Hub Headlines from the Johns Hopkins news network Hub Thu, 26 Nov 2015 14:00:00 -0500 Scientists get first glimpse of black hole eating star, ejecting high-speed flare <p>An international team of astrophysicists led by a Johns Hopkins University scientist has for the first time witnessed a black hole swallowing a star and ejecting a flare of matter moving at nearly the speed of light.</p> <p>The finding <a href="">reported Thursday in the journal <em>Science</em></a> tracks the star—about the size of our sun—as it shifts from its customary path, slips into the gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole and is sucked in, said <a href="">Sjoert van Velzen</a>, a Hubble fellow at Johns Hopkins.</p> <p>"These events are extremely rare," van Velzen said. "It's the first time we see everything from the stellar destruction followed by the launch of a conical outflow, also called a jet, and we watched it unfold over several months."</p> <p>Black holes are areas of space so dense that irresistible gravitational force stops the escape of matter, gas and even light, rendering them invisible and creating the effect of a void in the fabric of space. Astrophysicists had predicted that when a black hole is force-fed a large amount of gas, in this case a whole star, then a fast-moving jet of plasma—elementary particles in a magnetic field—can escape from near the black hole rim, or "event horizon." This study suggests this prediction was correct, the scientists said.</p> <p>"Previous efforts to find evidence for these jets, including my own, were late to the game," said van Velzen, who led the analysis and coordinated the efforts of 13 other scientists in the United States, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Australia.</p> <p>Supermassive black holes, the largest of black holes, are believed to exist at the center of most massive galaxies. This particular one lies at the lighter end of the supermassive black hole spectrum, at only about a million times the mass of our sun, but still packing the force to gobble a star.</p> <p>The first observation of the star being destroyed was made by a team at the Ohio State University, using an optical telescope in Hawaii. That team announced its discovery on Twitter in early December 2014.</p> <p>After reading about the event, van Velzen contacted an astrophysics team led by Rob Fender at the University of Oxford in Great Britain. That group used radio telescopes to follow up as fast as possible. They were just in time to catch the action.</p> <p>By the time it was done, the international team had data from satellites and ground-based telescopes that gathered X-ray, radio and optical signals, providing a stunning "multi-wavelength" portrait of this event.</p> <p>It helped that the galaxy in question is closer to Earth than those studied previously in hopes of tracking a jet emerging after the destruction of a star. This galaxy is about 300 million light years away, while the others were at least three times farther away. One light year is 5.88 trillion miles.</p> <p>The first step for the international team was to rule out the possibility that the light was from a pre-existing expansive swirling mass called an "accretion disk" that forms when a black hole is sucking in matter from space. That helped to confirm that the sudden increase of light from the galaxy was due to a newly trapped star.</p> <p>"The destruction of a star by a black hole is beautifully complicated, and far from understood," van Velzen said. "From our observations, we learn the streams of stellar debris can organize and make a jet rather quickly, which is valuable input for constructing a complete theory of these events."</p> <p>Van Velzen last year completed his doctoral dissertation at Radboud University in the Netherlands, where he studied jets from supermassive black holes. In the last line of the dissertation, he expressed his hope to discover these events within four years. It turned out to take only a few months after the ceremony for his dissertation defense.</p> <p>Van Velzen and his team were not the only ones to hunt for radio signals from this particular unlucky star. A group at Harvard observed the same source with radio telescopes in New Mexico and announced its results online. Both teams presented results at a workshop in Jerusalem in early November. It was the first time the two competing teams had met face to face.</p> <p>"The meeting was an intense, yet very productive exchange of ideas about this source," van Velzen said. "We still get along very well; I actually went for a long hike near the Dead Sea with the leader of the competing group."</p> <p>Support for this study came from sources including NASA, the Netherlands Foundation for Scientific Research (NOW), the European Research Council, the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Australian Research Council.</p> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 14:00:00 -0500 Rapid plankton growth in ocean seen as sign of carbon dioxide loading <p>A microscopic marine alga is thriving in the North Atlantic to an extent that defies scientific predictions, suggesting swift environmental change as a result of increased carbon dioxide in the ocean, a study led a by Johns Hopkins University scientist has found.</p> <p>What these findings mean remains to be seen, as does whether the rapid growth in the tiny plankton's population is good or bad news for the planet.</p> <p>Published today in the journal <em>Science</em>, the study details a tenfold increase in the abundance of single-cell coccolithophores between 1965 and 2010, and a particularly sharp spike since the late 1990s in the population of these pale-shelled floating phytoplankton.</p> <p>"Something strange is happening here, and it's happening much more quickly than we thought it should," said <a href="">Anand Gnanadesikan</a>, associate professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins and one of the study's five authors.</p> <p>Gnanadesikan said the <em>Science</em> report certainly is good news for creatures that eat coccolithophores, but it's not clear what those are. "What is worrisome," he said, "is that our result points out how little we know about how complex ecosystems function." The result highlights the possibility of rapid ecosystem change, suggesting that prevalent models of how these systems respond to climate change may be too conservative, he said.</p> <p>The team's analysis of Continuous Plankton Recorder survey data from the North Atlantic Ocean and North Sea since the mid-1960s suggests rising carbon dioxide in the ocean is causing the coccolithophore population spike, said Sara Rivero-Calle, a Johns Hopkins doctoral student and lead author of the study. A stack of laboratory studies supports the hypothesis, she said. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas already fingered by scientific consensus as one of the triggers of global warming.</p> <p>"Our statistical analyses on field data from the CPR point to carbon dioxide as the best predictor of the increase" in coccolithophores, Rivero-Calle said. "The consequences of releasing tons of CO2 over the years are already here and this is just the tip of the iceberg."</p> <p>The CPR survey is a continuing study of plankton, floating organisms that form a vital part of the marine food chain. The project was launched by a British marine biologist in the North Atlantic and North Sea in the early 1930s. It is conducted by commercial ships trailing mechanical plankton-gathering contraptions through the water as they sail their regular routes.</p> <p>William M. Balch of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine, a co-author of the study, said scientists might have expected that ocean acidity due to higher carbon dioxide would suppress these chalk-shelled organisms. It didn't. On the other hand, their increasing abundance is consistent with a history as a marker of environmental change.</p> <p>"Coccolithophores have been typically more abundant during Earth's warm interglacial and high CO2 periods," said Balch, an authority on the algae. "The results presented here are consistent with this and may portend, like the 'canary in the coal mine,' where we are headed climatologically."</p> <p>Coccolithophores are single-cell algae that cloak themselves in a distinctive cluster of pale disks made of calcium carbonate, or chalk. They play a role in cycling calcium carbonate, a factor in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. In the short term they make it more difficult to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but in the long term—tens and hundreds of thousands of years—they help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and oceans and confine it in the deep ocean.</p> <p>In vast numbers and over eons, coccolithophores have left their mark on the planet, helping to show significant environmental shifts. The White Cliffs of Dover are white because of massive deposits of coccolithophores. But closer examination shows the white deposits interrupted by slender, dark bands of flint, a product of organisms that have glassy shells made of silicon, Gnanadesikan said.</p> <p>"These clearly represent major shifts in ecosystem type," Gnanadesikan said. "But unless we understand what drives coccolithophore abundance, we can't understand what is driving such shifts. Is it carbon dioxide?"</p> <p>The study was supported by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, which now runs the CPR, and by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Other co-authors are Carlos del Castillo, a former biological oceanographer at APL who now leads NASA's Ocean Ecology Laboratory, and Seth Guikema, a former Johns Hopkins faculty member now at the University of Michigan.</p> Wed, 25 Nov 2015 11:34:00 -0500 Longtime Johns Hopkins researcher Richard T. Johnson, 'inventor' of neurovirology, dies at 84 <p>Richard T. Johnson, an internationally renowned Johns Hopkins neurologist who is credited with inventing the field of neurovirology—the study of viruses that infect the nervous system—died at The Johns Hopkins Hospital on Sunday of pneumonia. He was 84 and had been active up until the last weeks of his life, giving lectures at medical centers around the nation and overseas.</p> <p>A member of the <a href="">Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine</a> faculty from 1969 to 1997, Johnson served as director of the <a href="">Department of Neurology</a> from 1988 until 1997 and also had a joint appointment in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases in JHU's <a href="">Bloomberg School of Public Health</a>. He mentored more than 55 postdoctoral fellows in virology, neurology, immunology and neurovirology, with at least 10 of them going on to become heads of their own departments, and he served on the faculties of medical schools in Australia, Germany, Iran, Peru, and Thailand.</p> <p>"He influenced literally hundreds, if not thousands, of medical students, undergraduates, and postdoctoral fellows through his charismatic and spell-binding lectures, and through direct mentoring," says <a href="">Justin McArthur</a>, the current head of Johns Hopkins' Department of Neurology.</p> <p>"Many people considered him a 'mentor's mentor' because of his insight, perseverance, and dogged enthusiasm for his trainees."</p> <p>A native of Colorado, Johnson earned his bachelor's degree with honors at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1953, and his medical degree at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, in 1956. An excellent ballroom dancer, he helped pay his way through college by teaching dancing.</p> <p>Completing his internship in medicine at Stanford University Hospitals in San Francisco, he worked as a clinical pathologist in the Department of Virus Diseases at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, where his interest in the origin of viral diseases and infections of the central nervous system began. He then completed a residency and fellowship in neurology and neuropathology at Massachusetts General Hospital.</p> <p>Additional teaching and research in Great Britain and Australia led to appointment to the department of neurology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1964. It was from there that he was recruited to come to Johns Hopkins in 1969 to join Guy McKhann of Stanford to found Johns Hopkins' Department of Neurology.</p> <p>McKhann, a Yale medical school graduate and one-time pediatric resident at Hopkins, recalls that the search committee for the first director of Johns Hopkins neurology was headed by Vernon Mountcastle, the legendary founder of neuroscience, and after much deliberation he had "narrowed the field down to Dick Johnson and me.</p> <p>"It was Vernon's idea to get us both, so we both arrived at Johns Hopkins and spent the rest of our careers here. I took over running the department and Dick built up the research side."</p> <p>"Dick, known as RTJ, was focused on infections of the nervous system, particularly viral infections. He essentially invented the field of neurovirology," McKhann adds. "He was involved in early studies of AIDS, the agent involved in kuru [a fatal, degenerative brain disease], mad cow disease, and in various forms of encephalitis."</p> <p>McKhann says that in addition to his immense skill as a researcher, Johnson was an expert clinician. "Patients came from all over the world with mysterious infections of the nervous system to see him," he says. Johnson was also the founder of the multiple sclerosis clinic at Hopkins.</p> <p>Johnson developed a multidisciplinary laboratory group to study viruses linked to a wide variety of chronic neurological diseases. During this period, he also traveled widely overseas, establishing laboratories to study infectious diseases and teach. His extensive travels earned him the affectionate nickname the "Pan-Am Professor," for the old international airline, Pan American. He was an exceptionally good storyteller, practicing his repartee upon his fellows, and greatly enjoyed attending scientific meetings, "where he regaled all with tales of his travels, and of the pioneers of neurology and neurosurgery at Mass General or Hopkins," McArthur recalls.</p> <p>Johnson succeeded McKhann as director of the Department of Neurology in 1988 and "continued its path to excellence," McKhann says.</p> <p>During his directorship of neurology, Johnson expanded the faculty from 40 to more than 100 and established new programs, including neurointensive care and epilepsy monitoring.</p> <p>He twice won awards for clinical teaching and was an exceptionally prolific researcher, publishing more than 300 peer-reviewed articles in professional journals and book chapters, and editing 10 books. He was the lone author of <em>Viral Infections of the Nervous System</em>, a landmark text first published in 1982.</p> <p>Johnson received numerous national and international awards, including ones of which he became the first recipient. Among these were the first Association of British Neurologists Multiple Sclerosis Medal in 1986, the first Soriano Award from the World Federation of Neurology in 1993, and the first Pioneer Award from the International Society of Neurovirology in 1999. After his supposed retirement in 1997, he served as director of the National Neuroscience Institute of Singapore and as editor of <em>Annals of Neurology</em>.</p> <p>Among Johnson's protégés was <a href="">Janice Clements</a>, now vice dean for the faculty in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine as well as a professor of molecular and comparative pathobiology, neurology, and pathology. She joined Johnson's laboratory as a fellow in 1975 and says that the lessons she learned from his Monday morning discussions of all the fellows' research projects provided her with the framework for her subsequent research career, which has included important discoveries about HIV.</p> <p>"Richard Johnson's research has had an enormous impact on how viral infections are studied," Clements says. "His research was novel and had a major influence on academic medicine and the treatment of virus infections of the brain. One of the first patients with HIV was diagnosed by Dr. Johnson because the disease had caused neurological disease.</p> <p>"Dr. Johnson mentored many generations of virologists, neurologists, immunologists, and neurovirologists who now lead research and patient care in these disciplines into the next millennium.</p> <p>"Personally, Dick's mentoring provided me with the opportunities and unique expertise in viral infections on the brain that has allowed me to become a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine."</p> <p>Johnson is survived by his wife, Sylvia Eggleston Wehr, and four children: Carlton Johnson of Florida, Erica Meadows of Baltimore and Kosovo, and Matthew Johnson and Nathan Johnson of Los Angeles, along with three step daughters, Elizabeth Drigotas, Anne Broadus, and Elaine Doherty. He is also survived by five grandchildren and six step grandchildren. His wife of over 50 years, Frances Wilcox Johnson, died in 2008.</p> <p>In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Richard T. Johnson Fund c/o the Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine, 750 East Pratt Street, 17th floor, Baltimore MD 21202 or through its <a href="https//">secure online tribute form</a>.</p> <p>A memorial service will be held on Dec. 4 at 11 a.m. at the Church of the Redeemer, 5603 North Charles Street in Baltimore.</p> Mon, 23 Nov 2015 11:00:00 -0500 Four Johns Hopkins researchers named fellows of American Association for the Advancement of Science <p>Four researchers from Johns Hopkins University are among 347 new fellows from around the world elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. AAAS fellows are elected by their peers and honored for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.</p> <p>Those recognized from JHU are <a href="">Kevin Hemker</a>, a professor of mechanical engineering in JHU's Whiting School of Engineering; <a href="">Michael Matunis</a>, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Bloomberg School of Public Health; <a href="">Alan Scott</a>, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health; and <a href="">Beverly Wendland</a>, dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and a professor of biology.</p> <p>The names of all awardees will be published in the "AAAS News and Notes" section of <em>Science</em> magazine later this week. The newly elected fellows will be awarded a certificate and a rosette pin during the AAAS Fellows Forum at the 2016 AAAS annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 13.</p> <p>Hemker and his students have employed atomic resolution electron microscopy and microscale mechanical testing to change the way the materials community thinks about and understands the mechanical behavior of advanced materials. According to AAAS, he was elected a fellow "for discoveries in underlying atomic-scale processes governing mechanical behavior of advanced materials systems, including nanocrystalline, micro-lattice, thermal barrier, and high-temperature materials."</p> <p>Matunis won recognition "for the discovery of sumoylation, and elucidation of the mechanisms regulating the conjugation of SUMO to proteins and its associated effects on cellular functions." SUMO proteins are dynamically attached to hundreds of other proteins in the cell to regulate the functions of those proteins and a wide range of processes critical for normal cell growth and proliferation. Matunis' research group has revealed important insights into how SUMO modification of proteins promotes repair of damaged DNA and accurate segregation of chromosomes in mitosis. These studies have implications for understanding the development and progression of a variety of human diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and neurological diseases.</p> <p>Scott was elected "for distinguished contributions to the field of parasite molecular biology and immunology, including first report on the genomic sequence and organization of a multicellular parasite." Scott investigates the cross-talk that takes place between parasitic nematodes and the immune system, and how these molecular interactions promote parasite persistence and contribute to debilitating disease. His contributions include his role in the genome sequencing project of the human filarial nematode parasite Brugia malayi, the first multicellular parasite genome to be sequenced.</p> <p>Wendland is being recognized "for groundbreaking studies on the genetic, molecular, biochemical, and biophysical mechanisms underlying endocytosis." Wendland and her team study fundamental cellular processes using yeast cells as a simple model system. Discoveries about how yeast cells function can also teach us about human maladies, such as neurodegenerative diseases or cancer. Her lab's work may ultimately identify new targets for treatments, such as enhanced delivery of gene therapies.</p> <p><em>Editor's note: Kevin Hemker's department affiliation was misstated in an earlier version of this article.</em></p> Thu, 19 Nov 2015 15:00:00 -0500 Exercise could help protect brain against decline as we age, study finds <p><a href="">A new study</a> by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the National Institute on Aging reveals how exercise could energize brain cell function as we age.</p> <p>In tests with mice, researchers discovered that exercise helped boost levels of an enzyme called SIRT3, which may protect against stressors that contribute to brain cell energy loss.</p> <p>The findings, <a href="">published in today's issue of <em>Cell Metabolism</em></a>, could help improve therapies for age-related cognitive decline. As we grow older or develop neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, our brain cells can stop producing enough energy to remain fully functional.</p> <p>The research team, led by <a href="">Mark Mattson</a> of Hopkins Medicine and the National Institute on Aging's Intramural Research Program, used a new animal model to see if they could aid brain cells in resisting energy-depleting stress caused by neurotoxins and other factors. They focused on the role of the SIRT3 enzyme, located in the cell's mitochondria.</p> <p>Researchers found that mice models that didn't produce SIRT3 became highly sensitive to stress when exposed to neurotoxins that cause brain degeneration and epileptic seizures.</p> <p>With mice that did produce SIRT3, researchers discovered that exercise on a running wheel increased levels of the enzyme. They also found they could use gene therapy technology to boost SIRT3. In both scenarios, increased SIRT3 amounts helped protect neurons from stressors and degeneration.</p> <p>These findings suggest that boosting SIRT3 levels—in turn bolstering mitochondrial functions—could offer a promising therapeutic option for age-related brain degeneration and diseases.</p> Tue, 17 Nov 2015 11:30:00 -0500 Why math? JHU mathematician on teaching, theory, and the value of math in a modern world <p>Math as both profession and course of study can be a hard sell, something even Don Draper might have trouble pitching. The field unites numbers, theories, and ideas that, yes, can be physically represented but remain intangible. Math is a language unto itself that for some might as well be Latin or Klingon. Even its rare turns in popular culture—<em>A Beautiful Mind</em>, <em>Proof</em>, and <em>The Big Bang Theory</em> come to mind—typically depict brilliant but troubled and/or socially handicapped thinkers more absorbed by theory than reality.</p> <p>To <a href="">Richard Brown</a>, however, math can be as beautiful as a ray of morning sunlight cast upon an orchid's petals, as lyrical as a Beethoven symphony. "Math is not about the numbers," says Brown, director of undergraduate studies in <a href="">Department of Mathematics</a> at Johns Hopkins University. "It's the ideas behind the numbers. Yes, you can say it's built on a rigid set of rules, but out of that comes an infinite amount of creativity." And, he adds, beauty.</p> <p>In recent years, Brown has served as math spokesman of sorts. Last year, he <a href="">presented a talk at the inaugural TedxJohnsHopkinsUniversity titled "Why Mathematics?"</a>. He opened up with a question: "Why on earth would anyone choose math as a field of discipline to study, or construct a career in the field?" To answer the query, Brown dissected his own career path: He began his undergraduate studies at Temple University as an architecture major, then switched to engineering. Neither felt quite right. He would find his true calling in math, which he describes as "the thoughtful making of logical structure," and earned a master's degree in applied mathematics from Temple and a doctorate in math from the University of Maryland, College Park. Prior to coming to Johns Hopkins in 2005, he worked at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center on the Hubble Space Telescope Project. He also spent four years as a mathematician in a private research engineering firm before returning to academia at American University in Washington, D.C.</p> <p>He edited the book <a href=""><em>30-Second Maths</em></a> (Icon Book, 2012), which took the 50 most engaging mathematical theories and succinctly explained them to the general reader. Brown also contributed to a new book titled <em>Mathematics for the Curious: Why Study Mathematics?</em> (Curious Academic Publishing, 2015). He wrote the book's first chapter, "What Actually Is Mathematics?" in which he talks about math as more art than science.</p> <p>The Hub sat down with Brown to talk about a field that is both misunderstood and underappreciated.</p> <p><strong>You keep asking the question: why math? Are you basically advocating for math as a field of study, or is there a deeper concern here, such as not enough people entering the field, or that too many Americans exit the school system with deficiencies in their math abilities?</strong></p> <p>I wouldn't say there are major issues. But one of the concerns I do have is this transition from middle school/high school mathematics to university mathematics. Sure, a lot of students come in very prepared for the university experience, but a lot of students come in not prepared at all. So, yes, there is some concern, but I wouldn't say there's a worry about not enough people going into mathematics. We tend to have a pretty flush crew coming in every year.</p> <p><strong>When you get beyond the basics of addition and subtraction, math seems to suffer from a dissociation with real world application. I've heard elementary and high school math teachers tell students such things as, and I'm quoting here, "Most, if not everything, I'm going to teach you this year you're never going to use in your life." What is your reaction to such statements?</strong></p> <p>That gets down to one of the root concerns we do have. At the primary and secondary level, some of the people who teach mathematics don't get it. They don't get math, and they don't really understand it. They don't see math's purpose and understand its bigger structure. And they immediately convey that to their students.</p> <p>When we see students come into the university level not prepared for this experience—or they don't like mathematics, or they're afraid or anxious about it—that typically means they've had a teacher like the one you mention, someone who has no full understanding of what mathematics truly is or how to teach it to a younger audience.</p> <p>I think the problem is that [the math] is difficult for the instructor. The only reason they would come across with an attitude like that is that they themselves don't understand the math or are anxious and fearful. They think math is only useful in balancing a checkbook, or torture (laughs). They don't see math as the process of thinking logically.</p> <p><strong>I think there's a perception that some forms of math are problems just for the sport of it, like a crossword puzzle or Sudoku. They exist to challenge your brain, but they won't help cure cancer or put a man on Mars.</strong></p> <p>Without any context of why you're learning something, yes, it becomes just a bunch of problems that you need to solve. There are certain concepts, constructions, or equations that you're never really sure if they are going to show up anywhere or not. But presented in context, math has a number of real-world applications. But the problems themselves have value. Even at the primary school level, you can play Sudoku games and teach the logical structure of things. If you give people a sense that there's a creative nature to mathematics, then at some point, even at the primary school level, they can learn and wonder at some of the logical structures they're building. That is something they take with them the rest of their life, a curiosity about how things are structured logically.</p> <p><strong>Can you give me an example of what you mean?</strong></p> <p>When my son was 9 years old I decided to play a game with him and asked, 'What is 1 + 1?' And he said, "Dad, 2.' And I said, well, sometimes the answer is 10. He laughed at me, but I said, if you only have two numbers to play with, 0 and 1, and not 10 numbers, then what is your number system going to look like? It will be 0 and 1, and you run out of numbers. So you put a 1 as the next digit and you get 10. It's the binary system basically. 0, 1, 10, 100. So, in this system, 1 + 1 = 10. 1 + 10 = 11. Then I asked him what was 11 + 1? And, he said 100. And then we started to play with three-digit numbers. Suddenly he was interested, because it was playful. It was just a game. But, it turns out, this is how computers work.</p> <p><strong>In both your essay and TedX talk you mention the "beauty and the art of math." But surely math is just a series of symbols and numbers; where is the beauty in that? Or are you not referring to the physical representations, but more the logic behind an equation?</strong></p> <p>It's actually the logic and the ideas that all that junk on a blackboard might represent. There's a lot of ways to address this question. I compare it to music. I'm not the first to make this connection. There is a famous essay out there called <a href="">"A Mathematician's Lament" by Paul Lockhart</a>. He compares the teaching of math to the teaching of music. He uses that to say that the way we teach mathematics at the primary school level is just abysmal. If we taught music like that, students would never listen to music until they got to college. They would just be working on scales all day on a piece of paper. They would never understand what the subject is all about.</p> <p>The comparison is nice. Music and math both have this nice logical base set of rules from which all the complexities of their structures are built upon. There are not that many rules in music, and yet we can compose something as beautiful as a Bach fugue. That fact seems obvious to people. Mathematics is the same way. We build our number systems over a base set of rules, and yet there is this an infinite amount of creativity and complexity to the stuff that we do. As mathematicians we see this, and we live for it. But to people at grammar school and high school who are just learning the quadratic formula because they're going to need it some day, they don't see that. They don't get a chance to see the beautiful part of mathematics that we see.</p> <p><strong>Can you explain this beauty?</strong></p> <p>One other nice aspect that music and math share is that in music, when you put together a logical construction, you attach a value to it. People get an emotional response from it. You attach a value to it in the form of how nice it sounds, how harmonious it is. When we create a new mathematical structure, we create a new fact. In and of itself, it's not really interesting. What's interesting is how it fits into the whole of mathematics, whether it addresses a long-standing question or is so counterintuitive a result that it's just stunning to look at. Or maybe it establishes a relationship between two disparate fields of mathematics that nobody ever dreamed existed. The aesthetic value lies in how interesting it is, and how it fits into a greater whole.</p> <p><strong>What pushes math forward? It's not so much lab-based, where we are trying to unravel something like how a cancer cell moves and multiplies. What are the catalysts that make someone create a new formula or structure?</strong></p> <p>Every once in a while, someone comes up with a very clever idea to establish a new result, like something as mind-boggling as <a href="">Fermat's Last Theorem</a>. The first thing you consider when you have a new result is, why does the logic exist the way it does? Why does it work out this way? Does it always work this way, or do I need restrictions to make it work? Then you start to ask, where can I go from here? I have a new perch to stand on, what else can I reach for? Really, that is what research is all about. Every question that is answered raises 10 to 12 new ones. Math works this way.</p> <p><strong>OK, I'm making you chair of a national committee to change how math is taught in the United States. What are some things you're changing?</strong></p> <p>Actually, there was an advisory committee to President Obama formed some years back. One of its conclusions was that kids need to understand why math is important to them, and one way to do that would be to bring more scientists and engineers into the classroom to study mathematics so they could see how it's useful. My first reaction to that was that might not be correct. I think what would be better would be to bring more mathematicians into the classroom to teach math. I think what happens at the primary and secondary level is that people teaching math only have rudimentary understanding of math, they don't understand it at the research and application level. The experts in that field should be the ones teaching the subject. I shouldn't be teaching physics, for example, I should be teaching mathematics.</p> <p>I'm not so sure that showing why math is useful, like balancing a checkbook or calculating a distance, would really help mathematic education. I think treating it more like an artistic endeavor would be useful, where you're teaching mathematics in a much more creative sense. You're teaching kids how to think analytically and reason deductively, as you teach the structure. The attitude at how math is taught is the tough part.</p> <p><strong>I'm wondering how math education in the United States differs from how it's taught in Japan, China, Germany, and other nations.</strong></p> <p>I think the students from the countries you mention are typically ahead of us in terms of math understanding by the time they get to the university level. I've seen the prior work of students from these countries who come here to Hopkins, and it seems to be much more focused on the pure mathematics than on the reasons why it's applicable to the world. For example, they are more advanced in calculus, which tends to be more theoretical in nature than practical in nature.</p> <p><strong>Some find math daunting and think: my brain is just not wired to understand these principles. Do you give any credence to that line of thinking, that a person is just not mathematically inclined, so to speak?</strong></p> <p>I don't think that is true. I think anyone can learn mathematics. Now, maybe it's not the case that anyone can learn advanced mathematics if you start them right here and now, after they've gone through their entire childhood running away from the basic concepts of mathematics. But anyone can learn.</p> <p><strong>So you would tell a student, I don't want to hear the words 'I can't do this,' or 'it's too hard.'</strong></p> <p>And I do (laughs.) I tell some students, perhaps your background is insufficient to grasp what we're doing at the moment, but anyone can learn math at the higher level. Certainly at a level of calculus and above.</p> <p><strong>Do you think learning math might actually be good for us, in terms of brain development and sharpness?</strong></p> <p>I don't know how much research has been done on this, but my gut tells me it's very good for you. I do know that when I read the newspaper and listen to people speaking, one thing as a mathematician you learn to see quite clearly are the logical flaws in arguments. That way of thinking is also useful when you read the legal part of a contract you're about to sign. Why is that? Maybe in a legal endeavor, or when there is a politician speaking, they are trying to use the logic to deceive. But I think that a lot of people are just not aware of the logical flaws in the reasoning. Learning mathematics is learning how to think analytically. Everyone, I think, should learn math so they know how to reason deductively and logically, and put together a complicated idea that makes sense.</p> <p><strong>Do you watch <em>The Big Bang Theory</em>, and, if so, you might know where I'm going with this…</strong></p> <p>I don't. But apparently the math on the dry erase board in the background is all correct.</p> <p><strong>That was my question!</strong></p> <p>Yes, apparently the math on the board is all checked by mathematicians and physicists, because sometimes they put physics on there, too.</p> <p><strong>Math was not your first passion or interest. What about the field won you over?</strong></p> <p>Wow, it was such an evolution. Hard to tell if there was one moment. But when I was studying architecture, there was this sense that I wanted to build something useful that could generate an emotional response. When I got to engineering, the idea that I could find creative ways to solve problems sounded very cool to me, but it didn't quite work for me. When I got to mathematics, I began to understand that there's so much more to math than just playing with equations. There is an actual logical structure to everything that we do. Being able to see and understand that structure really started to speak to me. Here, I thought, I could play in a world that is artistic and I get to do useful things. Either as a teacher or like the work I did for NASA. I felt like I was home.</p> <p><strong>Speaking of NASA, would aliens be able to understand our math? Would we be able to understand theirs?</strong></p> <p>The answer is yes, because there is nothing earthly or tangible about mathematics. Everything that mathematicians do, create, or think of is imaginary. It's made up. It's just logic. So it wouldn't make sense that the logic wouldn't hold up in an alien world. The physics might not hold up, but the logical structure of thought would still be the same. It's a universal thing.</p> Tue, 17 Nov 2015 08:45:00 -0500 Dolphin video game a bold new approach to helping stroke victims relearn motor skills <p>The Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine's <a href="">Brain, Learning, Animation, Movement lab</a> has released an interactive video game, "Bandit's Shark Showdown," that could help rehabilitate stroke victims. An <a href="">article published in the Nov. 23 issue of <em>The New Yorker</em></a> explores the inspiration and development process behind an app that combines cutting-edge robotics, neuroscience, and game design.</p> <p>Many stroke victims suffer hemiparesis, weakness on one side of their body. But, <em>The New Yorker</em>'s Karen Russell writes, "the tissue death that results from stroke appears to trigger a self-repair program in the brain. For between one and three months, the brain enters a growth phase of molecular, physiological, and structural change that in some ways resembles the brain environment of infancy and early childhood. The brain becomes, as one researcher told me, 'exquisitely sensitive to our behavior.'"</p> <p>The lab, led by <a href="">John Krakauer</a>, professor of neurology and neuroscience at JHU's School of Medicine, aims to capitalize on that post-stroke development stage. His team studied the locomotion of dolphins and developed an app that relies on "non-task-based tasks" that engage users and motivate them to play and relearn motor skills. With the use of a robotic arm outfitted with a motion-capture camera, the game challenges users to control the movement of a dolphin in the water with their arms. The user and Bandit the dolphin are one, hunting mackerel and battling sharks.</p> <p>"There's no right and wrong when you're playing as a dolphin," Krakauer told <em>The New Yorker</em>. "You're learning the ABCs again—the building blocks of action. You're not thinking about your arm's limitations. You're learning to control a dolphin. In the process, you're going to experiment with many movements you'd never try in conventional therapy."</p> <p>More, from <em>The New Yorker</em> report:</p> <blockquote> <p>In December 2010, Krakauer arrived at Johns Hopkins. His space, a few doors from the Moore Clinic, an early leader in the treatment of AIDS, had been set up in the traditional way—a wet lab, with sinks and ventilation hoods. The research done in neurology departments is, typically, benchwork: "test tubes, cells, and mice," as one scientist described it. But Krakauer, who studies the brain mechanisms that control our arm movements, uses human subjects. "You can learn a lot about the brain without imaging it, lesioning it, or recording it," Krakauer told me. His simple, non-invasive experiments are designed to produce new insights into how the brain learns to control the body. "We think of behavior as being the fundamental unit of study, not the brain's circuitry. You need to study the former very carefully so that you can even begin to interpret the latter."</p> <p>Krakauer wanted to expand the scope of the lab, arguing that the study of the brain should be done in collaboration with people rarely found on a medical campus: "Pixar-grade" designers, engineers, computer programmers, and artists. Shortly after Krakauer arrived, he founded the Brain, Learning, Animation, Movement lab, or BLAM! That provocative acronym is true to the spirit of the lab, whose goal is to break down boundaries between the "ordinarily siloed worlds of art, science, and industry," Krakauer told me.</p> </blockquote> Sun, 15 Nov 2015 18:30:00 -0500 Johns Hopkins pediatricians successfully treat child with drug-resistant tuberculosis <p>Specialists at the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Children's Center</a> have <a href="">successfully treated a case of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis in a young child</a>, now 5.</p> <p>Their report on the challenging case, published Monday in <a href=""><em>The Lancet Infectious Diseases</em></a>, provides the first detailed account of diagnosing and treating a young child in the United States with the highly virulent form of tuberculosis, known as <a href="">XDR TB</a>.</p> <p>The bug's resistance to most known TB drugs makes it particularly difficult to treat in anyone, but even more so in children, the Hopkins team says. Medical literature worldwide only describes a handful of cases in children younger than 5.</p> <p>"We are thrilled that our patient is doing so well," says TB expert <a href="">Sanjay Jain</a>, a pediatrician at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. "But at the same time, this is a wake-up call to the realities of TB."</p> <p>Diagnosis is especially hard for children, Jain says, because they harbor fewer TB bacteria in their bodies, which can cause false negative readings. In this case, the doctors also struggled with a lack of fast, reliable diagnostic tools to track the disease and a lack of pediatric-friendly drug formulations.</p> <p>The young girl was first brought to The Johns Hopkins Hospital with unrelenting fever and malaise after returning from a three-month trip to India. A chest X-ray revealed a telling clue: a suspicious lung spot. Though results of initial mucus tests came back negative, the pediatricians followed their hunch and forged ahead with preemptive treatment for TB.</p> <p>"Preliminary test results are notoriously unreliable, and this case provides a perfect illustration of the need for swifter and more reliable techniques," Jain says.</p> <p>The child's symptoms improved rapidly with standard TB treatment, but lung inflammation persisted. All told, it took 12 weeks to identify XDR TB conclusively, the researchers write.</p> <p>Around that time, the child's condition worsened, and doctors made a concerning find: spots showing that lung tissue was dying. They initiated a combination treatment with several drugs but found themselves lacking a quick, reliable way to see how the bacteria responded. The clinicians ultimately turned to CT (computed tomography) imaging, using a low-radiation, child-friendly adaptation of the technique.</p> <p>Jain and colleagues performed repeat CT scans over six months to glean quick feedback on the progress of the disease. Each scan delivered a dose comparable to two or three months of natural background radiation from the environment.</p> <p>"In the absence of reliable biomarkers for pediatric TB, the acute need for rapid readouts of treatment response, and the dangers of treatment failure, we felt a CT scan was our best option," Jain says.</p> <p>The approach was inspired by Jain and his team's ongoing National Institutes of Health-funded experimental work in animals, using a combination of CT and PET (positron emission tomography) scanning techniques to track TB's behavior in real time.</p> <p>Child-friendly, low-dose CT scans are becoming increasingly common in medical centers. Jain and his colleagues suggest they should become the norm for pediatric CT imaging, as the current technology can be recalibrated easily and cheaply for that purpose. The researchers also noted in this case, the CT scans defied the clinical dogma that imaging tests lag behind physical symptoms.</p> <p>Given the remission of the disease and the child's overall good health, the Johns Hopkins team says reactivation of the infection is unlikely. Out of caution, though, they plan to follow the child for another two years or so.</p> <p><em>Mycobacterium tuberculosis</em>, the bacterium responsible for TB, is estimated to cause almost 10 million new cases of the disease worldwide each year, with strains impervious to drug therapies rapidly spreading. Experts estimate that a million children develop TB each year, but the real number may be higher due to the difficulty of confirming the diagnosis in a child.</p> Fri, 13 Nov 2015 11:00:00 -0500 Design challenge brings budding engineers to Johns Hopkins for a day <p>One of the noises filling the Glass Pavilion at Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus on Thursday afternoon—along with the chatter of brainstorming—was a jarring, incessant buzzing.</p> <p>One table of high-schoolers had figured out how to make their sensors, connected to Intel microprocessor boards, produce sound at regular intervals. Others gathered for the <a href="">Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers</a> junior design challenge were experimenting with using the sensors for light, vibration, temperature, and pressure.</p> <p>"They're learning the principles of programming," said JHU senior Nicole Ortega, a biomedical engineering major who heads the <a href="">Johns Hopkins University chapter of SHPE</a>.</p> <p>Ortega's group, about 20 members strong, is one of more than 250 chapters across the country attached to the national organization for Hispanic engineers. The chapter took over hosting duties for the Thursday's junior design challenge, along with JHU's <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a>. Ortega and fellow Hopkins SHPE members Jorge Rivera and Patrick Pena helped coordinate logistics with Intel, which sponsored the challenge sponsor and provided the microprocessor boards.</p> <p>About 100 high-schoolers and middle-schoolers spent their entire day on the Homewood campus, touring the grounds, hearing from engineering professionals—including Whiting School Dean <a href="">Ed Schlesinger</a>—and working in groups for the design challenge. At one point, Hopkins civil engineering Professor <a href="">Judith Mitrani-Reiser</a>, the adviser for the university's SHPE chapter, toured the tables and offered tips to students.</p> <p>"SHPE's purpose is to promote the students to go to college," said Matthew Alonso, a SHPE member from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign.</p> <p>Today, the students were slated to continue their activities as part of a larger group at the University of Maryland College Park. It's all part of <a href="">SHPE's Pre-College Symposium</a> (pdf), which brings together students from across the U.S. to take part in the national society's annual conference.</p> <p>The <a href="">SPHE National Conference</a>—the largest technical and career conference for Hispanics in the nation—has drawn 5,000-some engineering experts and students to Baltimore this week for workshops, lectures, and networking. Activities include the female-focused "Empowering Latinas Luncheon" and a career fair featuring more than 200 companies.</p> <p>Schlesinger will chair a Dean's Summit today as part of the conference, bringing together more than 30 deans and other leaders from U.S. engineering schools. He will deliver opening remarks and moderate a forum on ways to increase diversity in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.</p> <p>The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers began in California in 1974, when a group of engineers working for the city of Los Angeles decided there was need for a national organization to nurture the needs of the Hispanic engineering community.</p> Fri, 06 Nov 2015 19:30:00 -0500 Online tool created at Johns Hopkins helps doctors identify best kidney donor candidates <p>An online tool developed at the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health</a> helps forecast the long-term risk of kidney failure by weighing a variety of factors and could help identify good candidates to be living kidney donors—including older donors, who have been typically passed over. Despite excellent outcomes in those who have received kidney transplants from older donors, fewer than 3 percent of live kidney donors in the U.S. in 2014 were 65 years or older.</p> <p>Researchers from the <a href="">Chronic Kidney Disease Prognosis Consortium</a> at Johns Hopkins <a href="">shared their findings in today's issue of the <em>New England Journal of Medicine</em></a>.</p> <p>"Use of this online tool during the evaluation process gives decision-makers the evidence to help them decide who can most safely donate a kidney for transplant," says study author <a href="">Morgan Grams</a>, a nephrologist and assistant professor of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School. "This assessment could minimize the number of living kidney donors who go on to develop kidney failure, support donation among people who were previously believed to be poor candidates, and enhance informed consent and decision-making with potential donors."</p> <p>The <a href="">new tool</a> assesses 10 health and demographic factors—including age, race, smoking status, and blood pressure—to calculate the risk of kidney failure at both 15 years and over a lifetime. This provides a broader picture than the existing assessment criteria, which usually focus on just one risk factor at a time.</p> <p>JHU researchers developed the tool to help evaluate, counsel, and approve living kidney donor candidates. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, there were 122,662 people waiting for kidney transplants in the U.S. as of Oct. 31.</p> <p>For the study, researchers looked at data from nearly 5 million Americans who participated in seven large studies to project the long-term incidence of kidney failure in people with two kidneys.</p> <p>"Our ultimate goal is to develop a tool where we can sit down with a potential kidney donor and say: This is your risk if you don't donate, and this would be your risk if you do donate, so you can decide if you feel the risk is too high," says <a href="">Dorry Segev</a>, a Johns Hopkins transplant surgeon involved in the research.</p> Wed, 04 Nov 2015 08:40:00 -0500 Diamonds may be more common than previously thought, Johns Hopkins researchers say <p>Diamonds may not be as rare as once believed, but this finding in a new Johns Hopkins University research report won't mean deep discounts at local jewelry stores.</p> <p>"Diamond formation in the deep Earth, the very deep Earth, may be a more common process than we thought," said Johns Hopkins geochemist <a href="">Dimitri A. Sverjensky</a>, whose article co-written with doctoral student <a href="">Fang Huang</a> was <a href="">published Tuesday in the online journal <em>Nature Communications</em></a>. The report says the results "constitute a new quantitative theory of diamond formation," but that does not mean it will be easier to find gem-quality diamonds and bring them to market.</p> <p>For one thing, the prevalence of diamonds near the Earth's surface—where they can be mined—still depends on relatively rare volcanic magma eruptions that raise them from the depths where they form. For another, the diamonds being considered in these studies are not necessarily the stuff of engagement rings, unless the recipient is equipped with a microscope. Most are only a few microns across and are not visible to the unaided eye.</p> <p>Using a chemical model, Sverjensky and Huang found that these precious stones could be born in a natural chemical reaction that is simpler than the two main processes that up to now have been understood to produce diamonds. Specifically, their model—yet to be tested with actual materials—shows that diamonds can form with an increase in acidity during interaction between water and rock.</p> <p>The common understanding up to now has been that diamonds are formed in the movement of fluid by the oxidation of methane or the chemical reduction of carbon dioxide. Oxidation results in a higher oxidation state, or a gain of electrons. Reduction means a lower oxidation state, and collectively the two are known as "redox" reactions.</p> <p>"It was always hard to explain why the redox reactions took place," said Sverjensky, a professor in the Morton K. Blaustein <a href="">Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences</a> in the university's [Krieger School of Arts and Sciences]( The reactions require different types of fluids to be moving through the rocks encountering environments with different oxidation states.</p> <p>The new research showed that water could produce diamonds as its pH falls naturally—that is, as it becomes more acidic—while moving from one type of rock to another, Sverjensky said.</p> <p>The finding is one of many in about the last 25 years that expands scientists' understanding of how pervasive diamonds may be, Sverjensky said.</p> <p>"The more people look, the more they're finding diamonds in different rock types now," Sverjensky said. "I think everybody would agree there's more and more environments of diamond formation being discovered."</p> <p>Nobody has yet put a number on the greater abundance of diamonds, but Sverjensky said scientists are working on that with chemical models. It's impossible to physically explore the great depths at which diamonds are created: roughly 90 to 120 miles below the Earth's surface at intense pressure and at temperatures about 1,650 to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.</p> <p>The deepest drilling exploration ever made was about 8 or 9 miles below the surface, he said.</p> <p>If the study doesn't shake the diamond markets, it promises to help shed light on fluid movement in the deep Earth, which helps account for the carbon cycle on which all life on the planet depends.</p> <p>"Fluids are the key link between the shallow and the deep Earth," Sverjensky said. "That's why it's important."</p> Mon, 02 Nov 2015 14:30:00 -0500 Dine, divide, and dash: App allows groups to easily split check, factor tip <p>Nothing has the potential to kill the charm of an evening out with friends quite like trying to split a restaurant bill. Figuring out the math and factoring in the right tip can be tricky. It can also lead to personal tensions as the payment process drags out.</p> <p>Well, now there's an app for that.</p> <p><a href="">Full Society</a>, which originated at the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Carey Business School</a>, allows restaurant-goers to instantly pay, split, and tip from their smartphones. There's also a philanthropic component: At the end of payment, users are encouraged to pitch in a donation to a local nonprofit that works on hunger issues.</p> <p>A beta version of the app launched Sunday at a handful of restaurants in Baltimore, including <a href="">Woodberry Kitchen</a>. Dozens more are scheduled to join.</p> <p>The goal, says Full Society CEO Paige Cantlin, is to officially release the app to the public this winter—in February for iPhones, and about a month later for Androids. In the meantime, people can sign up to try out the app during its pilot phase. About 200 beta users are already registered, says Cantlin, who's working on earning her MBA at Carey.</p> <p>Eventually the platform could expand to other cities, but right now the focus is Baltimore, where Full Society has spanned neighborhoods to introduce the technology to local eateries. In addition to Woodberry Kitchen, which is a stakeholder in the company, the initial group of participants includes Grand Cru, Parts & Labor, The Nickel Taphouse, Le Garage, Encantada, and Birroteca's two locations (one in Baltimore and one in Bel Air). Artifact Coffee, Mezze, Kali's Court, and Anastasia are expected to join soon, and more than 60 others signed up in advance to participate at some point next year, as Full Society builds its technology, Cantlin says.</p> <p>The free app allows users to set up their payment method (i.e., PayPal) on their phone in advance. Multiple users at the same table can split their bill on the spot, based either on the items they ordered or percentages. And when they're done, they can simply sign off on the payment and leave the restaurant—no more waiting around for credit cards to be processed.</p> <p>For the restaurants, which pay for installation and a monthly fee, Full Society touts benefits like faster table turnover, fewer paper receipts, and the ability to collect data. The app works by integrating with restaurants' existing point-of-sale systems and automatically connecting to diners' phones via beacon technology.</p> <p>And for the nonprofit partners, the goal is to provide funds for "one meal for someone in need locally for every table that pays their bill through our app," according to Full Society. The team estimates this equates to a donation of about $1.25 per meal from the app's users. (Users can, however, choose to donate more, less, or none at all.) The current list of local recipients includes Paul's Place, Helping Up Mission, Moveable Feast, and the Maryland Farmer's Market Association.</p> <p>Full Society got its start in an Entrepreneurial Ventures class Cantlin took last fall at Johns Hopkins, where she and a team of classmates were tasked with creating a product that could work for the hospitality industry.</p> <p>"We did a lot of market research and interviewed restaurant owners, and studied the technology in restaurants," Cantlin says.</p> <p>The element of addressing local hunger issues was there from the start, Cantlin says. In a survey her team conducted, 90 percent of respondents said they'd be willing to make donations through the app.</p> <p>Eventually Cantlin—who earned a BA in economics from Johns Hopkins in 2009 and hopes to complete her MBA in the spring—took over the project with a new team that includes her sister Lauren and the <a href="">Chalk + Chisel</a> digital development company. They entered the new startup into an <a href="">Innovation Factory</a> showcase and the annual <a href="">Business Plan Competition</a> at Johns Hopkins last year.</p> <p>The team received significant funding breaks with <a href="">a $25,000 award through the Accelerate Baltimore incubator program</a>, and also with an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that netted just over $26,000.</p> <p>One of the more difficult parts of the process was getting restaurants on board.</p> <p>"We had to go on foot, door to door, talking to different restaurants seeing who would be willing to take part in our new venture," Cantlin says.</p> <p>Over time Full Society hopes to get at least 100 restaurants in Baltimore using the app before the team explores the possibility of branching out to other cities.</p> Fri, 30 Oct 2015 07:00:00 -0400 JHU early-stage incubator to support 10 business, technology ventures <p>Ten promising business and tech ventures have been chosen to receive seed funding and support as part of the 2015-16 cohort of Johns Hopkins University's Social Innovation Lab, the group announced Thursday evening.</p> <p>The <a href="">Social Innovation Lab</a>, part of <a href="">Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures</a>, is an early-stage incubator that supports companies and organizations that develop innovative solutions to local and global problems. The group provides funding, mentorship, and resources to build mission-driven organizations with sustainable business models.</p> <p>The Social Innovation Lab launched its first social enterprise initiative at JHU in 2011 and has since worked with more than 20 organizations spanning a wide range of industries. This year, it accepted applications from organizations without JHU affiliations for the first time. The SIL Advisory Board independently reviewed and scored proposals, choosing the final cohort from a group of 61 applications.</p> <p>Among the 10 groups in the 2015-16 cohort is a team of JHU students that wants to develop alternative energy solutions for Tanzania and a Baltimore community member who aims to distribute unused school supplies to teachers, schools, and education programs in need of them. Some ideas involve cutting-edge technology, such as the group of engineering students rethinking orthotics. Other ideas involve low-tech, service-driven ideas, like the group of medical, legal, and business professionals creating community outreach programs to improve health in the greater Baltimore area.</p> <p>The members of the new cohort will work with the Social Innovation Lab through April. The groups selected are:</p> <h4>Wiya</h4> <p>A loyalty and rewards app that encourages users to support local businesses</p> <p><strong>Team members:</strong> Justin Kwong, JHU alumnus; Adam Eckstein, senior International Studies major</p> <h4>Fusiform</h4> <p>Working to recreate how orthotic devices are made in order to revolutionize the orthopedics industry and positively impact the community</p> <p><strong>Team members:</strong> Param Shah, sophomore Neuroscience major; Alex Mathews, senior biomedical engineering major; Thomas Keady, sophomore Electrical Engineering major; Andrew Colombo, sophomore Mechanical Engineering major; Jenny Park, senior Economics major; Thomas Brazelton, sophomore Mathematics major; and assistant research engineer Yunus Sevimli</p> <h4>Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap</h4> <p>Collects donations of educational materials that are no longer being used and distributes them to teachers, schools, and educational programs who need them</p> <p><strong>Team member:</strong> Melissa Badeker</p> <h4>Hero Lab</h4> <p>Using an original curriculum in resilience training and the science of human flourishing (positive psychology) to nurture gritty school and community change-makers amongst at-risk youth in Baltimore low-income public schools and neighborhoods</p> <p><strong>Team members:</strong> pre-med graduate student Siddhi Sundar and graduate business student Adil Qureshi</p> <h4>Greater Baltimore Health Improvement Initiative</h4> <p>Developing and implementing culturally adapted, health outcome-focused educational and social engagement programs for targeted areas in the greater Baltimore region</p> <p><strong>Team members:</strong> Brian Sims; Sharone Brinkley-Parker, Ed.D.; Ashanti Woods, M.D.; Stephanie Maddin, J.D.; Angela Wells-Sims; Tammitha McIntyre, and Edward Walters</p> <h4>Bright Energy Africa</h4> <p>Bringing sustainable, cost-efficient fuel solutions to Tanzania while providing local citizens with employment, training, and entrepreneurial opportunities</p> <p><strong>Team members:</strong> Miguel Dias, junior Biomedical Engineering major; Yu (Samantha) Wang, junior Electrical Engineering major; Yadel Okorie, junior Mechanical Engineering major; and graduate Mechanical Engineering student Ryan Johnston</p> <h4>Baltimore Tax Credit Project</h4> <p>Preserving homeownership and introducing millions of dollars into the Baltimore economy by taking a data-driven approach to increasing adoption of the Maryland Homeowner's Tax Credit Program</p> <p><strong>Team members:</strong> School of Medicine graduate student Ryan J. Smith</p> <h4>Baltimore Healthy Teaching Kitchen</h4> <p>Engaging the community in lifelong healthy eating habits through hands-on cooking lessons on preparing meals that are nutritious, accessible, and practical</p> <p><strong>Team members:</strong> School of Medicine MD student Helen Knight; MD/PhD student Shannon Wongvibulsin; and JHU research fellow Paul Akre</p> <h4>SOAR</h4> <p>An online platform that digitally empowers students in Baltimore to showcase and fund their academic needs, interests, and passions</p> <p><strong>Team members:</strong> School of Education alumnus Bobby Moore and community members Laurel Nilon and Derek Durivage</p> <h4>#popscope</h4> <p>Providing free public astronomy nights for Baltimore's many neighborhoods to promote community-building through science outreach in public spaces</p> <p><strong>Team members:</strong> School of Public Health alumna Audrey Buckland; Rachel Fabi, graduate student at the Bioethics Institute; School of Public Health staff member Isaac Lief; visiting scholar to the Department of Civil Engineering Viva Dadwal; Peabody alumnus Julien Xuereb; and community members Ariel Hicks, Seth Franz, and Joseph Long</p> Mon, 26 Oct 2015 12:15:00 -0400 Brain training: Researchers at Johns Hopkins solve puzzle of how we learn <p>More than a century ago, Pavlov figured out that dogs fed after hearing a bell eventually began to salivate when they heard the ring. A Johns Hopkins University-led research team has now figured out a key aspect of why.</p> <p>In <a href="">an article published in the journal <em>Neuron</em></a>, Johns Hopkins neuroscientist <a href="">Alfredo Kirkwood</a> settles a mystery of neurology that has stumped scientists for years: Precisely what happens in the brain when we learn, or how Pavlov's dogs managed to associate an action with a delayed reward to create knowledge. For decades scientists had a working theory of how it happened, but Kirkwood's team is now the first to prove it.</p> <p>"If you're trying to train a dog to sit, the initial neural stimuli, the command, is gone almost instantly—it lasts as long as the word sit," said Kirkwood, a professor with the university's <a href="">Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute</a>. "Before the reward comes, the dog's brain has already turned to other things. The mystery was, 'How does the brain link an action that's over in a fraction of a second with a reward that doesn't come until much later?'"</p> <p>The working theory—which Kirkwood's team has validated—is that invisible "eligibility traces" effectively tag the synapses activated by the stimuli so that it can be cemented as true learning with the arrival of a reward.</p> <p>In the case of a dog learning to sit, when the dog gets a treat or a reward, neuromodulators like dopamine flood the dog's brain with "good feelings." Though the brain has long since processed the sit command, eligibility traces respond to the neuromodulators, prompting a lasting synaptic change.</p> <p>The team was able to prove the theory by isolating cells in the visual cortex of a mouse. When they stimulated the axon of one cell with an electrical impulse, they sparked a response in another cell. By doing this repeatedly, they mimicked the synaptic response between two cells as they process a stimulus and create an eligibility trace. When the researchers later flooded the cells with neuromodulators, simulating the arrival of a delayed reward, the response between the cells strengthened or weakened, showing the cells had "learned" and were able to do so because of the eligibility trace.</p> <p>"This is the basis of how we learn things through reward," Kirkwood said, "a fundamental aspect of learning."</p> <p>In addition to a greater understanding of the mechanics of learning, these findings could enhance teaching methods and lead to treatments for cognitive problems.</p> <p>Researchers included Johns Hopkins postdoctoral fellow Su Hong; Johns Hopkins graduate student Xiaoxiu Tie; former Johns Hopkins research associate Kaiwen He; along with Marco Huertas and Harel Shouval, neurobiology researchers at the University of Texas at Houston; and Johannes W. Hell, a professor of pharmacology at University of California, Davis. The research was supported by grants from JHU's <a href="">Science of Learning Institute</a> and National Institutes of Health.</p> Thu, 22 Oct 2015 09:30:00 -0400 Planetary pioneer Robert Farquhar, 'master of trajectory design,' dies at 83 <p>Robert W. Farquhar, a planetary pioneer who designed some of the most esoteric and complex spacecraft trajectories ever attempted and who worked for the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for 16 years, died from complications following a respiratory illness at his home in Burke, Virginia, on Sunday. He was 83.</p> <p>A 50-year veteran of deep-space missions, Farquhar made pivotal contributions to the historic explorations of asteroids and comets.</p> <p>Farquhar joined APL in 1990 and retired in 2007. During his time there, he applied his trajectory design skills, along with extensive space mission experience and unique insight, to a wide range of challenges in mission design and navigation. He played a key role in APL's initiatives to support deep space missions through NASA's Discovery program.</p> <p>Most notably, he conceived—and was the flight director for—the <a href="">Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous</a> (NEAR) mission to 433 Eros, the first launch of the Discovery program. Launched in 1996, NEAR (later called NEAR-Shoemaker) reached Eros in February 2000 and became the first spacecraft to orbit, study, and then (a year later) safely land on an asteroid. The mission answered many fundamental questions about the nature and origin of asteroids.</p> <p>Farquhar went on to make critical contributions to other APL-led Discovery missions, including the <a href="">Comet Nucleus Tour</a> (CONTOUR) and the <a href="">Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging</a> (MESSENGER) mission to the planet Mercury. He also served as the first mission manager for <a href="">NASA's <em>New Horizons</em> mission</a>, which, following a trajectory that Farquhar envisioned, flew past dwarf planet Pluto and its family of small moons this past July.</p> <p>"At heart, Bob was an inveterate dreamer: he wanted to expand the reach of humankind in the solar system," said Mike Ryschkewitsch, head of APL's Space Exploration Sector. "Bob was a master of trajectory design and the use of gravity-assist flybys, particularly to reach challenging targets such as Mercury. The Discovery class Messenger mission to Mercury is largely a product of his trajectory design that incorporated multiple gravity assists to reach the inner solar system."</p> <p>One of the more famous of Farquhar's pre-APL missions was the <a href="">International Sun Earth Explorer-3</a>, or ISEE-3, launched in August 1978 to study space weather. ISEE-3 was the first mission to exploit Farquhar's development of "halo orbits" around libration points, where the gravitational pull from two celestial bodies is balanced. After ISEE-3's initial mission was accomplished, Farquhar and longtime collaborator David Dunham designed an intricate series of orbits and engine firings that sent the spacecraft away from Earth to perform the first encounter with a comet. Renamed the International Cometary Explorer (ICE), the spacecraft made a textbook pass through the tail of comet Giacobini-Zinner on Sept. 11, 1985.</p> <p>Farquhar was born in September 1932 and attended elementary and high school in Chicago. As a child, he became interested in aviation, often reading about it and building model airplanes of his own design. Prior to college, he joined the Army and served in Japan and Korea during the Korean War.</p> <p>He studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Illinois and received his bachelor's degree with honors in 1959. His first studies of orbital mechanics coincided with the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik. He went on to receive his master's degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1961. He worked for a period of time at Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in Sunnyvale, California, and earned his PhD from Stanford University in 1969.</p> <p>From 1969 to 1990, he worked at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., holding a number of positions that included studies of post-Apollo lunar exploration concepts, the lunar shuttle transportation system, and key management positions for numerous satellite projects.</p> <p>Farquhar received numerous honors and awards from the military, NASA, and a variety of space organizations and associations, and had written, co-written, or contributed to more than 200 publications.</p> <p>He is survived by his wife, Irina, stepdaughter, Anya, and a host of relatives.</p> Thu, 22 Oct 2015 08:30:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins senior receives national mathematics award <p>Kiyon Hahm, a Johns Hopkins University senior, has been awarded the Waldemar J. Trjitzinsky Memorial Award by the <a href="">American Mathematical Society</a>. Hahm, a mathematics major, is <a href="">one of seven undergraduate math students nationwide to receive the $3,000 award</a>, which is made possible by the Waldemar J. Trjitzinsky Memorial Fund.</p> <p>A native of Irvine, California, Hahm plans to attend law school after graduation. A Dean's List student, Hahm is a member of Phi Mu Sorority and has been involved with JHU dance marathons that benefit the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.</p> <p>Founded in 1888 to further mathematical research and scholarship, the American Mathematical Society fulfills its mission through programs and services that promote mathematical research and its uses, strengthen mathematical education, and foster awareness and appreciation of mathematics and its connections to other disciplines and to everyday life. Waldemar J. Trjitzinsky was born in Russia in 1901 and received his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1926. He spent most of his career at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he remained for the rest of his professional life.</p> Tue, 20 Oct 2015 12:45:00 -0400 Researchers at Johns Hopkins study crickets' aerial acrobatics in hopes of building better robots <p>When it's time to design new robots, sometimes the best inspiration can come from Mother Nature. Take, for example, her creepy, but incredibly athletic spider crickets.</p> <p>Johns Hopkins engineering students and their professor have spent more than eight months unraveling the hopping skills, airborne antics, and safe-landing patterns of these pesky insects that commonly lurk in the dark corners of damp basements.</p> <p>The team, which hopes to pave the way for a new generation of small but skillful jumping robots, will present its findings Nov. 23 during a poster session in Boston at the 68th annual meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics.</p> <p>The Johns Hopkins team members believe non-human creatures may be the best models in designing mechanical helpers to carry out certain important tasks. Figuring out how critters move, they say, could lead to planetary rovers that crawl like caterpillars or winged drones that hover like hummingbirds.</p> <p>So what useful design tips did the researchers manage to glean from these spindly six-legged bugs? For one thing, they were able to use high-speed video cameras to collect tantalizing clues about how these tiny wingless creatures can somehow leap a distance equal to about 60 times their body length. That's a feat far beyond what any human track star could accomplish. An adult human who wanted to replicate the cricket's leap would have to jump 300 feet—nearly the length of a football field. And, most times, spider crickets manage to land safely on their feet. How, the researchers wanted to know, can these tiny bugs accomplish this?</p> <p>"Because they don't have wings, the main things they use during their 'flight' to stabilize their posture is their limbs," said Emily Palmer, a sophomore mechanical engineering major in the university's Whiting School of Engineering who is doing much of the testing. "We're looking at the way the spider crickets move their bodies and move their limbs to stabilize their posture during a jump."</p> <p>The knowledge could contribute to the design of tiny, high-jumping robots to travel over rugged, uneven ground, which Palmer said would utilize a more efficient and probably less expensive form of locomotion, compared to flying robots or humans on foot.</p> <p>To get a clear, close-up view of the crickets' limber limbs in action, the team's three video cameras each snapped 400 frames per second. Then, by slowing down the finished footage, the researchers saw precisely how each spindly insect leg contributed to the amazing leaps and landings.</p> <p><a href="">Rajat Mittal</a>, the Johns Hopkins mechanical engineering professor who is supervising the research, was startled to see that, in slow-motion, the crickets' limb movements bore an uncanny resemblance to classical dance.</p> <p>"These videos have actually been quite eye-opening," he said, "because it's only when you slow these critters down that you really start to see the beauty and the intricacy of their movement. The analogy that comes to mind is of a ballerina performing a ballet. It's a very beautiful, controlled, intricate motion."</p> <p>But Mittal and his students found that beneath such artistic movements lie some serious lessons in aerodynamics. The slow-motion playback confirmed that during the "flight" segment of their jumps, the crickets carefully used their limbs and even perhaps their antennae to stabilize their posture and prepare for a safe landing. The crickets seek to land on their feet, the researchers said, so that they can quickly be prepared to leap again to escape any predators that are waiting to pounce.</p> <p>Some of the video footage yielded surprises. The team discovered that as the crickets soared upward during the early part of their jumps, the bugs streamlined their bodies like a projectile to maximize the distance they would travel. "They really are masters of aerodynamics," Mittal said.</p> <p>Captured by the lab's cameras, this aerial mastery was transferred to computers to create detailed three-dimensional models depicting how each insect's body parts move during a leap and a touchdown. Mittal suggested that a new generation of jumping micro-robots modeled on these crickets might someday be able to help look for victims after a powerful earthquake or carry out other tasks without putting humans searchers at risk.</p> <p>Other participants in this research project were <a href="">Noah Cowan</a>, a Johns Hopkins associate professor of mechanical engineering; David Gorman and Catarina Neves, both Johns Hopkins undergraduate seniors majoring in mechanical engineering; and Nicolas Deshler, a high school intern who is currently in his senior year at Washington International School in Washington, D.C. Deshler's participation was supported by the Research Experience for Undergraduates Program, funded by the National Science Foundation and administered at Johns Hopkins by the university's Institute for NanoBioTechnology.</p> <p><img src="" /></p> <p><em>Emily Palmer and Rajat Mittal</em></p> Tue, 20 Oct 2015 08:50:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins 'gene hunter' Kenneth Kinzler elected to National Academy of Medicine <p>Cancer "gene hunter" <a href="">Kenneth W. Kinzler</a>, co-director of the <a href="">Ludwig Center</a> at the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center</a>, is one of 80 new members elected to the <a href="">National Academy of Medicine</a>.</p> <p>Members of the academy advise the U.S. government on medical and health issues. They are elected by their peers for their accomplishments and contributions to medical sciences, health care, and public health.</p> <p>Kinzler has been recognized for his role in uncovering the genetic alterations linked to the initiation of colon cancer, one of the most common cancers worldwide; development of novel approaches for the molecular analysis of cancer; and more recently, for his role in deciphering the genetic blueprints of many types of cancer. He is consistently ranked among the most highly cited scientists in clinical medicine, according to industry analysts at Thomson Reuters.</p> <p>"Ken is an out-and-out genius, with intuitions and talents that continue to amaze me, even after working so closely with him for two decades," says Bert Vogelstein, co-director of the Ludwig Center with Kinzler.</p> <p>Ludwig Center scientists led by Kinzler and Vogelstein currently are focused on developing better methods for detecting cancer early, when it is most curable. Their efforts have led to discoveries in detecting DNA shed from tumors in blood and other body fluids, which were made possible by the digital genomic approaches using the techniques he previously discovered.</p> Mon, 19 Oct 2015 13:41:00 -0400 SPUR program gives JHU engineering students unique research opportunities at Applied Physics Lab <p>Lydia Carroll can't help smiling when discussing her experiences working as a SPUR scholar at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab last summer.</p> <p>"It was just so amazing," the senior biomedical engineering major from Washington, D.C., said. "I was astounded at the level of responsibility that they gave me in the first few weeks, especially considering I am only an undergraduate and I was working with this very expensive prosthetic arm. I can't tell you how grateful I am that I got this opportunity."</p> <p>Carroll and other <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a> students who participated in the <a href="">APL/WSE Summer Program in Undergraduate Research</a>—also known as SPUR—during the summer of 2015 gathered in JHU's Glass Pavilion last week to kick off the SPUR 2016 application season with a poster, information session, and presentations by two 2015 SPUR scholars, including Carroll.</p> <p>The School of Engineering and APL launched the prestigious and competitive summer internship program in 2014. It provides highly qualified engineering students with the opportunity to conduct research at the <a href="">Applied Physics Laboratory</a>, working on APL-sponsored projects. For the last two summers, School of Engineering interns have worked on projects in areas ranging from ballistic missile systems and computer vision to prosthetic limbs and secure mobile communications.</p> <p>"We are so happy to be able to offer WSE students this tremendous opportunity to work closely with mentors at the Applied Physics Lab—an unparalleled organization—on a variety of projects," said <a href="">Ed Schlesinger</a>, dean of the Whiting School of Engineering, in an address to the gathering. "SPUR represents our commitment to integrating research and hands-on experiences into undergraduate education."</p> <p>Minjea Jo, a senior mechanical engineering major and summer 1015 SPUR scholar, agrees: Working with mentors on real projects at APL was an incredible experience.</p> <p>"It took some time to get comfortable, because you have a lot of responsibility and there are so many choices to make," said the Brookline, Massachusetts, native, who worked on a project that aimed to give scientists a better understanding of the cooling capability of propellers on rotorcraft. "But it was incredible overall. I learned so much and really grew as an engineer and scientist."</p> <p>Gus Meisner, a freshman double major in mechanical engineering and the history of science and technology, was enthusiastic about the program after attending the session.</p> <p>"I think it's a very exciting program, and I want to do it," said Meisner, a Baltimore native. "Right now, I find myself drawn to the prosthetic limb work, but I want to explore all the options. It's definitely something I want to be part of in the future."</p> <p>Applications are <a href="">being accepted now for the 2016 SPUR summer session</a>.</p> Mon, 19 Oct 2015 09:00:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins, Microsoft to develop technology to improve patient safety in the ICU <p>The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Microsoft have announced plans to work together to redesign the way medical devices in an intensive care unit talk to each other.</p> <p>The two organizations plan to develop a health IT solution that collects data from different monitoring equipment and identifies key trends aimed at preventing injuries and complications that can result from medical care.</p> <p>The idea stems from the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality</a>'s research on checklists to reduce infections and its pilot program called <a href="">Project Emerge</a>, which uses technology to restructure a hospital's workflow in an effort to eliminate the most common causes of preventable harm and promote better patient outcomes. While most efforts to improve safety focus on one harm, Project Emerge seeks to eliminate all harms, including medical complications such as blood clots and pneumonia, as well as emotional harms like a lack of respect and dignity.</p> <p>"Today's intensive care patient room contains anywhere from 50 to 100 pieces of medical equipment developed by different manufacturers that rarely talk to one another," says <a href="">Peter Pronovost</a>, senior vice president of patient safety and quality for Johns Hopkins Medicine and director of the Armstrong Institute. "We are excited to collaborate with Microsoft to bring interoperability to these medical devices, to fully realize the benefits of technology and provide better care to our patients and their families. By combining teamwork with technology designed to meet patients' and clinicians' needs, we can make care safer, less expensive, and more joyful."</p> <p>Four million patients are admitted to ICUs in the U.S. each year, and between 210,000 and 400,000 patients die annually from a potentially preventable complication, making medical errors the third leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer.</p> <p>In collaboration with Microsoft, Johns Hopkins plans to revamp Project Emerge to better serve patients in intensive care environments. Johns Hopkins will supply the clinical expertise for the build, while Microsoft will provide advanced technologies, including Azure cloud platform and services, as well as software development expertise. Using Azure, the improved solution will collect and integrate information from several modern devices and provide critical analytics, computing, database, mobility, networking, storage, and Web functions. The final product will allow physicians to see trends in a patient's care in one centralized location and let them access critical patient information from any hospital-approved, Windows device. Pilot projects are estimated to begin in 2016.</p> <p>"Johns Hopkins and Microsoft share a common vision of providing better care to more people," says Michael Robinson, vice president of U.S. health and life sciences at Microsoft. "Through our joint work, Johns Hopkins and Microsoft will empower health professionals with easy-to-consume, data-driven insights, allowing them to focus more on patients and less on technology and process."</p> <p>This initiative is one of several collaborations between the two organizations designed to foster innovative, health-based technologies. Earlier this year, Microsoft became a sponsor of <a href="">FastForward</a>, Johns Hopkins' new business incubator designed to accelerate product development for health IT startup companies. Johns Hopkins also recently joined Microsoft's Partner Network, which provides enhanced services to the university.</p> <p>"Collaborating with Microsoft on multiple fronts will provide mutually beneficial opportunities that can change the face of the health information technology landscape," says Christy Wyskiel, senior advisor to the president of The Johns Hopkins University and head of <a href="">Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures</a>. "I look forward to harnessing these opportunities and seeing many positive outcomes from our relationship."</p> <p>The initial build of Project Emerge was funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The Armstrong Institute, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and the University of California, San Francisco, collaborated on the project to develop and test the initial prototype.</p>