Hub Headlines from the Johns Hopkins news network Hub Fri, 27 Feb 2015 14:08:00 -0500 Johns Hopkins ophthalmologist explains the science behind The Dress <p>Blue and black, or white and gold? That is the question, apparently.</p> <p>Yes, we are still talking about <a href="">The Dress</a>, if you can believe it (even though we are secretly convinced that the white/gold camp is just having a laugh at our expense—it's clearly blue and black).</p> <p>To (ahem) shed some light on this great color caper, we turned to <a href="">Neil Miller</a>, an ophthalmologist at the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute</a> (<a href="">HT @HopkinsMedicine</a>). His answer:</p> <blockquote> <p>"It has to do with the individual's color perception. Presumably, the cones—the photoreceptors in the retina—that see the primary colors (red, blue, and green) either are functioning differently in different individuals or the information that gets to the area of the brain that interprets color (V4) is interpreted differently by different individuals.</p> <p>"What is interesting in either regard is that apparently people see the dress either as black/blue or white/gold—nothing in between. Thus, there must be a very consistent difference between these two groups, whether at the retinal level or at the level of the cerebral cortex."</p> </blockquote> <p>So there you have it—it's all in the eye of the beholder, which means we're all correct! Go us!</p> <p>Oooh, look—<a href="">more llama videos</a>!</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>What Colors Are This Dress?&#10;<a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p>— BuzzFeed (@BuzzFeed) <a href="">February 26, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script> <p><script type="text/javascript" src=""></script><a class="OPP-powered-by" href="" style="text-decoration:none;"></p> survey solutions <p></a></p> Tue, 24 Feb 2015 14:01:00 -0500 Researchers look to Twitter to better understand vaccine refusal <p>A Johns Hopkins computer scientist is part of a team of researchers that has developed a new way to understand vaccine refusal by studying an unlikely resource: Twitter.</p> <p>The researchers will combine Twitter analyses with traditional survey techniques to study why people refuse vaccines and how these reasons vary among communities. The focus on vaccination is particularly timely, with a severe flu season underway and recent well-publicized outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses, including a measles outbreak that has sickened people in 17 states and Washington, D.C., and several cases of mumps among National Hockey League players.</p> <p><a href="">Mark Dredze</a>, assistant research professor in the <a href="">Department of Computer Science</a> at Johns Hopkins University, will develop new computer algorithms to support the team's research.</p> <p>"We hope to gain insights into people's reasoning about vaccines by automatically processing millions of Twitter messages," Dredze said.</p> <p>Dredze has previously worked on studies that analyzed tweets to help track flu outbreaks and mental illness trends. He will use similar techniques to help researchers from two other universities—George Washington and Georgia—gather data on messages mentioning concerns about vaccines.</p> <p>"People really do tweet about everything, and conversations about vaccines are no exception," said David Broniatowski, assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the George Washington University, who will co-lead the study on vaccine refusal patterns. "Parents and patients freely share their fears and concerns about vaccines. While it typically takes years to collect meaningful information about why people refuse vaccines, using surveys and searching Twitter brings immediate results."</p> <p>Added Karen Hilyard, assistant professor in the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia, who also will lead the study: "Survey data tend to draw from older, white, rural households, whereas younger, urban minorities are overrepresented on Twitter. These two techniques complement each other perfectly."</p> <p>Since receiving a grant last month, Broniatowski, Hilyard, and Dredze have already analyzed millions of tweets to gather information on sentiment toward flu vaccinations. The team identified tweets, geo-located the messages, and compared their findings to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System. Their results show that states with a higher number of residents who received the flu shot had a higher number of vaccine-positive messages on Twitter.</p> <p>"This was really surprising and exciting," Hilyard said. "It shows that we can get this type of information from Twitter faster, cheaper, and more easily. Frankly, it's a game changer when it comes to health surveys, especially as we dig deeper to examine more complex attitudes and beliefs among different demographic groups."</p> <p>Using social media to reveal thinking about vaccines in real time will help health officials to better respond to the next outbreak, saving lives and keeping people healthy. It will also be a boon for science, helping researchers quickly home in on those tough questions that need further examination.</p> <p>"The dream would be to get ahead of the next outbreak," Broniatowski said. "How can we take what we learn here and better educate parents about the merits of vaccines and other public health decisions that seem risky? If we could do that, then hopefully we'd be able to prevent the next measles outbreak."</p> <p>Other researchers in the study include co-investigators Eili Klein, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; Joshua Epstein, professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins; and a consultant, Sandra Quinn, professor of family science at the University of Maryland. The award was funded by a five-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.</p> Tue, 24 Feb 2015 10:43:00 -0500 Scientists trap electron twisters to keep supercurrents flowing at top speed <p>Superconductor materials are prized for their ability to carry an electric current without resistance, but this valuable trait can be crippled or lost when electrons swirl into tiny tornado-like formations called vortices. These disruptive mini-twisters often form in the presence of magnetic fields, such as those produced by electric motors.</p> <p>To keep supercurrents flowing at top speed, Johns Hopkins scientists have figured out how to constrain troublesome vortices by trapping them within extremely short, ultra-thin nanowires. Their discovery was <a href="">reported last week in the journal <em>Physical Review Letters</em></a>.</p> <p>"We have found a way to control individual vortices to improve the performance of superconducting wires," said <a href="">Nina Markovic</a>, an associate professor in the <a href="">Department of Physics and Astronomy</a> in the university's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.</p> <p>Many materials can become superconducting when cooled to a temperature of nearly 460 below zero F, which is achieved by using liquid helium.</p> <p>The new method of maintaining resistance-free current within these superconductors is important because these materials play a key role in devices such MRI medical scanners, particle accelerators, photon detectors, and the radio frequency filters used in cell phone systems. In addition, superconductors are expected to become critical components in future quantum computers, which will be able to do more complex calculations than current machines.</p> <p>Wider use of superconductors may hinge on stopping the nanoscopic mischief that electron vortices cause when they skitter from side to side across a conducting material, spoiling the zero-resistance current. The Johns Hopkins scientists say their nanowires keep this from happening.</p> <p>Markovic, who supervised the development of these wires, said other researchers have tried to keep vortices from disrupting a supercurrent by "pinning" the twisters to impurities in the conducting material, which renders them unable to move.</p> <p>"Edges can also pin the vortices, but it is more difficult to pin the vortices in the bulk middle area of the material, farther away from the edges," she said. "To overcome this problem, we made a superconducting sample that consists mostly of edges: a very narrow aluminum nanowire."</p> <p>These nanowires, Markovic said, are flat strips about one-billionth as wide as a human hair and about 50 to 100 times longer than their width. Each nanowire forms a one-way highway that allows pairs of electrons to zip ahead at a supercurrent pace.</p> <p>Vortices can form when a magnetic field is applied, but because of the material's ultra-thin design, "only one short vortex row can fit within the nanowires," Markovic said. "Because there is an edge on each side of them, the vortices are trapped in place and the supercurrent can just slip around them, maintaining the resistance-free speed."</p> <p>The ability to control the exact number of vortices in the nanowire may produce additional benefits, physics experts say. Future computers or other devices may someday use vortices instead of electrical charges to transmit information, they say.</p> <p>The lead author of the <em>Physical Review Letters</em> article was Tyler Morgan-Wall, a doctoral student in Markovic's lab. Along with Markovic, the co-authors were Benjamin Leith, who was an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins when the research took place; Nikolaus Hartman, a graduate student; and Atikur Rahman, who was a postdoctoral fellow in Markovic's lab.</p> <p>This research was support by National Science Foundation grants.</p> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 15:45:00 -0500 Star-struck: Hubble telescope inspires symphony <p>When the space shuttle <em>Discovery</em> lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on April 24, 1990, many things weren't around that are today: a commercial Internet, smartphones, Justin Bieber. We also didn't know a single planet outside our Milky Way solar system (today, astronomers have identified thousands). We didn't know how old the universe was (about 13 billion to 14 billion years, turns out). And we didn't know that flattened disks of gas and space dust form the building blocks of everything—planets, matter, us.</p> <p>Those scientific clarifications and findings are in part or whole thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, which <em>Discovery</em> placed in orbit.</p> <p>Two upcoming concerts celebrate Hubble's 25th anniversary this year with music pieces inspired by the telescope's discoveries and by human drive that seeks to know more. On March 7, Jed Gaylin leads the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra through Los Angeles–based composer Russell Steinberg's <em>Cosmic Dust</em> at Homewood's Shriver Hall in a program that includes Ravel's <em>Mother Goose</em> Suite and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor with soloist Clipper Erickson. And on March 29, <em>To See the Stars</em>, a multimedia song cycle composed by Fay Chiao, a DMA composition student at the Peabody Institute, will be debuted at the Maryland Science Center's Davis Planetarium.</p> <p>Humans have always been inspired by the heavens, but "what has become more powerful with modern science is that we now actually know for a fact that we literally are stardust, that all of the elements that are in our bodies were forged in the nuclear furnace of stars," says Mario Livio, a senior astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates Hubble, during an interview in his office on Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus. Livio, who was joined for the interview by HSO music director Jed Gaylin, will give a talk about the science of stars before the March 7 HSO concert, and he points out that artists have been inspired by space for centuries, and that elements of mythology have been mapped onto the sky.</p> <p>"When the universe started, there were only hydrogen, helium, and a trace of light elements," Livio continues. "All the other elements, including everything that is in us—carbon, iron, oxygen—were formed inside of some stars. And when those stars die, they either explode or eject their layers, and those materials are returned into interstellar medium, and new stars and planets and humans form from those."</p> <p>Understanding this origin of everything initially inspired Steinberg to compose <em>Cosmic Dust</em>. He had heard a rabbi speak about death, pointing out that because we say "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" at burials, we might assume it means returning to the earth. "But he said the idea of dust is about our origins; it's about coming into contact with what we've always been—stars," Steinberg says by phone. "And when he said that, it just clicked for me about how profound those Hubble images have been."</p> <p><em>Cosmic Dust</em> debuted last year in Los Angeles in a performance by the New West Symphony, which had commissioned it along with the HSO and the Bay-Atlantic Symphony. Steinberg considers it a 14-minute symphony that evokes our fascination with the cosmos, and its performance is paired with images of space, many of which come from Hubble. "I think what's so profound about this realization that we're part of [the cosmos] is one of the reasons I believe we're so infatuated with the work the Hubble has done," Steinberg says, adding that when he looked over the list of projects associated with Hubble, he was struck by how many of them pursue some human connection.</p> <p>"Like the search for exoplanets," he says. "What are we looking for? We're not looking for any types of rocks. We're looking for rocks that could support life, that could hold human beings in the future. We're looking for a human connection to something that's so outside our regular understanding of time that it almost makes us cower it's so powerful. We're trying to find a way that we can really connect this with our humanity."</p> <p>Exploring that emotional connection with the unfathomable is one way that art complements scientific discovery. "To me, scientists and artists try to do the same thing but from a very different perspective," Livio says. "For scientists, it is to understand why and how things work. Artists try to give their emotional response to the same things that scientists do."</p> <p>Gaylin agrees. "Creativity, whether in art or in science, involves a fierce dedication, a pushing and pushing and pushing," he says. "That kind of perseverance, that kind of willingness to fail in the arts and sciences is part of what it is. It reminds me of that line attributed to [pianist and Peabody faculty member] Leon Fleisher about Leonard Bernstein—he brought you to the edge of the abyss and sometimes you fell in there with him, but didn't you want to know what it looked like?"</p> <p>The human curiosity to see what's in the abyss or the outer reaches of the universe is what inspired Chiao. Her <em>To See the Stars</em> is a celebration of the coordinated human labor behind Hubble, the drive to seek answers to new questions. Last year she had the chance to interview a number of people who work on Hubble, including Holland Ford, a professor in the Johns Hopkins Department of Physics and Astronomy and an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute; and Ken Sembach, the mission head of Hubble, and she was struck by their common sense of purpose.</p> <p>"Each one of them really talked about how they go into work every day with a strong sense of mission," Chiao says. "That really inspired me, this sense of being part of this huge endeavor dedicated to study beyond what we already know. I latched onto this aspiration: What compels people to look at a body of knowledge, to understand that there are questions that can't be answered in their lifetime, and to say, I'm going to go for it anyway"?</p> <p>Chiao tapped a number of her Johns Hopkins peers for <em>To See the Stars</em>. The libretto was penned by Dara Weinberg, who received an MFA from the Krieger School's Writing Seminars, and will be performed by the Lunar Ensemble, the Baltimore-based new music group co-founded by, and filled out with, Peabody alumni, graduate students, and faculty members. The roughly 45-minute piece is divided into two parts with an instrumental interlude, a structure Chia says is somewhat informed by how technological advances, such as Hubble, catalyze huge jumps in knowledge.</p> <p>Those huge jumps come about through human labor, and gaining an understanding of the mammoth collaboration that went into starting and sustaining Hubble left an impression on Chiao. She says that during her interviews, she asked Sembach if working on Hubble prevented him from pursuing more of his own research. "And he said, 'Yeah, but I don't mind that I publish less papers if this can succeed,'" she says. "That really inspired me, so I wanted to try to contribute to their mission in my own way."</p> <p>And for Livio, the public accessibility of Hubble makes it unique among science experiments. For 25 years now, the telescope has captured images that reach and captivate the lay person, providing the opportunity to appreciate the epic human achievement behind our tiny place in time. "We have learned in some sense that our physical existence is very small," Livio says. "We live on a rather small planet around a rather ordinary star in an ordinary galaxy. And with Hubble we now know, even in just the observable universe, there are hundreds of billions of galaxies like ours.</p> <p>"So in physical terms we appear to be insignificant, but in terms of what we have learned, our knowledge has basically expanded just as fast as we say our universe expanded," Livio continues. "Before we discovered that we are on this small planet, we didn't know any of that—everything I just told you is a discovery of humans. That puts us in a different perspective. Physically, we're not that important, but from an intellectual perspective, we are very important because we know all this—we have learned all of this."</p> <p><em>The HSO performs</em> Cosmic Dust <em>twice at Homewood's Shriver Hall: at 8 p.m. on March 7 and at 3 p.m. on March 8 in the free 22nd Annual Concert for Children and Families. The Lunar Ensemble performs</em> To See the Stars <em>at 2:30 p.m. on March 29 at the Maryland Science Center.</em></p> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 15:45:00 -0500 Applied Physics Laboratory receives $4M to develop a retinal prosthesis <p>The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory has received $4 million in funding from the Mann Fund to develop a next-generation retinal prosthesis system. The Mann Fund was created by philanthropist Alfred E. Mann 15 years ago to support the development of biomedical technologies.</p> <p>This work will be conducted in close collaboration with Second Sight Medical Products, a Sylmar, California–based company that develops, manufactures, and markets implantable visual prosthetics for blind individuals.</p> <p>APL will be developing the next-generation glasses with embedded vision- and eye-tracking sensors. Using these sensors and onboard hardware, the system will identify potential obstacles, doorways, hallways, and household objects and their relative positions. This information will be distilled into a format that can be projected into the retinal prosthesis, bypassing the damaged rods and cones in the retina.</p> <p>The components of this retinal prosthesis will enable APL's broader vision of a semiautonomous controller for assistive robotic manipulators and remote devices, the Hybrid Augmented Reality Multimodal Operation Neural Integration Environment, or Harmonie.</p> <p>Harmonie is the latest spinoff effort from the Laboratory's Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program. As part of that effort, researchers investigated a number of different control modalities for moving a modular prosthetic limb and were able to achieve impressive control. But they discovered that users had to remain very focused on what they were doing, creating a lot of cognitive burden.</p> <p>Harmonie came about as a way to remove that burden. The basic idea behind the system is to combine elements of computer vision (i.e., identification of objects and where they are), autonomous manipulation (how do I move the arm to the desired object's position, what's the best grasp to use?), and a user interface (how do I tell what actions to perform on the object?).</p> <p>The current implementation uses off-the-shelf components such as the Microsoft Kinect for the vision system, but Harmonie project manager Kapil Katyal says that the ultimate goal is to integrate these technologies into a small form factor glasses-type device.</p> <p>The Harmonie system has been deployed in clinical settings at Caltech and Johns Hopkins and is undergoing additional testing as part of an internally funded project, the Clinical Evaluation of Emerging Rehabilitative Technologies. It also was demonstrated in December 2013 at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Exposition, where the Lab's RoboSally used the technology to semiautonomously reach and grasp a fire extinguisher.</p> <p>Katyal says that the developers hope to have a prototype ready for market in three and a half years.</p> <p>"This system would enable a broad base of users to efficiently and effectively control dexterous manipulators like the [modular prosthetic limb] and would also allow APL to develop innovative solutions in contemporary general purpose human-computer interaction technologies such as head-mounted displays, augmented reality, eye-tracking, and brain-computer interfaces," he says. "Moreover, the synergies between the Harmonie system and Second Sight's next-generation retinal prosthesis provide an opportunity for the Laboratory to expand its footprint in neuroprosthetic research and development and enhance our reputation in this field."</p> <p>Michael McLoughlin, Harmonie program manager and principal investigator for the Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program, says that the Harmonie project is synergistic with ongoing, independent research and development efforts at APL. "It's an extension of what we've been trying to do with the prosthetics program from the beginning, and promises to address the needs of a whole new class of patients," he says.</p> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 15:45:00 -0500 Ask an Expert: Johns Hopkins professor explains why some people choke under pressure <p>We've all been there, with our toes on the proverbial free-throw line, mere dribbles away from either the glory of sinking the game-winning basket or tossing a big old brick instead.</p> <p>Athletes aren't the only people who wrestle with performance anxiety. Choking anecdotes abound, from playing a sour note during an audition, to bombing a job interview, to failing a final exam.</p> <p>Despite this nearly universal experience, it turns out that failing in high-pressure situations is an individual phenomenon, based on what scares each of us the most, according to new research findings by Vikram Chib, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.</p> <p>Chib and his team studied 26 people, ages 20 to 30, as they played video games over two consecutive days; the first included learning how to play the games, and the second involved playing while in an MRI machine so the researchers could study brain function. Winners were paid up to $100, and Chib found that whether the jackpot was high and whether the stakes were described as a potential gain or loss had a profound effect on participants' gameplay. But players choked depending on their own personal aversion to loss.</p> <p>So how do you nail that next foul shot, note, or test? Knowing what causes you to panic under pressure and then reframing the story as it unfolds could lower your chances of dropping the ball, Chib says.</p> <p><strong>What factors into the likelihood that someone will choke under pressure?</strong></p> <p>There are many factors. As an example, if large amounts of money are on the line, it could be that your concerns about the possible financial incentives could cause choking. If you're performing in front of a big audience, it could be your worry about how you're perceived by others. However, there doesn't seem to be a single factor that causes choking; rather it could be caused by a combination of factors or interactions between factors.</p> <p><strong>During your study, some people performed better when they stood to lose a lot of money. But others performed better when offered the chance to win a lot. Can this be used to our advantage?</strong></p> <p>The critical point about this was that we were able to determine who would do better or worse in these contexts based on an independent measure of how "loss averse" they were. Loss aversion refers to how people value losses relative to gains. Most people value avoiding losses twice as much as acquiring equal-magnitude gains.</p> <p>It is possible that if individuals know the extent to which they are loss-averse, they could use some cognitive strategies to frame tasks in such a way that they are less focused on losing or winning—depending on the extent of their loss aversion—and this might help reduce their chances of choking.</p> <p><strong>Beyond video games, can we extrapolate your findings into other areas like professional athletics, students taking final exams, a scholar defending her doctoral thesis, actors auditioning for a starring role, or someone who has a big job interview?</strong></p> <p>I think the take-home message from our findings is that framing of tasks, whether it is in terms of gains or losses, can have a profound impact on performance. While we only looked at the case in which people were playing for money, we think that such cognitive strategies could have a big impact on how you perform during the examples you mentioned. We still have a lot of work to do to determine the common neural and behavioral markers influencing performance in these other contexts, but it seems that framing could have a big impact.</p> <p><strong>In terms of March Madness, can your research help both the athletes and the fans who fill out their brackets for the office pool? Are some players or gamblers at an advantage based on how they are wired for loss aversion?</strong></p> <p>If only I could use this information to fill out my bracket! We still need to figure out if the relationship between loss aversion and choking generalizes to other types of tasks and when different incentives are on the line.</p> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 15:45:00 -0500 Johns Hopkins professor talks about how she finds bats for her lab—and why she studies them <p><strong>Cindy Moss, Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences</strong></p> <p>"I'm very interested in how humans and animals perceive the world—that's the big picture. I just happen to use the echolating bat as a model because it can give us information that other animal models don't.</p> <p>"Bats produce high-frequency sounds that reflect off objects, and they use the echo returns to build pictures of the world. I'm interested in trying to understand how the bat builds pictures from echoes, and what those pictures are really like in the experience of the bat. Of course we can't ask bats directly, 'What do you see?' But we can use their behavior to make inferences about what they experience.</p> <p>"Our lab is somewhat unusual in that we integrate behavioral studies with neural recordings. We set up tasks in which the bats have to avoid obstacles or find food and combine behavioral measurements with neural measurements by implanting tiny electrodes in the animal's brain. We use high-speed cameras and ultrasound microphones to record the bat's flight path and echolocation calls. We've also been studying vision in bats. The saying 'blind as a bat' is a myth. Different bat species differ in their visual capabilities, but some, like the Egyptian fruit bat, can see very well.</p> <p>"We have approximately 170 bats in our Bat Lab [in the basement of Ames Hall], across four species. We currently don't breed big brown bats, and we need new subjects every year. We have a collecting permit from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which allows us to collect up to 100 local big brown bats annually. We spend a lot of time crawling around in people's hot attics. We set up nets and catch them as they fly out, or sometimes, if the bats are really sleepy, we can go into an attic during the day and just pick them like fruit.</p> <p>"Years ago, I was on a research trip as a doctoral student in Panama. Since I was the low man on the totem pole, I was assigned the job to stand at the mouth of the cave to watch the equipment as the other researchers stirred up the bats. Suddenly, the bats started flying out at me. Thousands of them. They didn't want to hit me as much as I didn't want to get hit. So I just stood there, and they went right around me. That was my first rather intense exposure to bats.</p> <p>"I get a lot of different reactions when I tell people what I study. Most are surprised. At my first faculty appointment, at Harvard, all the people [in the business office] were expecting me to be dressed in a black cape."</p> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 15:45:00 -0500 'White hat hackers' of Johns Hopkins protect data, thwart cybercrime <p>Last year, nude photos of celebrities were hacked through iCloud. Online robbers also made off with millions of credit card numbers at Home Depot and Target. By year-end, the latest Seth Rogen comedy was fueling an international imbroglio replete with tit-for-tat cyberattacks.</p> <p>Welcome to Anton Dahbura's world.</p> <p>Dahbura is the executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute, often known more simply by the acronym JHUISI, pronounced "juicy." Its mission: Exploring ways to protect data and thwart cybercrime while pondering the very notion of what privacy means in our wired world. With nearly every single aspect of our society—from commerce, to entertainment, to health care, to democracy itself via computerized voting—reduced to "0s" and "1s" and placed on increasingly networked computers, the urgency of the task has never been greater.</p> <p>Cybercrime is so omnipresent today, Dahbura jokes, that some of his instructors don't have to lug books to class, or put together PowerPoint presentations. "They really don't have to prepare their lectures in advance," he says. "They just pick up the paper in the morning and lecture right off the front page."</p> <p>On this dank December day, as Dahbura sits down with a reporter and the institute's technical director, Professor Avi Rubin, the Sony Pictures hack is still big news. Some 100 terabytes of data were lifted from the film studio's networks, including embarrassing executive emails, and in the face of cyberterrorism threats, its film The Interview was (at least initially) pulled from theatrical release.</p> <p>"Not getting to see Seth Rogen—that hits America in the gut," Dahbura deadpans about the film's fate.</p> <p>"But it's really more of a benign wake-up call," he continues. "A lot of Americans don't realize just how far-reaching the implications of cyberterrorism can be. On the other extreme, we have all these computer systems that are controlling nuclear power plants, gas lines and oil rigs, transportation networks, and things like that. For all we know, they could already have been infiltrated."</p> <p>Part of JHUISI's work involves providing its own "wake-up call" to government and business as its researchers and students probe for weaknesses in existing computer systems in a process sometimes referred to as "white hat hacking." For instance, they hacked Exxon's SpeedPass payment system to score free gas, and unlocked an office door with a 3D-printed key made from a single photograph of someone's keychain. (See "Five Great Hacks" sidebar.)</p> <p>"If we identify a vulnerability, then we have an ethical obligation to notify the manufacturer or service provider, whoever is the originator of the product or software, and give them a fair chance to respond," Dahbura says.</p> <p>The institute's prin­cipal academic track is the Master of Science in Security Informatics program, where course work includes exploring the next generation of data cryptography. (After all, data stolen off a computer network or cell tower can be useless if it's adequately encrypted.) The still-emerging field of computer forensics is another area of study.</p> <p>"It's not that different from how you would think of forensics at a murder scene," Rubin says. "It's all just happening on a hard drive or on a computer."</p> <p>In other words, these "detectives" look for "digital footprints" as clues to who broke into a system, discerning the specific techniques used to gain access and other details that can help point to a perpetrator. Another aspect of the field is retrieving data from damaged computers or storage devices—a laptop from a fire scene, or a hard drive that a fleeing terror suspect threw out a window.</p> <p>The institute, part of the Whiting School of Engineering, was founded in 2001 by Gerald Masson, now a professor emeritus, who is also the founding chairman of the school's Department of Computer Science. "It's one of the first university research centers dedicated to information security," Dahbura says. "Professor Masson also had the foresight to view it as a holistic endeavor; our work is not just purely technical but also involves the legal, legislative, ethical, and business aspects of information security and privacy."</p> <p>Because of this broad outlook, the program's students frequently interact with the university's Carey Business School and School of Advanced International Studies, and some classes are even held at the schools of Medicine and Public Health. There are high-level programming and systems design courses, and also those that are more theoretical, such as Moral and Legal Foundations of Privacy.</p> <p>Of course, in the just over a dozen years since the institute's founding, the field has exploded. More and more personal data are being shared on social media and elsewhere, while we increasingly rely on relatively new cloud-based storage systems whose security may be less than resolute (just ask Jennifer Lawrence or Kate Upton). The world in 2001 was a far less connected place. Today, there are nearly twice as many people on Facebook alone than even had access to the Web when the institute was born. And recall that the lowly "dumb" flip phone was king a decade ago. Among the reasons that hacking stories are part of most every news cycle now is that in the great rush to get everything online or in your pocket (or both), the security implications of all this data piling up and/or flying around were not adequately considered.</p> <p>"It's a crazy new world, and part of the reason is these things," Dahbura says, holding up his smartphone. "These phones can track us and collect data. There is a camera on each side and a microphone. Virtually every factor involved in modern product design now flies against security. There has been fervor to connect everything to the Internet—garage-door openers to locks to thermostats. There's often so much pressure to get feature-rich products out the door that data security was, at best, an afterthought. And if there is one thing we see, it's that wherever there is a potential vulnerability out there, someone is actively trying to exploit it."</p> <p>Who are these exploiters, these "black hat hackers"? There is a hierarchy, with a small corps of "superhackers" perched at the top. "These are very bright people, who, sadly, would rather put their energy and ingenuity into the dark side and illegitimate means of making money," Rubin says. At the other extreme is what are dubbed "script kiddies," individuals or groups who likely have little computer savvy but have gotten ahold of some prepackaged malicious software that they ruthlessly employ. Many reside deep in Eastern Europe or other remote overseas locations away from much government oversight or legal recourse. "The Chinese government has tens of thousands of people whose full-time job it is to explore vulnerabilities," Rubin adds.</p> <p>Probably no computer crime is as prevalent or costly, as far as U.S. consumers are concerned, as the theft of credit card data. (Dahbura admits that he himself had a card number caught up in one of the mammoth retail-chain hacks.) Frustratingly, no form of cybercrime is probably as preventable, either.</p> <p>"The banks in the U. S. and the credit card organizations can make credit cards much more secure than they are, and they haven't felt like doing it because it fits into their business model to just accept fraud as a cost of doing business," Rubin says. "But it's become such a nuisance to the public that it's a defective product and it has to change."</p> <p>JHUISI will continue to challenge this status quo mindset, as will its graduates, who increasingly are heading off to more diverse occupations than ever. In the past, most went to work for information technology firms or the government. Now, Dahbura notes, they are also ending up in finance, health care, manufacturing, all sorts of places. "Companies are starting to recognize that no matter what they do, they need to have security expertise in house," he says.</p> <p>Though they don't think it's happened yet, another place that grads could land is in Hollywood. When the entertainment industry isn't being hacked itself, it often depicts cybercrime and hackers in television shows and film. Rubin says a version of his 3D-printed key project was featured in the ABC crime drama Castle, and a scriptwriter once called him about how to hack a GPS system.</p> <p>"I wonder how often the bad guys get their ideas from TV shows—Hey, can I do that?" Dahbura ponders.</p> <p>"I watch a lot of these action shows, and more and more, I'm seeing realistic plot lines or things that I've seen in conferences," says Rubin. "Maybe on my next sabbatical I should go consult on TV and movies. That would be fun."</p> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 15:45:00 -0500 Meet Carol Reiley, a Johns Hopkins robotics scientist who's written a book for kids <h4>Diving In</h4> <p><strong>Why you should know her:</strong> Reiley, a doctoral student in computer science, recently published a children's book, <em>Making a Splash</em>, funded largely by a Kickstarter campaign and aimed at ages 6 to 10. Originally conceived as a gift for her niece, the book advocates the growth mindset philosophy that says intelligence is malleable and can be developed through dedication and hard work, as opposed to the belief that you're born with a fixed amount of smarts. The illustrated pages tell the story of two siblings, Lisa and Johnny, and how they differ in their attitudes toward learning. The takeaway: It's not how smart you are; it's how smart you can become if you push yourself. Take that, trophy generation.</p> <h4>iHeartRobots</h4> <p>As her Twitter handle @robot_MD suggests, Reiley's research focuses on surgical robotics and how to improve human and robotic interaction, and she already has one patent, on surgical skill evaluation. She's also a champion of personal robots. Yes, every home with a customizable automaton.</p> <h4>The Reiley File</h4> <p><strong>UNDERGRAD</strong> BS in computer engineering, Santa Clara University. <strong>FAVORITE BOOK</strong> Ender's Game. <strong>ON SELF-PUBLISHING 'MAKING A SPLASH'</strong> Wanted to learn about publishing the DIY way. <strong>CAREER INSPIRATION</strong> Her computer engineer father and time spent as a hospital volunteer, when she marveled at patients with pacemakers. <strong>GREATEST SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGH IN HER LIFETIME</strong> Advances in personal computing and the Internet. "It's so empowering." <strong>PROSPECTS OF A ROBOT APOCALYPSE</strong> Minute. "Right now we have enough of a challenge programming a robot to move from one side of the room to the other. So robots that could rise up and attack us is an unfounded fear." <strong>SIDE PROJECT</strong> Founded TinkerBelle Laboratories, which supports low-cost DIY projects that address environmental, robotic, and health care needs. <strong>FAVORITE DIY PROJECT</strong> A humane mousetrap she fashioned at age 8 for a school science fair, and to catch her runaway pet hamster. <strong>TEN YEARS FROM NOW</strong> Somewhere at the intersection of technology and humanity. Definitely entrepreneurial. <strong>FAVORITE MOVIE</strong> Toy Story. <strong>WHY JHU?</strong> For its expertise and depth in the surgical robotics field.</p> Tue, 10 Feb 2015 08:45:00 -0500 Researchers unlock secret of reclusive coral snake's deadly venom <p>For more than a decade, a vial of rare snake venom refused to give up its secret formula for lethality; its toxins had no effect on the proteins that most venoms target.</p> <p>It comes from a reclusive redtail coral snake, or <em>Micrurus mipartitus</em>, which is primarily found in Costa Rica and parts of South America.</p> <p>But recently, <a href="">an international team of researchers figured out the venom's recipe</a>—a toxin that permanently activates a crucial type of nerve cell protein, causing deadly seizures in prey. The details were <a href="">published online in the <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</em></a> on Monday.</p> <p>"What we found are the first known animal toxins—and by far the most potent compounds—to target GABA(A) receptors," says <a href="">Frank Bosmans</a>, assistant professor of physiology and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Once they bind to the receptors, they don't let go."</p> <p>Most toxins in snake venoms target specialized receptors—nicotinic acetylcholine receptors—on the surface of nerve cells that make muscles contract, paralyzing the snakes' victims. But biochemical studies showed the active ingredient in the redtail coral snake's venom to be twin proteins, dubbed micrurotoxins (MmTX) after their serpentine source. But when the researchers tested MmTX on lab-grown cells saturated with nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, nothing happened. This puzzled researchers because MmTX was known to cause a repeating pattern of relaxation and seizures, similar to what's seen in epilepsy, in mice.</p> <p>By tagging the protein with a radioactive label, the team at Aix Marseille University in France determined that protein attached itself to GABA(A) receptors, pores on nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. GABA(A) receptors respond to the molecule GABA by opening to let negatively charged chloride ions flow into a nerve cell that has just fired. Doing so resets the cell's equilibrium so that it can fire another signal when needed.</p> <p>Further testing showed that MmTX binds to GABA(A) receptors more tightly than any other compound known—100 times tighter than the plant-derived compound PTX, for example. MmTX also binds to a unique site on the GABA(A) receptor protein, changing the receptor's shape and making it far too sensitive to GABA molecules. As a result, the receptor's pore opens permanently and the nerve cell is never able to reset, causing it to misfire and resulting in potentially fatal convulsions in the snake's prey.</p> <p>Anti-anxiety medications like diazepam and alprazolam also bind to GABA(A) receptors, Bosman notes, but they cause relaxation instead of seizures because they bind much more loosely. His team plans to use MmTX to gain insight about how GABA(A) receptors work. Since errors in the receptors can cause epilepsy, schizophrenia, and chronic pain, the team hopes that their future work will be able to shed light on these and other disorders.</p> Fri, 06 Feb 2015 14:25:00 -0500 Johns Hopkins leads nation in research spending for 35th year in a row <p>Johns Hopkins University led the U.S. in higher education research spending for the 35th consecutive year in fiscal 2013, with $2.2 billion for medical, science, and engineering research, <a href="">according to the National Science Foundation</a>.</p> <p>The university also once again ranked first on the NSF's separate list of federally funded research and development, spending $1.89 billion in fiscal year 2013 on research supported by NSF, NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Defense.</p> <p>At Johns Hopkins, research and development money supports investigations into everything from the origins of the universe to potentially lifesaving medical treatments. Recently researchers have studied <a href="">the implications of climate change</a>, <a href="">better protection for those treating Ebola</a>, <a href="">brain injuries in NFL players</a>, <a href="">how race and ethnicity might link to asthma</a>, and <a href="">how black holes can block stars</a>.</p> <p>"This ranking indicates that in an ever more challenging environment, Johns Hopkins faculty continues to secure funding for research that saves lives, leads to technological breakthroughs and inspires new views in the arts and humanities," said <a href="">Denis Wirtz</a>, the university's vice provost for research and co-director of Johns Hopkins' Institute for NanoBioTechnology.</p> <p>The total funding ranking includes research support not only from federal agencies, but also from foundations, corporations and other sources.</p> <p>Johns Hopkins has led the NSF's total research expenditure ranking each year since 1979, when the agency's methodology changed to include spending by the Applied Physics Laboratory—a research-focused division—in the university's totals.</p> <p>In fiscal year 2002, Johns Hopkins became the first university to reach the $1 billion mark on both lists, recording $1.4 billion in total research and $1 billion in federally sponsored research that year.</p> <p>Johns Hopkins research is also supported by funding from private sources and from return on investment from past discoveries. In fiscal 2013, Johns Hopkins earned $22.7 million from more than 800 licenses and their associated patents. During that time the institution spun off 12 new companies.</p> <p>In the new survey, the University of Michigan ranked second in research and development with $1.27 billion. Rounding out the list's top five are: the University of Washington, Seattle, at $1.2 billion; followed by the University of Wisconsin, Madison, at $1.1 billion; and University of California, San Diego, at $1 billion.</p> <p>Looking at all colleges and universities—645 were included in the survey—total research spending in 2013 rose slightly from the previous year to $67 billion, compared with $65.7 in fiscal 2012.</p> <p>However, the portion of that total that came from federal agencies fell 1.7 percent from $40.1 billion in 2012 to $39.4 billion. The decrease in research funding has been particularly hard on young scientists, Johns Hopkins president Ronald J. Daniels wrote in <a href="">a recent article in the journal <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</em></a>.</p> Thu, 05 Feb 2015 12:24:00 -0500 New Horizons spacecraft beams back new pictures of Pluto <p>Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh could only dream of a spacecraft flying past the small planet he spotted on the edges of the solar system in 1930. Yet the <a href="">newest views of Pluto from NASA's approaching <em>New Horizons</em> probe</a>—released Wednesday, on the late American astronomer's birthday—hint at just how close that dream is to coming true.</p> <p>Tombaugh, who died in 1997, was born on Feb. 4, 1906.</p> <p>"This is our birthday tribute to Professor Tombaugh and the Tombaugh family, in honor of his discovery and life achievements—which truly became a harbinger of 21st century planetary astronomy," said Alan Stern, <em>New Horizons</em> principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "These images of Pluto, clearly brighter and closer than those <em>New Horizons</em> took last July from twice as far away, represent our first steps at turning the pinpoint of light Clyde saw in the telescopes at Lowell Observatory 85 years ago into a planet before the eyes of the world this summer."</p> <p>The new images, taken with <em>New Horizons</em>' telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on Jan. 25 and Jan. 27, were the first acquired during the spacecraft's 2015 approach to the Pluto system, which is expected to culminate with a close flyby of Pluto and its system of moons on July 14. <em>New Horizons</em> was more than 126 million miles away from Pluto when it began taking the photos, which show Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.</p> <p>"Pluto is finally becoming more than just a pinpoint of light," said Hal Weaver, <em>New Horizons</em> project scientist at the <a href="">Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory</a> in Laurel, Maryland. "LORRI has now resolved Pluto, and the dwarf planet will continue to grow larger and larger in the images as <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft hurtles toward its targets. The new LORRI images also demonstrate that the camera's performance is unchanged since it was launched more than nine years ago."</p> <p>Over the next few months, the LORRI device will take hundreds of pictures of Pluto against star fields to refine the team's estimates of <em>New Horizons'</em> distance to Pluto. As in these first images, the Pluto system will resemble little more than bright dots in the camera's view until late spring, but mission navigators will use these images to design course-correcting engine maneuvers that precisely aim <em>New Horizons</em> on approach. The first such maneuver based on these "optical navigation" images is scheduled for March 10.</p> <p><em>New Horizons</em>, which is closing in on Pluto at about 31,000 miles per hour, has already covered more than 3 billion miles since its launch on Jan. 19, 2006. Its epic journey has taken it past each planet's orbit, from Mars to Neptune, in record time, and it is now in the first stage of an encounter with Pluto that will include long-distance imaging as well as dust, energetic particle, and solar wind measurements to characterize the space environment near the solar system's most distant planet.</p> <p>"My dad would be thrilled with <em>New Horizons</em>," said Annette Tombaugh, Clyde Tombaugh's daughter, of Las Cruces, New Mexico. "To actually see the planet that he had discovered and find out more about it, to get to see the moons of Pluto ... he would have been astounded. I'm sure it would have meant so much to him if he were still alive today."</p> Thu, 05 Feb 2015 10:43:00 -0500 Successful Johns Hopkins business accelerator expands to East Baltimore location <p>Building on the success of Johns Hopkins University's first business accelerator, FastForward, in demand since it opened nearly two years ago, the university is expanding its innovation program to East Baltimore.</p> <p>Called FastForward East, the new innovation hub aims to drive more economic development in Baltimore by supporting local start-ups as they head to market.</p> <p>Grand opening events are planned for next week at the new site, located in the Rangos Building in the 800 block of North Wolfe Street, just north of the university's East Baltimore medical campus. On Tuesday, there will be an afternoon business roundtable with local economic development officials followed by an evening celebration with university leadership. Local business leaders and Johns Hopkins faculty, staff, and students are invited to an open house on Wednesday.</p> <p>"With the expansion of FastForward to East Baltimore, Johns Hopkins is demonstrating its commitment to building the innovation ecosystem at the university and more broadly, in Baltimore," said Christy Wyskiel, senior advisor to the university's president for enterprise development. "Space that is affordable and turnkey for start-ups is a part of our overall effort to help these early ventures realize their potential and bring innovation and life-changing technologies to market."</p> <p>Nearly 80 companies have applied to the university's accelerator program since FastForward Homewood opened in the summer of 2013. Of those, 41 were accepted into the program as either virtual or resident participants. The original site in the Stieff Silver building near the Homewood campus is currently at capacity with 12 companies.</p> <p>FastForward East has 6,000 square feet of office and lab space housed in the Rangos Building. There is a shared co-working space that can seat 28, six dedicated offices, and additional features, including a shared conference room, common room, and kitchen. Companies can also rent space in two wet labs—a space equipped with plumbing, ventilation, and the latest equipment for hands-on scientific research.</p> <p>The FastForward East offices are adjacent to the new Atwater's Café at Hopkins, at the corner of Wolfe Street and Ashland Avenue.</p> <p>Companies are not required to have a Johns Hopkins connection to lease space in the incubator. However, some space will be reserved for undergraduate students. Desk space in FastForward East will rent for as little as $200 a month, while monthly rent for a full office or a lab bench is about $800.</p> <p>In addition to affordable space, start-ups at FastForward East will have access to the university's team of experts and network of mentors to help them navigate the intricacies of launching a business. The start-ups will receive coaching on everything from writing a business plan to applying for patents to finding potential investors.</p> <p>Gemstone Biotherapeutics LLC, a stem cell therapeutics firm making novel treatments for wound healing, is among the first companies moving into FastForward East. One of the founders, <a href="">Sharon Gerecht</a>, an associate professor in Johns Hopkins' <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a>, says the complex in the shadow of the Johns Hopkins Hospital is the perfect location for a medical start-up.</p> <p>"Hopkins labs have always produced world-class innovations that have the potential to impact millions of lives," said Gerecht, who expects Gemstone to grow into a world-class biotech company—and stay in Baltimore. "With FastForward, we now have infrastructure in place that improves the chances of getting these innovations to market."</p> Wed, 04 Feb 2015 19:36:00 -0500 Two Johns Hopkins Engineering faculty members receive NSF CAREER awards <p>Two junior faculty members in Johns Hopkins University's <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a> have been selected to receive National Science Foundation CAREER Awards, which recognize the highest level of excellence among early-stage researchers.</p> <p>The recipients are <a href="">Jaafar El-Awady</a>, an assistant professor in the <a href="">Department of Mechanical Engineering</a>, and <a href="">Amitabh Basu</a>, an assistant professor in the <a href="">Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics</a>. The two faculty members will each receive $500,000 in research funding, allocated over a five-year period.</p> <p>"The CAREER award is one of the NSF's most competitive awards and emphasizes high-quality research and novel education initiatives," Whiting School Dean Ed Schlesinger wrote in message congratulating the two winners. "It provides funding so that young investigators have the opportunity to focus more intently on furthering their research careers."</p> <p>El-Awady's research focuses on predicting the underlying deformation, damage, and failure mechanisms in materials, meaning how they change shape and form, and ultimately fail because of the application of a force or forces. As founder of JHU's <a href="">Computational and Experimental Materials Engineering Laboratory</a>, El-Awady's goal is to enhance the field of "materials by design."</p> <p>His aim is to move from empirical, trial-and-error development techniques to a combination of state-of-the-art multi-scale computational methods and experimental techniques that streamline the process of developing reliable materials with superior performance.</p> <p>El-Awady earned his bachelor's and master's degree at Cairo University. In 2008, he received a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from UCLA, and he joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins in In September 2010.</p> <p>The other CAREER award recipient, Basu, will use his funding to support his efforts to break new ground in the fundamentals of discrete optimization, a mathematical strategy used to help solve large-scale decision-making problems. In particular, he seeks to apply these methods to problems where a combination of discrete choices and non-discrete choices have to be made to optimize a given objective, such as minimizing costs or maximizing profits.</p> <p>Basu completed his undergraduate studies at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, India, and then earned a master's degree in Computer Science from Stony Brook University in New York. He received his PhD through the Algorithms, Combinatorics and Optimization Program at Carnegie Mellon University, and he joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins in July 2013.</p> Tue, 03 Feb 2015 08:43:00 -0500 On Disneyland, measles, and the madness of the anti-vaccine movement <p>In his Sunday column, <em>New York Times</em> columnist Frank Bruni <a href="">takes aim at the anti-vaccine movement</a>, which has been linked to a recent measles outbreak in California and which, Bruni writes, reflects "a chilling disregard for science."</p> <p>On the side of science, he consults <a href="">Daniel Salmon</a>, a vaccine expert at the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health</a> and deputy director of the school's <a href="">Institute for Vaccine Safety</a>.</p> <p>More than 100 measles cases have been reported in 14 states and Mexico and are thought to be connected to an outbreak that originated in mid-December at southern California's Disneyland amusement park. Bruni lays blame for both the current outbreak and the resurgence of the virus at the feet of parents who opt to forgo vaccinations based on personal beliefs and/or the "discredited theory that there's a link between the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and autism."</p> <blockquote> <p>In 2004, there were just 37 reported cases of measles in the United States. In 2014, there were 644. And while none of those patients died, measles can kill. Before vaccines for it became widespread in 1963, millions of Americans were infected annually, and 400 to 500 died each year.</p> <p>"I don't think its fatality rate has decreased," said Daniel Salmon, a vaccine expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "We just haven't had enough cases for someone to die."</p> </blockquote> <p>Bruni suggests that there is a "robust market for pure conjecture," a problem amplified by the Internet, which makes it easy to spread untrustworthy information disguised as "fact." "You can be so privileged that you're underprivileged, so blessed with choices that you choose to be a fool, so 'informed' that you're misinformed," he writes. Salmon echoes that concern:</p> <blockquote> <p>Salmon noted that the sheer variety and saturation of media today amplify crackpot hypotheses to a point where they seem misleadingly worthy of consideration. "People say things enough times, there must be some truth to it," he said. "Look at the proportion of people who question where our president was born or his religion."</p> </blockquote> Wed, 28 Jan 2015 16:20:00 -0500 Johns Hopkins stem cell researcher Sharon Gerecht receives inaugural President's Frontier Award <p><a href="">Sharon Gerecht</a> says that scientists always have different paths they would like to take with their research, but they usually have to stick to the roadmap for which they have funding. Today, she was encouraged to break new ground in stem cell biology when Johns Hopkins University President <a href="">Ronald J. Daniels</a> and Provost <a href="">Robert C. Lieberman</a> presented her with the inaugural President's Frontier Award in the amount of $250,000.</p> <p>"Now we have the opportunity to go in new directions, which is great," she says. "I am very happy, and I am humbled."</p> <p>Gerecht was surprised when the president, provost, division leaders, and other colleagues arrived during her meeting with students at Croft Hall to tell her she was chosen to receive the award.</p> <p>"Sharon embodies the best traditions of Johns Hopkins research: vision, collaboration, and tireless pursuit of discovery," Daniels says. "This award reflects our commitment to her work and the advances she is poised to make in the field of stem cell research."</p> <p>Gerecht, an associate professor in the university's <a href="">Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering</a> in the <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a>, has identified ways to control the fate of stem cells, which are the most fundamental building blocks of tissues and organs. She has coaxed them to form complex blood vessels—for the first time growing vessels in a synthetic material—that can feed the generation of new organs like the heart. She has also studied how to stifle their growth to starve cancer cells and inhibit metastasis. <a href="">Learn more about the Gerecht lab</a></p> <p>Gerecht was awarded her PhD within the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology's Biotechnology Interdisciplinary Unit in 2004. She then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at MIT before joining the Whiting School faculty in 2007. She is an affiliated faculty member of the Johns Hopkins <a href="">Institute for NanoBioTechnology</a> and a project leader for Johns Hopkins <a href="">Physical Sciences-Oncology Center</a>. Her work has appeared in more than 90 publications and she holds 19 patents. She is also recognized for employing innovative thinking across disciplines as diverse as materials chemistry, engineering, and cell biology.</p> <p>"One of the things that attracted me to Hopkins is the fact that people are very collaborative here," she says. "There is no problem to find someone that wants to work with you."</p> <p>Recently, Gerecht was named the first Kent Gordon Croft Investment Management Faculty Scholar, a three-year award that provides funds for research, teaching, and entrepreneurial activities.</p> <p>"There is no question that Sharon is a leader in her field with exciting new ideas," Lieberman says. "She is also a highly valued member of our faculty community who teaches, advises, and mentors students at all levels and is dedicated to empowering women and minorities in science and engineering. We are proud that she has made Johns Hopkins her academic home."</p> <p>The Frontier Award was made possible by a generous donation from trustee Louis J. Forster, A&S '82, SAIS '83, and Kathleen M. Pike, SAIS Bol '81 (Dipl), A&S '82, '83 (MA). It will recognize one person each year for five years with financial support for their research expenses. The inaugural year brought forward a highly competitive pool of 77 nominees demonstrating excellence in a wide array of academic pursuits across divisions.</p> <p>In addition to the winner, Daniels is also recognizing three outstanding finalists with a gift of $50,000 to support their research and advance their academic pursuits. They are:</p> <ul> <li><a href="">Scott Bailey</a>, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health </li> <li><a href="">Samer Hattar</a>, an associate professor in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences</li> <li><a href="">Sean Sun</a>, an associate professor in the Whiting School of Engineering </li> </ul> <p>The <a href="">President's Frontier Award program</a> launches a series of efforts by university leadership to support faculty as they pursue innovative and important research.</p> <p>Two more funding opportunities for faculty members were announced this week. The <a href="">Johns Hopkins Discovery Award program</a> is focused on sparking new interactions among faculty from across the university. The <a href="">Johns Hopkins University Catalyst Awards</a> are intended to help promising early career faculty establish their research programs. Both are supported by the Office of the President, Office of the Provost, and the deans of the university's schools and divisions.</p> <p>Speaking of the Frontier Award and the two new award programs, Gerecht says they are "very needed" by the research community.</p> <p>"There is not enough money to think out of the box and propose things that are risky," she says, "It's becoming very difficult to get this money. … Hopefully this will fund out-of-the-box thinking or crazy ideas that might lead to breakthrough inventions and discoveries."</p> <p>Asked if she has plans already in mind for her Frontier Award funding, she says, "Oh yeah, definitely. I have some ideas where to take it."</p> Mon, 26 Jan 2015 12:08:00 -0500 Johns Hopkins study of retired NFL players sheds light on concussion-related brain damage <p>A team of Johns Hopkins specialists has gathered evidence of accumulated brain damage in former NFL players that could be linked to specific memory deficits experienced decades after the men stopped playing the game.</p> <p>The small study, which involved imaging and cognitive tests of nine former NFL players, provides further evidence of the potential long-term neurological risks to football players who sustain repeated concussions. It also strengthens the argument of those calling for better player protections.</p> <p>Results of the study are <a href="">published in the February 2015 issue of the journal <em>Neurobiology of Disease</em></a>.</p> <p>"We're hoping that our findings are going to further inform the game," says <a href="">Jennifer Coughlin</a>, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "That may mean individuals are able to make more educated decisions about whether they're susceptible to brain injury, advise how helmets are structured, or inform guidelines for the game to better protect players."</p> <p>Several anecdotal accounts and studies have suggested that athletes exposed to repeat concussions—including collegiate and professional football, hockey, and soccer players—could suffer permanent brain damage and deficits from these events. However, the mechanism of damage and the source of these deficits have remained unclear.</p> <p>To understand them, Coughlin; Yuchuan Wang, assistant professor of radiology and radiological science at the JHU School of Medicine; and their colleagues used tests to directly detect deficits and to quantify localized molecular differences between the brains of former players and of healthy people who didn't play football.</p> <p>The researchers recruited nine former NFL players who retired decades ago and who ranged in age from 57 to 74. The men had played a variety of positions and self-reported a wide range of concussions, varying from none for a running back to 40 for a defensive tackle. The researchers also recruited nine age-matched "controls"—healthy individuals who had no reason to suspect they had brain injuries.</p> <p>Each of the volunteers underwent a positron emission tomography, or PET, scan, a test in which an injected radioactive chemical binds to a specific biological molecule, allowing researchers to physically see and measure its presence throughout the body. In this case, the research team focused on the translocator protein, which signals the degree of damage and repair in the brain. While healthy individuals have low levels of this protein spread throughout the brain, those with brain injuries tend to have concentrated zones with high levels of translocator protein wherever an injury has occurred.</p> <p>The volunteers also underwent MRIs, which allowed the researchers to match up the PET scan findings with anatomical locations in the volunteers' brains and check for structural abnormalities. In addition, participants took a battery of memory tests.</p> <p>While the control volunteers' tests showed no evidence of brain damage, PET scans showed that on average, the former NFL players had evidence of brain injury in several temporal medial lobe regions, including the amygdala, a region that plays a significant role in regulating mood. Imaging also identified injuries in many players' supramarginal gyrus, an area linked to verbal memory.</p> <p>While the hippocampus, an area that plays a role in several aspects of memory, didn't show evidence of damage in the PET scans, MRIs of the former players' brains showed atrophy of the right-side hippocampus, suggesting that this region may have shrunk in size due to previous damage.</p> <p>Additionally, many of the NFL players scored low on memory testing, particularly in tests of verbal learning and memory.</p> <p>Though the researchers emphasize that this pilot study is small in size, they say that the evidence suggests that there are molecular and structural changes in specific brain regions of athletes who have a history of repeated hits to the head, changes that remain decades after their playing careers have ended.</p> <p>The researchers are currently looking for translocator protein hotspots in both active and recently retired players to help determine whether these changes develop rapidly or whether they're a result of a more delayed response to injury with similarities to other degenerative brain disorders.</p> <p>If these findings are seen in studies with larger numbers of participants, they say, the molecular brain imaging technique used in this study could eventually lead to changes in the way players are treated post-concussion or perhaps in how contact sports are played.</p> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 14:06:00 -0500 Johns Hopkins brain researcher Lisa Feigenson honored by National Academy of Sciences <p>Johns Hopkins University brain researcher <a href="">Lisa Feigenson</a> was one of four researchers honored today by the National Academy of Sciences in recognition of their extraordinary scientific achievements in neuroscience and psychological and cognitive sciences.</p> <p>Feigenson, a professor in the university's <a href="">Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences</a>, explores the fundamental processes of human cognition and memory by testing the limits on what infants and children are able to understand about numbers and the processes that underlie that understanding.</p> <p>She joined Yael Niv, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton University, in receive 2015 Troland Research Awards, two $75,000 awards given annually to recognize unusual achievement by young investigators and to further empirical research within the broad spectrum of experimental psychology. Feigenson was recognized "for her meticulous investigations of the origins and early development of representations of objects and numbers," NAS wrote in its announcement. "Her research on cognition in infancy illuminates the foundations of young children's mathematical reasoning and learning."</p> <p>More from NAS:</p> <blockquote> <p>Feigenson has shed light on many fundamental processes of human cognition and memory by teasing out the limits on what infants and children are able to understand about numbers and the processes that underlie that understanding. She demonstrated, for instance, that infants between 12 to 14 months of age can differentiate between one, two and three objects—but not four. Further experiments showed that the limit of three could be overcome by grouping objects in small sets, allowing infants to remember groups of up to eight objects. This is similar to what adults do to boost their memory, such as breaking up a phone number into three sets of digits. With such work, Feigenson and colleagues have illuminated some of the fundamental cognitive abilities that are in place early in life, which are subject to change as children learn through further experience.</p> </blockquote> <p>Niv's work has focused on how the brain sorts information, effectively parsing complex environments into relevant, bite-sized chunks that can be acted upon efficiently.</p> <p>Catherine G. Dulac, investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Higgins Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University, received the Pradel Research Award, a $50,000 award presented annually to recognize mid-career neuroscientists whose work is making major contributions to our understanding of the nervous system.</p> <p>Scott D. Sagan, Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, received the William and Katherine Estes Award, which recognizes basic research in any field of cognitive or behavioral science that uses rigorous formal and empirical methods to advance our understanding of issues relating to the risk of nuclear war.</p> <p>The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and—with the National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council—provides science, engineering, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.</p> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 16:25:00 -0500 Big ideas net CTY research awards for 10 aspiring young researchers <p>One aspiring researcher wants to develop a software tool that could help doctors pinpoint which drugs work best to treat patients with lung cancer. Another hopes to address global warming by exploring a new, more economical way to grow algae. And a third hopes to create a human-powered portable refrigerator to transport vaccines to remote areas.</p> <p>These are just a few of the projects proposed by the 10 middle and high school students who were recently named recipients of the CTY Cogito Research Awards by the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth</a>.</p> <p>Grants of $599 each were awarded to students from across the country who submitted outstanding proposals for research in science, technology, engineering, or math fields. A CTY judging panel selected the winning proposals from more than 185 student applications based on overall quality and promise to achieve compelling research results.</p> <p>Student researchers will use the funds to purchase equipment, rent lab space, or for other project-related expenses. The award-winners will work with supervising mentors as they see their projects through and write final reports on their results. Awardees will also blog about their progress on <a href=""></a>, CTY's website and online community for math- and science-minded middle and high school students.</p> <p>The 2015 CTY Cogito Research Awards winners are:</p> <ul> <li>Shanelle Fernando, 16, of Franklin Park, Pennsylvania </li> <li>Anurudhramanan Ganesan, 15, of Clarksburg, Maryland </li> <li>Edward Gelernt, 16, of Moorestown, New Jersey </li> <li>Nikhil Gopal, 14, of Belle Mead, New Jersey </li> <li>Arun Johnson, 14, of Redwood City, California </li> <li>Katherine Nurminsky, 15, of Lutherville-Timonium, Maryland </li> <li>Sonia Sachar, 16, of Fremont, California </li> <li>Pia Sen, 17, of Austin, Texas </li> <li>Pranshu Suri, 14, of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania </li> <li>Isabel Young, 17, of Bethesda, Maryland </li> </ul> <p>Summaries of proposed projects can be found at <a href=""></a>.</p> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 10:43:00 -0500 Johns Hopkins adds new interdisciplinary major: Medicine, science, and humanities <p>Johns Hopkins University's <a href="">Krieger School of Arts and Sciences</a> has launched the medicine, science, and humanities major for students who want to examine medical and scientific issues through the lens of humanities studies. The new interdisciplinary major gives JHU undergraduates the chance to pursue the natural sciences and the humanities, rather than having to choose one or the other.</p> <p><a href="">Beverly Wendland</a>, interim dean of the Krieger School, says the major was created in part to help close the polarizing gap between the sciences and the humanities.</p> <p>"Given our academic strengths, Johns Hopkins is ideally suited to create a course of undergraduate concentration that focuses on the intersection of medicine, science, and the humanities," Wendland says. "In the rapidly changing landscape of higher education in the 21st century, interdisciplinary approaches are needed to promote intellectual innovations and will forge productive connections between scientific and humanistic cultures."</p> <p>The new major is expected to attract students who plan to pursue careers in the health professions as well as those interested in issues of importance to science and medicine, and students who plan to pursue graduate work in a range of humanities and social science disciplines. The major does not fulfill all premedical requirements, but advisers will work with students regarding additional needed course work. The new major also will serve students interested in a humanistic approach to science as the foundation of their liberal arts education.</p> <p>"It is only recently that medicine, science, and the humanities have become separated and siloed," says <a href="">Charles Wiener</a>, a professor of medicine at the <a href="">Johns Hopkins School of Medicine</a> and interim director of the new major. "Professions such as medicine recognize that future physicians must be more humanistic with additional skills in critical analysis, communication, and teamwork. The new MCAT being introduced this year addresses these cultural changes. The expectations of incoming medical students are becoming much broader to include cross-cultural studies, ethics, philosophy, and a range of humanities studies—all with the goal to produce more well-rounded physicians."</p> <p>Recently approved by the Maryland Higher Education Commission, the major requires students to take a core introductory course that is taught by a team of humanities professors. The course provides a foundation in a selection of the many disciplines that make up the field of humanities relevant to medicine and science.</p> <p><a href="">William Egginton</a>, vice dean for graduate studies at the Krieger School and the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, spearheaded the effort to create the major. He says students who graduate with it will "demonstrate awareness of how the sciences and medicine are called upon to answer fundamental human problems."</p> <p>Graduates in the major also will have attained an intermediate level of proficiency in a language other than English, the ability to deploy research methodologies in one of the humanistic disciplines, and the capability to critically evaluate how medical institutions and practices interact with a culture's beliefs and values.</p> <p>So far, more than a dozen incoming freshmen and several current freshmen have expressed interest in pursuing the major.</p> <p>"I'm not at all surprised at the considerable interest being shown for the major," Wiener says. "I look forward to meeting these students and sharing the details with them. Our new major is a reflection of the Krieger School's mission to create new knowledge through research and scholarship. Like the humanities, science and medicine are essentially interpretive, creative endeavors, and the new major celebrates that integral connection."</p> <p>For more information, contact Professor William Egginton at <a href=""></a></p>