Hub Headlines from the Johns Hopkins news network Hub 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 advisor 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 James West, research professor of electrical and computer engineering and of mechanical engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering <p><em>James West is the co-inventor of the electret microphone used in telephones, sound recording devices, hearing aids, and other products. 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> Thu, 07 May 2015 13:38:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins materials science specialist honored by Energy Department <p>Rebekka S. Klausen, an assistant professor in the <a href="">Department of Chemistry</a> at Johns Hopkins University, is among 44 young scientists across the country chosen to receive grants from the U.S. Energy Department's Office of Science under the agency's Early Career Research Program.</p> <p>"I'm honored and gratified to have our research recognized by the DOE," said Klausen, a specialist in materials science who will use the $750,000 over the next five years to pursue work on silicon, a chemical element used to produce the semiconductors that power computers and solar cells.</p> <p>Klausen and several graduate students will work to create novel silicon-based molecules and polymers of controlled size and shape to study the emergence of length-dependent properties in silicon materials. Since the size of a material can determine the amount of light it absorbs, the new materials could eventually be used in lightweight electronics like solar cells potent and small enough to run smart phones and laptop computers. Klausen notes that because of silicon's earth abundance—27.7 percent by weight of the Earth's crust is silicon—these materials will be broadly relevant to all aspects of DOE's mission.</p> <p>Klausen joined Johns Hopkins in 2013 after completing post-doctoral work at Columbia University. She earned her doctorate at Harvard University.</p> <p>Kenneth D. Karlin, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry, said he is very pleased for Klausen and for the department.</p> <p>"This is wonderful for her as a young, newly independent researcher," Karlin said. "It just means her ideas have been recognized as being really front-line, and the grant allows her to vigorously pursue this line of research."</p> <p>Klausen was among 44 researchers chosen from about 620 proposals, and one of 27 affiliated with U.S. universities. Seventeen of the scientists selected are from the DOE's national laboratories, according to an agency announcement. The grants pay for salaries and research expenses.</p> <p>Grants were allocated for untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professors who received their PhD within the past 10 years. The DOE said the selections were based on peer review by outside experts.</p> <p>"Supporting talented researchers in their early career years is one key to building and maintaining an effective scientific workforce for the nation," Patricia M. Dehmer, Acting Director of DOE's Office of Science, said in the agency statement.</p> Wed, 06 May 2015 09:51:00 -0400 Researchers explore how the brain separates our abilities to talk, write <p>Out loud, someone says, "The man is catching a fish." The same person then takes pen to paper and writes, "The men is catches a fish."</p> <p>Although the human ability to write evolved from our ability to speak, writing and talking are now such independent systems in the brain that someone who can't write a grammatically correct sentence may be able say it aloud flawlessly, found a team led by Johns Hopkins University cognitive scientist <a href="">Brenda Rapp</a>.</p> <p>In <a href="">a paper published this week in the journal <em>Psychological Science</em></a>, Rapp's team found that it's possible to damage the speaking part of the brain but leave the writing part unaffected, and vice versa, even when dealing with morphemes, the tiniest meaningful components of the language system including suffixes like "er," "ing," and "ed."</p> <p>"Actually seeing people say one thing and—at the same time—write another is startling and surprising. We don't expect that we would produce different words in speech and writing," said Rapp, a professor in the <a href="">Department of Cognitive Science</a> in the <a href="">Krieger School of Arts and Sciences</a>. "It's as though there were two quasi independent language systems in the brain."</p> <p>The team wanted to understand how the brain organizes knowledge of written language—reading and spelling—since there is a genetic blueprint for spoken language but not written. More specifically, they wanted to know if written language was dependent on spoken language in literate adults. If it was, then one would expect to see similar errors in speech and writing. If it wasn't, one might see that people don't necessarily write what they say.</p> <p>The team, which included cognitive scientists Simon Fischer-Baum of Rice University and Michele Miozzo of Columbia University, studied five stroke victims with aphasia, a language disorder that affects a person's ability to communicate. Four of them had difficulties writing sentences with the proper suffixes, but had few problems speaking the same sentences. The last individual had the opposite problem—trouble with speaking but unaffected writing.</p> <p>The researchers showed the individuals pictures and asked them to describe the action. One person would say, "the boy is walking," but write, "the boy is walked." Another would say, "Dave is eating an apple" and then write, "Dave is eats an apple."</p> <p>The findings reveal that writing and speaking are supported by different parts of the brain—and not just in terms of motor control in the hand and mouth, but in the high-level aspects of word construction.</p> <p>"We found that the brain is not just a 'dumb' machine that knows about letters and their order, but that it is 'smart' and sophisticated and knows about word parts and how they fit together," Rapp said. "When you damage the brain, you might damage certain morphemes but not others in writing but not speaking, or vice versa."</p> <p>This understanding of how the adult brain differentiates word parts could help educators as they teach children to read and write, Rapp said. It could lead to better therapies for those suffering aphasia.</p> Fri, 01 May 2015 12:02:00 -0400 Messenger mission comes to an end as spacecraft slams into Mercury's surface <p>Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory confirmed Thursday afternoon that <a href="">NASA's Messenger spacecraft had crashed into the surface of Mercury</a>, as predicted, at 3:26 p.m. The team was able to confirm the end of operations just a few minutes later, at 3:40 p.m., when no signal was detected by the Deep Space Network station in Goldstone, California, at the time the spacecraft would have emerged from behind the planet had it not impacted the surface.</p> <p>"Today we bid a fond farewell to one of the most resilient and accomplished spacecraft ever to have explored our neighboring planets," said Sean Solomon, Messenger's principal investigator and director of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.</p> <p>"Our craft set a record for planetary flybys, spent more than four years in orbit about the planet closest to the sun, and survived both punishing heat and extreme doses of radiation. Among its other achievements, Messenger determined Mercury's surface composition, revealed its geological history, discovered that its internal magnetic field is offset from the planet's center, taught us about Mercury's unusual internal structure, followed the chemical inventory of its exosphere with season and time of day, discovered novel aspects of its extraordinarily active magnetosphere, and verified that its polar deposits are dominantly water ice. A resourceful and committed team of engineers, mission operators, scientists, and managers can be extremely proud that the Messenger mission has surpassed all expectations and delivered a stunningly long list of discoveries that have changed our views not only of one of Earth's sibling planets but of the entire inner solar system."</p> <p><a href="">Messenger</a> was launched on August 3, 2004, and it began orbiting Mercury on March 18, 2011. The spacecraft completed its primary science objectives by March 2012. Because Messenger's initial discoveries raised important new questions and the payload remained healthy, the mission was extended twice, allowing the spacecraft to make observations from extraordinarily low altitudes and capture images and information about the planet in unprecedented detail.</p> <p>Last month, during a final short extension of the mission referred to as XM2, the team embarked on a hover campaign that allowed the spacecraft at its closest approach to operate within a narrow band of altitudes, five to 35 kilometers above the planet's surface. On April 28, the team successfully executed the last of seven orbit-correction maneuvers, which kept Messenger aloft for the additional month, sufficiently long enough for the spacecraft's instruments to collect critical information that could shed light on Mercury's crustal magnetic anomalies and ice-filled polar craters, among other features.</p> <p>With no way to increase its altitude, Messenger was finally unable to resist the perturbations to its orbit by the sun's gravitational pull, and it slammed into Mercury's surface at around 8,750 miles per hour, creating a new crater up to 52 feet wide. Before impact, Messenger's mission design team predicted that the spacecraft would pass several miles over the lava-filled Shakespeare impact basin before striking an unnamed ridge near 54.5°N latitude and 210.1°E longitude.</p> <p>"Going out with a bang as it impacts the surface of Mercury, we are celebrating Messenger as more than a successful mission," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The Messenger mission will continue to provide scientists with a bonanza of new results as we begin the next phase of this mission—analyzing the exciting data already in the archives, and unraveling the mysteries of Mercury."</p> Thu, 30 Apr 2015 14:51:00 -0400 Two Johns Hopkins researchers elected to National Academy of Sciences <p>Two Johns Hopkins University professors, <a href="">Aravinda Chakravarti</a> and <a href="">Donald Geman</a>, are among 84 new members <a href="">elected to the National Academy of Sciences</a>, an honorary society that advises the government on scientific matters.</p> <p>Chakravarti is being recognized for his contributions to the field of genomics; Geman, for his achievements in statistics, image analysis, and machine learning. They will be inducted at the academy's annual meeting next spring.</p> <p>Chakravarti is a professor of medicine, pediatrics, molecular biology and genetics, and biostatistics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's <a href="">Institute for Genetic Medicine</a> and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. His research team is deepening our understanding of human genetics so that therapeutic approaches can be better individualized to patients. His team uses experimental and computational analysis of genetic information to understand the basis of complex human diseases, both rare and common, such as Hirschsprung's disease, autism, hypertension, and sudden cardiac death. These disorders run in families, and they arise through a combination of genetic factors, environmental/lifestyle factors, and chance. They all involve variations in many genes and are therefore much more difficult to study than diseases caused by single-gene mutations.</p> <p>Chakravarti has been at Johns Hopkins since 2000. He received his Ph.D. in human genetics in 1979 from the University of Texas, Houston, and was on faculty at the University of Pittsburgh and Case Western Reserve University prior to coming to Johns Hopkins. He was the inaugural director and Henry J. Knott Professor of the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins from 2000–2007. He has been instrumental in designing and contributing to the Human Genome Project, the International HapMap Project, and the 1000 Genomes Project. He is also a member of the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine, an Honorary Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.</p> <p>Geman is a professor of applied mathematics and statistics at the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering, which he joined in 2001. He also holds faculty appointments within the university's <a href="">Institute for Computational Medicine</a> and <a href="">Center for Imaging Science</a>. Before joining the Johns Hopkins faculty, he held the position of Distinguished Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Massachusetts. He earned a B.A. in English literature from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Northwestern University.</p> <p>Geman develops computational methods for solving multidimensional, complex problems in machine learning. His research group is trying to teach computers how to interpret images the way humans do in terms of identifying common objects, human activities, and interactions—a major goal of artificial intelligence. The group is also developing computer programs that analyze large amounts of biological and clinical data to discover new biomarkers for diagnosing cancer and new formulas for predicting a patient's prognosis and response to treatment.</p> Thu, 30 Apr 2015 14:00:00 -0400 32 startups make their pitch at Johns Hopkins Business Plan Competition <p>A drug that aims to slow Alzheimer's. A new vaccine for HPV. An app that could do away with billing awkwardness at restaurants. A vision to build a hydroponic farm in Baltimore.</p> <p>Those are just a few of the 32 startup ideas that have made it to the home stretch of the 16th annual <a href="">Johns Hopkins Business Plan Competition</a>, which concludes Friday at the university's Homewood campus. Teams will make their final presentations beginning at 1 p.m., and winners will be announced at an evening awards ceremony. More than $80,000 in seed funding is up for grabs.</p> <p><a href="">Professor Lawrence Aronhime</a> of JHU's <a href="">Center for Leadership Education</a>, who helped launch the competition, says he's seen the ideas mature from class projects for "tanning salons and pizza trucks" to "high-tech ventures that students take very seriously."</p> <p>Each year, he says, at least a couple of them take off to become successful businesses. A few of examples are Boss Medical (now <a href="">Avitus Orthopaedics</a>), which aims to develop better, more affordable orthopaedic technologies; and <a href="">Jama Cocoa</a>, a Maryland truffle shop that aspires to be "the Starbucks of chocolate."</p> <p>What hasn't changed with the competition, Aronhime says, is its core principles: "Students learning how to stand in front of strangers and communicate their ideas."</p> <p>Those strangers this year will include 52 judges with various types of investment experience.</p> <p>The competition began in February, and 64 semifinalists were ultimately shaved down to 32 teams competing in four categories: General Business, Social Enterprise, and Medical Technology & Life Sciences (grad and undergrad categories). A <a href="">full list of finalists</a> is available online; they include:</p> <p>In the Social Enterprise category, there's <a href="">Dana Cita</a>, a micro-lending firm that helps fund higher education for youths in Indonesia; and <a href="">Bright Energy Africa</a>, a venture to create smokeless fuel briquettes in Tanzania.</p> <p><a href="">Urban Pastoral</a> is doing work here in Baltimore, designing and operating a commercial-scale rooftop hydroponic farm. The <a href="">Full Society</a> app is designed to make paper checks obsolete at restaurants, allowing users to instantly pay, split, and tip on their phones. And <a href="">ShapeU</a> offers an online tool for forming small workout groups and pairing up with personal trainers.</p> <p>The General Business category includes <a href="">RENT-FERENCE</a>, a service to help Chinese students from abroad navigate their rental options in the U.S; and an idea for "The Clean Air Pillow," designed to cut down the spread of illnesses on planes.</p> <p>In the Medical Tech/Life Sciences category for graduate students, there's <a href="">TremTex</a>, an electrical stimulation device that fits on the head to control symptoms of Parkinson's. <a href="">Cogentis Therapies</a> wants to develop and commercialize a peptide drug to slow down the progression of Alzheimer's and other brain disorders, while <a href="">MicroPAD Solutions</a> wants to combat viral diseases in Africa with a device that screens for multiple diseases at once. <a href="">Revai</a> has created a system for keeping organs healthier during transport from donor to recipient, and <a href="">PathoVax</a> is a vaccine addressing a much wider range of HPV subtypes than the current options on the market.</p> <p>Undergrad teams in the same category include <a href="">SpiroSense, which just won a national health technology competition</a> for its diagnostic system for obstructive lung disease, and <a href="">Oxylizer</a>, which is targeting healthcare facilities in India with a device that measures oxygen concentrations from external sources (i.e. in ambulances or surgery rooms).</p> <p>Though the event was initially for Hopkins students only, the medical/science category expanded last year to includes applicants from across the country. The goal, Aronhime says, is for it to become "a big-name, national competition." This year the social enterprise category also opened up to other regional applicants, though only Hopkins-affiliated teams ended up applying.</p> <p>The 32 finalist teams will make their cases from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in different spaces in Hodson Hall. The presentations are open to the public, while the awards dinner afterward (featuring keynote speaker <a href="">Kevin Callahan, a Hopkins '99 alum who founded MapMyFITNESS</a> is a closed event.</p> <p>The competition is hosted by the <a href="">Center for Leadership Education</a> of JHU's Whiting School of Engineering.</p> Thu, 30 Apr 2015 12:05:00 -0400 Keen sense of touch allows bats to fly with breathtaking precision <p>Bats fly with breathtaking precision because their wings are equipped with highly sensitive touch sensors, cells that respond to even slight changes in airflow, researchers have demonstrated for the first time.</p> <p>Scientists from Johns Hopkins University, as well as Columbia University and the University of Maryland, determined how the sense of touch plays a key role in powered flight. In <a href="">a paper published today in the journal <em>Cell Reports</em></a>, they show how sensory receptors in bat wings send information about airflow to neurons in the brain, enabling the bat to make split-second flight control adjustments.</p> <p>"Until now no one had investigated the sensors on the bat's wing, which allow it to serve as more than a propeller, a flipper, an airplane wing or any simple airfoil," said Johns Hopkins neuroscientist <a href="">Cynthia F. Moss</a>, one of the senior authors and a professor in the <a href="">Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences</a>. "These findings can inform more broadly how organisms use touch to guide movement."</p> <p>Moss and the team studied the big brown bat, a common species found throughout North America. Bats are the only mammals capable of true powered flight, able to reach speeds of 7 to 20 miles per hour, and with the sort of aerial maneuverability humans only wish they could engineer.</p> <p>The team found that the evolutionary process that allowed bats to form wings resulted in unusual tactile circuitry that not only enhances control during flight, but also allows bats to use their wings to climb, cradle their young, and capture insects.</p> <p>First they discovered an array of sensory receptors in bat wings—a significant number of which are clustered at the base of tiny hairs that cover the appendages. Such placement of these touch cells, both lanceolate endings and Merkel cells, allows the bat, while flying, to sense changes in airflow as the air ruffles the hairs.</p> <p>When the team stimulated these hairs with brief air puffs, neurons in the bat's primary somatosensory cortex responded with precisely timed but sparse bursts of activity, suggesting this circuitry helped guide bats during fast, dynamic flight.</p> <p>The team also found the innervation of bat wings to be unlike that of other mammalian forelimbs—a clue into how wings grew in bats during evolution. The researchers were surprised to discover that neurons in the wing skin connected not only to the higher parts of the spinal cord where forelimbs typically connect, but also to lower parts of the spinal cord that would normally only innervate an animal's trunk.</p> <p>These findings lay the groundwork for understanding how bats use sensory information to fly with precision in the dark and catch prey midair. The information, researchers say, could eventually help people design air vehicles that better negotiate obstacles by sensing and adjusting to air turbulence.</p> <p>The research team included Ellen A. Lumpkin, the other senior author and an associate professor of somatosensory biology at Columbia University, her student and lead author Kara L. Marshall, who with Laura DeSouza, another of Lumpkin's students, focused on the neuroanatomical part of the study; as well as Susanne J. Sterbing-D'Angelo of Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. Mohit Chadha of the University of Maryland contributed the neurophysiological aspects of the work.</p> <p>Funding for the research was provided by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to Sterbing-D'Angelo and Moss, the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the Columbia Skin Disease Research Center to Lumpkin.</p> Wed, 29 Apr 2015 11:03:00 -0400 Tiny lab devices could attack huge problem of drug-resistant infections <p>A Johns Hopkins engineer, supported by a major NIH grant, is leading a multi-institution team that wants to keep bacterial infections from dodging the dwindling arsenal of drugs that destroy the deadly microbes.</p> <p>The group's goal is to build palm-size devices that can quickly figure out which germ is causing a hospital-linked infection and then identify the right drug and dosage needed to kill the bacteria.</p> <p>Current testing methods can take up to three days to get these answers. But when a hospital patient is too ill to wait that long, physicians often make educated guesses and prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics. These may help the patient, but the medicine can also allow some bacteria to adapt and survive, leading to the growth of antibiotic-resistant microbes.</p> <p>If present trends continue, public health experts fear that more and more life-threatening infections will soon be able to shrug off the shrinking number of drugs that can be used to kill them.</p> <p>"To keep this from happening, we need to be faster and more precise in the way we diagnose and treat people with bacterial infections," said <a href="">Tza-Huei (Jeff) Wang</a>, a Johns Hopkins professor of mechanical engineering who is leading the team that will build the new microfluidic testing devices. "Instead of waiting three days to figure out what the infection is and what's the best drug to treat it, we believe our technology will deliver both answers within just three hours. ... That should lead to more effective treatment and a lower risk of promoting antibiotic resistance."</p> <p>Wang's project was one of nine antimicrobial resistance diagnostic projects selected for funding recently by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. The team will receive $1.26 million for the first year of a five-year effort that is expected to ultimately receive nearly $6 million in NIAID support.</p> <p>NIAID officials said the new grants were aligned with a key goal of President Barack Obama's recent <a href="">National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria</a>.</p> <p>The funding program was launched to help researchers develop new tools to detect hospital-associated pathogens. For more than 80 years, antibiotics have helped patients ward off infections, but existing drugs are becoming less effective and few new ones are being developed. Because of this, each year in the United States more than 2 million people develop antibiotic-resistant infections, and at least 23,000 die as a result, federal health officials say.</p> <p>"If this trend continues," Wang said, "we are at risk of going back almost a century to a time before the first antibiotics were introduced."</p> <p>His team will try to keep this from happening. The group will focus on fighting the bacteria linked to urinary tract infections, but Wang said the same technology should be useful in identifying and treating other infections as well, including sexually transmitted diseases.</p> <p>The project will draw on Wang's expertise in working with microfluidic "lab on a chip" devices. These platforms feature extremely tiny channels through which liquids and microscopic organisms can be manipulated and studied. One module will be designed to break down single cells of infectious bacteria and enclose their genetic material within tiny droplets of liquid. The team members will then attach fluorescent probes to the genetic material to enable quick identification of the infection.</p> <p>The second module will be designed to test bacterial cells within similar droplets to determine which medicine will most effectively kill the microbes. It will also work to pinpoint the precise drug dosage needed to inflict a fatal blow. These two modules, Wang said, could be connected and still fit in the palm of a hand, set up to identify the pathogen and find out how to destroy it within three hours.</p> <p>One of his partners in the project will be co-principal investigator <a href="">Joseph C. Liao</a>, a Stanford University urologist who will help validate that the technology works on bacteria associated with urinary tract infections. In addition, researchers from the University of Arizona will assist in developing the second microfluidic system to identify the proper antibiotic and dosage. Partners from GE Global Research will provide advice how to design the devices for eventual commercial production and widespread use.</p> Mon, 20 Apr 2015 15:15:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins undergrads win funding for bright new venture in Tanzania <p>In Tanzania for an internship last summer, Miguel Dias found himself spending a lot of time in smoke-filled rooms. Residents would often cook indoors using charcoal, and the smoke would saturate the small spaces. Not accustomed to it, "in just five minutes, I'd already feel faintish," said Dias, a Johns Hopkins University sophomore studying biomedical engineering.</p> <p>Around the same time, Violet Ayoub, his internship director, told him about a relatively new innovation happening in Kenya—smokeless fuel briquettes made from agricultural waste. Several developing countries were experimenting with the briquettes as a cheaper, healthier, more environmentally friendly alternative to charcoal.</p> <p>Using his engineering knowledge, Dias took his own approach to the technology, designing a new briquette-burning kiln model from an oil barrel. Ayoub let him set it up in extra space behind the headquarters of her NGO, Visions For Youth. With that, the two of them recognized a new venture in the making.</p> <p>That venture, called <a href="">Bright Energy Africa</a>, now has recognition on a larger scale—and startup money to begin producing the briquettes. Last month, Dias and the team he recruited back at Hopkins—fellow Whiting School of Engineering sophomores Samantha "Yu" Wang and Yadel Okorie—<a href="">were among the winners of the 2015 Social Venture Challenge</a> at the Clinton Global Initiative University.</p> <p>The competition received nearly 200 applications, and two dozen teams earned awards. The Hopkins team got $5,000 in seed funding, the highest amount awarded, along with ongoing networking and mentorship opportunities with industry leaders.</p> <p>The big picture for Bright Energy Africa is ambitious: an enterprise that could create hundreds of jobs in Tanzania, with micro-franchises of the briquette centers set up in rural communities. Ultimately, Bright Energy Africa could be "100 percent owner-controlled in Tanzania," Dias says.</p> <p>The briquettes could help preserve the environment, reducing the deforestation required for creating charcoal and wood fuel and making use of discarded farm products that are currently just burned. The smokeless briquettes could also improve health, reducing carbon monoxide and other harmful byproducts of the current cooking methods. "It'd be a very big impact on their lives," Dias says.</p> <p>When he returned to Baltimore at the end of last summer, Dias turned his focus to the business plan. Okorie, a mechanical engineering major, helped on the financial side, and Wang, an electrical engineering major, worked on marketing. From Tanzania, Ayoub contributed through email and Skype sessions.</p> <p>For the next several months, the goal is to use the $5,000 in seed funds—which Dias says goes a long way in Tanzania—to get the pilot production plant up and running in Arusha. The team is also working on other fundraising angles and entering other competitions.</p> <p>The Social Venture Challenge, hosted by <a href="">the Resolution Project</a>, is an international business plan competition for undergraduates that is designed to inspire solutions to pressing social issues. The Hopkins team received its award last month at the annual Clinton Global Initiative University conference, held at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.</p> Mon, 20 Apr 2015 13:08:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins professor wins IUPAP Magnetism Award and Néel Medal <p><a href="">Chia-Ling Chien</a>, a condensed matter physicist at Johns Hopkins University, has received the prestigious 2015 IUPAP Magnetism Award and Néel Medal from the Commission on Magnetism within the <a href="">International Union of Pure and Applied Physics</a>.</p> <p>"I am delighted to receive the award, which should be shared with my students and post-docs over the years," Chien said.</p> <p>Chien, professor and director of the Nanostructured Materials Lab in the university's Department of Physics and Astronomy, was cited for pioneering discoveries in magnetic materials and nanostructures. The IUPAP Magnetism Award and Néel Medal are awarded every three years to a scientist who has made extraordinary contributions to the field of magnetism. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the IUPAP Commission on Magnetism.</p> <p>Daniel Reich, chair of Johns Hopkins' <a href="">Department of Physics and Astronomy</a>, praised Chien for his unique perspectives on magnetism's challenges.</p> <p>"Professor Chien has made a host of very important contributions to the field of magnetism over the past three decades," Reich said. "He consistently has come up with new ways of approaching difficult problems, and has repeatedly carried out experiments that cut to the heart of the big scientific questions in our field."</p> <p>Chien's prolific impact on the field of magnetism can be seen in his more than 400 published journal articles and over 18,000 citations with an H-index of 66. He has researched nearly every branch of magnetism, from new exotic magnetic materials to giant magnetoresistance to superconductivity.</p> <p>The IUPAP Commission on Magnetism was established in 1957 to promote the exchange of information and views among the members of the international scientific community in the field of magnetism. The IUPAP Magnetism Award has been made every three years since 1991. Chien joins a distinguished group of prior recipients of the IUPAP Magnetism Award that includes spintronic materials pioneer Stuart Parkin, UC Berkeley Chancellor Emeritus Robert Birgeneau, and Nobel Laureates Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg. Chien will receive his award at the 2015 International Conference on Magnetism in Barcelona this summer.</p> Wed, 15 Apr 2015 08:30:00 -0400 Two Johns Hopkins scientists win Hartwell biomedical research awards <p>Gul Dolen, an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Eili Y. Klein, an assistant professor of emergency medicine, are among 12 recipients of The Hartwell Foundation's 2014 Individual Biomedical Research Award, the foundation announced on April 1.</p> <p>Each award will provide research support for three years at $100,000 per year. Johns Hopkins was one of only two institutions with multiple winners, and the awards also qualified the institution to receive Hartwell funding for two postdoctoral fellowships that Johns Hopkins will designate. The fellowships will provide support for two years to qualified individuals who already hold a doctorate, enabling them to pursue further specialized training in biomedical research as part of their professional career development.</p> <p>"It's exciting that a foundation focused on helping children through cutting-edge biomedical research chose my proposal to support," Klein says.</p> <p>With his Hartwell award, he aims to predict how influenza viruses will evolve from one season to the next, which would enable more effective flu vaccines to be developed.</p> <p>"The flu affects scores of children and families every year and can cause terrible illness and even death," he notes. "My hope is to reduce the burden of influenza, particularly for children.</p> <p>Dolen will take a novel approach to studying autism, a disorder of brain development characterized by dysfunctional social behaviors and communication. She will seek to identify the brain cells responsible for imagining the world from another person's point of view—an ability crucial to healthy social interaction. She plans to then develop a highly targeted therapy to stimulate those brain cells to alleviate the symptoms of autism.</p> <p>"Funding from The Hartwell Foundation is critical to this project, since this approach is both novel and risky, but it nevertheless has the potential to help many children and their families," Dolen says.</p> <p>Each year, <a href="">The Hartwell Foundation</a> selects a limited number of research institutions to nominate candidates for its Individual Biomedical Research Award. Johns Hopkins has been selected as one of the foundation's Top Ten Centers of Biomedical Research in the United States every year since the program began in 2006, and a total of eight researchers from Johns Hopkins have been named Hartwell Investigators.</p> <p>Dolen earned an MD from Brown University and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she studied the autism spectrum disorder Fragile X syndrome. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University before joining the Johns Hopkins faculty last year. Her awards and honors include the 2014 Society for Social Neuroscience Early Career Award, the 2008 Joukowsky Family Foundation Outstanding Dissertation Award, the 2008 Sigma Xi Outstanding Graduate Student Research Award, the 2007 Rising Star Award from the Conquer Fragile X Foundation and the 2006 Angus MacDonald Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.</p> <p>Klein earned a PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University and an M.A. in international health policy from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 2012. His work has been recognized with the 2012 Emergency Department Research Day Faculty Award for Best Research Presentation, Princeton University's May Fellowship and Harold W. Dodds Fellowship, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies' C. Grove Haines Prize.</p> <p>The primary mission of The Hartwell Foundation is to grant awards to individuals for innovative biomedical applied research that will potentially benefit children in the United States. Funds are provided for early-stage research projects that might not yet qualify for funding from traditional sources.</p> <p>Johns Hopkins recognizes the Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award competition as a component of <a href="">Rising to the Challenge: The Campaign for Johns Hopkins</a>, an effort to raise $4.5 billion to support students, faculty, advances in research and clinical care, and interdisciplinary solutions to some of humanity's most important problems. The campaign, supporting both The Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine, was publicly launched in May 2013 and is targeted for completion in 2017. Including the Hartwell awards, $3 billion has been committed so far.</p> Mon, 13 Apr 2015 13:30:00 -0400 Student research on display at JHU's first Undergraduate Research Day <p>Undergraduate students of all disciplines—engineering, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences—will convene for the first time this week to showcase their innovative research at Johns Hopkins' first Undergraduate Research Day. More than 150 students from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Whiting School of Engineering will gather this Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 pm. at the Ralph S. O'Connor Recreation Center to share their many explorations and discoveries.</p> <p>"Research is the hallmark of a Johns Hopkins education, and the university offers myriad funding opportunities for students to engage in research, either on their own or with a faculty member," says Linda Gorman, teaching professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and lead planner for URD. "What's missing, though, is one collaborative event where students have a chance to present their impressive work to the university community."</p> <p>The Undergraduate Research Day, which is free and open to the public, is being held in conjunction with the Spring Open House and Overnight Program, which gives prospective students the chance to witness one of the university's most impressive and distinctive features: the breadth of research opportunities and projects available to undergraduates at Hopkins.</p> <p>"This type of broad research event illustrates the university's commitment to the undergraduate experience," Gorman says. "It also gives students a public forum in which to present their research, and it fosters intellectual community among faculty and staff."</p> Thu, 02 Apr 2015 14:42:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins junior wins prestigious undergraduate research award <p>Quenton Bubb, a Johns Hopkins University biophysics major, has won a prestigious <a href="">UNCF/Merck Undergraduate Science Research Scholarship Award</a>, given annually to 15 college juniors.</p> <p>Sponsored by the United Negro College Fund and Merck & Co., the scholarships aim to increase the numbers of minority students pursuing careers in science and engineering. The award helps with tuition and room and board, and recipients are also paired with mentors in their field.</p> <p>Bubb, who is from Brooklyn, New York, plans to pursue medical and doctoral degrees in molecular biophysics and hopes to investigate the biophysics of protein misfolding to advance the clinical treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.</p> <p>"While proud that my hard work at Johns Hopkins has paid off, I'm also quite humbled by the fact that I am a fellow in a collective of intelligent, high-achieving, and driven African-American scientists," he said. "Given that African-Americans are vastly underrepresented in STEM fields, I'm incredibly motivated by this opportunity to become a role model for individuals of similar background. I feel as though I hit a huge milestone in my career, and I'm very excited for what the future holds."</p> <p>At Johns Hopkins, Bubb has worked with <a href="">Karen Fleming</a>, a professor of biophysics, to research the thermodynamic and kinetic details of Outer Membrane Protein (OMP) biogenesis in gram-negative bacteria. He is also collaborating with graduate student Ashlee Plummer to investigate the role of a periplasmic chaperone, FkpA, in OMP biogenesis.</p> <p>Fleming called Bubb "an insightful researcher and scholar."</p> <p>"It has been a genuine pleasure to interact with him in the laboratory and in the classroom," she said. "I think his potential is enormous, and I look forward to hearing great things about him in the future."</p> <p>In 2013 Bubb was awarded an National Institutes of Health-sponsored fellowship to take part in the Biophysical Society Summer Course, where he participated in biomedical research at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.</p> <p>The UNCF/Merck awards are given annually to 15 college juniors majoring in science or engineering. The partnership also awards 12 graduate dissertation fellowships and 10 postdoctoral research fellowships.</p> Thu, 02 Apr 2015 14:00:00 -0400 Element of surprise helps babies learn best, Johns Hopkins researchers say <p>Infants have innate knowledge about the world, and when their expectations are defied, they learn best, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found.</p> <p>In a paper that will be published Friday in the journal <em>Science</em>, cognitive psychologists <a href="">Aimee E. Stahl</a> and <a href="">Lisa Feigenson</a> demonstrate for the first time that babies learn new things by leveraging the core information with which they are born. When something surprises a baby, like an object not behaving the way she expects it to, she not only focuses on that object but ultimately learns more about it than from a similar yet predictable object.</p> <p>"For young learners, the world is an incredibly complex place filled with dynamic stimuli. How do learners know what to focus on and learn more about, and what to ignore? Our research suggests that infants use what they already know about the world to form predictions. When these predictions are shown to be wrong, infants use this as a special opportunity for learning," says Feigenson, a professor of psychological and brain sciences in the university's <a href="">Krieger School of Arts and Sciences</a>. "When babies are surprised, they learn much better, as though they are taking the occasion to try to figure something out about their world."</p> <p><strong>Also see:</strong> <a href="">Why babies love (and learn from) magic tricks</a> (<em>NPR</em>)</p> <p>The study involved four experiments with pre-verbal 11-month-old babies, designed to determine whether babies learned more effectively about objects that defied their expectations. If they did, researchers wondered if babies would also seek out more information about surprising objects and if this exploration meant babies were trying to find explanations for the objects' strange behavior.</p> <p>First the researchers showed the babies both surprising and predictable situations regarding an object. For instance, one group of infants saw a ball roll down a ramp and appear to be stopped by a wall in its path. Another group saw the ball roll down the ramp and appear to pass—as if by magic—right through the wall.</p> <p>When the researchers gave the babies new information about the surprising ball, the babies learned significantly better. In fact, the infants showed no evidence of learning about the predictable ball. Furthermore, the researchers found that the babies chose to explore the ball that had defied their expectations, even more than toys that were brand new but had not done anything surprising.</p> <p><strong>Also see:</strong> <a href="">Your baby is doing little physics experiments all the time, according to new study</a> (<em>The Washington Post</em>)</p> <p>The researchers found that the babies didn't just learn more about surprising objects—they wanted to understand them. For instance, when the babies saw the surprising event in which the ball appeared to pass through the wall, they tested the ball's solidity by banging it on the table. But when babies saw a different surprising event, in which the ball appeared to hover in midair, they tested the ball's gravity by dropping it onto the floor. These results suggest that babies were testing specific hypotheses about the objects' surprising behavior.</p> <p>"The infants' behaviors are not merely reflexive responses to the novelty of surprising outcomes but instead reflect deeper attempts to learn about aspects of the world that failed to accord with expectations," said Stahl, the paper's lead author and a doctoral student in the <a href="">Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences</a>.</p> <p>"Infants are not only equipped with core knowledge about fundamental aspects of the world, but from early in their lives, they harness this knowledge to empower new learning."</p> <p>The study was supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.</p> Wed, 01 Apr 2015 13:55:00 -0400 JHU's K.T. Ramesh receives top honor from experimental mechanics society <p>The Society for Experimental Mechanics has awarded its top honor to Johns Hopkins Professor K.T. Ramesh, who will receive his W.M. Murray medal and present an associated lecture at the society's annual conference in June. Ramesh, a professor of science and engineering in the university's <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a>, was recognized for "his major impact on our understanding of nanomaterials and dynamic failure processes," according to the mechanics society.</p> <p>Ramesh has served as the founding director of the <a href="">Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute</a> (HEMI) since 2012. He first joined the university's Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1988, acting as department chair from 1999 to 2002.</p> <p>Ramesh's <a href="">June 9 lecture</a>, "Dynamic Across the Scales: Rocks, Shocks and Asteroids," will delve into his research on major impact and fragmentation events. The professor's focus areas include high strain rate behavior and dynamic failure of materials, nanostructured materials, injury biomechanics, and planetary scale impact problems.</p> <p><a href="">The Society for Experimental Mechanics</a>, an international professional engineering association, will host its annual conference this year in Costa Mesa, California, from June 8-11. Ramesh is the third professor from JHU's <a href="">Department of Mechanical Engineering</a> to earn the society's W.M. Murray Medal and give the associated William M. Murray Lecture, joining James Bell (1989) and Bill Sharpe (2002).</p>