Hub Headlines from the Johns Hopkins news network Hub Tue, 30 Jun 2015 12:14:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins offers online master's degree in applied biomedical engineering <p><a href="">Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals</a>, a division of the JHU's <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a> that administers part-time and online graduate programs, has announced that students can now complete its <a href="">Applied Biomedical Engineering program</a> online.</p> <p>"The online program is identical to the face-to-face program, from the modern courses it offers, to the expert Johns Hopkins instructors who teach them," said <a href="">Eileen Haase</a>, chair of the Applied Biomedical Engineering program at Engineering for Professionals. "We've simply added another way for our students, who are busy working professionals, to complete their degree."</p> <p>To obtain the Master of Science in Applied Biomedical Engineering, students must complete 10 courses within a five-year period. They can choose all online courses, all on-site courses, or a combination of both online and on-site courses.</p> <p>Whether they choose to study online or in the classroom, all Applied Biomedical Engineering master's degree candidates must complete the program's unique practice and innovation residency course. This course is offered primarily online, but also affords students the opportunity to attend hands-on lab sessions for two weekends in Baltimore, where they will work alongside faculty and medical experts from the world-renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital and the university's top-ranked Department of Biomedical Engineering.</p> <p>The <a href="">U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics</a> projects employment for biomedical engineers to grow 27 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. This demand is being fueled by the growing number of aging baby boomers in need of medical care and also by public awareness of biomedical engineering advances, according to the BLS.</p> <p>"Placing our Master of Science in Applied Biomedical Engineering program online gives students around the world the opportunity to earn a Johns Hopkins degree in this expanding field," said <a href="">Dexter G. Smith</a>, an associate dean at the Whiting School who is responsible for Engineering for Professionals. "While the off-campus, classroom-based program is still available, we're excited to offer this added flexibility both to our local and to our international students."</p> <p><a href="">The Maryland Higher Education Commission</a> has endorsed both the on-site and online pathways for the Applied Biomedical Engineering program.</p> <p>Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals gives working adults a convenient way to advance their education and competitiveness in 19 traditional and newly emerging fields. Building on the world-class reputation and dynamic resources of Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals offers online and on-site classes at times that complement the busy schedules of today's practicing engineers and scientists.</p> Tue, 30 Jun 2015 11:00:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins researchers explore how cancer spreads, how it can be stopped <p>The biochemical mysteries of how cancer occurs, grows, and spreads are areas of intense study in centers and bioscience labs around the world, but engineers also are applying their particular perspectives to understanding and stopping cancer in its tracks.</p> <p><a href="">Aleksander Popel</a>, a professor of biomedical engineering at the <a href="">Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine</a>, is one such engineer. As the director of the <a href="">Systems Biology Laboratory</a>, he studies the processes and pathways of cancer growth and spread.</p> <p>In one trajectory, he is developing novel peptide-based drugs to halt angiogenesis, the process by which cancer tumors establish the new blood vessels necessary for them to thrive. Peptides are short chains of amino acids that mimic the body's own biochemical mechanisms, in this case to prevent the formation of new capillaries. Popel and a fellow Hopkins biomedical engineer, <a href="">Jordan Green</a>, have formed a company, <a href="">AsclepiX Therapeutics</a>, to explore the potential of these drugs.</p> <p>In another angle of his research, Popel is studying how cancer metastasizes—how it spreads from one bodily system to others.</p> <p>"Ultimately, metastasis is what kills the patient," Popel says. "But, if we can disrupt the chemical processes that lead to and enable metastasis, we hope to shut it down."</p> <p>Popel is applying his understanding of metastasis to several kinds of cancers, including glioblastomas in the brain and certain aggressive breast cancers. Recently, Popel and his team identified the metastatic processes by which triple-negative breast cancer spreads. This cancer, which is typically chemotherapy-resistant, is a particularly invasive one with poor prognosis for the patient.</p> <p>Using a combination of animal experiments and advanced computer models, Popel and his team identified the biochemical processes by which tumors in the breast lay the groundwork for metastasis in distant organs. Popel, ever the engineer, went one step beyond that insight and is now testing drugs in an effort to disrupt metastasis. The drugs he has chosen are already FDA-approved for treatment of other diseases, which should greatly speed them to market if they prove effective in human trials.</p> <p>"We are engineers. We see a problem, like cancer, and we want to understand the mechanisms behind the complex microenvironment. Then, we try to find a solution," Popel says. "It's challenging work, but it's very rewarding."</p> Mon, 29 Jun 2015 08:05:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins students win biotech case competition for third consecutive year <p>A five-member team of Johns Hopkins students took home first place and $10,000 in the sixth annual <a href="">Wake Forest University Healthcare Strategy Conference and Case Competition</a>, the third consecutive first-place finish for JHU students in the competition.</p> <p>The Johns Hopkins team consisted of Christopher "Kitt" Burch, a 2015 graduate of the Global MBA program at the <a href="">Carey Business School</a>; Basil Hussain, a PhD student in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the <a href="">Johns Hopkins School of Medicine</a>; Steven Wang, a PhD student studying cellular and molecular medicine at the School of Medicine; Christopher Bailey, a fourth-year medical student; and Tim Xu, a third-year medical student.</p> <p>Boston University, Cornell, University of Maryland, MIT, North Carolina State, Rutgers, University of Texas at Dallas, Tufts, and Wake Forest also participated in the competition, which was held in March.</p> <p>Teams were challenged to develop a growth plan for a minor division of <a href="">Boston Scientific</a>, a medical devices and solutions provider best known for its work in the field of interventional cardiology. The plan needed to show how to grow the smaller division to the size and scope of the highest earning divisions within the company's portfolio. Each team completed an executive summary and was then given 20 minutes to orally present their plan to a panel of judges consisting of Boston Scientific executives.</p> <p>Burch said the strength of the Hopkins team was its multidisciplinary approach.</p> <p>"One of the biggest things I learned at Carey was how to work in multidisciplinary teams, and that really came in handy," he said.</p> <p>He said the team's diverse makeup and expertise allowed them to put together a comprehensive and multi-pronged solution, which focused on both short- and long-term goals for the division.</p> <p>"The other teams were either primarily all MBA students or all engineering students," he said. "I think our strength was that everyone on our team approached the problem a slightly different way, and that helped us develop different strategies and approaches."</p> <p>According to Burch, their pitch centered on leveraging Boston Scientific's networks and contacts to springboard a new technology they've been developing. Specifically, the team focused on the Chinese market and provided a detailed market analysis that included specific cities and hospitals to target for implementation.</p> Thu, 18 Jun 2015 15:23:00 -0400 Tamper-proof pill bottle could help curb prescription painkiller misuse, abuse <p>You can whack it with a hammer, attack it with a drill, even stab it with a screwdriver. But try as you might, you won't be able to tamper with a high-tech pill dispenser designed by mechanical engineering students at Johns Hopkins University's Whiting School of Engineering.</p> <p>Which is exactly the point.</p> <p>The <a href="">U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> has estimated that drug overdoses kill more than 44,000 Americans annually, including more than 16,000 deaths from prescription drugs. Federal officials also say that at least one in 20 Americans ingests drugs prescribed for someone else. Concerned about these alarming statistics, experts at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's <a href="">Center for Injury Research and Policy</a> challenged a team of Johns Hopkins senior mechanical engineers to design and build an anti-theft and tamper-resistant pill dispenser.</p> <p>"We needed this personal pill 'safe' to have tamper resistance, personal identification capabilities, and a locking mechanism that allows only a pharmacist to load the device with pills," said Kavi Bhalla, assistant professor at the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the team's mentors for the project.</p> <p>Classmates Megan Carney, Joseph Hajj, Joseph Heaney, and Welles Sakmar—each 22 years old and recently graduated from Johns Hopkins—spent their senior year researching, designing, building, and testing a device that met those specifications. The team unveiled its high-tech creation at the Department of Mechanical Engineering's Senior Design Day, an event held annually at the end of the spring semester.</p> <p>Weighing in at 2.57 pounds and standing 9.25 inches tall, the electronic prototype is equipped with a fingerprint sensor to ensure that drugs are dispensed only to the prescribed patient at the prescribed intervals and in the prescribed dosage. The cylindrical device is constructed of the same kind of super-tough steel alloy used in aircraft landing gear and is equipped with the same kind of fingerprint sensor used in some iPhones to ensure that the medication is dispensed only to the correct patient.</p> <p>"The device starts to work when the patient scans in his or her fingerprint. This rotates a disc, which picks up a pill from a loaded cartridge and empties it into the exit channel. The pill falls down the channel and lands on a platform where the patient can see that the pill has been dispensed. The patient then tilts the device and catches the pill in their hand," Carney explains.</p> <p>According to Heaney, the most challenging part of the whole project was "getting the electronic circuit that powers the fingerprint detector to work right."</p> <p>The device holds 60 tablets (a standard month's dose) of OxyContin, a potent narcotic pain reliever that was selected for the project because it tops the list of the most commonly abused prescription drugs. (Tylenol tablets served as a stand-in for its more potent cousin during device development.)</p> <p>"We also went and talked to the pharmacist at the Rite-Aid [on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus] and got his feedback on our design and approach," Sakmar says. "We wanted to make sure not only that it was easy for the patient to use but also simple for the pharmacist to unlock, load with pills, and then relock."</p> <p>Once the team members were satisfied with the input from the pharmacist, they then challenged a student to try to break into it.</p> <p>"He took a hammer and other tools to it, from a hacksaw to a drill, and he broke at least one drill bit trying to get it open," Carney says.</p> <p>Andrea Gielen, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the team's mentors, said she and Bhalla were so impressed with the team's design that they have a proposal pending with the National Institutes of Health to further develop and test prototypes of the team's device as part of a larger consumer product safety initiative.</p> <p>"The team did a terrific job in applying their skills to help reduce the number of poisoning deaths in this country," Gielen says. "We hope this work will lead to having safer pill dispensers on the market soon. Engineering has always had a huge role to play in preventing injuries, so we are very grateful for this important partnership"</p> Wed, 17 Jun 2015 16:00:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins math students a hit with minor league baseball schedulers <p>With the help of some Johns Hopkins University math students, <a href="">minor league baseball</a> is catching up with the majors in using computers to produce its game schedules.</p> <p>The students and their professors used complicated mathematical formulas to coax computers into churning out workable schedules for several minor leagues—a marked improvement over the tedious and more time-consuming method of developing schedules by hand. On Friday, the <a href="">New York-Penn League</a> will open its 76-game short season with a schedule produced not by hand but by students in a JHU computer programming class under two faculty members' direction.</p> <p>The South Atlantic League has also approved a 140-game schedule for 2016 made by the Johns Hopkins group, and further scheduling agreements for next year are pending with other minor leagues. There have even been discussions with the scouting department of the <a href="">Baltimore Ravens</a>.</p> <p>"This is brand new, this is trailblazing," said <a href="">Eric Krupa</a>, president of the South Atlantic League. He added that his 14-team league at the minors' Class-A level has always had its schedule made by hand. "I am very much excited, intrigued by this whole process."</p> <p>So are the students who have worked on the project, said <a href="">Donniell E. Fishkind</a>, an associate research professor in the <a href="">Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics</a> in the <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a>. He said about 20 students who were excelling in his course, Introduction to Optimization, worked on the project.</p> <p>"They're visibly interested and excited. … The educational value is immense," said Fishkind. It's one thing to learn the mathematical concepts involved in programming, he said, but "a lot of times it doesn't have meaning until you apply it."</p> <p>The students worked under Fishkind and <a href="">Anton Dahbura</a>, executive director of the <a href="">Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute</a>. The arrangements with the minor leagues took shape over the past two years in discussions between league officials and Dahbura, a Hopkins alumnus, former college baseball player, and part-owner of the Hagerstown Suns, the South Atlantic League affiliate of the Washington Nationals.</p> <p>Scheduling is a daunting balancing act of team requirements and special requests. Each team wants the best schedule of limited travel, homestands and road trips not too long or too short, well-placed rest days, home games on weekends, and away games when their ballpark is booked for concerts or other events.</p> <p>Major League Baseball has been using computers to produce their schedules for years, but minor-league schedules have been done by hand.</p> <p>"It's a matter of keeping all the teams equally happy, or you might say, equally unhappy," said Dahbura, an associate resident scientist in the Whiting School's <a href="">Department of Computer Science</a>. "It's kind of like being an umpire."</p> <p>In numerical terms, given the needs and wants of the 14 teams in the South Atlantic League, that 140-game schedule adds up to 36,753 desired outcomes that the computer has to figure out by accounting for 46,457 variables.</p> <p>The good news is that once all the information is fed into the computer, changes can be made relatively quickly, Dahbura said. Revisions that might take weeks by hand can be done electronically in a few days.</p> <p>In the end, the students' work was compared with the hand-made version and came out ahead, said <a href="">Rick Murphy</a>, chairman of the New York-Penn League scheduling committee, which considered eight key criteria, including numbers of consecutive games without a break, total days off, and balance of Friday and Saturday home games.</p> <p>"The committee felt as though the Johns Hopkins proposed schedule did a better job of addressing the criteria," said Murphy, vice president and general manager of the <a href="">Tri-City Valley Cats</a> in upstate New York, one of the league's 14 teams.</p> <p>The South Atlantic League also compared the computer and the hand-made schedule, and went with Hopkins, Krupa said.</p> <p>The <a href="">Southern League</a> and the <a href="">Carolina League</a> are now reviewing proposed 2016 schedules that the students created. The Florida State League has provided information that could be used to make a 2016 schedule, and the International League is asking for revisions to a proposed 2017 schedule, Dahbura said.</p> <p>The students also have created schedules for the umpires for the New York-Penn League 2015 season and will do the same for the South Atlantic League for 2016.</p> <p>Now the NFL is knocking on the door. The <a href="">Baltimore Ravens</a> have asked the group to fine-tune the travel schedule for the team's three scouts who have to cover a couple of hundred colleges across the country between August and November, Dahbura said.</p> <p>That's in the early stages, but the success up to now has been satisfying, said Marni Wasserman, who worked on the project as a junior and senior in Fishkind's class.</p> <p>"It was really exciting because we had worked really hard," said Wasserman, who graduated in May from the Whiting School of Engineering with a degree in Applied Mathematics and Statistics. "It was exciting that our hard work had paid off."</p> Tue, 16 Jun 2015 12:30:00 -0400 Urban agriculture startup founded by JHU students aims to bring future of farming to Baltimore <p>A few years ago, J.J. Reidy applied to business schools selling a somewhat grandiose vision: an urban farming system that could disrupt an entire city's food supply chain. Instead of shipping in produce from out-of-state or even local farms, cities could grow it on their own. Not in quaint corner plots or community gardens but on a commercial scale. On rooftops. Without dirt.</p> <p>Reidy had seen the so-called "vertical farming" systems succeed in places like Montreal and New York City. He wanted to join this new wave of food entrepreneurs "tapping into a global, growing movement that's changing the way we're designing our cities," he says.</p> <p>Reidy set his sights on the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Carey Business School</a> and the city of Baltimore. But before starting the program, he took a summer detour, moving to an organic farm commune in Vermont.</p> <p>"I thought, if I want to be a farmer of the future … I first have to be a farmer of 10,000 years ago," Reidy says.</p> <p>At <a href="">Earth Sky Time Community Farm</a>, he tended chickens, rode tractors, and worked in greenhouses. He also managed farmers markets that ran on old-fashioned bartering rather than money. The farm owners joked that he wouldn't need business school after that.</p> <p>But Reidy did pursue his MBA, which he received last month. And now he's busy launching his startup, <a href="">Urban Pastoral</a>, in Baltimore along with team members Julie Buisson and Mark Verdecia. The team is starting out with partnerships with food services contractor Bon Appétit (and by extension, Johns Hopkins) as well as the <a href="">Baltimore Food Hub</a>, an ambitious, $16 million campus for local food entrepreneurs planned for East Baltimore. Last week, Urban Pastoral and other Food Hub partners participated in the first <a href="">"Made in Baltimore" vendor fair</a> at Lexington Market.</p> <p>Ultimately, Reidy intends to fulfill his original vision for a commercial-scale urban farming facility that he says could produce more than 300,000 pounds of greens and herbs in Baltimore each year—"enough to feed an entire school system, or an entire hospital."</p> <p>To do this, the team will need a rooftop with more than 20,000 square feet to build upon. Urban Pastoral is currently exploring two options: the old Hoen Lithograph factory in East Baltimore, and the former Gwynns Falls Park Junior High School building in West Baltimore, which the Green Street Academy charter school is expected to move into this fall.</p> <p>The farming system will rely on hydroponics, which delivers nutrients to plants via water, requires no soil, and produces no waste. The guiding principle is that of "vertical farming," ideal for urban environments. A controlled climate also makes it functional year-round. <a href="">Investors are paying attention</a> as more entrepreneurs explore this concept worldwide—through profit-making ventures like Brooklyn-based <a href="">Gotham Greens</a>, which supplies to dozens of retailers including Whole Foods.</p> <p>Reidy—who also envisions retail partners in the future, along with possible work with government agencies—believes this could be a game-changer for Baltimore. Like most places in the U.S., the city ships in the majority of its produce from other states, primarily California. That state's current severe drought demonstrates one of the glaring flaws of this supply chain.</p> <p>The firm has already signed a letter of intent with Bon Appétit Management Co., a major food service provider for not only Johns Hopkins University but also other groups in Maryland, including Goucher College and St. John's College. The agreement lays out Bon Appétit's commitment to purchase food from Urban Pastoral, replacing some of its current providers, according to the company's resident district manager, Norman Zwagil. This arrangement could possibly involve the Baltimore Food Hub.</p> <p>In the meantime, Urban Pastoral is also working on smaller-scale goals. The first visible step of progress will be a greenhouse designed from a shipping container, intended to supply food to local restaurateurs as well as Bon Appétit. Reidy's currently working out a location with the nonprofit <a href="">Humanin</a> in East Baltimore. He hopes for the greenhouse to be up and running by the end of summer.</p> <p>Eventually the goal is to move that greenhouse to the campus of the Baltimore Food Hub, which after years of delays is slated to see <a href="">construction progress soon</a>.</p> <p>One future step for Urban Pastoral will be to hire a greenhouse engineer to add to <a href="">the current small team</a> of Verdecia, a scientist who's pursuing his MBA at Hopkins, and Buisson, who earned her master's and MBA through the <a href="">Design Leadership Program</a> run jointly by Hopkins and the Maryland Institute College of Art.</p> <p>The team is currently working to drum up funding. It received about $10,000 by participating in Johns Hopkins' <a href="">Social Innovation Lab</a>, and Buisson just scored another $10,000 by winning a LAB (Launch Artists in Baltimore) Award at MICA for her greenhouse design.</p> <p>There could be more greenhouses in the future for Urban Pastoral, and Reidy hopes to launch a rooftop facility by the end of 2016.</p> <p>For skeptics who tell him, "You can't feed a city with urban agriculture," Reidy has a retort ready: "There's no other option."</p> Tue, 16 Jun 2015 08:45:00 -0400 JHU biologist among early career researchers honored by Pew Charitable Trusts <p><a href="">Christian M. Kaiser</a>, an assistant professor in the <a href="">Department of Biology</a> at Johns Hopkins University, has received a $240,000 grant from the <a href="">Pew Charitable Trusts</a> to study how proteins are produced that function in the cells of all living organisms, including humans.</p> <p>Kaiser, who is <a href="">one of 22 young scientists across the country chosen as Pew scholars</a> in the biomedical sciences for the four-year grants, said he and his team are researching how several mechanisms work together at the molecular level to make protein strands and fashion them into the specific shapes that allow them to function. The work could eventually help scientists better understand cancer, diabetes, and diseases that attack the nervous system.</p> <p>The awards were announced June 11.</p> <p>"There are many diseases that are caused by dysfunctional imbalances of these processes" at the molecular level, said Kaiser. "Even minor impairment can have very pathological consequences."</p> <p>The Pew program, which has awarded grants to more than 600 scientists since it was established 30 years ago, recognizes scientists for "their dedication to pursuing the high-risk, high-reward research that can lead to extraordinary findings in bioscience," according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.</p> <p>"We are proud to provide a launching pad for the adventurous minds represented here, who will surely advance the field of biomedical science and create a healthier world for all of us," Rebecca W. Rimel, Pew's president and CEO, said in a statement.</p> <p>Kaiser, who joined the Hopkins faculty in 2013, is using laboratory techniques developed in only about the last 20 years giving researchers to manipulate individual protein molecules. A tabletop device that Kaiser built himself is equipped with a laser beam that allows researchers to watch single protein molecules as they are created, folded into shape, and move across cell boundaries.</p> <p>Vincent Hilser, chairman of the Department of Biology in the university's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, said Kaiser is "an amazing scientist" with a gift for devising laboratory experiments.</p> <p>"He has remarkable intuition about what things might work," Hilser said.</p> <p>Kaiser is the second member of the biology faculty to win a Pew award in two years.</p> Wed, 10 Jun 2015 14:49:00 -0400 Noninvasive brain stimulator may ease Parkinson's symptoms <p>Parkinson's disease patients whose symptoms such as tremor, muscle stiffness and slowed movement make it tough to hold an eating utensil steady have few options for relief outside of a hospital or clinic. Medication can help, but over time it tends to become less effective. To give these patients another in-home option, Johns Hopkins graduate students have invented a headband-shaped device to deliver noninvasive brain stimulation to help tamp down the symptoms.</p> <p>The students' prototype, developed during a yearlong biomedical engineering master's degree program, has not yet been tested on humans, but it is viewed as a promising first step toward helping Parkinson's patients safely relieve their own symptoms at home or elsewhere without going to a hospital or doctor's office. The design has already received recognition at several prominent competitions. On June 9, it won the $5,000 second-place prize in VentureWell's BMEidea national design contest for biomedical and bioengineering students. In May, the invention earned first-place honors in the People's Choice Award competition at Johns Hopkins' Biomedical Engineering Design Day 2015. Earlier, it was a finalist in the Rice University Business Plan Competition.</p> <p>The five student team members were inspired to build the new device last summer after observing neurosurgery being performed on Parkinson's patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Parkinson's is an incurable neurodegenerative disorder that affects 1 million people in the United States and 7 million worldwide.</p> <p>For patients in advanced stages, one treatment option is deep brain stimulation. In this procedure, a surgeon implants thin electrical leads into the region of the brain that controls movement. The leads are connected to a pulse generator—similar to a pacemaker for the heart—that is placed under the skin below the collarbone. This implant sends electrical signals to the brain to help curb some symptoms caused by Parkinson's.</p> <p>"We saw that this procedure is really invasive and can take 10 to 15 hours to complete," said Shruthi Rajan, a team member from Charlotte, N.C. "It's also very expensive, and not all patients qualify for the surgery. We asked if there was a way to provide the same treatment in a less invasive way that doesn't require brain surgery."</p> <p>The students were referred to Yousef Salimpour, a Johns Hopkins Medicine postdoctoral research associate who has been studying a noninvasive Parkinson's therapy called transcranial direct current stimulation. In this painless treatment, low-level current is passed through two electrodes placed over the head to tweak the electrical activity in specific areas of the brain. The technique can be used to excite or inhibit these nerve cells. The treatment is still considered experimental, but it has attracted much attention because it does not require surgery and is inexpensive, safe and relatively easy to administer without any side effects.</p> <p>The biomedical engineering students met with Salimpour to learn about the research he conducts in a clinical setting. "We told him we had an idea for a portable home version of this equipment," Rajan said. "But we planned to add safety measures to make sure the patient used it properly without a doctor or nurse being present."</p> <p>The students aimed for a prototype that would enable a patient to activate the battery-powered treatment by touching a large easy-to-press button. With patient safety in mind, the students designed their prototype to deliver current for only 20 minutes daily and only at a doctor-prescribed level.</p> <p>To help fine-tune their design, the students met with dozens of Parkinson's patients over a four-month period. Although the students did not administer the actual brain treatment, the patients help them craft the critical headband component so that it would be easy to put on, comfortable to wear and positioned so that the electrodes would remain stable and properly target the motor cortices areas of the brain.</p> <p>"For a comfortable fit, we put an elastic band in the back and told the patients to put it on like a baseball cap," said team member Ian Graham, from Old Saybrook, Conn. "The interaction with the patients was really helpful. In our usual college classes, we're just given a textbook problem to solve. In this program, being able to find a real-life biomedical problem and figure out how to address it was huge. And we even received letters of encouragement from some of the patients we met."</p> <p>The other members of the student design team were David Blumenstyk, Erin Reisfeld and Melody Tan.</p> <p>In addition to the assistance from neuroengineer Salimpour, the student inventors received guidance from other members of an interdisciplinary team of Johns Hopkins medical researchers that includes neurologist Zoltan Mari, neurosurgeon William Anderson and neuroscientist Reza Shadmehr.</p> <p>"Our group is working on the idea of using noninvasive brain stimulation for Parkinson's disease symptom control as a new clinical treatment," Salimpour said. "Our preliminary results were promising. Patients keep asking us for more of this treatment. But we couldn't provide the treatment for them because there is no portable and FDA-approved device like this for Parkinson's patients that is on the market at this time. The biomedical engineering students then approached us with the idea of designing the home-based treatment device. They did a great job, and made a fascinating prototype. We hope that based on their preliminary work, Parkinson's patients will receive the benefit of this new technique at home very soon."</p> <p>With help from the Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures staff, the student inventors obtained provisional patents covering the design of the device, dubbed the STIMband. Another Johns Hopkins student team is slated to take over the project in September to further enhance the design and move it closer to patient availability. One addition may be a wireless connection to allow a doctor to adjust a home patient's treatment level from a remote location.</p> <p>The STIMband project and other undergraduate and graduate-level student inventions are a hallmark of the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering, which is shared by the university's Whiting School of Engineering and its School of Medicine. Students work on these projects within the department's Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design.</p> Thu, 04 Jun 2015 13:34:00 -0400 Growing designer blood cells in a lab <p>For the last 20 years, hematologist Linzhao Cheng has been trying to solve a problem that has vexed researchers for even longer: how to produce an ample supply of red blood cells for use in transfusions. For patients suffering from blood disorders such as sickle cell disease, thalassemia, and myelodysplastic syndromes, life-prolonging blood transfusions are often part of a treatment regimen. But donor blood is always in short supply, and mismatched blood types can cause serious problems. Repeated transfusions also come with potential risks—from an unhealthy buildup of iron to allergic reactions to a rejection of the new blood by the patient's immune system, leading to kidney damage and other complications. "No matter how carefully a doctor tries to match a patient's blood, you will eventually have immune rejection because it's another person's blood," says Cheng, a professor of medicine and oncology and chair of the Department of Hematology at the School of Medicine. "The efficacy of transfusion gets worse and worse, and you need more frequent transfusions, leading to a vicious cycle."</p> <p>In his lab, Cheng, who is also a member of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering, had already created red blood cells from embryonic stem cells, but that didn't solve the issue. Embryonic stem cells would be too challenging to source in sufficient numbers and because the cells are derived from embryos, not the patient, they no more match the patient than cells from a transfusion.</p> <p>Around 10 years ago, Cheng and his colleagues concentrated on using an emerging technique involving so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. These cells are derived from a person's blood or other tissue and are genetically reprogrammed in the lab to return them to an embryonic state. Just like embryonic stem cells, iPS cells can be manipulated to form any cell type—including blood cells—and they also proliferate indefinitely in the laboratory. "Essentially, we were able to reverse the biological clock in the test tube," says Cheng of producing the nascent iPS cells. The promise was that by using a sample of a patient's blood, researchers would be able to grow an unlimited supply of matched, transfusion-ready blood cells. The team published its results in 2008, following pioneering studies by Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka, who won a Nobel Prize in 2012.</p> <p>But everything did not work as planned. While the team successfully produced red corpuscles from iPS cells, when researchers tried to coax the iPS cells into producing blood-forming stem cells—like those found in bone marrow and used in transfusions—they were less successful. In animal trials, the laboratory-grown blood stem cells would not settle and stay in the marrow, where they needed to be to generate mature blood cells.</p> <p>Cheng decided to change course. Instead of trying to create blood-forming stem cells, he concentrated on "fixing" the genetic defects found in the mature red blood cells. "I thought, 'Do I really have to create the blood-forming stem cell? Can we just go to the final product—that is, reprogram the [defective] red blood cell?'"</p> <p>With a 2011 grant from the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund, Cheng and his group were able to test the theory in his laboratory. Using blood samples from people with sickle cell disease, the team reprogrammed mature red blood cells into iPS cells and then employed a relatively new gene-editing technology to prune the gene variant and replace it with a healthy version before growing the stem cells back into mature cells. In theory, since the iPS cells are developed directly from the patient—using his or her own blood cells—there shouldn't be any immune system complications when transfused.</p> <p>Cheng admits that clinical trials are years away. First, researchers must see if they can produce sufficient numbers of the designer blood cells and, most importantly, make sure they are safe and function correctly before transfusing them into a patient.</p> <p>If the technique works, it could also have an impact on treating other diseases such as malaria, in which parasites infect and damage red blood cells. The concept would involve creating custom cells resistant to the infection and growth of malaria-causing parasites. "The idea would be to create a genetic modification that is just good enough to block the door of entry to the parasites," he says.</p> <p>Cheng has applied for grants from the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund as well as the National Institutes of Health to conduct additional experiments. "The fact that we haven't been able to solve this problem so far is frustrating," he says, "but it's also the reality."</p> Thu, 04 Jun 2015 13:34:00 -0400 Venture capitalist Dave McClure plays the odds when picking his next investment <p>Dave McClure, Engr '88, admits he wasn't always the best student at Johns Hopkins. He says he spent more time playing Ultimate Frisbee and pool than studying. But by his late 20s, he managed to become a decent programmer and even stumbled into running his own consulting firm. Today, McClure is a founding partner of 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm and startup accelerator that boasts about 1,000 investments to date. He has backed power hitters like Credit Karma credit tracker, Twilio cloud communications platform, and budgeting service.</p> <h4>What inspired you to launch 500 Startups?</h4> <p>I tell people I had to start my own business because I probably couldn't get a venture capital job at another company. I've had a long and challenging road in Silicon Valley. It took 10 to 20 years to figure out what the hell I was doing—how to run a startup and how to make good investments. But along the way, I got experience as an entrepreneur, an engineer, and eventually an angel investor.</p> <p>I felt like I had some expertise to offer other people and hopefully help them figure it out a little faster than I did. I had a lot of different ideas to help startups, not just financially but with customer acquisition and marketing. And since I had both an engineering and marketing background, a lot of entrepreneurs felt I could speak their language.</p> <p>Gradually, I started thinking that I could put together a small fund for 500 Startups.</p> <p>I made about 13 personal investments between 2008 and 2010. Most of the time, the investments didn't work out, but a few worked out really well. Three out of the 13 ended up getting acquired for more than $100 million. If you think, "Only one of 20 companies will be successful," then you want to have at least 20 investments or more. We started investing early and often.</p> <p>500 Startups is a different kind of VC firm. We run an accelerator program. We invest at the seed stage. We invest internationally. We build community, run conferences and events, and produce media and content about the startup world.</p> <h4>What has been the biggest surprise since launching 500 Startups?</h4> <p>That our strategy looks like it's actually working. Initially when we started, and still to this day, we had a lot of critics to our approach. They called us "spray and pray" investors, and they didn't agree with our accelerator model. Who knows? They might be right. But we've been fortunate over the last five years that 500 Startups is playing out somewhat according to strategy.</p> <h4>What makes for a can't-miss pitch?</h4> <p>It's pretty basic. We're looking for functional products, early customer usage, and, in some cases, a stream of revenue already. We tend to jump in a little earlier than others. Usually we're not just looking for a good idea but evidence of a successful product that people are actually looking for.</p> <h4>What ruins a pitch every time?</h4> <p>When founders talk a lot about the idea but not about how customers are using it or why they need to use it. Often, people will talk too much about the future of the product and not what they've already accomplished. I'm more interested when an entrepreneur talks in the past tense than future.</p> <h4>What's the oddest experience you've had with an entrepreneur?</h4> <p>One or two years ago, we had a startup whose founders had some really interesting stuff come back on their background check. One of the founders had a DUI, another had an arrest for marijuana usage, and another had changed names a couple of times. We did the investment anyway, and the company's doing pretty well actually.</p> <h4>What are the big mistakes you see entrepreneurs make when just starting out?</h4> <p>Surprisingly, entrepreneurs have been getting a lot smarter over the years. Historically, their challenges were spending too much money and time on a product before getting it out. But we're seeing improved outcomes in that area. We like to see companies shipping product regularly and getting early iterations out the door. Hopefully, they're not in their own heads too much and thinking of what to build instead of working with customers to find what they like and what they need.</p> <h4>Are there any investments that you regret?</h4> <p>It's usually the companies that I don't invest in that I end up regretting. I very famously passed on Uber, which turned out to be a multimillion-dollar mistake. I had the opportunity to invest in them years ago. I still have the email somewhere that they sent me. I thought it was too expensive and they weren't serious enough about it. I was really, really wrong.</p> <p>Investing in companies and having them not work is the default. We're not surprised when we make a bad investment. That's pretty standard. But most investors face what they call FOMO—fear of missing out. Most of us are worried about overlooking or saying no to something that will be big later. It results in us making more stupid decisions sometimes. It's almost an irrational fear. You're never going to get every deal. But it hurts even more when you realize you missed one of the best investment opportunities in the last 10 years.</p> Thu, 04 Jun 2015 13:34:00 -0400 Bacterial art <p>The School of Medicine's Department of Art as Applied to Medicine has been teaching and practicing medical illustration since 1911. This illustration, by Assistant Professor Jennifer E. Fairman, was for recent research by Johns Hopkins biophysicist Jie Xiao, published in <em>PLOS Genetics</em>. It shows part of an <em>E. coli</em> bacterium, specifically the structure of what is known as the FtsZ-ring and its associated proteins, which support and regulate cell division.</p> Tue, 02 Jun 2015 11:57:00 -0400 When the color we see isn't the color we remember <p>Though people can distinguish between millions of colors, we have trouble remembering specific shades because our brains tend to store what we've seen as one of just a few basic hues, a Johns Hopkins University-led team discovered.</p> <p>In <a href="">a new paper published in the <em>Journal of Experimental Psychology: General</em></a>, researchers led by cognitive psychologist <a href="">Jonathan Flombaum</a> dispute standard assumptions about memory, demonstrating for the first time that people's memories for colors are biased in favor of "best" versions of basic colors over colors they actually saw.</p> <p>For example, there's azure, there's navy, there's cobalt and ultramarine. The human brain is sensitive to the differences between these hues—we can, after all, tell them apart. But when storing them in memory, people label all of these various colors as "blue," the researchers found. The same thing goes for shades of green, pink, purple, etc. This is why, Flombaum said, someone would have trouble glancing at the color of his living room and then trying to match it at the paint store.</p> <p>"Trying to pick out a color for touch-ups, I'd end up making a mistake," he said. "This is because I'd mis-remember my wall as more prototypically blue. It could be a green as far as Sherwin-Williams is concerned, but I remember it as blue."</p> <p>Flombaum, working with cognitive scientists <a href="">Gi-Yeul Bae</a> of the University of California, Davis, <a href="">Maria Olkkonen</a> of the University of Pennsylvania, and <a href="">Sarah R. Allred</a> of Rutgers University, demonstrated that what seems like a difference in the memorability of certain colors is actually the result of the brain's tendency to categorize colors. People remember colors more accurately, they found, when the colors are good examples of their respective categories.</p> <p>The team established this color bias and its consequences through a series of experiments. First the researchers asked subjects to look at a color wheel made up of 180 different hues, and to find the "best" examples of blue, pink, green, purple, orange, and yellow. Next they conducted a memory experiment with a different group of participants. These participants were shown a colored square for one tenth of a second. They were asked to try to remember it, looking at a blank screen for a little less than one second, and then asked to find the color on the color wheel featuring the 180 hues.</p> <p>When attempting to match hues, all subjects tended to err on the side of the basic, "best" colors, but the bias toward the archetypes amplified considerably when subjects had to remember the hue, even for less than a second.</p> <p>"We can differentiate millions of colors, but to store this information, our brain has a trick," Flombaum said. "We tag the color with a coarse label. That then makes our memories more biased, but still pretty useful."</p> <p>The findings have broad implications for the understanding of visual working memory. When faced with a multitude of something—colors, birds, faces—people tend to remember them later as more prototypical, Flombaum said. It's not that the brain "doesn't have enough space" to remember the millions of options, he said. It's that the mind tries to reconcile those precise details with more limited, language-driven categories. So an object that's teal might be remembered as more "blue" or more "green," while a coral object might be remembered as more "pink" or more "orange."</p> <p>"We have very precise perception of color in the brain, but when we have to pick that color out in the world," Flombaum said, "there's a voice that says, 'It's blue,' and that affects what we end up thinking we saw."</p> Thu, 28 May 2015 09:30:00 -0400 Analysis finds shortcomings in regulation of reliability of U.S. electricity systems <p>The reliability of electricity systems in the United States is so haphazardly regulated, it's nearly impossible for customers to know their true risk of losing service in a major storm, a Johns Hopkins University analysis found.</p> <p>Though weather-related outages have risen over the past decade and research shows extreme weather events will occur with more frequency and intensity in the future, power providers do not necessarily have to report storm-related outages, leaving customers with an incomplete picture of the system's reliability and potentially limiting efforts to improve system reliability, researchers concluded in a paper <a href="">published Wednesday in the journal _Risk Analysis</a>.</p> <p>"Is a power outage due to a … weather event any less disruptive to a customer than an outage due to a technical failure of a substation? We would argue no," said lead author Roshanak Nateghi, a post-doctoral fellow in the <a href="">Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering</a> in JHU's <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a>. "A lost power event is a lost power event if you are a customer. ... Utilities need to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to protect their systems and mitigate the impacts of disasters."</p> <p>Because the nation relies so heavily on its electric power system, the researchers wanted to evaluate the standards enacted to measure its reliability. They found there are no national laws or regulations mandating the acceptable frequency and duration of outages for power distribution systems—it's left to individual states. And the states, they found, don't even agree on the definition of "reliability."</p> <p>The researchers uncovered several key problems with this mishmash of standards:</p> <ul> <li><p>In assessing a utility's reliability, regulators didn't typically count power outages caused by major storms—storms like Hurricane Sandy or the derecho that hit the northeast in 2012 and caused millions to lose power. If storm-related outages aren't counted, a utility would have reduced incentive to fix the infrastructure to prepare for future bad weather.</p></li> <li><p>Many utilities only report regional outage averages, which might mask what's really happening with outages in certain areas. A region's average might look good, even if there are pockets of consistently poor service, which is common in rural areas.</p></li> <li><p>No one regulates vegetation maintenance, although downed trees are the second-highest cause of power outages.</p></li> </ul> <p>The researchers concluded that existing standards don't provide a sufficient incentive for utilities to ensure reliable service for customers, particularly during major storms.</p> <p>"When the power goes off during a storm, a power company might get grief but in the end, people forget and we go back to business as usual," Nateghi said. "If the appropriate reliability standards for handling the impacts of extreme events are not put in place, we may face a more highly stressed grid in the future."</p> <p>The research team also included <a href="">Seth D. Guikema</a>, an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, and Yue (Grace) Wu and C. Bayan Bruss, former graduate students of Guikema's.</p> <p>Funding for this work came from the <a href="">National Science Foundation</a> and the <a href="">U.S. Department of Energy</a>.</p> Thu, 28 May 2015 08:20:00 -0400 Two JHU APL instruments chosen for NASA mission to Jupiter moon Europa <p>Two instruments designed by the <a href="">Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory</a> are among <a href="">nine instruments selected for flight aboard a proposed NASA mission to explore Jupiter's moon Europa</a> and investigate its habitability.</p> <p>An earlier NASA mission, Galileo, produced strong evidence that the moon—about half the size of Earth's moon—has an icy shell that overlies a saltwater ocean. If proven to exist, this global ocean could have more than twice as much water as Earth. With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa could be the best place in the solar system to look for present day life beyond our home planet.</p> <p>"Europa has tantalized us with its enigmatic icy surface and evidence of a vast ocean," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "We're excited about the potential of this new mission and these instruments to unravel the mysteries of Europa in our quest to find evidence of life beyond Earth."</p> <p>Last year, NASA invited researchers to submit proposals for instruments to study Europa. Thirty-three were reviewed and, of those, nine were selected for a mission that will launch in the 2020s.</p> <p>APL's Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding, or PIMS, will measure the plasma surrounding Europa in order to characterize the magnetic fields generated by plasma currents, enabling precise determinations of the thickness of the moon's ice shell as well as the depth and salinity of the ocean below.</p> <p>"PIMS will help to unlock the secrets of Europa's icy shell and hidden sea," said APL's Joseph Westlake, principal investigator for PIMS. "By measuring the plasma currents around Europa, along with the magnetic field measurements ... we will learn a great deal about Europa's ice shell and subsurface ocean."</p> <p>APL will also provide the Europa Imaging System, or EIS, a high-resolution, dual-camera instrument that will provide near-global coverage at 48-yard resolution, topographic and color maps, and imaging of targeted sites at roughly one-yard resolution.</p> <p>"EIS will transform our understanding of this fascinating moon by revealing its surface in unprecedented detail and giving us new insights into its ice shell," said Elizabeth Turtle of APL, principal investigator for EIS. "The EIS team has specifically designed this instrument to be able to take very high-resolution images of Europa's surface during fast flybys in Jupiter's high-radiation environment."</p> <p>In addition to providing the PIMS and EIS instruments, APL will also provide science leadership for two other instruments selected for the mission. The laboratory will develop the scanning mirror and the instrument electronics for the Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE) instrument, led by Diana Blaney of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with APL's Charles (Karl) Hibbitts as deputy principal investigator. Wes Patterson of APL will serve as associate deputy principal investigator on Radar for Europa Assessment and Sounding: Ocean to Near-surface (REASON), a radar instrument that will examine and take sounding measurements of the icy crust of Europa. That instrument's principal investigator is Donald Blankenship of the University of Texas, Austin.</p> <p>NASA's fiscal year 2016 budget request includes $30 million to formulate a mission to Europa that would send a solar-powered spacecraft to make multiple close flybys of Jupiter's smallest moon over a three-year period. In total, the mission would perform 45 flybys at altitudes ranging from 16 miles to 1,700 miles.</p> Fri, 15 May 2015 08:55:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins' East Baltimore business accelerator to expand to new space <p>In just three months, demand for lab and office space at the Johns Hopkins innovation hub <a href="">FastForward East</a> has exceeded supply. The FastForward program, designed to move academic findings through translational research into the commercial marketplace, was introduced to East Baltimore earlier this year in an interim facility in the Rangos Building at 855 N. Wolfe St. In that time, all of its offices and lab benches have been rented.</p> <p>Currently, preparations are being made to expand FastForward East from 6,000 square feet to 25,000 square feet of office and lab space. This facility will be a part of a new seven-level, $65.6 million laboratory and office building development, 1812 Ashland.</p> <p>"I am thrilled by the growth of FastForward, but we need to do more to meet the demand in the market for affordable space so that startups will start and stay here in Baltimore." says Christy Wyskiel, senior adviser to the president of Johns Hopkins University. "Now more than ever it is clear that we need to create economic opportunity and build out the resources to support this."</p> <p>FastForward has an additional location in Baltimore in the Stieff Silver building near the university's Homewood campus, in addition to virtual assistance provided for those ventures that are not ready to move into their own space. The new FastForward East location will offer open, communal spaces that encourage spontaneous collaboration and impromptu cross-pollination of ideas. It will accommodate both early- and late-stage companies, with an aim to drive more economic development in Baltimore.</p> <p>The groundbreaking ceremony for the 1812 Ashland building will take place today beginning at 10 a.m. Remarks will be given by <a href="">Ronald J. Daniels</a>, president of Johns Hopkins University; <a href="">Ronald R. Peterson</a>, president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine; <a href="">Paul B. Rothman</a>, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine; and others.</p> <p>In addition to FastForward, Johns Hopkins will occupy an additional 85,000 square feet in the new building, which will consolidate additional departments from both the university and School of Medicine.</p> <p>The new 165,000-square-foot building near the intersection of Ashland and Rutland avenues is scheduled for completion by August 2016.</p> Thu, 14 May 2015 16:00:00 -0400 Innovative health-tech ideas on display at DreamIt Health Baltimore showcase <p>Like almost everyone else, doctors and nurses now use smartphones on a regular basis. So what's the best way for the healthcare industry to take advantage of that?</p> <p>That was the theme of many of the projects being developed in this year's <a href="">DreamIt Health Baltimore</a> program, an intensive four-month bootcamp for health-tech startups that began in January. For the second year in a row, Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine co-sponsored the accelerator program in Baltimore, with the six startups setting up shop at an Inner Harbor work space.</p> <p><a href="">InsightMedi</a>, launched out of Madrid, Spain, wants to create a sort of Instagram for medicine, an international platform that allows doctors and nurses to share photos via smartphones and consult with one another for advice—without worrying about any liability or privacy issues. <a href="">Decisive Health</a> out of San Francisco hopes to make booking an MRI appointment as convenient as booking a flight on</p> <p>Those teams and four others presented Wednesday at Demo Day at Power Plant Live! in downtown Baltimore, sharing their developing projects with a crowd of investors and industry leaders. The showcase is the capstone event of the 16-week bootcamp, through which the companies gain access to resources and mentors at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, among other local partners.</p> <p>The program is run by <a href="">DreamIt Ventures</a>, which seeds startups with $50,000 each, provides physical workspace, and helps entrepreneurs make connections and find investors. <a href="">DreamIt Health</a>, the health-tech branch, started in Philadelphia and expanded to Baltimore in 2014, viewing the city as "an epicenter of healthcare innovation," according to program director Jason Hardebeck.</p> <p>In addition to the six startups working in Baltimore this year, yesterday's Demo Day featured DreamIt alum <a href="">Tissue Analytics</a>, which aspires to simplify wound treatment through digital technology. The goal, says CEO Kevin Keenahan, is to "turn a smartphone into a CT scanner for wound care." The team includes two graduates of JHU's <a href="">Center for Bioengineering and Innovation and Design</a> and a surgeon who completed his residency at Hopkins.</p> <p>After funneling through DreamIt's Philadelphia program last year, Tissue Analytics is now camped out in Hopkins' <a href="">FastForward incubation space</a> in East Baltimore, working to win more funding and develop partnerships—including a pending agreement with the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Home Care Group</a>.</p> <p>The Baton( team, a member of the 2015 DreamIt Health Baltimore cohort, also has Hopkins roots. <a href="">Harry Goldberg</a>, assistant dean at the School of Medicine, and <a href="">Stephen Milner</a>, chief of the burn unit, had already worked together a few years ago on an app called <a href="">BurnMed</a> and had other ideas about using digital technology in medicine. They saw a need to replace the antiquated status quo for patient handoffs—handwritten notes, computer printouts, and even legally questionable text messages.</p> <p>Goldberg's son, a former investment banker, got looped into the project, and Baton was born with the goal of preventing "baton drops" in the communications process —thereby eliminating some of the medical errors that contribute to more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. each year and cost billions.</p> <p>"Our goal is to have contracts with hospitals by the end of the year," says Baton president Zack Goldberg. Through DreamIt, the team has already signed a contract with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and is working on formal studies with St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.</p> <p>Three other startups from DreamIt Baltimore also presented at Demo Day:</p> <ul> <li><p><a href="">Nomful</a>, from Chicago, which aims to connect with thousands of registered dietitians who can provide nutritional coaching to clients via smartphones (ideally looping in personal trainers, as well).</p></li> <li><p><a href="">Redox</a>, of Madison, Wisconsin, which is working to help legacy electronic healthcare records systems like Epic integrate cloud-based technology.</p></li> <li><p><a href="">Sisu Global Health</a> of Grand Rapids, Michigan, which sees great potential for offering advanced medical devices in emerging markets such as Africa. Right now the team's focused on launching its own product, Hemafuse—a surgical tool for recycling a patient's own blood from internal bleeding—in West Africa.</p></li> </ul> Wed, 13 May 2015 09:45:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins astrophysicist Charles Bennett wins 2015 Tomassoni Chisesi Prize <p><a href="">Charles L. Bennett</a>, the Alumni Centennial Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Gilman Scholar in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, will receive the 2015 "Caterina Tomassoni and Felice Pietro Chisesi Prize" in June at the University of Roma "La Sapienz" in Italy.</p> <p>The Tomassoni Chisesi Prize committee awarded Bennett the Prize for "leadership in two experiments on the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) that literally changed our view of the universe: Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), leading to the discovery of primordial spatial fluctuations in the CMB, and Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), leading to precise measurements of the cosmological parameters and establishing the de facto Standard Cosmological Model."</p> <p>The Prize, in honor of the memory of Caterina Tomassoni and Felice Pietro Chisesi, recognizes and encourages outstanding achievements in physics. The award consists of 50,000 Euros, an allowance for travel to the award ceremony, and a special "Schola Physica Romana" medal.</p> <p>"It is hard to overstate the degree to which the cosmic microwave background satellites have clarified our understanding of the universe," said Nobel-Prize recipient and Johns Hopkins professor Adam Riess, "the recognition of this work is well deserved."</p> <p>Bennett's experimental research on the CMB has endured for 30 years. The CMB is the afterglow from the hot infant universe, which has been traveling across the universe for 13.8 billion years. Bennett's leadership and participation in the creation of experimental instruments and telescopes has helped to better understand the origin and evolution of the universe through observational studies of the CMB. His work led to what is called the Standard Cosmological Model. With Tobias Marriage, Johns Hopkins assistant professor of physics and astronomy, Bennett is currently building the Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor (CLASS), a telescope array under construction in Chile designed to study the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second of the history of the Universe.</p> <p>"I have had the unusual privilege of working with two fantastic space mission science teams during my career. I learned so much from these superb scientists. It was a pleasure to work with them. I am grateful to them and to the Prize selection committee," said Bennett.</p> <p>Bennett is the recipient of several notable awards and honors throughout his career. Those honors include the 2013 Jansky Prize, the 2012 Gruber Cosmology Prize, the 2010 Shaw Prize in Astronomy, the 2009 Comstock Prize in Physics, the 2006 Harvey Prize, and the 2005 Draper medal. He has twice received the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal and also received the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal for WMAP.</p> Wed, 13 May 2015 09:00:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins team wants to build a better heart <p>In 1982 William DeVries, a cardiac surgeon at the University of Utah Hospital, successfully implanted an artificial heart in a patient who was suffering from end-stage heart failure. The recipient lived for 112 days with the device, designed by Robert Jarvik.</p> <p>Thirty years later, we've cloned sheep, developed the Internet, mapped the human genome, and progressed from LPs to CDs to MP3s, but we still haven't created an artificial heart that can sustain life for longer than a few months.</p> <p>"If you think about technologies in general and how they've advanced in the past three decades, I don't think you'd say that artificial heart technology has progressed at a pace that's appropriate for the amount of time that has passed," says T.E. "Ed" Schlesinger, dean of Johns Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering.</p> <p>So what's the holdup? The challenges of creating an artificial heart that can "beat" an average of 35 million times a year for multiple years like a real heart are myriad. There are problems to solve regarding biocompatibility, power supply, blood flow, pumping systems, control mechanisms. Should the heart be fabricated from synthetic materials, muscle tissue grown from stem cells, or a combination of both? Does it have to pump like a real heart, or should it rely on a system of continuous flow, as current heart-assist devices do?</p> <p>Last winter, more than 160 people from the Johns Hopkins community and beyond attended the first Hopkins Heart Symposium. The purpose was to kick off a 10-year, $100 million-plus collaboration between doctors, engineers, and systems experts at Johns Hopkins to build the world's first permanent totally artificial heart. It was a goal first proposed a year earlier by Duke Cameron, a professor of surgery and chief of Cardiac Surgery at the School of Medicine. William DeVries himself was the keynote speaker, while Johns Hopkins physicians presented talks on subjects with titles like "Heart Failure 101" and "Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering." Engineers spoke about the mechanics of pumping blood.</p> <p>Since then, a team of medical researchers and engineers from across the university community has met monthly to brainstorm ideas and begin collaborating on research that will hopefully succeed where other efforts have failed.</p> <p>"There is no better institution in the world than Johns Hopkins to see this initiative through," says Cameron, who serves on the project's executive committee. "Hopkins has broad expertise spanning clinical cardiology and surgery, biomedical engineering, and research in biological and physical sciences, plus a spirit of cooperation among disciplines that is unique among universities."</p> <p><strong>Also see:</strong> <a href="">Getting pumped</a> (<em>JHU Engineering</em> magazine, Winter 2015)</p> <p>Currently, only one totally artificial heart is approved by the federal government for use in patients in the United States, but it has proved to be effective for only up to 18 months. In August, a French company, Carmat, implanted its second artificial heart, made from polyurethane and natural materials derived from bovine heart tissues, in a patient. (Its first recipient died 75 days after surgery.)</p> <p>Tens of thousands of people are diagnosed annually with conditions that would benefit from new hearts, but because of a shortage of viable organs, only 2,000 to 2,500 transplants take place each year. More than 4,100 patients are currently on the national heart transplant waiting list. Like former Vice President Dick Cheney, many of them use a mechanical left ventricle assist device, or LVAD, as a bridge until a transplant organ can be found. Unfortunately, many die waiting.</p> <p>"There is just not a sufficient number of organs to transplant everybody with significant heart disease who is eligible," says Gordon Tomaselli, a professor of medicine and chief of Cardiology at the School of Medicine, who has been involved in the initiative from its start. "This is the medical problem that we face, so we engaged the folks in Engineering and at APL to think about how we can, in a very multidisciplinary fashion, attack the various components of this problem. It's not just a single problem; it's a collection of problems, and many of them are engineering-related."</p> <p>"It's a very difficult challenge," agrees Schlesinger. "It's a materials problem, fluid, mechanical, energy, medical. It's got so many different components. The question is, Which organization can bring together the array of expertise to address such a problem? I think, therein, Hopkins has a unique position."</p> <p>Joe Katz is playing with a fabricated aorta in his second-floor office in Homewood's Latrobe Hall. Unfortunately, it's broken, sheared off at the left subclavian artery. "I have a lot of nervous energy, so I ended up breaking it, to the delight of everyone else in the room," he says sarcastically.</p> <p>This is not a normal aorta, however. There's an exaggerated bulge off its left side—a major aneurism. "If this person doesn't get it treated and operated on, he's not going to live very long," he quips.</p> <p>Katz admits he's a newcomer to the mysteries of the cardiovascular system. He's a mechanical engineer, a specialist in fluid mechanics who has made a name for himself by employing high-tech instruments to take measurements in a variety of fluid systems, from the ocean to the laboratory, with unprecedented accuracy. He's accustomed to testing turbines, propellers, jet engines—not blood flow. "I'm a pump guy," says Katz matter-of-factly. But a permanent artificial heart is the pump problem to end all pump problems. When then Dean of Engineering Nick Jones asked Katz to spearhead the engineering side of the Hopkins Heart Initiative, he signed on immediately.</p> <p>In the last 18 months, Katz has set out on a journey to turn himself into a cardiovascular expert of sorts. He's picked the brains of colleagues in Engineering, met with Hopkins cardiologists, and sat in on open-heart surgeries. He's also spoken with patients hooked up to ventricle assist devices, asking them about their experiences. He found that while LVAD technology has improved in recent years, the devices still have their share of problems: Power packs can be bulky and uncomfortable for patients to carry about, the site where the power line enters the body is prone to infection, and up to 60 percent of the patients who receive them have to be re-operated on to control post-implantation bleeding.</p> <p>But one of the biggest problems with LVADs, as well as with existing artificial hearts, is that they can damage the blood. Through shear stress, delicate platelets—whose function is to stop bleeding in normal situations—can become "activated," causing thrombosis or clots, which can lead to stroke or heart attack. It's the reason why patients require comprehensive anti-coagulation medication, which can have problematic side effects as well. Red blood cells can also be damaged by the high shear stresses caused by pumps and leach hemoglobin, causing more problems. So for engineers, physicians, and others working on the project, the mantra has become "Do not damage the blood."</p> <p>"It's fundamental to the whole point," says Marty Devaney, a senior administrative manager in the Whiting School's Department of Mechanical Engineering, who's coordinating research efforts between Engineering, Medicine, and APL. "If we create an item that damages the blood, we're no better than any system out there right now, and we want to make sure we take into account the actual mechanism that does damage to the blood and limit that in our designs."</p> <p>And while researchers have known that artificial pumps can corrupt the blood, they haven't pinpointed where in the devices the harm occurs. There was no existing data. So Katz and postdoc Jacopo Biasetti designed a "flow loop" to see if they could record the damage being done to platelets. Working with Thomas Kickler, a professor of pathology and director of Hematology and Coagulation Laboratories at the School of Medicine, they were able to "light up" activated platelets with a fluorescent material and record the results on video.</p> <p>"We got some very interesting results," says Biasetti, who is, for now, the lone full-time employee working on the heart initiative. "Our aim in the next couple of months is to have an entire LVAD in our flow loop and visualize platelet activation and protein cleavage in real time on a real pump."</p> <p>The university has signed nondisclosure agreements with two private manufacturers, ReliantHeart and Berlin Heart, to test their LVADs in experiments, with funding coming from NIH grants. The goal is to physically witness and record where the damage occurs—basic research that will help the Hopkins team in its own designs, says Biasetti, who's coordinating efforts between three labs—those of Katz, Kickler, and radiologist Assaf Gilad, where researchers will image in a similar system a blood protein called Von Willebrand factor, vital to platelet function, that can also be damaged.</p> <p>"The idea is to come up with a format that should have less shear stress," says Kickler, an authority on hematology and blood coagulation. "What we'll need to do is help the engineers test whether their hypotheses are correct. Using the photo-activatable dyes in the system, the engineers can take hundreds of thousands of photographs and analyze how much of the activation of platelets is occurring and correlate that with shear stress. If we see less activation, that means there is less shear stress, and that would be an improvement."</p> <p>Kickler and Katz, who together have more than a half-century at the university, have been energized by the new collaboration. "I've been here 27 years, and for 26 years I've had no collaboration with anyone in the medical school," says Katz. "That has changed dramatically over the last year. From our very first meeting, there were amazing dynamics; we started throwing ideas at each other. It's absolutely been an amazing project."</p> <p>"I remember the first time I met with Dr. Katz," says Kickler. "He said, 'Well, we need about 100 units of blood to test this system.' I didn't know him well enough at the time to laugh. Do you know how hard it is to get 100 units of blood? … . But the collaboration has been very rewarding. I see it as not just a scientific endeavor; it meets our whole mission of education and patient care."</p> <p>"To tackle a condition as recalcitrant as heart failure, we need to exploit and apply our world-class expertise across many different disciplines," says Paul B. Rothman, the Frances Watt Baker, M.D., and Lenox D. Baker Jr., M.D., Dean of the Medical Faculty, vice president for medicine, and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "We've gathered our A-team around the table. The more diverse Hopkins minds we can engage in this ambitious project, the better our prospects of bringing a revolutionary device to patients who currently have few good treatment options and, quite honestly, are overdue for a new one."</p> <p>So how should an artificial heart pump blood? Should it run continuously at a steady rate, or pulsate like a real heart? Should it be made of synthetics, organic materials, or a combination of both?</p> <p>Currently, most LVAD devices rely on centrifugal or axial flow pumps to circulate blood via a rotary impeller, much like a sump pump moves water out of a flooded basement. These pumps rotate at high speeds—5,000 to 10,000 rpms—in order to circulate in a minute the approximately 5 liters of blood in a human body. But, once again, all that pressure can cause problems. "It's like the force that's coming out of a water hose, and these poor little, innocent platelets that I study are very sensitive to turbulence," says Kickler.</p> <p>So Katz and Sharon Gerecht, an associate professor in the Whiting School's Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, came up with the idea of using a completely different kind of pump, one that uses a peristaltic pumping mechanism—a far more gentle way of moving fluid. Peristaltic pumps rely on a symmetrical contraction and relaxation motion to generate a wave down a tube. It's basically how your gastrointestinal system transports food through the intestines. Peristaltic pumps are already used in heart/lung blood machines to circulate blood in and out of a patient during open-heart surgeries, but they have never been used in LVADs or in artificial hearts.</p> <p>One of the problems with using a peristaltic pump in an artificial heart is size. The pump would need to be larger than other types of pumps because it can't move blood as quickly.</p> <p>Professor of Mechanical Engineering Rajat Mittal and his graduate students have designed a series of computer simulations to look at ways they can hypothetically increase the flow rate in a smaller peristaltic pump, without causing turbulence in the system. "We've basically created this device that doesn't exist, and we can test it out with a fairly high degree of confidence," says Mittal, who heads up the Whiting School's Flow Physics and Computation Lab.</p> <p>The simulations are at their earliest stages, and Mittal doesn't know if a peristaltic pump will eventually prove to be the right solution, but he says it's the right sort of thinking. "The key here is that Joe and Sharon's idea is a significant departure from conventional wisdom. I think this is exactly what we need to do. If we just follow what has been done by other teams, we end up with similar solutions. By just doing that, OK, maybe we can come up with a 10 percent better solution than what other teams have done. But I think the Hopkins team is not targeting a 10 percent improvement. We're looking for something more radical."</p> <p>Another challenge for researchers is trying to map the brain-heart connection.</p> <p>When you're lying down and want to get up, your brain tells the heart to beat faster, to pump more blood. Your body simply reacts. But how will a person's nervous system involuntarily control an artificial heart? "The classic example is a baseball player at the plate who isn't really doing anything," Devaney says. "But as soon as the pitcher throws the ball, a dozen different things occur automatically. Blood flow increases, there's a rush of adrenaline. It doesn't look like he's doing anything, but the body reacts to that stimulus in a way that's profoundly different than just sitting there. The mechanical heart wouldn't care that here comes a 90 mph pitch. But we want it to care. We want it to know the difference."</p> <p>This is where the folks at the Applied Physics Laboratory come in. Last summer, using technology developed by APL, a Colorado man who had lost both arms 40 years ago received two modular prosthetic limbs he was able to control simply by thinking. Ultimately, a patient shouldn't have to think about controlling his heart, but the neuromuscular connection has proved doable. Also, doctors note, when they transplant a heart into a patient, the neurological connections naturally "reconnect." If an artificial heart contained enough organic material, could the body's neurological pathways reconnect with it? Or could you simply implant an artificial heart made of real muscle tissue grown from stem cells?</p> <p>Sharon Gerecht has been thinking about these questions. She's an expert on stem cell differentiation and tissue engineering. The recipient of the university's first $250,000 President's Frontier Award, Gerecht has identified ways to control the fate of stem cells, coaxing them to form blood vessels—for the first time growing them in a synthetic material. She also has been able to assemble cells into small muscular networks. As far as "growing" heart muscle, the idea would be to somehow combine the two kinds of tissues—the muscular and the vascular—using pluripotent stem cells from the patient, something that has never before been done. "We can very nicely differentiate stem cells into muscle cells, but putting them together [with vascular cells] will introduce new aspects of signaling between the two cell types or tissues," she says. "It will be a challenge."</p> <p>In order to begin solving some of these problems, researchers are encouraged to apply for $25,000 seed grants, funded by more than $500,000 raised so far via private donations. Devaney says he's looking forward to seeing the ideas that researchers come up with. "Some of the ideas, they can be a little crazy-sounding, but this is where we want people to go, to go out there and tinker and discover," he says. "For instance, as far as generating power, can we augment this device so it will actually capitalize on the power inside you? Maybe we can come up with a glucose-burning fuel cell. Or if we can isolate and grow heart tissue, is there any way for us to bioprint a heart muscle, vascularize it, and use it to assist a failing heart by piggybacking right off the existing heart? They sound like great ideas, but are they feasible? That's why we're trying to get people these seed grants."</p> <p>Hopkins researchers are keeping a close eye on other artificial heart programs. More than a handful of research institutions are working on similar projects. In the private sector, the French company Carmat is the furthest along. Scientists there used tissue from a cow's heart to help overcome the bio-incompatibility issue with blood platelets. The patient who received one of its artificial hearts last summer went home from the hospital in January.</p> <p>Still, Devaney says, the overall goals of the Hopkins Heart in terms of power, neural connectivity, and durability, are far more ambitious than anything on the market today. And whatever researchers learn along the way can be used to improve current LVAD devices.</p> <p>"I think the way we're approaching it systematically, it should be doable," says Kickler. "When you look up at the Sistine Chapel, you say it was a pretty big goal to paint. But the Sistine Chapel was just a series of dots. We're working on all the dots now for our masterpiece. When you look at it like that, it's not quite as daunting."</p> Wed, 13 May 2015 09:00:00 -0400 What I've Learned: James West <p><em>James West is the co-inventor of the electret microphone used in telephones, sound recording devices, hearing aids, and other products. A research professor of electrical and computer engineering and of mechanical engineering in Johns Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering, he is a recipient of the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation and of the Benjamin Franklin Medical Award in Electrical Engineering, and is a member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame</em>.</p> <p><strong>When I grew up</strong> many years ago in the small town of Farmville, Virginia, the only professions that were available to black people were lawyer, preacher, teacher, and doctor. My parents had figured out that I was going to be their son the doctor.</p> <p><strong>But while I found</strong> the biological sciences interesting, the physical sciences were far more to my liking. I have always been intrigued by how things work. As a child I was always taking things apart and putting them back together. I was happiest when there was a box with screws in it in front of me. I still am intrigued by the unknown.</p> <p><strong>I would say that</strong> I learned the most over the years from my mistakes. This is a real revelation in certain respects. Most of us want to avoid failure. We go out of our way to disguise failure. The real value in failure is what you learn from it. This is especially true in science. You learn in the moments when nature or a device is not behaving the way you think it should behave or the way a textbook told you it should behave. It took awhile for me to get to the point where I would accept that and find those moments to be interesting instead of frustrating.</p> <p><strong>This removed the fear of failure</strong> from my work. For many people, fear of failure is a governing factor in life. It is not a governing factor in my life. If I stumble and fall, I know I'm going to get up and walk again.</p> <p><strong>It was one mistake</strong> after another that led us to the invention of the electret microphone at Bell Labs in the early 1960s. Bell Labs was a rather special place then, in the sense that you were more likely there than in other places to be assigned to a problem you knew little about. That happened to me, as a summer intern, when I was assigned to help a group of psychoacousticians who were interested in the interaural time delay. That is, they wanted to know, What is the delay between one pulse and a second pulse that will allow you to hear two sounds as opposed to one? It turns out to be 15 milliseconds.</p> <p><strong>They were using</strong> condenser microphones as headphones. The reason they were using condenser microphones is because they wanted a sharp pulse. The problem is that very few people could hear the microphone because the magnitude of the pulse was too low. I went to the library, and I found a publication that described a solid dielectric headphone that needed about 500 volts of bias on the device in order to make it linear and deliver a pulse of the magnitude they needed. I went to the machine shop and built headphones as shown in the paper. It worked. Everybody was happy.</p> <p><strong>But a few months</strong> later I got a call from the psychoacousticians. They said the devices were losing sensitivity. So I went back to the same publication, and it described this loss of sensitivity as a strange phenomenon that no one really understood. But it said the problem could be solved by reversing the polarity of the 500 volts of bias in the devices. Well, that was not a solution to the particular problem I was working on because a reversed bias meant a change in the direction of the acoustic pulse.</p> <p><strong>So I wanted</strong> to better understand what was going on here. Imagine that I have a capacitor, a 500-volt battery, and an oscillator. I took the battery out. So now it's an oscillator and capacitor headphone connected together. And then I heard the fundamental frequency, and I thought, Oh, this is not supposed to be happening. I thought a little bit about it and decided to short-circuit the capacitor headphone for a little while. I plugged it back in and there it was again, the fundamental frequency.</p> <p><strong>This was the</strong> moment I discovered electrets. I had not heard of electrets before. I never knew they existed. I went to the literature and learned everything I could about dielectric materials that could be polarized and generate an electric field in a way that makes it the electrostatic equivalent of a magnet. At that time, electrets were regarded as wonderful devices for teaching students about electrostatics but of very little practical use. This was mainly because the lifetime of electrets in the materials used in those years—mostly carnauba wax and beeswax—was about six months.</p> <p><strong>Some papers had</strong> floated the idea that modern plastics might present a way around this limitation, and that is what I began to explore with my good friend and colleague Gerhard Sessler. A beautiful thing about Bell Labs is that your door was never closed. If someone from a different discipline wanted to either gather knowledge or begin a collaboration, you were encouraged to accommodate their needs. Hopkins is very much like that, too, and it's a rare university in that such collaborative efforts are so encouraged.</p> <p><strong>We collaborated</strong> with a number of other people at Bell Labs, especially in chemistry and materials science, and we figured out that Teflon would be the best material for electrets. It has deep traps, and what we did was to figure out how to implant electrons in these traps and then close the trap so that the electron could not escape. This process was not easy to accomplish because many natural phenomena such as humidity and temperature affected the lifetime of the trapped charge.</p> <p><strong>That was another</strong> mistake we made. The true definition of an electret involves aligning the dipoles in a polar material, but that is not actually what we were doing. Instead, we were trapping these electrons. We should have thought of another name for it.</p> <p><strong>But it worked,</strong> and soon we were able to show extrapolated lifetimes for these electrets of over 100 years under a variety of climatic conditions. Now all of a sudden electrets were going to be extremely useful. Our director at the time was Manfred Schroeder. He thought Gerhard and I should start a company. He said, "Well, Jim, you should put the assembly line for manufacturing these microphones in your basement, and Gerhard, you can put the charging mechanism in your basement."</p> <p><strong>We were a bit confused;</strong> why would we ever want to leave Bell Labs? It had all the toys we ever wanted, and we got to spend every day there just thinking about new things.</p> <p><strong>Of course, had</strong> we taken his advice we would have made enough money to build and staff and operate our own labs. The microphones took off immediately. Now they are used in all manner of electronic devices. There is one right there in your audio recorder. The last time I looked it up, more than 2 billion electret microphones were being manufactured every year.</p> <p><strong>There are many</strong> other aspects of what I learned. Perhaps this was something I knew but didn't want to accept—but I learned that there are prejudiced people in the world. Early in my career, when I'd meet people, they'd look at me and I'd get this double take. I had a visitor once at Bell Labs, and instead of calling a secretary to escort the guy to my office, I went down [to get him] myself. We came back to the office and I told him to have a seat. He looked at me funny and said, "When is Dr. West coming?" I said, "He's already here."</p> <p><strong>My good friend</strong> Ilene Busch-Vishniac, who was the [Engineering] dean here [at Johns Hopkins] when I was first hired, did a postdoc with me at Bell Labs. We were at a meeting once, and we were arguing about the paper we had just seen presented. Some guy with a blue suit on walked up and asked her if I was bothering her.</p> <p><strong>Little things like</strong> that are learning experiences. They point to the need in this country to begin to understand that differences are OK—differences in religion, differences in race. I find it very interesting that what my father said to me is the same thing that I am saying to my grandsons: "Avoid policemen. They are not your friends." I was told that the minute I was able to get beyond the sight of my parents.</p> <p><strong>I can look at</strong> the world and I can see so many positive changes that have made life so much better, but on the other hand I can see that there are so many social issues that are basically at the same point. I am very saddened by that.</p> <p><strong>There is always</strong> something to learn. These days, I am trying to learn how to deal with venture capitalists. They seem to be quite interested in the work we are doing now on polarized nanofiber. We are trying to develop a device called a vector sensor for the Navy using the nanofiber. The work has been funded by the Office of Naval Research.</p> <p><strong>I think the venture</strong> money will be coming in, too. These polarized fibers have some interesting properties. Sensors would be flat, and they would be extremely small, made using polymer electrets set in nanofibers much thinner than a strand of human hair. We haven't put a vector sensor together yet; what we've done is prove that we can make the sensors that are necessary for the kind of array the Navy asked us to investigate.</p> <p><strong>Some interesting</strong> ideas are coming up around this technology. Think about the wing of an airplane or the key structural points on a bridge. Can we embed these fiber sensors into structures like that when they are being built and then be able to use the sensors to see more clearly when they are at risk for failing?</p> <p><strong>Another thing</strong> that has everyone interested is the way that these polarized nanofibers would generate some voltage from motion, so there are possibilities in energy harvesting and energy generation. Perhaps you could weave these fibers into a flag that is flapping in the wind, and that motion would generate the power needed for the light shining on the flag. Our bodies are in continuous motion. Can I weave these fibers into your jacket and let your movements generate voltage that charges your electronic device? Or can I put these in the water and harvest energy from the waves in the ocean?</p> <p><strong>This is not a</strong> new idea of mine. Other people have also thought of things along these lines. But what we're building is going to be dirt-cheap compared with some of the other ideas out there. The basic molecule is collagen, and this is very easy to produce. But we will see what happens. As in any new science, you don't quite know where it's all going to lead. That's another thing I've learned.</p> <p><strong>What I do every day</strong> very much depends on what I learn that day in terms of nature. That's really going to dictate what happens next. I try to talk about this with young kids. I tell them, "You think a famous athlete's life is exciting? You should try mine!" Athletes know what they are doing every day. I don't know—every day in my life is filled with new possibilities. That's the beauty in science.</p> Mon, 11 May 2015 14:30:00 -0400 Happy mudder's day: Hopkins Baja team races to top 10 finish <p>With a new racing strategy, described by senior biomedical engineering major and team captain Nate Schambach as "less drama and more laps," the Johns Hopkins University's Baja team capped off its best season ever with two top 10 finishes in international competitions in April and May.</p> <p>After achieving an eighth-place finish (its highest ever) at the annual Baja SAE international racing competition in Auburn, Alabama, on April 12, the muddy team of undergraduates returned to Baltimore with a coveted asphalt trophy (made from a core sample taken from the Auburn racing track) ready to take on its next challenge: the Maryland Baja competition in Mechanicsville, Maryland, this past weekend. There, Hopkins placed ninth overall out of 132 teams hailing from nine countries and four continents.</p> <p>Each year, the <a href="">Hopkins Baja team</a> designs and builds a single-seat off-road vehicle that can withstand rough terrain. The competition includes dynamic events (such as acceleration, hill climbs, and rock crawls) and a single, four-hour endurance race. The teams use the same 10-horsepower Briggs and Stratton motor. The students design, build, test, promote, and race the vehicle within the limits of the rules, and they are also responsible for generating financial support for their project.</p>