Hub Headlines from the Johns Hopkins news network Hub Thu, 23 Jun 2016 09:40:00 -0400 Novel controller allows video gamers to compete with their feet <p>It's tough to play video games when you have no fingers to push buttons on the controller.</p> <p>Just ask Gyorgy Levay, an avid gamer who lost both hands to a meningitis infection five years ago. But Levay and two fellow Johns Hopkins graduate students have devised a clever way get him—and others with similar disabilities—back in the game.</p> <p>Their solution—a sandal-like controller that allows a player to control the on-screen action with his or her feet—recently won the $7,500 grand prize in the 2016 <a href="">Intel-Cornell Cup</a>, in which student inventors were judged on innovative applications of embedded technology.</p> <p> <div class="image inline align-left image-landscape column has-caption"> <img src="//" alt="three students stand at a table displaying their design and two computers" /> <div class="caption"> <p> <span class="visuallyhidden">Image caption:</span> Johns Hopkins biomedical engineering grad students, from left, Adam Li, Nate Tran and Gyorgy Levay displayed their innovative video gaming shoes at a recent design competition. </p> <p class="credit"> Image <span class="visuallyhidden">credit</span>: John Bidlack / Homewood Photography </p> </div> </div> </p> <p>The team—dubbed GEAR, for Game Enhancing Augmented Reality—also was a finalist in the 2016 Johns Hopkins Healthcare Design Competition, organized by the university's <a href="">Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design</a>, which is based within the <a href="">Department of Biomedical Engineering</a>.</p> <p>To master's degree candidate Levay, the project is about much more than recovering his ability to play video games.</p> <p>"About 200,000 people in the United States alone have lost at least some part of an upper limb," he said, "and 20 to 30 percent of all amputees suffer from depression. They have a hard time socializing, especially young people."</p> <p>Especially for those with highly visible impairments, online video games can be a boon, Levay said, because a player's appearance is not typically on view.</p> <p>"The GEAR controller allows people to socialize in a way in which their disability is not a factor," Levay said. "That was a key point we wanted to make with this device."</p> <p>To create a hands-free control system, Levay, who is from Budapest, Hungary, teamed up last year with two other biomedical engineering grad students from his Johns Hopkins instrumentation course: Adam Li, who is from Los Angeles, and Nate Tran, from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.</p> <p>The students decided to design a game interface that could be operated by a player's lower limbs.</p> <p>"Next to our hands," Li said, "our feet are probably the most dexterous part of our body."</p> <p>By the time their third prototype was built, the team had produced adjustable padded footwear that could enable a seated player to participate in video games. Beneath each shoe's padding are three sensors that can pick up various foot movements, such as tilting or raising the front or heel of each foot.</p> <p>The students designed intricate circuitry within each shoe that translates each foot movement into a different command to guide the activity in a video game. In its most basic setup, two of the high-tech shoes can control eight different game buttons. But the inventors say that with practice, this number could increase to as many as 20 buttons.</p> <p> <div class="image inline align-left image-square column has-caption"> <img src="//" alt="A close-up of the boots" /> <div class="caption"> <p> <span class="visuallyhidden">Image caption:</span> The GEAR team devised these game controller shoes that respond to different foot movements. </p> <p class="credit"> Image <span class="visuallyhidden">credit</span>: John Bidlack / Homewood Photography </p> </div> </div> </p> <p>The GEAR team has successfully used the technology to play popular games such as Counter-Strike, Fallout 4, and World of Warcraft. The students also set up a small online survey, putting four virtual characters through the same challenging segment of a video game. When the game clips were posted online, viewers were asked to identify which character was being controlled by an amputee using the GEAR technology. Of the 51 viewers who participated in the survey, 81 percent failed to identify the correct GEAR-controlled character.</p> <p>"This is a very simple design," Tran said, "but it can potentially help a lot of people since it's wearable, and it's adjustable."</p> <p>For team member Li, the project was particularly rewarding because it allowed him to apply his knowledge to a real-life challenge, not just a teacher's test questions. Sometimes as an engineering student, he said, "you're stuck in a classroom, and you're learning about all these theories, but you don't get to put it into practice. This problem really allowed us to design a solution and actually implement it."</p> <p>The GEAR team members have worked with the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures</a> staff to obtain a provisional patent covering their invention. Their goal is to license their work to a company that can help make their device widely available.</p> <p>The GEAR team was advised by <a href="">Nitish V. Thakor</a>, a professor of biomedical engineering, and Luke Osborn, a biomedical engineering doctoral student. At Johns Hopkins, the Department of Biomedical Engineering is shared by the university's Whiting School of Engineering and its School of Medicine.</p> Wed, 22 Jun 2016 13:20:00 -0400 How a woman with amnesia defies conventional wisdom about memory <p>She no longer recognizes a Van Gogh, but can tell you how to prepare a watercolor palette.</p> <p>She can't recall a single famous composer, but knows the purpose of a viola's bridge.</p> <p>She hasn't flown a plane since 2007, when viral encephalitis destroyed her hippocampus, the part of the brain used to form new memories and retrieve old ones. And she couldn't describe a single trip she's ever taken. But in detail, she'll list the steps needed to keep a plane from stalling and where to find the rudder controls.</p> <p><div class="external-links inline align-left"> <h6>Also see</h6> <div class="article teaser force"> <div class="text"> <h5><a href="">For an artist with amnesia, the world takes place through her pencil</a></h5> <div class="summary"> <span class="source">/ The New Yorker</span> </div> </div> </div> </ul> </div> </p> <p>Johns Hopkins University cognitive scientists say the sharp contrasts in this patient's memory profile—her inability to remember facts about pursuits once vital to her life as an artist, musician, and amateur aviator, while clearly remembering facts relevant to performing in these domains—suggest conventional wisdom about how the brain stores knowledge is incorrect.</p> <p>Conventional wisdom about memory firmly separates declarative knowledge—memories about facts—from memories for skills, or "muscle memory." For instance, a severe amnesiac with muscle memory might never forget how to ride a bike, but probably couldn't recall anything about the Tour de France. But because skilled performance, like playing music or flying airplanes, requires much more than mere muscle memory, and because this patient retained it despite losing most other aspects of her declarative memory, researchers conclude this type of skill-related declarative knowledge is different.</p> <p>"There is such a contrast between her not being able to tell us anything about her former life and not being able to tell us anything about many aspects of art and music that she once knew well, but when we ask her to tell us how to do a watercolor, she is articulate and full of detail," said <a href="">Barbara Landau</a>, professor of cognitive science at Johns Hopkins. "How can you talk about this knowledge of 'how to' as distinct from declarative knowledge? It is declarative knowledge."</p> <p><a href="">The findings are now available online</a> and are due to appear in an upcoming issue of the journal <em>Cognitive Neuropsychology</em>.</p> <p>Before her illness, Lonni Sue Johnson, 64, was an accomplished artist whose portfolio included six <em>New Yorker</em> covers. She was also an amateur violist who played in orchestras and chamber groups and a licensed single-engine airplane pilot who flew more than 400 flights and owned two planes. Her illness left her with severe brain damage and catastrophic memory impairment, including severe losses of memory about her previous life and severely restricted ability to learn new facts.</p> <p>She has very little memory of her past—not even of her wedding day. She forgets having done something immediately after doing it. She also has very little memory for general world knowledge, including facts about the fields at which she once excelled.</p> <p>To determine whether Johnson's "skill-related" memory was preserved despite extensive losses in memory for general world knowledge, the team tested her on her memory for facts related to performing four of her former top skills—art, music, aviation, and driving. They gave the same tests to people of similar age and experience in those areas, as well as to people with no experience in them.</p> <p>The oral tests, of about 80 questions each, covered information about the techniques, equipment, and terminology involved in performing the various skills. They included things like "How might one remove excess paint when painting with watercolor?" and "How should one touch the strings of an instrument to produce a harmonic?"</p> <p>In art and driving, Johnson scored nearly as high as experts taking the test. In music and aviation, she did not perform as well, but knew considerably more than the novices.</p> <p>"Although Johnson had not created watercolors, had not flown a plane, and had not driven since her illness, she could still describe how one would go about carrying out these activities," said Johns Hopkins cognitive scientist <a href="">Michael McCloskey</a>. "These findings suggest that skill-related knowledge can be spared even with dramatic losses in other kinds of knowledge."</p> Wed, 22 Jun 2016 11:45:00 -0400 Breathing easier: Johns Hopkins students develop improvements for Ebola protection suit <p>For health workers in the field treating people stricken with Ebola and other diseases, a protective suit is the first defense against infection. The suit and head covering itself, however, can hamper the ability to help by impeding breathing, or heating up so quickly in high temperatures and humidity that workers can scarcely wear the suits for more than an hour.</p> <p> <div class="teaser inline align-left column force has-image"> <div class="thumbnail"> <a href=""><img src="//" alt="" /></a> </div> <div class="text"> <div class="kicker">Featured Coverage</div> <h5><a href="">Johns Hopkins responds to Ebola</a></h5> <div class="summary">Relevant news coverage and helpful resources related to the Ebola outbreak and how Johns Hopkins is responding at home and abroad </div> </div> </div> </p> <p>Johns Hopkins University engineering students and team members hope to solve these problems as they improve a protective suit to be manufactured by DuPont under <a href="">an agreement forged last year between the university and the international science and engineering company</a>. Two Johns Hopkins mechanical engineering undergraduate teams, sponsored by the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design</a>, or CBID, have developed prototypes for a more comfortable hood and face mask that make breathing easier, and for a battery-powered system that curbs humidity in the suit.</p> <p>DuPont has licensed intellectual property for a coverall, hood, and full body suit designed and prototyped by CBID last year. Each product reduces the number of pieces required by current protocols, takes much less time to put on and remove, and cuts the number of potential contamination exposure points by nearly a third. The two recent projects by seniors at Johns Hopkins University's <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a> are meant to improve the CBID designs even further.</p> <p>"The hope for us is this could be used for any infectious disease that's transmitted through bodily fluids," said Laura Scavo, who graduated in May with a degree in mechanical engineering and worked on the hood as a final project. Under a grant, she is continuing to work with the CBID team this summer.</p> <p>"The aim of our device is to extend the working time of health care workers in an Ebola Treatment Unit by increasing thermal comfort, and thus decreasing the risk of heat-induced psychological and physiological impairments," the students who worked on the cooling system wrote in their final report.</p> <p> <div class="image inline align-left image-square column has-caption"> <img src="//" alt="An apparatus is worn around the waist with ventilation tubes attached to a headpiece" /> <div class="caption"> <p> <span class="visuallyhidden">Image caption:</span> A model wears the humidity-control apparatus featuring a Desiccant Air Purifying Respirator (DAPR) </p> <p class="credit"> Image <span class="visuallyhidden">credit</span>: Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design </p> </div> </div> </p> <p>Worn around the waist, the humidity-control apparatus adapts an off-the-shelf powered air purifying respirator and looks almost like something one would expect to see as part of a space suit. It includes a canister connected by a hose to a boxy fan unit, which in turn is connected with a second hose that runs up the wearer's back to the head covering. The system draws air in through the canister cartridge filled with a chemical drying agent, or desiccant. The desiccant soaks up moisture, delivering drier air to the person wearing the suit.</p> <p>The project presented many challenges, some solved, some still in the works. The cartridge containing the desiccant had to be designed not to overheat due to the chemical reaction that occurs as the material absorbs moisture. In one laboratory experiment, the material overheated so fast that it melted a plastic container.</p> <p>There was also the difficulty of sealing joints between the several pieces to create the most efficient airflow, and to keep out potential contaminants. That's still being figured out as the apparatus is tested and refined, but the team succeeded in key goals. The system significantly cuts humidity. The used desiccant cartridge can be regenerated with heating equipment commonly available at field treatment centers, and at 3.8 pounds the unit is well below the goal of 10 pounds.</p> <p>In the hood project, Scavo improved on a model produced by CBID months earlier. Among other changes, she redesigned the integrated facemask to produce a good fit for a wide range of face sizes, adjusted filter placements so that the design would meet certification by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and worked with DuPont to develop prototypes for testing that could be mass produced.</p> <p>Scavo and the team conducted field tests in Liberia this spring for the coverall and facemask. Feedback for refinements will be turned over to DuPont as the Johns Hopkins team pursues further grants to continue working on the project.</p> <p>"A tremendous amount of effort has been put into this project by Johns Hopkins and DuPont in less than a year of development," said David Kee, North American marketing manager for Tyvek protective apparel, the brand name for clothing made by DuPont Protection Solutions. "DuPont is still evaluating the commercial viability of these enhancements; some innovations are conceptually appealing, but need further refinement prior to mass production. We look forward to our continued work together to strike the right balance and bring a truly innovative product to a wide market."</p> Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:54:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins joins partnership to discover, develop new cancer treatments <p>A group of cancer centers from four leading academic institutions today announced the establishment of a research consortium to accelerate the discovery and development of cancer therapeutics and diagnostics, with the goal of creating high-impact research programs to discover new cancer treatments.</p> <p>The consortium will bring together researchers from the <a href="">Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center</a> at Johns Hopkins, the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, The Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University Medical Center, and The Tisch Cancer Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.</p> <p><div class="pullquote inline align-left"> Over the next 10 years, the institutions intend to present multiple high-impact research programs to Celgene Corporation with the goal of developing new life-saving therapeutics. </div> </p> <p>Over the next 10 years, the institutions intend to present multiple high-impact research programs to <a href="">Celgene Corporation</a>—a New Jersey-based global biopharmaceutical company engaged primarily in the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative therapies for the treatment of cancer and inflammatory diseases—with the goal of developing new life-saving therapeutics.</p> <p>Celgene will pay a total of $50 million—$12.5 million to each institution—for the option to enter into future agreements to develop and commercialize novel cancer therapeutics arising from the consortium's efforts. Subject to Celgene's decision to opt-in and license the resulting technologies, each program has the potential to be valued at hundreds of millions of dollars.</p> <p>"The active and coordinated engagement, creative thinking, and unique perspectives and expertise of each institution have made this collaboration a reality," the four cancer center directors—Steven Burakoff of the Icahn School of Medicine, Stephen G. Emerson of Columbia University, William Nelson of JHU's Kimmel Cancer Center, and Chi Van Dang of the University of Pennsylvania—said in a joint statement. "Our shared vision and unified approach to biomedical research, discovery, and development, combined with Celgene's vast research, development ,and global commercial expertise, will enable us to accelerate the development and delivery of next-generation cancer therapies to patients worldwide."</p> <p>In addition to the benefits of long-standing professional relationships among the four cancer center directors, the depth and breadth of the institutions' combined research and clinical infrastructures provide a foundation upon which to build this collaboration. The four institutions collectively care for more than 30,000 new cancer patients each year and have nearly 800 faculty members who are active in basic and clinical research, and clinical care.</p> <p>The four consortium members are among the 69 institutions designated as cancer centers by the National Cancer Institute. These 69 institutions serve as the backbone of NCI's research efforts.</p> <p>The Cancer Trust, a non-profit organization, brought together the four institutions, thereby establishing the multi-institutional research consortium. The commercialization offices of the four institutions—<a href="">Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures</a>, Columbia Technology Ventures, Mount Sinai Innovation Partners, and the Penn Center for Innovation—subsequently collaborated with Celgene.</p> Thu, 16 Jun 2016 13:04:00 -0400 Barclay students visit Homewood campus for lab tour <p>While visiting Homewood campus on Wednesday, fifth-grader Levon Brown from nearby Barclay Elementary/Middle School struggled to take off one of the famous Johns Hopkins Ebola suits without letting the bright yellow exterior touch his unprotected skin.</p> <p>"It was hard," he said. Nearby, his friend, Yasmim Carter, danced in another Ebola Suit, and then struggled to get the garb off, too.</p> <p>"At first I thought I wasn't going to be able to breathe," Brown continued "But you can breathe through that big mask … We need the doctors to take the suit off that way so they will stay safe." Carter agreed: "They do it that way to protect the workers."</p> <p>This quick lesson in health care protective equipment, and the Ebola virus, was part of a daylong field trip for 25 Barclay students, who participated in STEM-enhancing activities ranging from trying on the Ebola suit to manufacturing with a 3-D printer to learning about the Hubble Space Telescope.</p> <p>Whiting School of Engineering Dean <a href="">Ed Schlesinger</a> greeted the students in Shaffer Hall: "I think that it is wonderful and so important that you are studying engineering because there are big problems out there that the world needs engineers to solve … The world needs more engineers and I want to encourage all of you to continue your engineering studies. I hope you all become engineers."</p> <p>In November, the Whiting School of Engineering and Baltimore City Public Schools partnered in a $10 million effort to designate Barclay as the city's first pre-K through eighth grade school dedicated to giving students a foundation in engineering and computer skills. The curriculum is supported by Whiting School educators and coordinated through the university's Center for Educational Outreach. A new STEM/computer laboratory, co-founded by JHU and city schools and outfitted with cutting-edge technology, opened at Barclay in the fall.</p> <p>The new partnership works hand-in-glove with "<a href="">STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools</a>"—SABES for short—a National Science Foundation-funded collaboration between Baltimore City Public Schools and Johns Hopkins University, aimed at improving educational outcomes in STEM disciplines throughout Baltimore City's elementary schools.</p> <p>After meeting Dean Schlesinger, the students split into two groups—dividing their time between the Department of Biomedical Engineering's <a href="">Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design</a> (CBID) and the Space Telescope Science Institute. On the way across campus, students played a form of BINGO that challenged them to locate various objects and places on campus, from a recycling bin and the Gilman clock tower to a residence hall and the JHU shield.</p> <p>At the Space Telescope Science Institute, educators Jessica Kinney and John Maple talked to the students about the Hubble Space Telescope, telling them it was the first major infrared-optical-ultraviolet telescope to orbit around the Earth from its perch 350 miles away. To demonstrate how Hubble "sees," Maple and Kinney trained a special heat-detecting video camera on the students. The students seemed fascinated by how warm spots (including their own bodies) appeared light orange on the monitor, and how cooler spots (including their hands, after they each held an ice cube) appeared in black.</p> <p>Meanwhile, over in the BME Design Studio, Chris Browne, senior laboratory coordinator, was teaching students how a 3-D printer layers materials to make a solid gadget. Nearby, Teaching Fellows Victory Yu and Aaron Chang were helping students into and out of the Ebola suits. At least one student, Carter, seemed intent on studying a STEM subject. "I'm going to start with math."</p> Thu, 16 Jun 2016 10:30:00 -0400 Did a gravitational wave detector find dark matter? <p>When an astronomical observatory in the United States this winter detected a whisper of two black holes colliding in deep space, scientists celebrated a successful effort to confirm Albert Einstein's prediction of gravitational waves. A team of Johns Hopkins University astrophysicists wondered about something else: Had the experiment found the "dark matter" that makes up most of the mass of the universe?</p> <p>The eight scientists from the Johns Hopkins <a href="">Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy</a> had already started making calculations when the discovery by the <a href="">Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory</a> (LIGO) was announced in February. <a href="">Their results were recently published in <em>Physical Review Letters</em></a> and unfold as a hypothesis suggesting a solution for an abiding mystery in astrophysics.</p> <p><div class="pullquote inline align-left"> "That the discovery of gravitational waves could be connected to dark matter" is creating lots of excitement among astrophysicists. <div class="cite"> Ely D. Kovetz, postdoctoral fellow</div> </div> </p> <p>"We consider the possibility that the black hole binary detected by LIGO may be a signature of dark matter," wrote the scientists in their summary, referring to the black hole pair as a "binary." What follows are five pages of annotated mathematical equations showing how the researchers considered the mass of the two objects LIGO detected as a point of departure, suggesting that these objects could be part of the mysterious substance known to make up about 85 percent of the mass of the universe.</p> <p>A matter of scientific speculation since the 1930s, dark matter has recently been studied with greater precision; more evidence has emerged since the 1970s, albeit always indirectly. While dark matter itself cannot yet be detected, its gravitational effects can be. For example, dark matter is believed to explain inconsistencies in the rotation of visible matter in galaxies.</p> <p>The Johns Hopkins team, led by postdoctoral fellow Simeon Bird, was struck by the mass of the black holes detected by LIGO, an observatory that consists of two expansive L-shaped detection systems anchored to the ground. One is in Louisiana and the other in Washington State.</p> <p>Black hole masses are measured in terms of multiples of our sun. The colliding objects that generated a gravity wave detected by LIGO—a joint project of the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—were 36 and 29 solar masses. Those are too large to fit predictions of the size of most stellar black holes, the ultra-dense structures that form when stars collapse. But they are also too small to fit the predictions of the size of supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies.</p> <p>The two LIGO-detected objects do, however, fit within the expected range of mass of "primordial" black holes.</p> <p>Primordial black holes are believed to have formed not from stars but from the collapse of large expanses of gas during the birth of the universe. While their existence has not been established with certainty, primordial black holes have in the past been suggested as a possible solution to the dark matter mystery. Because there's so little evidence of them, though, the primordial black hole-dark matter hypothesis has not gained a large following among scientists.</p> <p>The LIGO findings, however, raise the prospect anew, especially as the objects detected in that experiment conform to the mass predicted for dark matter. Predictions made by scientists in the past held that conditions at the birth of the universe would produce lots of these primordial black holes distributed fairly evenly in the universe, clustering in halos around galaxies. All this would make them good candidates for dark matter.</p> <p>The Johns Hopkins team calculated how often these primordial black holes would form binary pairs, and eventually collide. Taking into account the size and elongated shape believed to characterize primordial black hole binary orbits, the team came up with a collision rate that conforms to the LIGO findings.</p> <p>"We are not proposing this is the dark matter," said one of the authors, <a href="">Marc Kamionkowski</a>, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. "We're not going to bet the house. It's a plausibility argument."</p> <p>More observations from LIGO and other evidence will be needed to support this hypothesis, including further detections like the one announced in February. That could suggest greater abundance of objects of that signature mass.</p> <p>"If you have a lot of 30-mass events, that begs an explanation," said co-author Ely D. Kovetz, a postdoctoral fellow in physics and astronomy. "That the discovery of gravitational waves could be connected to dark matter" is creating lots of excitement among astrophysicists, he said.</p> <p>"It's got a lot of potential," Kamionkowski said.</p> Wed, 15 Jun 2016 14:00:00 -0400 A simple numbers game seems to make kids better at math <p>Although math skills are considered notoriously hard to improve, Johns Hopkins University researchers boosted kindergartners' arithmetic performance simply by exercising their intuitive number sense with a quick computer game.</p> <p>"Math ability is not static—it's not the case that if you're bad at math, you're bad at it the rest of your life. It's not only changeable, it can be changeable in a very short period of time," said Jinjing "Jenny" Wang, a graduate student in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences' Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. "We used a five-minute game to change kids' math performance."</p> <p><a href="">The findings are available online</a> and will appear in the July issue of the <a href=""><em>Journal of Experimental Child Psychology</em></a>.</p> <p>Humans and animals are born with an intuitive sense of quantities and can demonstrate this knowledge as infants. For instance, when presented with a choice between a plate with a few crackers and another with more of them, even a baby will gravitate to the option with more. This intuition about number is called the "approximate number system."</p> <p>Although this primitive sense of number is imprecise, and therefore quite different from the numerical exactitude of mathematics, studies have shown the two abilities are linked. For instance, researchers from this same group have demonstrated that a strong gut sense of approximate number can predict school math ability. But until now, no one has shown that grooming that intuition could make a child better at math.</p> <p>"That's the big question," Wang said. "If we can improve people's intuitive number ability, can we also improve their math ability?"</p> <p>The researchers created a five-minute computer game to train the intuitive number sense of 40 5-year-olds. Blue dots and yellow dots flashed on a laptop screen, and the children were asked to indicate whether there were more blue ones or more yellow ones quickly, without counting. Children received feedback after each trial. After correct responses, a pre-recorded voice told them, "That's right." After wrong answers, they heard, "Oh, that's not right."</p> <p>Some of the kids started with easier questions that gradually became harder. Other kids started with the hard questions, and a third group worked through a mix of hard and easy problems.</p> <p>After the dots game, the researchers gave all the children a vocabulary quiz or a math quiz. With the math quiz, derived from a standardized math ability assessment test, the kids were asked to count backward, to judge the magnitude of spoken numbers ("Which is more, 7 or 6?"), to calculate the answer to word problems ("Joey has one block and gets two more; how many does he have?"), and to write down numbers.</p> <p>Though researchers detected no change in any of the children's vocabulary skills, the kids who performed the dots game in the proper training fashion—easiest to hardest—scored much higher on the math test, getting about 80 percent of the answers correct.</p> <p>The kids who had to answer hard dot questions before easier ones got just 60 percent of the math test right, while the control group kids who had the mix of easy and hard questions scored around 70 percent.</p> <p>It was clear that by improving the children's number sense, the game helped their short-term math scores, said Lisa Feigenson, a professor of psychological and brain sciences. The next step will be to figure out if there's a way to use the technique for lasting results.</p> <p>"These findings emphasize the sense in which core cognition, seen across species and across development, serves as a foundation for more sophisticated thought," Feigenson said. "Of course, this raises the question of whether this kind of rapid improvement lasts for any significant duration and whether it enhances all types of math abilities. We're excited to follow up on these questions."</p> Tue, 14 Jun 2016 13:00:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins launches app, website with information about mental health issues <p>Johns Hopkins psychiatrist <a href="">Karen Swartz</a> travels the country leading training sessions as part of the <a href="">Adolescent Depression Awareness Program</a>, which she leads.</p> <p>But for as many parents and counselors who show up in person for the sessions, she knows there are just as many she's not able to reach. Her experiences have shown her the value of going digital.</p> <p>"We wanted to come up with ways to have information available where it's on their own time, whether that's in the evening or when they're waiting in line somewhere," Swartz says.</p> <p>The <a href="">Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences</a> at Johns Hopkins has developed two new digital platforms to educate the public about mental health issues: a mobile app focused on teen depression and a website with video Q&As about mood disorders.</p> <p>The app <a href="">mADAP</a> launched last fall to provide information and videos on identifying, diagnosing, and treating adolescent depression. It's an area that needs as much attention as possible, experts say, with about 2.8 million teens who suffered at least one major depressive episode in 2014.</p> <p>Users can look through symptoms, learn how to distinguish between depression and normal sadness, and find information and specific resources for professional help. The app also features videos of Johns Hopkins experts explaining different aspects of depression.</p> <p>Swartz has found herself recommending mADAP to not only counselors and parents but also teenagers themselves.</p> <p>"Teens are even more likely than their parents to use that type of resource," she says.</p> <p>School of Medicine psychiatrist <a href="">Anne Ruble</a> and <a href="">Vinay Parekh</a>, director of the Psychiatry Emergency Service for Johns Hopkins Hospital, began developing mADAP in 2011, and the app is now available for both iOS and Android devices.</p> <p>The app is a companion project to <a href="">Ask Hopkins Psychiatry</a>, a website launched last winter that allows users to anonymously submit questions about any topic concerning mood disorders and receive video responses from Hopkins experts.</p> <p><a href="">Recent questions</a> include: "If my spouse isn't taking their medication, what can I do to help?" and "What role does alcohol play in my mood disorder?"</p> <p>For the latter inquiry, for example, Swartz herself explains on camera how alcohol works as a crutch for those dealing with mood disorders—providing temporary relief from negative feelings, but ultimately exacerbating the issue.</p> <p>"It makes sense that if you want to have your brain free of depression, you would not want to treat it with a depressant," she says in the video.</p> <p>A team of psychiatrists at Johns Hopkins—led by <a href="">Raymond DePaulo</a> and <a href="">Kay Redfield Jamison</a>, directors of the <a href="">Mood Disorders Center</a>—reviews the submitted questions each week to select one for a filmed response.</p> <p>The goal is to provide professional advice that's bite-sized.</p> <p>"We're not giving an hourlong lecture on mood disorders," Swartz says, explaining that the short videos are meant to be "appealing and very focused."</p> Mon, 13 Jun 2016 12:00:00 -0400 New stamps commemorate APL space missions to Pluto, Mercury <p>The U.S. Postal Service recently debuted two new stamp sets that feature prominent Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory space missions.</p> <p>The <a href="">"Pluto—Explored!"</a> set commemorates the July 2015 flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft; <a href="">"Views of Our Planets"</a> features iconic images of the planets in our solar system, including an image of Mercury from the MESSENGER mission.</p> <p>The first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony for both sets of Forever stamps was held May 31 at the World Stamp Show in New York City. In dedicating the stamps, USPS Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President David Williams noted, "In 2006, NASA placed a 29-cent 'Pluto: Not Yet Explored' stamp on board the New Horizons spacecraft, which—it is safe to say—makes it the most widely traveled stamp in the universe."</p> <p>The 45-minute ceremony was followed by an autograph session, in which speakers and VIPs (including APL's <a href="">Alice Bowman</a>, the New Horizons mission operations manager) signed first-day-of-issue programs for hundreds of stamp enthusiasts.</p> <p>The sheet of four "Pluto" stamps contains two designs appearing twice. The first shows an artist's rendering of the New Horizons spacecraft—based on artwork created by APL graphic artist Steve Gribben—and the second shows an enhanced color image of Pluto taken by New Horizons near its closest approach. The Pluto view is a composite of images from the APL-built Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, combined with color data from another imaging instrument that clearly reveals a heart-shaped feature on Pluto's surface.</p> <p>The set of planet views includes an enhanced color version of Mercury provided by the MESSENGER mission team at APL. The APL-built MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) spacecraft orbited the innermost planet for four years before making a planned dive onto Mercury's surface in April 2015. The mission had already been honored in a 2011 set that also saluted NASA's Mercury Project; the set's art directors based their MESSENGER design largely on Gribben's illustrations.</p> <p>The <a href="">"Planet Views"</a> stamps and <a href="">"Pluto—Explored"</a> stamps are available online as well as at most U.S. post offices.</p> Thu, 09 Jun 2016 12:00:00 -0400 Cellular 'racetrack' could help doctors predict aggressiveness, spread of brain cancer <p>An experimental lab test developed at Johns Hopkins could help predict how quickly a patient's brain cancer will spread.</p> <p>Using a small glass "cell racetrack," researchers were able to accurately clock the speed of brain tumor cell movement. A report on their findings is published online in <em>Cell Reports</em>.</p> <p><div class="video align-left inline column force" role="region" aria-label="YouTube video"> <div class="set-video-width column"> <div class="set-video-height"> <iframe src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> </iframe> </div> </div> <div class="caption column"> <p> <b class="credit"><span class="prefix">Video: </span>Johns Hopkins Medicine</b> </p> </div> </div> </p> <p>Researchers tested the cells of 14 patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer of the glial cells in the brain that is known to resist surgery and other treatment.</p> <p>"After I remove a brain tumor from a patient, the patient always asks me, 'Doc, how long do I have?' I don't have a reliable way to answer them," says <a href="">Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa</a>, professor of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine and director of the Brain Tumor Surgery Program. "But we have taken a step to creating a possible way to provide useful updates, inform treatment choices, and perhaps develop new treatments faster."</p> <p>Using their "cell racetrack"—a glass slide with tiny plastic ridges down its length—the scientists were able to visualize which cancer cells were moving most quickly, mimicking the initial migration that leads to brain cancer invasion. Results of several experiments suggested that tumors with the fastest cells paralleled the clinical outcomes of the 14 glioblastoma patients at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Quinones-Hinojosa says.</p> <p>The cell racetracks, described in an <a href="">earlier 2012 study</a>, contain ridges designed to simulate the surface of the brain, where migrating cancer cells travel along grooves of white matter and blood vessels.</p> <p>For this round of experiments, scientists first identified a chemical way to get the cells moving along the slide, using a platelet-derived growth factor, or PDGF. They soon found that PDGF strongly affected the faster cells.</p> <p>Quinones-Hinojosa says the researchers paid specific attention to those faster cells, "because these are the really bad cells that we believe are going to cause the tumor to spread."</p> <p>To see if their test might help predict the most aggressive brain tumors, the scientists compared the PDGF-primed cells from the glioblastoma patients with clinical data from those patients. The team found that five patients with the fastest tumor cells had recurrence of their cancers within six months. The six patients with slower tumor cells had no recurrence between six and 22 months.</p> <p>The research could be significant for improving predictions of how quickly and lethally brain cancer will spread, the researchers say. Currently, the technologies available to predict treatment responses—genetic- or protein-based tests—fail to predict cell migration rates and survival times.</p> Wed, 08 Jun 2016 12:10:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins scientists show how easy it is to hack a drone and crash it <p>Sales of drones—small flying machines equipped with cameras—are soaring, but new research by a Johns Hopkins computer security team has raised concerns about how easily hackers could cause these robotic devices to ignore their human controllers—and potentially crash to the ground.</p> <p>Five security informatics graduate students and their professor discovered three different ways to send rogue commands from a laptop computer to interfere with an airborne hobby drone's normal operation and land it or send it plummeting.</p> <p><div class="pullquote inline align-left"> "Security is often an afterthought. The value of our work is in showing that the technology in these drones is highly vulnerable to hackers." <div class="cite">Lanier A. Watkins, researcher</div> </div> </p> <p>The finding is important because drones—also called unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs—have become so popular that they are literally flying off the shelves. <a href="">A recent article in <em>Fortune</em> magazine</a>, referring to the 12-month period ending in April, trumpeted that drone sales have tripled in the last year. And the devices are not cheap. The article stated that the average cost of a drone was more than $550, though prices vary widely depending on the sophistication of the device. A recent <a href="">Federal Aviation Administration report</a> predicts that 2.5 million hobby type and commercial drones would be sold in 2016.</p> <p>Hobby drones are flown largely for recreation and aerial picture taking. But the more advanced commercial drones can handle more demanding tasks. Farmers have begun using drones with specialized cameras to survey the status of their crop fields and help determine when and where water and fertilizer should be applied. Advanced commercial drones can also help in search and rescue missions in challenging terrain. And some businesses, including Amazon, are considering the use of drones to deliver merchandise to their customers.</p> <p>But in their haste to satisfy consumer demands, drone makers may have left a few digital doors unlocked.</p> <p>"You see it with a lot of new technology," said <a href="">Lanier A. Watkins</a>, who supervised the recent drone research at JHU's Homewood campus. "Security is often an afterthought. The value of our work is in showing that the technology in these drones is highly vulnerable to hackers."</p> <p>Watkins is a senior cybersecurity research scientist in the Whiting School of Engineering's <a href="">Department of Computer Science</a>. He also holds appointments with the Johns Hopkins <a href="">Applied Physics Laboratory</a> and the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute</a>.</p> <p>During the past school year, Watkins' graduate students were required to apply what they'd learned about information security by completing a capstone project. Watkins suggested they do wireless network penetration testing on a popular hobby drone and develop "exploits" from the vulnerabilities found to disrupt the process that enables a drone's operator on the ground to manage its flight.</p> <p>An "exploit," explained Michael Hooper, one of the student researchers, "is a piece of software typically directed at a computer program or device to take advantage of a programming error or flaw in that device."</p> <p> <div class="image inline align-left image-landscape column has-caption"> <img src="//" alt="Two students stand in the background while a drone sits in the foreground" /> <div class="caption"> <p> <span class="visuallyhidden">Image caption:</span> Johns Hopkins security informatics graduate students and their professor discovered three security flaws in a popular hobby drone, all of which could which cause the small aircraft to make an "uncontrolled landing.” </p> <p class="credit"> Image <span class="visuallyhidden">credit</span>: Will Kirk / HOMEWOODPHOTO.JHU.EDU </p> </div> </div> </p> <p>In the team's first successful exploit, the students bombarded a drone with about 1,000 wireless connection requests in rapid succession, each asking for control of the airborne device. This digital deluge overloaded the aircraft's central processing unit, causing it to shut down. That sent the drone into what the team referred to as "an uncontrolled landing."</p> <p>In the second successful hack, the team transmitted to the drone an exceptionally large data packet that exceeded the capacity of the buffer allocated for such information within the aircraft's flight application. Again, this caused the drone to crash.</p> <p>For the third exploit, the researchers repeatedly sent a fake digital packet from their laptop to the drone's controller, telling it that the packet's sender was the drone itself. Eventually, the researchers said, the drone's controller started to "believe" that the packet sender was indeed the aircraft itself. It severed its own contact with the drone, which eventually led to the drone making an emergency landing.</p> <p>"We found three points that were actually vulnerable, and they were vulnerable in a way that we could actually build exploits for," Watkins said. "We demonstrated here that not only could someone remotely force the drone to land, but they could also remotely crash it in their yard and just take it."</p> <p>In accordance with university policy, the researchers described their drone exploit findings in a Vulnerability Disclosure Package and sent it early this year to the maker of the drone that was tested. By the end of May, the company had not responded to the findings. More recently, the researchers have begun testing higher-priced drone models to see if these devices are similarly vulnerable to hacking.</p> <p>Watkins said he hopes the studies serve as a wake-up call so that future drones for recreation, aerial photography, package deliveries and other commercial and public safety tasks will leave the factories with enhanced security features already on board, instead of relying on later "bug fix" updates, when it may be too late.</p> Fri, 03 Jun 2016 11:00:00 -0400 Our universe is expanding faster than scientists predicted, study suggests <p> <div class="image inline align-right image-portrait column has-caption"> <img src="//" alt="Adam Riess" /> <div class="caption"> <p> <span class="visuallyhidden">Image caption:</span> Adam Riess </p> </div> </div> </p> <p>The universe appears to be expanding faster now than predicted by measurements of the rate as seen shortly after the Big Bang, according to a study led by Johns Hopkins University scientist and Nobel laureate <a href="">Adam Riess</a>.</p> <p>Riess, a professor in JHU's <a href="">Department of Physics & Astronomy</a>, said the results compiled using <a href="">NASA's Hubble Space Telescope</a> could shed light on the composition of the universe and raise questions about Einstein's theory of gravity.</p> <p>"This surprising finding may be an important clue to understanding those mysterious parts of the universe that make up 95 percent of everything and don't emit light, such as dark energy, dark matter, and dark radiation," said Riess, a <a href="">Bloomberg Distinguished Professor</a> at Johns Hopkins who is also affiliated with the <a href="">Space Telescope Science Institute</a> in Baltimore. The study, to appear in an upcoming issue of <a href=""><em>The Astrophysical Journal</em></a>, was conducted by Riess and 14 co-authors from 11 research institutions, including Johns Hopkins.</p> <p>Riess—<a href="">who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics</a> for his team's 1998 discovery that the expansion rate of the universe is accelerating, a phenomenon widely attributed to a mysterious, unexplained "dark energy" filling the universe—said the cause of the accelerating expansion of the universe is one of the great mysteries in physics. He has for years been working to improve the quality of measurement in hopes of revealing a clue. This study is part of that effort.</p> <p>The new work takes a more precise measure of the expansion rate using novel techniques, building on the earlier research for which Riess and two other scientists shared the Nobel Prize. The result is unprecedented accuracy, reducing uncertainty to only 2.4 percent.</p> <p><div class="pullquote inline align-left"> "This surprising finding may be an important clue to understanding those mysterious parts of the universe that make up 95 percent of everything and don't emit light, such as dark energy, dark matter, and dark radiation." <div class="cite">Adam Riess, JHU professor and Nobel laureate</div> </div> </p> <p>The improved Hubble constant value—the measure of the speed of the expansion of the universe—is 73.2 kilometers per second per about 3 million light years. In other words, for every 3.26 million light years out, the universe is expanding 73.2 kilometers per second faster. The new value means the distance between cosmic objects will double in another 9.8 billion years.</p> <p>That refined measurement raises a question, however. It does not match the expansion rate predicted for the universe from its trajectory seen by a recent satellite shortly after the Big Bang. Measurements of the afterglow from the Big Bang by the European Space Agency's <a href="">Planck satellite mission</a> yield predictions that are 9 percent smaller for the Hubble constant. The difference with the Planck measurement is 3 to 4 times the uncertainty, a significant difference.</p> <p>"While there have been published doubts raised about the accuracy of some of this CMB data, taken at face-value, it appears we may not have the right understanding, and it changes how big the Hubble constant should be today," Riess said.</p> <p><a href="">Charles L. Bennett</a>, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and professor of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins who was not part of the research team, said the new study "makes more precise the local measurement of the expansion rate of the universe, which is one of the bedrock measurements in cosmology and has been so for decades. This important new expansion rate measurement has made the disparity with the Planck mission's expansion rate even sharper."</p> <p>There are a few possible explanations for the universe's excessive speed. Dark energy, already known to be accelerating the expansion of the universe, may be shoving galaxies away from each other with even greater—or growing—strength. Another idea is that the cosmos contained a new subatomic particle in its early history that traveled close to the speed of light. Such speedy particles are collectively referred to as "dark radiation" and include previously known particles like neutrinos. More energy from additional dark radiation could be throwing off the best efforts to predict today's expansion rate from its post-Big Bang trajectory.</p> <p>The speedier universe may also be telling astronomers that Einstein's theory of gravity is incomplete.</p> Thu, 02 Jun 2016 11:30:00 -0400 JHU biologist named finalist for prestigious award for young scientists <p> <div class="image inline align-right image-portrait column has-caption"> <img src="//" alt="" /> <div class="caption"> <p> <span class="visuallyhidden">Image caption:</span> Xin Chen </p> </div> </div> Johns Hopkins biologist <a href="">Xin Chen</a> has been named one of <a href="">31 national finalists</a> for the <a href="">Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists</a>.</p> <p>Chen, an associate professor in JHU's <a href="">Department of Biology</a>, was selected from more than 300 applicants. She will be judged against 10 other scientists to be recognized as the 2016 Blavatnik National Laureate for the category of Life Sciences.</p> <p>The annual Blavatnik Awards, established by the Blavatnik Family Foundation in 2007 and administered by the New York Academy of Sciences, recognize talented young researchers who drive scientific innovation by answering the most complex scientific questions of today. The three National Laureates—in Chemistry, Life Sciences, and Physical Sciences and Engineering—will be announced later this month and will each receive an unrestricted cash prize of $250,000, the largest prize of its kind for early-career scientists.</p> <p>Chen joined the Department of Biology in 2008 after completing her postdoctoral work at Stanford University's School of Medicine. Her research centers on epigenetic regulation of Drosophila germ cell differentiation from a stem cell lineage, and how it may lead to abnormalities in development and may also underlie early steps in cancer genesis.</p> Tue, 31 May 2016 12:55:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins researchers locate what could be brain's trigger for binge behavior <p>Rats that responded to cues for sugar with the speed and excitement of binge-eaters were less motivated for the treat when certain neurons were suppressed, researchers discovered.</p> <p>The findings suggest these neurons, in a largely unstudied region of the brain, are deeply connected to the tendency to overindulge in response to external triggers, a problem faced by people addicted to food, alcohol, and drugs. The <a href="">findings are available online in <em>Neuron</em></a> and will appear in the June 15 issue of the journal.</p> <p>"External cues—anything from a glimpse of powder that looks like cocaine or the jingle of an ice cream truck—can trigger a relapse or binge eating," said Jocelyn M. Richard, a Johns Hopkins University postdoctoral fellow in the <a href="">Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences</a> and the report's lead author. "Our findings show where in the brain this connection between environmental stimuli and the seeking of food or drugs is occurring."</p> <p>First researchers trained rats to realize that if they heard a certain sound—either a siren or staccato beeps—and pushed a lever, they would get a drink of sugar water. Then, as the rats performed the task, researchers monitored neurons within the ventral pallidum area of the rats' brains, a subcortical structure near the base of the brain.</p> <p>When the rats heard the cue linked to their treat, a much larger-than-expected number of neurons reacted—and vigorously, researchers found. They also found that when the neuron response was particularly robust, the rats were extra quick to go for the sugar. The researchers were able to predict how fast the rats would move for the sugar just by observing how excited the neurons became at the sound of the cue.</p> <p>"We were surprised to see such a high number of neurons showing such a big increase in activity as soon as the sound played," Richard said.</p> <p>Next, the researchers used "optogenetics"—a technique that allows the manipulation of cells through targeted beams of light—to temporarily suppress the activity of ventral pallidum neurons while the rats heard the sugar cues. With those neurons inactive, the rats were less likely to pull the sugar lever; when they did pull it, they were much slower to do so.</p> <p>That ability to slow and calm the reaction to cues or triggers for binges could be key for people trying to moderate addictive behaviors, Richard said.</p> <p>"We don't want to make it so that people don't want rewards," Richard said. "We want to tone down the exaggerated motivation for rewards."</p> Tue, 31 May 2016 09:50:00 -0400 Researchers must help others see value of research, speakers tell JHU postdocs <p>A scientist's work should involve more than conducting research and writing journal articles, <a href="">Mary Wooley</a> says. Scientists also have to be advocates for their own work and help others see the value in it.</p> <p>"The four most important words you can say to a stranger are 'I work for you,'" Wooley said Thursday at the third annual <a href="">Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Retreat</a>. "Then you'll probably end up making a friend for science."</p> <p>Wooley, a scientist herself, is also president of <a href="">Research!America</a>, which advocates for making research a higher national priority at a time when even elected officials discredit the work of scientists. Her morning presentation—about the power of researchers to change the sometimes unfavorable public perception of research—set the stage for a day-long conference of more than 300 scientists and fellows with advanced degrees who aim to build diverse and successful careers in science fields.</p> <p>The event, held on JHU's East Baltimore campus, brought together researchers from seven Johns Hopkins divisions and other institutions, including the NIH and the University of Maryland. The retreat featured presentations, poster sessions, and breakout workshops about career development and soft skills like communicating effectively with people who don't have a background in science.</p> <p>"We want to get the postdocs together to not only showcase their talents and broaden their knowledge, but equally as important, we want to get them together to build relationships and have fun," said Stanley Andrisse, co-president of the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association</a> and a postdoctoral fellow in pediatric endocrinology.</p> <p> <div class="image inline align-left image-landscape column has-caption"> <img src="//" alt="Five people pose at the Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Retreat" /> <div class="caption"> <p> <span class="visuallyhidden">Image caption:</span> Members of the Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association with Science Comedian Brian Malow (second from right) </p> <p class="credit"> Image <span class="visuallyhidden">credit</span>: Megan Sampley </p> </div> </div> </p> <p>Science comedian <a href="">Brian Malow</a> stressed the importance of storytelling, even in professional presentations.</p> <p>"People come up [to organizers] at conferences and say, 'Here's my presentation,"' he said, imitating someone handing over a USB flash drive. "No, those are your slides. <em>You</em> are your presentation."</p> <p>It was a sentiment Wooley had touched on earlier when she advised the audience to "tell your story, not your data."</p> <p>Participants had an opportunity to practice what the speakers preached during the oral presentation session and afternoon poster sessions. Alba Abzola won first prize in the poster session category, and each of the five speakers were awarded monetary prizes for their participation in the oral presentations, with Akshata Almad taking first place. Saumil Sethna from UMBC was presented with the Visiting Scientist Award.</p> <p><a href="">Martha Zeiger</a>, associate dean for postdoctoral affairs at Johns Hopkins Medicine, and <a href="">Landon King</a>, executive vice dean for the School of Medicine, gave opening remarks. <a href="">Paul Rothman</a>, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine and dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, provided closing remarks.</p> <p>The retreat was organized by the Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association and sponsored by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Active Motif, Agilent Technologies, BioRad Laboratories, and Thermo Fischer Scientific.</p> Thu, 26 May 2016 16:00:00 -0400 Computational biologist Michael Schatz named 21st Bloomberg Professor at Johns Hopkins <p><a href="">Michael Schatz</a>, one of the world's foremost experts in solving computational problems in genomics research, has been named a Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University, joining 20 other Bloomberg Professors at the university whose work spans disciplines and aims to address some of the world's most vexing challenges.</p> <p>Schatz will be an associate professor of computational biology, with appointments in the <a href="">Department of Computer Science</a> at JHU's Whiting School of Engineering and in the <a href="">Department of Biology</a> at JHU Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.</p> <p>Schatz joins Johns Hopkins from <a href="">Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory</a> on Long Island in New York, where he was an associate professor in the Simons Center for Quantitative Biology, served as the co-director of the Undergraduate Research Program, and co-led the Cancer Genetics & Genomics Program in the CSHL Cancer Center.</p> <p>Schatz is the 21st <a href="">Bloomberg Distinguished Professor</a> appointed across Johns Hopkins. The professorships are supported by a <a href="">$350 million gift to the university</a> by Johns Hopkins alumnus, philanthropist, and three-term New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. The majority of this gift is dedicated to creating 50 new interdisciplinary professorships, galvanizing people, resources, research, and educational opportunities to address major world problems.</p> <p>"With the appointment of each new Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, our university becomes better equipped to lead the future of research and education," says <a href="">Robert C. Lieberman</a>, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins. "Dr. Schatz is an outstanding scholar who has exhibited incredibly broad interdisciplinary expertise, representing the intention of Mike Bloomberg's visionary gift."</p> <p>Computational biology is at the intersection of computer science, biology, and biotechnology. Through an integrative approach to scientific discovery, Schatz and his collaborators successfully harness trends in computing to tackle important problems stemming from the continuous development of DNA sequencing, such as the alignment of next-generation sequencing reads and the assembly of reads from real-time single-molecule sequencers.</p> <p><div class="pullquote inline align-left"> "There is no better institution in the world than Johns Hopkins University for the cross-cutting research in science, engineering, and medicine that makes up computational biology." <div class="cite">Michael Schatz</div> </div> </p> <p>Schatz has created many of the most widely used methods and software for genome assembly—that is, piecing together all of the genetic material for a single person or a species. He is primarily focused on the development of novel algorithms for comparative genomics, human genetics, and personalized medicine. His work has led to a better understanding of the structure and function of genomes, especially those of medical or agricultural importance.</p> <p>Schatz also examines sequence variations related to autism spectrum disorders, cancer, and other human diseases in order to reveal their genetic basis and evolution. He has also recently embarked on creating new computational methods for analyzing single molecule sequencing, especially plant and animal genomes and transcriptomes, which are the sets of expressed genes in an organism.</p> <p>"There is no better institution in the world than Johns Hopkins University for the cross-cutting research in science, engineering, and medicine that makes up computational biology," Schatz says. "I am delighted to join the faculty here and look forward to collaborating with my new, outstanding colleagues to help find the causes of diseases, identify better ways to feed the planet, and develop new sources of biofuels. I also look forward to passing on my passion for research to the undergraduate and graduate student bodies and promoting them to work on solving these incredibly meaningful problems."</p> <p>Schatz's appointment reinforces Johns Hopkins' strength and international visibility in the area of computational biology. He joins a cohort of scholars leading the field, including <a href="">Ben Langmead</a>, <a href="">Alexis Battle</a>, <a href="">James Taylor</a>, and fellow Bloomberg Distinguished Professor <a href="">Steven Salzberg</a>, who was also Schatz's doctoral advisor. His work will benefit the <a href="">Individualized Health Initiative</a>, which spans the university, the Johns Hopkins Health System, and the <a href="">Applied Physics Laboratory</a>.</p> <p>"Dr. Schatz is an outstanding addition to the pioneering faculty of Whiting School of Engineering," says <a href="">Ed Schlesinger</a>, the Benjamin T. Rome Dean of the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering. "He will drive collaborations between researchers in fields that include computer science, computational biology, data science, genomics, and biology. We are thrilled he has decided to make Johns Hopkins his academic home and know that our students will benefit greatly from his appointment."</p> <p>Schatz is an experienced and esteemed educator who has twice been awarded the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Winship Herr Award for Excellence in Teaching. While at CSHL, he co-directed the Undergraduate Research Program and taught graduate courses on genetics, genomics, quantitative biology, genome assembly, and advanced sequencing technologies and applications. He has also helped organize several large conferences, including launching a new conference on <a href="">Biological Data Science</a> to bring together researchers in computer sciences, statistics, mathematics, and other quantitative fields to address problems in biology and medicine. With this range of expertise, he will add valuable instruction for Hopkins undergraduate and graduate students in both the Krieger and Whiting schools.</p> <p>"Computational biology is an essential field for advancing our most basic understanding of living organisms," says <a href="">Beverly Wendland</a>, the James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. "Dr. Schatz has already distinguished himself as an innovative researcher and effective teacher in this area and we greatly look forward to sharing in his future discoveries, which are sure to provide transformative insight into human disease and biological life."</p> <p>In 2015, Schatz received an <a href="">Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship</a> to develop computational methods to probe the genetic components of autism and cancer, and in 2014 he received a <a href="">NSF CAREER award</a> to develop new computational methods for processing DNA sequencing data from the latest high-throughput sequencing technologies.</p> <p>Schatz serves on the editorial boards of <em>Genome Biology</em>, <em>GigaScience</em>, and <em>Cell Systems</em>, and he has served as a reviewer for such journals as <em>Nature Biotechnology</em>, <em>Nature Methods</em>, <em>Genome Research</em>, <em>Genome Medicine</em>, <em>BMC Genomics</em>, <em>Bioinformatics</em>, and the <em>Faculty of 1000 Biology</em>. His work has been featured in <a href=""><em>The New York Times</em></a>, <a href=""><em>The Washington Post</em></a>, and <a href=""><em>Wired</em></a>.</p> <p>Schatz received a bachelor of science degree in computer science and philosophy from Carnegie Mellon University in 2000 and a master of science and doctoral degrees in computer science from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2008 and 2010, respectively. Between his bachelor and master of science degrees, Schatz worked as a software engineer at the J. Craig Venter Institute—formerly The Institute for Genomic Research—and STi Systems. He will remain an Adjunct Associate Professor of Quantitative Biology at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.</p> Thu, 26 May 2016 09:55:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins students design prosthetic foot fit for high heels <p>After losing a leg to injury or disease, women adjusting to life with a prosthetic limb face the same challenges as men, with perhaps one added complication: how to wear high-heels?</p> <div class="image inline align-right image-portrait column has-caption"> <img src="//" alt="Prosthetic feet are attached to the soles of boots to perform the walk test." /> <div class="caption"> <p> <span class="visuallyhidden">Image caption:</span> A member of the design team tests the prosthetic prototype on a flat surface. </p> <p class="credit"> Image <span class="visuallyhidden">credit</span>: Johns Hopkins University Senior Design Team </p> </div> </div> <p>A team of Johns Hopkins University students, working with a Johns Hopkins physician and outside prosthetics experts, has developed an early version of a potential solution. Called the "Prominence," it would be the first prosthetic foot on the market that is not custom made that adapts to popular fashion for heels up to four inches high.</p> <p>"High heels have become an integral part of the female lifestyle in modern society, permeating through all aspects of life—professional and social," the five students who graduated earlier this month from the university's <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a> wrote in their final project report. "For female veterans of the U.S. armed services with lower limb amputations, that seemingly innocuous, but so pervasive, and decidedly feminine part of their lives is gone."</p> <p>Scores of prosthetic feet are available on the market, but most are built to fit men's shoes, and none can adjust to a heel more than two inches high. That's less than the average women's heel height in the United States.</p> <p>Some 2,100 American women have lost a leg or foot in military service, and more women entering combat assignments, so the demand for a prosthesis that accommodates women's fashion footwear is sure to grow. The students—who created the Prominence as their final senior project in mechanical engineering—hope their work can help.</p> <p>The challenge was daunting: create a foot that adjusts without a separate tool to a range of heel heights, holds position without slipping, supports up to 250 pounds, weighs less than three pounds and, of course, is slender enough to accommodate a woman's shoe.</p> <p>The human foot "took thousands of years of evolution to get this way," said team member Luke Brown. "We have one year to match it."</p> <p>The students' two semesters of work on the problem unfolded as a mix of mathematical calculations on paper and trial and error involving tests by machines and people. The students struggled to balance the foot's strength and flexibility, reliability and convenience, sturdiness and lightness.</p> <p>They tried a balloon in the heel to give it spring, or "energy return," as engineers say. That didn't work. They tried a mousetrap spring, but that didn't work, either. They tried a sideways sandwich of 23 slender titanium plates to form the foot itself, but that was too heavy and not springy. A 20-layer carbon fiber footplate failed a stress test, but a 28-layer version worked, forming the base of the foot.</p> <p>They built a heel-adjustment mechanism with two interlocking aluminum disks that opens and closes with an attached lever at the ankle. For the ankle, they used an off-the-shelf hydraulic unit that enables a smooth gait and flexing at the sole.</p> <p>Using four types of women's shoes—including a gold five-and-a-half inch stiletto—the team had the foot tested by seven people. Three were amputees; four were non-amputees who attached the foot to the bottom of a bulky boot, a bit like walking on stilts.</p> <p>Alexandra Capellini, a Johns Hopkins University junior who lost her right leg to bone cancer as a child, tried the foot with a flat shoe and liked it.</p> <p>"I had a good time walking," said Capellini, who majors in public health. "It felt stable.</p> <p>"An adjustable ankle is useful in contexts even beyond high heels," she added. "Ballet flats, sneakers, boots, and high heels especially, all vary in height, so an adjustable ankle opens up opportunities to wear a variety of shoes."</p> <p>One tester recommended a stiffer, longer toe. Another suggested moving the adjustment lever.</p> <p>It's still a work in progress. <a href="">James K. Gilman</a>, executive director of the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Military & Veterans Health Institute</a> and advisor to the group, said it will take time to assess the commercial appeal and potential of the Prominence, including the question of whether anything the team created could qualify for a patent.</p> <p>"I think the final prototype produced showed the way forward," said <a href="">Nathan Scott</a>, a senior lecturer in the Whiting School's Department of Mechanical Engineering, who advised the student group. "As usual we just need to go around the design and prototyping loop one more time."</p> Wed, 25 May 2016 12:50:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins laboratory for neurosurgery, biomedical engineering sparks new partnerships <p>On the seventh floor of the Johns Hopkins Hospital's Carnegie Building, in what once was a postoperative recovery room, biomedical engineering students are designing biomedical tools, algorithms, and imaging systems that could shape the future of surgery. Not far from their workstations, toolboxes, and robots, a foosball table provides a place for researchers and clinicians to unwind. Nearby, a giant TV screen is on 24/7, linking the Carnegie Center to the <a href="">BME Design Studio</a> in Clark Hall on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus.</p> <p>For <a href="">Jeff Siewerdsen</a>, a professor of biomedical engineering, it was not hard to imagine such a synergistic connection between biomedical engineers and surgeons.</p> <p>"Clinical collaboration has always been the inspiration for our research," says Siewerdsen, who collaborated with neurosurgery Professor <a href="">Jean-Paul Wolinsky</a> to create the center. "What's extraordinary is seeing that connection come to life in the same vintage operating rooms where so many landmark surgical procedures of the 20th century were pioneered."</p> <p><a href="">The Carnegie Center for Surgical Innovation</a> presents a unique resource for research, education, and translation that the departments of Neurosurgery and Biomedical Engineering hope will transform surgery, imaging science, and other disciplines in the 21st century.</p> <p>Siewerdsen and Wolinsky's vision for the new laboratory began to take shape four years ago, when Johns Hopkins Hospital's main operating rooms were moved from Carnegie, which was built in 1927, to the new Zayed and Bloomberg clinical towers. Siewerdsen and Wolinsky proposed increasing collaborations between their departments by converting some of the vacated space into a joint neurosurgery and biomedical engineering education and research center. Fueled by National Institutes of Health-funded research, this hospital-based joint neurosurgery and biomedical engineering lab is unique in North America.</p> <p>It is also singular in how it showcases elements of its storied past. In the post-anesthesia care room, where patients were taken immediately after surgery—and where today's research students now focus on screens scrolling with code, equations, and 3-D images—20 patient monitoring panels still line the walls. Into these were plugged a variety of post-op devices—from electrocardiograms to oxygen hookups and vacuum suctioning equipment.</p> <p>Siewerdsen, who holds appointments in BME, Neurosurgery, Oncology, Computer Science, Radiology, and the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality, focuses his research on the creation of new imaging systems to improve surgical precision, enhance patient safety, and enable entirely new surgical approaches. In addition to directing the Carnegie Center, he heads the <a href="">I-STAR Lab</a>—a collaboration focusing on new systems for X-ray imaging and cone-beam CT, image registration, and 3-D image reconstruction for surgery, radiotherapy, and diagnostic radiology.</p> <p>In coming months, several other biomedical engineering faculty will bring new research expertise to the Carnegie Center, including: <a href="">Xingde Li</a>, who leads a program in biophotonics; <a href="">Muyinatu A. Lediju Bell</a>, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, who focuses on ultrasound imaging; and <a href="">Wojciech Zbijewski</a>, a researcher who focuses on high-resolution imaging of bone health.</p> <p>For students on the Homewood campus, such as candidates from the master's program at the <a href="">Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design</a>, the Carnegie Center provides an invaluable new resource for student collaboration with clinicians.</p> <p>"The surgeons are right outside the door," Siewerdsen says, "and colocation in Carnegie helps break down conventional geographic barriers, give students better understanding of clinical problems, catalyze new ideas, and provide a proving ground for clinical translation."</p> <p><em>Adapted from an <a href="">article by Neil A. Grauer for Johns Hopkins Medicine's Dome</a></em>.</p> Tue, 24 May 2016 15:00:00 -0400 Lighten up—according to science, it's good for you <p>It's a brisk spring afternoon and my son, Charlie, and I are walking to a park with an old friend and her daughter. My son, who just turned 3, grips my hand, focused on getting to the playground as fast as his stubby legs will carry him.</p> <p>But 5-year-old Gabriela has other ideas. She scrambles up a hill to pluck a fistful of violets and dandelions. She tugs a branch, unleashing a shower of cherry blossoms. Next she's a cat, stalking down the sidewalk on all fours, batting her paws and hissing. "She's been a cat most of the week," my friend explains.</p> <p>Charlie has had enough. "Stop it, Gabriela," he says. "Stop being a cat! Stop running around! We're supposed to be going to the playground!"</p> <p>I can't help but think he has a point. The walk, which normally takes 10 minutes, is stretching into a half hour. I've got work to do: papers to grade, stories to research, laundry to fold.</p> <p>But then I stop and think: What better way than this to spend a spring day? Have I forgotten how to enjoy the journey? Have I forgotten how to have fun?</p> <p><div class="section-break"></div> </p> <p>Ours is an era of seemingly limitless opportunities for fun: costumed bar crawls and bouncy castles, hoverboards and home brewing, blue-and-green mermaid hair, flash mobs, milkshakes adorned with donuts and rock candy.</p> <p>And yet, everyone seems perpetually stressed, overbooked, and uptight. Even kids seem busy these days, their afternoons packed with practices and lessons. In the words of Zippy the Pinhead, "Are we having fun yet?"</p> <p>Just what is fun, anyway? What happens in the brain when we have fun? Is there some evolutionary explanation of fun? And what happens if we don't get enough of it? These are tricky questions to pose to a scientist.</p> <p>Fun is vague. Highly subjective. "It's not a term that scientists use, ever," says David J. Linden, sitting in his ninth-floor office at the School of Medicine. "It's not like I can point to a place in the brain and say, 'Here's what happens when you have fun.'"</p> <p>But Linden, a neuroscience professor, knows a lot about a concept closely related to fun—pleasure. His book, <em>The Compass of Pleasure</em> (Viking, 2011), explains how experiences as seemingly distinct as drug use, sex, exercise, and altruism have similar effects on the brain. When people—or rats—feel pleasure, neurons activate in a part of the brain called the ventral tegmental area. The long, spindly axons of these neurons reach into other parts of the brain, as the roots of one tree wrap around those of another. When the neuron fires, the ends of the axons release the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is then absorbed by neurons in other regions of the brain.</p> <p>This pleasure pathway has evolved to reward behavior that benefits survival, both of the individual and the species, says Linda Gorman, teaching professor in the Krieger School's Neuroscience Program. Eating, drinking, and having sex all set these neurons firing. "If it's going to be beneficial to your survival, that reward pathway would be activated," she says.</p> <p>Mood-altering drugs affect the release and absorption of dopamine, creating a sense of pleasure. They mimic substances that are naturally produced by the body. Morphine and other opium-derived drugs, for example, fit into receptors for the endorphins that the body produces during exercise. A "runner's high," the feeling of euphoria after a long run, is triggered by these endorphins flooding the brain. "This is not uniquely human," says Linden. "Exercise stimulates the pleasure pathways in rats and mice. A rat will press a lever a hundred times to access a running wheel."</p> <p>The average laboratory mouse will log 5 miles a night on its wheel, and some run as many as 12 miles, he says. Some mice hang on to the wheel after they stop running, whirling around as if on a tiny merry-go-round. Field observations of wild animals suggest the lab rodents are not just trying to break the monotony of being caged. A team of Dutch scientists used food to lure animals to hamster wheels outside. Field mice would eat the treat, then hop on the wheel, running for as long as 18 minutes. Rats, shrews, and even frogs, slugs, and snails, ran—or oozed—along the wheel as well. Even after researchers removed the food, many of these animals returned to the wheel, like miniature fitness buffs.</p> <p>It's easy to see the evolutionary benefits of exercise triggering the brain's pleasure center. Natural selection would seem to favor animals and humans who get a buzz out of chasing prey or running away from predators. Likewise, it's clear why eating, drinking, and having sex would bring us pleasure. But why do we enjoy activities that are not clearly tied to survival or the propagation of the species? Most people find learning, creating art, exploring new places, and performing charitable acts deeply pleasurable. "What's happened in humans is a miracle," says Linden. "Not only can humans take pleasure from things that have no relation to getting genes to the next generation, but we can take pleasure from things like fasting and celibacy, acts that run counter to the evolutionary imperative."</p> <p>What's going on here? Perhaps these pleasurable activities could all be seen as a form of play. And play might just be the most important act we can engage in.</p> <p><div class="section-break"></div> </p> <p>We've finally reached the park. Charlie is racing around the playground, blasting imaginary fires with a hose made from a fallen branch. Gabriela has made fast friends with another girl around her age, and they clamber up a spiral pole to cast fairy spells.</p> <p>We can learn about human play from watching two dogs romping around on a field nearby. They chase each other in circles, roll around, panting and biting. Occasionally, one yelps and the other backs away, the canine equivalent of, "Sorry, my bad." Puppies and young wolves engage in nearly identical play, but, as wolves grow, they play less, while dogs continue to play, says Stuart Brown, the former chief of Psychiatry at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in San Diego and currently a consulting professor at Stanford's design school, who has spent decades studying animal and human play. As adults, wolves have important business to attend to. They must work out their role in the pack, seek mates, hunt. But humans have bred dogs to remain playful.</p> <p>The drive to play arises from the most primitive parts of the brain, says Brown, who founded and serves as president of the National Institute for Play, a nonprofit that encourages the study and promotion of play. Studies with rats indicate that the urge to play comes from the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls memory and emotion, Brown says. If researchers remove the cerebral cortex—which controls higher order thought—from rat pups, the pups still learn to play normally with their peers. But though play bubbles up from the more primitive parts of our brains, it helps develop the more complex regions. Juvenile play helps create new pathways in the prefrontal cortex. Rat pups that are barred from play miss out on these connections and are unable to have normal social interactions as adults.</p> <p>Kids battling with lightsabers or building with LEGO bricks are playing, but what about a girl teaching herself to code? Or a boy training for a hypercompetitive sports team? And how do adults play? Is a round of golf with a client really play? "The state of play is biologically definable as a separate state, as separate as sleep and dreams from our regular consciousness," says Brown. Play is done purely for its own sake, he says. We improvise, experiment, make up new rules to keep the game going. We lose ourselves in play and we lose track of time, which truly does fly when we're having fun. Or, at least, the illusion that time is passing rapidly makes us think that we're having fun, according to an experiment at the University of Chicago devised by researcher Aaron Sackett (he is now at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota). His team told subjects they had 10 minutes to complete a word task. In reality, they stopped some subjects after five minutes, while others were left with the task for 20 minutes. Those in the five-minute group—for whom time appeared to be flying—rated the task as much more pleasurable.</p> <p>Freedom and self-direction are also key elements of play. Parents and teachers can make suggestions, but when they dictate the rules, the fun evaporates, says Doris Bergen, an educational psychologist at Miami University in Ohio, who has written many books about play. "The feeling of enjoyment is what's really crucial to play," she says.</p> <p>How we play changes as we grow. My 6-month-old grabs my husband's nose, catches my eye and laughs, and chews on anything she gets her hands on. Young toddlers mimic their parents by pretending to talk on the phone or rummaging through kitchen cabinets. And older toddlers and school-age children build ever more elaborate games, whether running around in the backyard or immersing themselves in imagined worlds with dolls or dinosaurs or trucks. In the past, most adults were so consumed with survival that play for them was largely confined to festivals and ceremonies.</p> <p>But as leisure time has increased, so have our opportunities to play, Bergen says. "Almost anything could be play. Some people do math problems for play."</p> <p>One of the reasons that humans spend more time playing compared to other animals is that our childhoods are so much longer, Linden says. Humans have large brains, but because we walk upright, women have narrow pelvises. In order for babies' heads to be able to pass through the birth canal, they begin life with small brains that take nearly two decades to fully develop.</p> <p>However, all this play comes at a cost. As Brown points out in his book, <em>Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul</em> (Avery, 2009), play has inherent dangers. Young animals are more likely to die—either by accident or by predator—when they are at play. So the evolutionary benefits must be greater than the risks. What do we gain from play?</p> <p>First, play provides a safe environment to try out adult behavior. When kittens pounce, bear cubs wrestle, or baby otters swim in circles, they're practicing the skills they will need as adults. Many social animals find their role in the group's hierarchy through play, Brown says. Rats, chimpanzees, and other animals move into dominant or submissive roles based on play. When young animals play, their brains are forging new neural pathways, so that playing in different environments, and surmounting new challenges, allows the brain to become more flexible.</p> <p>Bergen believes that natural selection has favored playful people because they are more likely to develop strategies to help them adapt to new environments. Early humans who experimented with new techniques for making weapons, picking berries, and crossing streams were honing their survival skills. And play is just as important—or perhaps more so—today as it was for our early ancestors, says Susan Magsamen, senior adviser to the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute and Science of Learning Institute. When children play, they're learning how to collaborate, empathize, solve problems, and persevere. Play awakens the sort of thinking that leads us to write novels, compose music, design buildings, and make scientific discoveries. Our exceptional capacity for play sets the stage for all of humanity's great advances.</p> <p>Magsamen spent her own childhood immersed in creative games with her five sisters, inventing plays and variety shows that they performed for their parents and grandparents. "One sister would make the tickets and one sister would make the sets and then we'd all sing songs from The Partridge Family," she says. That sort of play doesn't stop in adulthood; we just have other names for it. "Creativity and innovation are just big words for play in adults," she says.</p> <p><div class="section-break"></div> </p> <p>If you need cues to know you're having fun, one might be that you're laughing. In antiquity, laughter was feared, says Robert Provine, a neuroscientist and psychology professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Plato even worried that unrestrained laughter could undermine society, Provine writes in his book, <em>Laughter: A Scientific Investigation</em> (Viking, 2000). Perhaps laughter seems threatening because it is one of the most primitive human sounds. Although everyone laughs a little differently, laughter follows certain set patterns; it has a deep structure. Laughter is instantly recognizable in all human societies. Our closest biological relatives, chimpanzees, laugh in a similar pattern, although their laughter sounds more like panting. "Laughter is a crude part of our primate endowment," Provine says.</p> <p>Even rats laugh; we just can't hear them. Jaak Panksepp, an affective neuroscientist at Washington State University, was studying rough-and-tumble play in rats when he stuck an audio recorder in their cages. The rats were not wrestling in silence, it turned out, but chirping rhythmically at frequencies we can't detect. But were the rats actually laughing? Panksepp decided to tickle them to find out. It turns out that rats love being tickled, particularly on the backs of their necks. When Panksepp and his assistant stopped tickling them, the rats nuzzled their hands, seeking more. And the rats emitted the same high-frequency chirps, at the same intervals, as they did when they romped with each other. Young rats chirped more than adults. Females chirped more than males. And the rats chirped less when they were tickled in the presence of a stressful stimulus, such as the smell of a cat.</p> <p>Humans have a complex relationship with laughter, Provine has found. He recorded students engaged in normal conversation and analyzed the remarks that provoked laughter. He found that laughter doesn't always signal fun. Fewer than a fifth of the remarks could be considered humorous. Most were mundane, such as: "How are you?" "Does anyone have a rubber band?" "What is that supposed to mean?"</p> <p>[ newsection ]</p> <p>Now here's some sobering news about fun: You're probably having less of it now than you did as a child. Pleasure-seeking behavior drops off in young adulthood, says Linden. And our ability to feel some types of pleasure diminishes as we age.</p> <p>"Our senses degrade as we get older," Linden says. Starting around age 20, we lose 1 percent of our touch receptors each year. That's not particularly noticeable in midlife, but by old age, it leads to problems with balance.</p> <p>People in the late stages of Parkinson's disease suffer a much more dramatic loss—the brain's pleasure circuitry ceases to function. Patients suffer anhedonia; they no longer enjoy eating, drinking, watching TV, or other activities they once found pleasurable. Drug and alcohol addicts also suffer from anhedonia, even years or decades after they've stopped using, Linden says. Excessive drug use can fry the brain's pleasure circuitry. People with a genetic predisposition to addiction already derive less pleasure from using intoxicants than others, Linden says. "The genetic variants that make you pleasure-seeking also make you less likely to enjoy pleasure."</p> <p>Since stress triggers addictive behavior, people should take part in activities that reduce it—exercise, meditation or prayer, and play, Linden says. "The answer is to take your pleasure widely. Mix your virtues and your vices."</p> <p>Play experts caution that the highly scheduled days of today's children allow less time for true play. "If there's an adult in charge, and you have to do it a certain way or you'll be critiqued—that is absolutely not play," says Bergen. "That is work disguised as play." Brown, of the National Institute for Play, says we're suffering from a national "play deficit." Cuts to recess time in school and ever-increasing academic expectations encroach on play time. And a culture that prizes busyness means that adults have less time to goof off. "It's a public health problem," Brown says. Depression, anxiety, and irritability are all symptoms of a lack of play, he says.</p> <p>So perhaps we adults should make more time for play, whether that means planting a garden, joining a bocce league, dancing, or rediscovering a childhood pastime. "We almost have a guilt about it," says Magsamen. "If we're playing, we must not be working. But if you're not playing, everything else doesn't go as well. Giving yourself permission to enjoy things makes all of your life fuller and richer."</p> <p>The kids skateboarding down the street, sipping imaginary tea, and building a pillow fort are learning just as much—perhaps more—as a peer in a piano lesson. Since our walk to the park with Gabriela, I've been trying to weave more fun into my days with my kids. The more we dawdle on our strolls, the more we discover: ant colonies in the sidewalk, frogs by the stream, and a pile of rocks that makes the perfect bear cave. We helicopter maple seeds, toss petals in the air, and cook bowls of mulch at the playground. Sometimes we even pretend we're cats.</p> Tue, 24 May 2016 15:00:00 -0400 Boxed founder Chieh Haung shares lessons in entrepreneurship <p><strong>Chieh Huang, A&S '03, is the CEO of Boxed.</strong></p> <div class="image inline align-right image-square column has-caption"> <img src="//" alt="" /> <div class="caption"> <p> <span class="visuallyhidden">Image caption:</span> Chieh Huang calls commerce “the last bastion of offline behavior.” His bulk goods retail app, Boxed, seeks to change that. </p> <p class="credit"> Image <span class="visuallyhidden">credit</span>: Photograph courtesy of Boxed </p> </div> </div> <p>Chieh Huang, A&S '03, has never shied away from going against the grain. After college, he taught English in rural Japan while his peers built traditional careers. He returned to convention—law school and a firm in New York—but realized the grind to make partner was not for him. Instead, he moved into a friend's basement and co-founded a mobile game studio that was eventually acquired by gaming giant Zynga. After two years running that company's New York office, Huang returned to entrepreneurship once more, packing it in for a garage in New Jersey where he founded Boxed in 2013. The bulk goods online retailer lets shoppers pick up wholesale deals on everything from paper towels to peanut butter, primarily through its mobile app.</p> <p><strong>How did your previous experience inform Boxed?</strong><br /> First-time entrepreneurs just solve a problem and hope it goes well. With repeat entrepreneurs, you not only solve a problem, you look for changes taking place in the world that become tailwinds to help the business exponentially grow. With our mobile game, we made a good game that we wanted to play, and we went out and did it. With Boxed, we not only wanted to solve a problem for people who didn't have the means—like a car—or the time to go to a brick-and-mortar BJ's or Sam's Club, we saw that everything was going to go mobile, including commerce. This last bastion of offline behavior is going to go online. Those are the tailwinds—that change that will come and hopefully will be in our sales over the next five or 10 years.</p> <p><strong>Why did you choose to sell bulk package goods?</strong><br /> It's a function of growing up in Jersey. Every other weekend I went with my parents to what was Price Club at that time. What I found when I moved into Manhattan with my own family was that we didn't have the physical means to access a wholesale club anymore. I thought: Who else has the same problem I do? That was the genesis of the idea. We did it on mobile not only because of what we saw at Zynga, where they didn't make the transition to mobile fast enough, but also because of the demographics. Sixty percent of wholesale club members today are boomers or seniors; that demographic is aging pretty rapidly. Is there a service for a younger generation that's going to have the buying power to purchase wholesale goods over the next five to 10 years or so? That was how we picked not only bulk goods but also to do it on a mobile device.</p> <p><strong>How did people react when they heard about Boxed?</strong><br /> On the first day, we hired two interns and I told them this is what we're going to do. After they heard, one of the interns quit on the spot. That was how some people reacted. Three years ago, people were not buying things on their phones yet. So it was met with a lot of skepticism and scrutiny, and rightly so. Those were tough times in the beginning.</p> <p><strong>How did you overcome that skepticism, particularly with funders?</strong><br /> It was a confluence of three factors. First, we were lucky enough that we had a successful outcome at our last company. So people said, "I think this is a dumb idea, but if anyone's going to figure it out it will be you." Second, I told them that only 1.5 percent of consumer packaged goods sales happen online. Even if the industry gets to 5 percent online, there's a gigantic opportunity. And what, over the next five to 10 years, is not going to be online? Third, I showed them our ride with Zynga, that there's an opportunity for mobile in just about every consumer vertical. That's where consumers are going, but, for one reason or another, not everyone is capitalizing on it.</p> <p><strong>What are the lessons you've learned about how to manage your brand in a fast-growing company?</strong><br /> Don't lose sight of who you are and what type of culture you want the company to have. From garage to now, we've raised close to $150 million, so it's easy to just fill seats with people who are really good but don't fit well with the company, or fill seats with warm bodies so the work can get done. But I feel like that's where you really lose your way. For us, taking our time and vetting people and then taking the time once they're here to really integrate them into the culture has been important.</p> <p><strong>You've offered to send the children of your employees to college. Why?</strong><br /> When we opened up one of our facilities in a depressed area of Atlanta and I went there, of all the people we hired, only one person could afford private transportation. I thought, 'How in clear conscience can you operate a company where people can't afford a car, yet the company is in the news for raising all this money?' Then I thought about how I was blessed to be in the position I'm in today. I looked back, and it really was the focus on education. If you're an hourly employee, are your kids going to be able to afford a $45,000 college tuition bill even if they're hardworking and smart enough to go? The answer in America right now is probably no. So how do we help them break out of that cycle? If Boxed is a success, I'll have more stock and more funds than I'll ever need in my life. If you think about any major retailer in America and you think about the founding CEOs of those companies, if you divided their net worth in half, that could pay for many, many, many tuitions.</p> <p><strong>Why be an entrepreneur?</strong><br /> What I've realized is that life is great when you find a marriage of what you're good at and what you enjoy. Sometimes, you might find one or the other. But finding the two is where I think life really blossoms. I was lucky enough to get the chance to try my hand at something I really loved—building something from the ground up and being an entrepreneur. And I was awfully fortunate that I found I am pretty good at it.</p>