June 2008


Wole Soboyejo, Director of the U.S./Africa Materials Institute, and the Director of the Undergraduate Research Program at The Princeton Institute of Science and Technology Materials discussed new frontiers in nanotechnology. Sobyejo’s work is motivated by the desire to create an integrated framework of global researchers, meaning that he’s working to involve a geographically-diverse set of researchers. Soboyejo started with Feynman’s “lots of room at the bottom” talk and entered into an introduction to his own team’s work

One fascinating project is the desire to create a magic nanobullet targeting cancer cells. Specifically certain breast cancers haver four times the normal amount of the product of luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone gene (LHRH), and that overproduction has a correlated magnetic signal that can be met with charged nanoparticles. There needs to be a way of imaging the presence of LHRH-SPION complexes in vivo and in situ. This solution is fascinating because the current well-diffused MRI infrastructure can be used for such visualization. Specifically nanoparticle ingress can be visualized so that sub-millimeter imaging of tumors can be done. A patient desiring evaluation may go into a clinical setting, receive a nanoparticle injection, and undergo simple MRI evaluation to see whether cancer cells are presen

This biophysical approach to cancer-specific targeting seems to hold a great deal of promise.

Another fascinating project of Soboyejo’s is to modify hypertheria-induced drug release techniques by using MEMS technology. Yet another is to use nnano-based gene therapy, specifically HIV.

Soboyejo described an inexpensive nano-based water filtration system as well as the nanostructure of bamboo. One of his students, an olympic cyclist named Nick Frey, built a competition cycling frame that he has used to win races. Bamboo cars, bamboo airplanes, here we come.

Enough ideas under development? wait, there’s one more. How about making organic solar cells on flexible devices utilizing plastic waste? Superfine OLED screens?

Amazing. Simply amazing.

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How can digital mapping technology be used in eduation and research? Princeton Professor of History Emmanuel Kreike and his collagues showed different ways in which mapping augments education and research. Kreike and his colleagues showed class and research projects that leveraged GIS or utilized Google maps combined with historic map and student annotation overlays containing historic information, travel data, etc. An older presentation on Kreike’s work using Google Maps, Earth, and GIS can be found here.

It’s the dawn of the posthuman century and so perhaps the irony of phrases such as “virtual help” and “simulated peace” contain the echoes of nostalgia redolent in an ever-accelerated technological era. I’m excited to attend a presentation on humanitarian aid & development sims by Ryan Kelsey and colleagues from Columbia @ the CNMTL

I’m interested in this primarily because of two dimensions in which I work: teaching How They Got Game at Duke, and participating as a project collaborator for the Virtual Peace project. Both gaming and pedagogy are in some ways new subjects for me, new in the sense of analyzing and building both games and courses (and courses about games and building games, with the case of How They Got Game).

The talk is focusing on two sim projects from the CNMTL, one a project begun last year, and another first started back in 2001. Tucker Harding of Columbia spoke about ReliefSim, a health-related turn-based learning simulation used in the classroom to help students develop a deeper understanding of dealing with and working under conditions of a humanitarian crisis. ReliefSim’s development began in 2001.

The crisis in ReliefSim is a forced migration. Students enter ReliefSim first by viewing a text-heavy html interface with long series of interactive selections. The initial interface reflects the overall idea that the sim is not really training as much as it is educational augmentation. Display categories include assessments, interventions, information gauges, team, and age breakdown. With this display a player does not get a picture of the greater context of the crisis (e.g., caused by warring factions along national borders), it immediately gives a sense of features and depth of impact

With the panel the player chooses actions and assigns those actions to members of the team. In turn one, for example, we assign a water supply assesment to Eric, a food supply assessment to Marilyn, and a population assessment to Ryan. When we click “end turn,” the interface gives us back data generated by the assessments. Good information for our crisis: 10,000 people involved, 1600 under 5, 3000 betweeen 5 and 14, and 5400 15 and up (no assessment for elderly and/or inform at this point). We also see we have a 15,000 kcal food supply where each individual needs a minimum of 600 calories. We also have 100k liters of water, with a 5 liter average per person water demand. Our food supply seems good as we can feed everyone an average of 1500 calories per day. We also have 10 liters per day per person. However, will our population grow? We can support up to 20,000 people on our minimum water supply and 25,000 based on food.

The second game, presented by Rob Garfield of Columbia, is the Millenium Village Simulation, developed by Jeffery Sachs. The game’s conceit is that you the player are a sub-Saharan farmer trying to support your family as you move from subsistence farming to generating income. The Millenum Village Simulation reflects Sach’s full-spectrum approach to treating poverty. You can’t just build schools, for example, if your village suffers from occasional malaria epidemics that wipe out entire groups of children.

The sim interface for the turn-based game is similar albeit sexier than the interface for ReliefSim. Not limited to tabular/textual representaton and selection, the player is shown a simple visual representation of the farmer in the context of a village, the village in the context of greater environmental factors.

The player for each turn is to allocate the farmer’s time (including his wife’s) across a set of development tasks, such as collecting water, farming, or organizing a small business. If we choose to assign hours to farming, we are given choices as to whether we want to perform subsistence farming (grow maize) or income-generating farming (grow cotton). At this point we don’t have any idea how much effort translates into a result. We selected four hours of water collection, but we have no idea how many hours are needed to meet basic needs.

As we took a turn I noticed that the daily allocation was being set in the interface for an entire season; each turn is a season. (Which season?) The game takes a general approach to location (sub-Saharan Africa is widely varied in terms of seasonal conditions, for example) and a rationalist-optimization-oriented approach to helpng a student learn to support a farmer in such a location.

As with the previous presentation, the presenters display stunning tools built in a general knowledge/time management orientation. The SN-LMS presenters evaluated server logs within a site to understand character of students; the game tests a student’s ability to delegate time in order to reach optimally managed conditions for the economic development of a farmer. Both suffer somewhat from a level of specificity that can only be gained by the detail of greater context. It’s not clear why cases are more strongly relied upon, even as frameworks for developing evolving and dynamic game scenarios.

I am attending the New Media Consortium (NMC) Conference at Princeton University today and tomorrow (Thursday June 12- Friday June 13) and am giving a talk tomorrow with three of my favorite colleagues at Duke. Currently I am sitting in a morning session hosted by Susan Barnes and Stephen Jacobs of RIT discussing LMSs and social media. A special focus was shared on the formation, identification, and communication of student identity and its role in educational media, specifically LMSs.

Stephen and Susan posed an interesting question to the audience as to how students construct and communicate their identities to others. The answers tended to focus within contexts, ignoring the wholistic nature of computing contexts and what a student’s presence or absence form those contexts communicates to others. If we have backend access to Facebook or an LMS we can certainly build a model of what a student is like, at least to some extent.

What is absent or tacit, and yet what may be most telling about a student about their identities, hwo they contruct them, and how they communicate them, is the presence/absence of students from multiple web contexts. What sites do they use? What don’t they use? How much do they even use the web? How long were they members (or active members) at sites? What years? Were they late-comers to MySpace? Are they students not on Facebook?

I think most web users at least have tacit knowledge of this sense of identifying people by identifying the character, location and scope of participation across the whole web: this is why people Google one another. The search results on a person project this sort of finely detailed whole that might tell us most.

Great presentation on social networks in LMSs by Susan and Stephen. I found it useful in part because it leads me to better understand & appreciate the value of person search engines and the creation of sites like ClaimID (http://claimid.org). This knowledge may also be of great help as we move forward with building our MacArthur DML Virtual Conflict Resolution website. Maybe we want to be aware of how we help students manage their identities as complex heterogeneous wholes.

The practical implication is that I may be using a combination of Ning and Moola for the Virtual Conflict Resolution project site. Maybe I will encourage students within the course sites to actually use ClaimID as they traverse their academic years to construct a sort of timeline of their web presences–and absences. Makes me want to apply our (Casey Alt’s) timeline software to ClaimID, or to the Virtual Conflict Resolution site.