf. So it’s recognition from people in your field.”
She celebrated news of her award by going out to dinner in Geneva with her husband, Kevin Black (GRS’05), also a CAS assistant professor of physics, and their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. The couple will return to Boston this August, but Bose’s work at the collider is far from finished. She will use her fellowship to help fund travel expenses to Geneva next year.
Beck (GRS’06), an assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, studies partial differential equations, which are used to mathematically model a wide array of phenomena. She also plans to use her award to pay for travel expenses, in her case to visit with collaborators around the country and in England. She’s currently on leave from BU, where she earned a PhD, and is spending the year conducting research at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.
“The best thing about an award like this is that it makes it possible to focus more on your research,” Beck says.
Past recipients of Sloan Research Fellowships have gone on to win a total of 38 Nobel prizes.
By Amy Sutherland
Wind Turbine Study Assailed
Foes insist facts ‘cherry-picked’
February 15, 2012 | By Kyle Cheney, Boston Globe Staff
Massachusetts residents insistent that the drone, flicker, and vibration of land-based wind turbines can shatter the health of nearby communities yesterday denounced a recent report that dismissed those claims.
An independent report commissioned by the Patrick administration concluded last month that wind turbines present little more than an annoyance to residents and that limited evidence exists to support claims of devastating health impacts.
But Falmouth and Western Massachusetts residents argued the report was biased, crafted in secret, and based on “cherry-picked’’ information that ignored turbines’ real-world impact.
“By ignoring those of us in Falmouth and excluding most of our supporting literature and testimonials, this so-called health study has done a great injustice to the citizens of this Commonwealth,’’ said Neil Andersen, a Cape resident, at a State House hearing held by the departments of Public Health and Environmental Protection.
Eleanor Tillinghast, a longtime critic of the administration’s efforts to proliferate land-based wind turbines, said the report brought to mind public health officials’ slow realization about the scale of the AIDS epidemic.
“When I read the report, I saw many of the same patterns that we saw early on with those issues where the information is cherry-picked, despite tremendous amounts of information,’’ she said.
Turbine critics at the hearing, however, had to compete with proponents of renewable energy, one of whom compared the low drone of a wind turbine to an ocean’s lapping waves.
Advocates for expanding wind energy in Massachusetts contended that the most ardent critics of turbines are stalling progress at the expense of residents in communities like Somerset, where coal-fired power plants cause air pollution and have harmed residents’ health.
“While we are sensitive to the concerns of those who are adversely impacted,’’ wind projects in Massachusetts “represent the exception and not the rule,’’ said Stephan Wollenburg, marketing and program manager at the Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance. “The projects we have worked with have proven to be good neighbors. This report has confirmed what common sense already tells us: Turbines create sound. If it is too loud, it can annoy people . . . still, the vast majority of turbines don’t have these impacts.’’
The testimony underscored a challenge for state officials as they consider whether to embrace the panel report and ways to achieve Governor Deval Patrick’s goal of generating 500 megawatts of wind energy per year by 2020.
The wind turbine impact study was compiled by a panel that included Jeffrey Ellenbogen, Massachusetts General Hospital’s sleep medicine division chief; Sheryl Grace, a Boston University mechanical engineering professor; Wendy Heiger-Bernays and Kimberly Sullivan, BU professors of environmental health; James Manwell, a University of Massachusetts Amherst wind energy specialist; Dora Anne Mills, a public health specialist with the University of New England; and Marc Weisskopf, a neuroscientist and epidemiology expert from Harvard University.
Environmental protection and public health officials emphasized the administration had no role in contributing to the report and said panelists were reviewed to ensure they had no bias for or against wind energy.
Backers of renewable energy have argued that Massachusetts has vast wind resources that could diminish the state’s reliance on imported oil and dirtier forms of energy production. Although most of that potential is concentrated offshore, Patrick administration officials have long sought policies to ease the construction of land-based wind turbines, in part by streamlining the permitting process.
A plan to do so nearly landed on Patrick’s desk in 2010 but failed as the clock expired on legislative business. Since then, Senate President Therese Murray has indicated she has soured on the comprehensive wind energy siting proposal, and Patrick’s top energy adviser, Richard Sullivan, has suggested the administration will scale back its efforts this year, seeking only to establish siting standards for land-based turbines.