Beth Fiteni Wants Folks to Understand the Current Administration’s Track Record on The Environment

In a recent blog post, Environmentalist Beth Fiteni of Green Inside & Out, offers, “important facts about changes to federal environmental laws and policies that the mainstream press does not typically cover.

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Spencer’s Picks: Overcoming Pandemic Fatigue; Art, Science & Suggested Solutions; The Happiness of a Dog

Dr. Spencer Thomas atop the Uffizi in Florence, Italy

Photo of Dr. Spencer Thomas atop the Uffizi in Florence, Italy. Photo by Katheryn Laible

 

As usual, when he’s not scrying into the mysteries of metals at the atomic level, or pondering puzzles of more efficient means of tapping energy, Dr. Thomas is bringing some light into our life. Here are a few of the things he’s brought to our attention:

Now that we’re about a month into the college semester with social distancing and remote learning, a lot of people I know are feeling a bit of a drag. You are not alone: Lonliness at Pandemic U: 14 tips for college students and their parents

Along similar themes, but more for everyone:: Your Surge Capacity is Depleted. This is Why You Feel Awful (and a couple good things you can do about it)

One thing that’s helpful is — to help! Here is a heartwarming and inspiring story from one of my very favorite professors from back in my undergrad time at Stony Brook. Bente Videbaek is an amazing person who has been working hard to make sure people have masks Facebook Page: “Humans of Mather Hospital”

When you feel a bit grounded and ready to stare some of the bigger challenges facing humanity in the face: Countdown is a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis. One of the speakers, Dr. Rose Mutiso, is a friend of mine – we were graduate students together. She’s the incredible CEO of the Mawazo Institute, which supports women scientists and leaders throughout East Africa. She has also spoken at TED and written in Scientific American about the challenges that people in Africa face building digital and clean-energy infrastructure.

One for the Coltrane fans out there: The most feared song in jazz, explained. It’s not too hard for a layman to follow this breakdown of “Giant Steps,” even as it’s still among the most challenging things a musician may face

Finally, no big point here, but a bit of joy for you since we could all use it: The happiness of this dog after they put prostheses on

Spencer Thomas received his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. After some time at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, we are DELIGHTED to welcome him back to Long Island as a researcher at Stony Brook University. He also happens to be Katie’s brother. For a time, Spencer studied metals at the atomic level; the way atoms are arranged in a material can change its properties; one can take ordinary metals make them stronger, more flexible, corrosion resistant, even radiation resistant. We’re still endeavoring to understand what he’s doing now well enough to explain it so simply.

Spencer believes that no matter who you are, good communication can put scientific concepts within reach. The modern world demands scientific literacy and it is the responsibility of scientists to make that possible.

Local Company At Forefront of COVID Testing, Possibly Even a Vaccine

Another new friend is John Shearman, a marketing and communications specialist who has spent his career serving innovative technology companies Island-wide. He currently works for a fascinating company called Applied DNA Sciences, Inc, which is an anchor tenant of the Long Island High Tech Incubator.

A primary service of Applied DNA is to enable the authentication of products and supply chains through unique molecular identifiers — basically they literally apply DNA to things like textiles, microchips, cannabis and other products so that their authenticity can be validated.

In recent years they have also become involved in vaccines for blood cancers. When the COVID-19 crisis erupted, they quickly turned to that .

They are very excited that, in partnership with Stony Brook University, they have developed clinical tests for COVID-19 that are apparently 100% accurate. While this aspect is still receiving approvals it may even be saliva based (bye-bye-brain tickle!), and fast enough that local companies and others will be able to regularly offer safe, quick, accurate tests for their employees on a regular basis.

This is a big step toward being freed from our collective quarantine. They’re also working on DNA vaccines in partnership with Takis Biotech, some of which are already being tested on mice and seem to show some significant promise.

Here’s hoping!

Synchronicity Picks: Two Ways of Knowing, Life Is Beautiful, Grow for Good

Photo by Katheryn Laible

We’ve been thinking a lot about science and spirituality lately, and how we wish those who resonate with our hearts wouldn’t so often trouble our minds with claims of or against science that just aren’t so. In turn, we wish those who like to stick to science would remember that there’s a lot we don’t fully understand,…Reiki may seem pseudosciency, but there’s legitimate science behind the healing power of touch.

It’s a challenging subject…and we are grateful to both the scientists and spiritual guides we know who help us at least begin to understand their views and clarify what our own thoughts are…

This is beautiful and touches right on that! Two Way of Knowing: Robin Wall Kimmerer On Scientific And Native American Views Of The Natural World by Leath Tonino in The Sun

As for science…as we scoured the Internet trying to better understand the science regarding masks…we stumbled across this article from Jeremy Howard, a U. of San Francisco data scientist who, together with 18 other scientists recently completed a review of available research on the subject.

It seemed really helpful. Then, we dug deeper to figure out what we were reading. This is how we discovered, The Conversation which felt refreshingly broadly and intelligently resourced… Then we read their about statement…Sounds good to us!!!

On the spiritual side, we appreciate Ambassadors of Wellness: The SOUL-U-TION Revolution Donna Martini shares her sweet, wise “Mantra Mouse,” and invites all so inclined to meditate and pray with her.

Did you know there’s a church of Rock n Roll that has long been happening for decades every Sunday morning on WBAB 102.3? You don’t have to be a Catholic to appreciate Religion and Rock hosted by Msgr Jim Vlaun

Attitude adjustments help. Katie has often said she is not, in fact, an optimist. but so often delightfully surprised by human beings giving it their best anyway, that she’s decided to support them. This recent NPR piece is making her think a little bit differently about that: Optimism: Is it a Personality Trait, Or Could People Possibly Learn It?

This was interesting: “Nick Hanauer: How Do We Begin To Reinvent Capitalism?” This is part IV in the TED Radio Hour exploration of reinvention. It features a billionaire entrepreneur who believes today’s stark inequality is a product of decades of bad economic theory. He’s still a strong proponent of capitalism, he just thinks we’ve got to start looking at it differently…

We are pleased to see Jed Morey has created something new: a Grow for Good Podcast which “introduces listeners to business leaders who have grown their companies by doing good things.”

We’re in for all the good we can get, anywhere we can find it!

Finally, here’s a great to start your week: Life is Beautiful. It’s author Hugh Hollowell is into “creating a compelling vision of a better world,” as “a writer, a farmer, a pastor, and a foster parent who loves cats” and does some consulting. Released on Mondays, this is an offering of five beautiful things to start your week.

“Because the world is beautiful, but sometimes it’s hard to notice it.”

Spencer’s Picks: What? Why? How Can I? COVID Considerations…

Dr. Spencer Thomas atop the Uffizi in Florence, Italy

Photo of Dr. Spencer Thomas atop the Uffizi in Florence, Italy. Photo by Katheryn Laible

Dr. Thomas is back, sharing bits of the Internet that intrigue him. Here are some he’s recently found helpful. Hope you appreciate them, too!

I have long appreciated XKCD, A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math & language. This particular cartoon “Pathogen Resistance” offers a nice sorta positive outlook on things. It echoes my gratitude that so many people have elected to take this situation seriously and have helped us flatten the curve as much as we have.

Please keep it up!

I’ve mentioned “Smarter Every Day” before. I found this really inspiring: “How to Help Your Hospital Fight COVID-19 Locally”

The YouTube Channel: “Health Care Triage” offers great videos, including many on the current crisis such as “How Can I Grocery Shop Safely? When Is Someone Sick Enough for the ER?”“Should I Disinfect My Amazon Deliveries?”“Can I Buy Stuff From China? What About Screen Time? and something we all want to know: “When Can We Get Back to Normal?”

Lately there’s been a lot of discussion and accusations levied against China, from people believing that this virus is a biological weapon or that it came from a lab mishap in Wuhan. Personally, I think this is a distraction – what matters right now is beating the infection.

However, there is already a lot of research on where these kinds of viruses come from and scientists around the world are concluding that it’s extremely likely that COVID-19 came from a chance encounter with a wild bat. FiveThirtyEight has a good summary on “Why Scientists Think the Novel Coronavirus Developed Naturally – Not in a Chinese Lab”

Humans interact with animals all the time and there’s always a tiny chance of something like this happening – it’s inevitable and nobody’s fault. If we learn anything from this, it’s that this was always going to happen eventually and it will happen again in the future.

There is no way to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. That’s not something we can control. What we can control is our response to it.

It didn’t need to get this bad or go on this long, but it’s too late to fix our past mistakes. What we can do right now is everything in our power to stop the spread, while supporting those for whom these sacrifices are a bigger ask. What we can do in the future is build a society that can better weather storms like this.

In terms of getting back to normal, here’s a Roadmap to Resilience, an expert-driven, muti-disciplinary, muli-political-leaning plan to get the world open again.

Meanwhile, on a more personal level, here’s a good quarantine survival guide: Lockdown Productivity: Spaceship You from CGP Grey.

Spencer Thomas recently received his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. He is now doing his Postdoc at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He also happens to be Katie’s brother. Spencer studies metals at the atomic level; the way atoms are arranged in a material can change its properties; one can take ordinary metals make them stronger, more flexible, corrosion resistant, even radiation resistant.

Spencer believes that no matter who you are, good communication can put scientific concepts within reach. The modern world demands scientific literacy and it is the responsibility of scientists to make that possible.

 

Spencer Thomas received his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. After some time at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, we are DELIGHTED to welcome him back to Long Island as a researcher at Stony Brook University. He also happens to be Katie’s brother. For a time, Spencer studied metals at the atomic level; the way atoms are arranged in a material can change its properties; one can take ordinary metals make them stronger, more flexible, corrosion resistant, even radiation resistant. We’re still endeavoring to understand what he’s doing now well enough to explain it so simply.

Spencer believes that no matter who you are, good communication can put scientific concepts within reach. The modern world demands scientific literacy and it is the responsibility of scientists to make that possible.

COVID-19: Sources of Good Information from Reputable Sources

 

There’s a lot of great news coverage out there…and a lot of not-so-helpful, possibly even dangerous stuff going around that’s spreading even faster than the virus.

We are thankful that, while the media industry has been challenged to figure out how to stay in business overall, LI has so far still managed to maintain a fairly robust local media landscape…While a lot of places struggle to keep one decent paper together, we don’t have room here to mention all the smart, caring and conscientious sources LI has for good information about what’s happening and what it means here. We’ll just mention a few that have stood out to us in the last 36 hours:

There are lots of important press conferences going on with local elected leadership. News 12 LI and Newsday have been great resources for that.

Long Island Business News has been doing an excellent job of covering how this impacts the economy from a local standpoint, including offering tips on what employers need to know. The LI Press has been keeping up on more everyday aspects. Meanwhile, Innovate LI has been offering their ever-witty views on the technical side of things.

We have been reminded every morning lately how much we love LI Classic Rock 102.3 WBAB’s local care and down to Earth approach to helping regular folks weather all sorts of storms (and tickled to learn they’re naming a stretch of Deer Park Ave. after JP!).

Huntington NOW has been offering excellent local reporting and resources.

And…BTW…while they remain clear eyed and flexible, the ever Intrepid Fair Media Council is keeping the faith regarding their April 23rd Folio Awards…May they get to honor Carol Silva right on schedule!!!

For the Virus Itself, Where to Go Straight to the Science…

Here are some of the best, most direct sources of reputable information on COVID-19 that we have found:

Northwell Health Coronavirus Digital Resource Center

NYS Department of Health

CDC

National Institute of Health

World Health Organization

Johns Hopkins University

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Info out of SUNY Stony Brook

Warning! We have already heard of computer viruses being spread via emails that claim to contain Johns Hopkins information…we suggest it’s best to avoid clicking links and go independently to sources!

Another great local resource for all things science is Science Advocacy of Long Island…we hear they’ll be having good resources up soon, too!

And this…it’s not politics, it’s community service…

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer has been offering some really good “virtual house calls” in the form of public service announcements that he is particularly qualified to offer.

He’s known as “Doc”, because he also happens to be Chief of Otolaryngology at Huntington Hospital, an Associate Clinical Professor at Stony Brook University Hospital, and the Past President of the Suffolk County Medical Society. In our experience, he generally seems to be committed to public service in the best sense of the word. Exceptionally well rounded, he also happens to be a Baptist Minister.

In this video, Doc gives a good rundown of “Corona Virus: Myths and Scams” covering a range of health-related topics, including what you can do to report price gouging and bad information. He has an calm, kind, straightforward bedside manner, and is offering regular updates and thoughtful analysis.

We are grateful.

A Marriage of Art and Science to Address Global Food Insecurity: PlantingSeed Jewelry

Photo of GrowMore Jewelry

Dr. Kate Creasey-Krainer seems as much an elegant permaculturalist, dedicated to environmental health and sustainability, as she is a highly trained and published plant geneticist. She believes that science is only as good as the integrity of the science communication with those of us who aren’t experts.

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On Sunflower’s Golden Spirals

Photo credit: Esdras Calderan/wikipedia (CC BY 2.0) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Espiral_de_semillas_de_Girasol.jpg
 
I’d like to talk about patterns. In particular, the pattern that you might see if you look at the sunflower above.*
(Photo credit: Esdras Calderan/wikipedia (CC BY 2.0) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Espiral_de_semillas_de_Girasol.jpg )
 

Before you even think about it, I’m sure you can see spirals. Maybe you see them whirling clockwise, maybe counter-clockwise. Let your eyes refocus and another set of spirals will appear. They almost seem to pop out in your vision, but hang on; which is it? Are they going left or are they going right?

We have an incredible talent for picking out patterns out of noise; you can recognize a friend in a crowd or a familiar song over construction noises without thinking about it. Our sense for patterns is so sharp that we see faces in the moon or in potato chips, or shapes in the clouds. This is probably for the better; thinking you saw some food, some hidden danger, or even a friend where there is none is a lot safer than missing the one that actually is there, so I’d definitely take some silly crossed signals in exchange for this power of ours.

These are harmless examples, but there is a dark side. Gamblers see patterns in their wins and losses and make catastrophic bets. Con-artists exploit us, claiming to tell the future or read minds. Confirmation bias is a dangerous habit that has pervaded our political discourse, where we pick out evidence and patterns in data that suit our preferred answer. We don’t do this with ill-intent; it’s something our patterned-tuned brains do beyond our control. We can only fight it if we watch ourselves, think twice, and double check the news we forward it to our friends.

We also see patterns on another level; we find curious connections throughout the world, linking ideas that don’t seem related. Sometimes it looks like magic, others like design. Sometimes, it’s our minds searching for something that’s not there. As a scientist, this can be frustrating for me. I see articles about psychic powers and fake science, dangerous alternative medicine, and this prevailing tendency to make science mystical and unknowable. I think many people would be surprised as to how much they can understand with a little patience. We don’t need to scrutinize every detail in our experience, but I don’t like it when people assume that that is beyond them. Sometimes, with some care, the microscope lets us peel back the veil of nature and find the truth behind a pattern.

Picture

Photo credit: Max Ronnersjö/wikipedia (CC-BY-SA-3.0) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aeonium_tabuliforme.jpg
 
The Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio are patterns that pop up all the time in nature and in media. The Fibonacci sequence follows a simple rule; I start with the first two numbers, 1 and 1. If I add these numbers I get 2. If I add the 2nd and 3rd numbers (1 and 2) I get three. Add the 3rd and 4th I get 5, etc. The sequence looks like , etc. It sounds like the kind of thing a bored mathematician would do for fun, but it has a peculiar habit of showing up all over nature. Plants seem especially fond of it; you can see it in the arrangement of leaves on a stem, the scales of pineapples, and as it happens, the florets of a sunflower. If you go back to that first picture of a sunflower and counted the spirals in the seeds, you’d notice something interesting. I can pick out spirals at a bunch of different angles and directions, but the number is always a Fibonacci number.
 

Picture

Photo credit: Esdras Calderan/wikipedia (CC BY 2.0) Fibonacci Spirals added by Spencer Thomas
 

This is a peculiar quirk of the way these florets grow. The plant spirals out as it produces them, following a rule – each seed is some angle from the last. This angle happens to be a full  divided by , where  (the Greek letter ‘phi’) is the Golden Ratio, about equal to 1.618.

Like the Fibonacci sequence, the golden ratio appears everywhere in nature. People have known about this number for a very long time; the ancient Greek sculptor Phidias (400s BCE) worked it into much of his art. A quick google search will tell you how people have associated it with the ratios of beautiful faces, sections in pieces of music, etc. The ratio itself also has some neat properties, for example  (in fact  is sometimes likened to ’s little brother).

So what does  have to do with Fibonacci number? The two are intimately related. If I divide the 1st and 2nd Fibonacci numbers (1 and 1), I get 1. The 2nd and 3rd (1 and 2) give me 2, the 3rd and 4th give me 1.5, then 1.666…, then 1.6, etc. If I keep picking later and later Fibonacci numbers, I get closer and closer to . That’s that mystery solved, but why does a sunflower care? Sunflowers probably don’t know math, but they’re also not stupid. They’re carefully optimized by evolution to make the most out of what they’ve got; their mission is to fit as many seeds as possible onto their face. As a material scientist, I could tell you the very best way to do that looks like this:

 

Picture

Diagram provided by Spencer Thomas
 

It looks a lot like a honeycomb and that is no mistake. This is how bees achieve the same goal, but the sunflower kinda wrote itself into a corner. The spiraling mechanism that sunflowers use to grow can’t make a honeycomb; it’s terrible at making packed arrangements, always leaving some empty space. Instead of completely altering how the sunflower grows to solve this problem, evolution tuned it to do the very best with what it has, and  with its Fibonacci spirals happens to be the optimal turning angle.

It was shown by J.N. Ridley**  that this is the best possible way to pack seeds on a sunflower’s disc and this video is a beautiful demonstration of the idea. What it comes down to is that  is almost 21/34, and it’s almost 34/55, and almost almost 55/81, but these are all really bad estimates. By comparison, 22/7 is a pretty good estimate for Pi. You need really large numbers to get a ratio that’s close to, so a turning angle of  is a sunflower’s best hope at making the messiest spirals it can.

Give yourself some credit; that sunflower is doing everything it can to hide its spirals, but you can still see them clear as day!

Spencer Thomas recently received his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. He is now doing his Postdoc at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He also happens to be Katie’s brother. Spencer studies metals at the atomic level; the way atoms are arranged in a material can change its properties; one can take ordinary metals make them stronger, more flexible, corrosion resistant, even radiation resistant.

Spencer believes that no matter who you are, good communication can put scientific concepts within reach. The modern world demands scientific literacy and it is the responsibility of scientists to make that possible.

 

Nikola Tesla: The Man, The Myth, The Legacy

We are grateful the rain held off as we traipsed about the site of Nikola Tesla’s last and only surviving laboratory, “Wardenclyffe.” There, board member Neil Baggett talked about the great scientist and his time on Long Island, and plans to advance his legacy. While nothing can replace an in-person tour – we highly recommend taking one if you can! — here is a bit of what we learned:

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Why Basic Research. Illustrated via “Dominoes — HARDCORE Mode”

Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash
Destin Sandlin, creator of the YouTube channel, “Smarter Every Day,” is a rocketry engineer at the Redstone Arsenal. Arguably, his breakout video demonstrated the remarkable ability of chickens to keep their heads stable independent of their bodies. You can google “Inverted Pendulum” for an idea of how important a problem this is for engineers. His channel was a golden opportunity to get his children involved performing experiments and learning science by experience, while also supplementing their college funds. He also leveraged his success to help build an orphanage in Peru. His videos range from slow-motion videography of Prince Rupert’s Drops and explosions, to the mechanics of insect flight, to entomology adventures in South America.

In particular, I’d like to mention the recent Episode #182: Dominoes — HARDCORE Mode. There’s amazing subtlety in something as simple and whimsical as a chain of falling dominoes and Destin captures it beautifully. Destin’s experience as an engineer sees a pattern, the signature of the corrections that rockets make mid-flight. Dominoes and rockets may seem unrelated, but no chain of dominoes is perfect and rockets have to fight through turbulence. We hope that our dominoes all fall in a row, and we seriously hope that our rockets don’t spiral out of control. Maybe dominoes can tell us something about stability, and studying dominoes might help us make better rockets.

This is where Destin makes an appeal for Basic Research. We don’t get some obvious economic benefit from understanding how dominoes fall, but we learn a lot in the process. There are many curiosities in the world and dozens of mysteries even in the most mundane aspects of daily life. For some, curiosity is enough. To others, these questions sound frivolous. However, we don’t always know what rewards we will reap when we empower thoughtful individuals to follow their noses and give them the freedom to explore.

For some, curiosity is enough. To others, these questions sound frivolous. However, we don’t always know what rewards we will reap when we empower thoughtful individuals to follow their noses and give them the freedom to explore.

History has shown that the rewards can be numerous, and sometimes fundamental. The transistor, the cornerstone of modern technology, would make no sense were it not for our understanding of quantum mechanics. The foundation of quantum mechanics was laid by scientists who were puzzled by the colors that objects glow when they get really hot (from red to white to blue). The eureka moment that solved that riddle changed everything about how we see the world at the smallest scales, and produced one of the most important technological revolutions of all time.

This is the foundation of science; dues that must be paid if we intend to advance. While the development of the transistor paid great dividends, it wasn’t remotely obvious that the specific color a hot poker glows would ever be understood as anything more than a novelty. Another example, we don’t study fruit flies because we want to develop medicine for fruit flies. We study fruit flies because their genetics are simple and easy to probe. As we improve our understanding of genetics in the abstract, we improve our capacity to provide treatments for people.

It is concerning that the US government share of basic research funding has fallen below 50% for the first time in the post-World War II era. While some of this is due to an increase in corporate investment, particularly on the part of the pharmaceutical industry, a significant part of it is because we as a nation are increasingly declining to contribute budget dollars. While the increase in private investment since 2012 is helpful, the findings of private and corporate investment are not as openly shared as public endeavors, including even basic data as to whether the research being conducted is actually basic or applied.

Basic research is not really conducive to business, at least not at the early stages that can have the greatest impact. The outcomes are too uncertain, desirable tangents are too frequent, and the timelines are too long. The risky and meandering path of basic research is often not good for business. It’s not just unrealistic to expect captains of industry to conduct this kind of research; it’s not really a fair expectation because people depend on them to ensure the bottom line and provide safe investments.

It’s not just unrealistic to expect captains of industry to conduct this kind of research; it’s not really a fair expectation because people depend on them to ensure the bottom line and provide safe investments.


Occasionally, a singular individual arises like Elon Musk, who seems to regard profit as a means to innovation rather than the other way around. However, the ability, desire, and charisma required to make that work and bring people along is  rare. People like him are important, but we cannot rely on them alone to address the issues that we face. Not only is his combination of qualities rare, we must also acknowledge that he’s still very limited in what he alone will champion. The kinds of things he is trying to develop are still technologies with immediate practical application and relatively short-term monetary benefit.

This is not the pursuit for those who want to take advantage of the opportunities in the marketplace. This is the pursuit that creates those opportunities. We have to decide, as a society, if we wish to pursue them and how much we will invest. Philanthropists are important, but the truly altruistic are rare and, quite frankly, can’t do everything we need alone. We still need public funding that supports the kinds of basic research that are only really feasible in universities and national labs.

This is not the pursuit for those who want to take advantage of the opportunities in the marketplace. This is the pursuit that creates those opportunities. We have to decide, as a society, if we wish to pursue them and how much we will invest. Philanthropists are important, but the truly altruistic are rare and, quite frankly, can’t do everything we need alone. We still need public funding that supports the kinds of basic research that are only really feasible in universities and national labs.

MIT released a report in 2015 highlighting 15 research opportunities that could boost the US Economy.  It also noted that while other nations are boasting great discoveries, our commitment has fallen from 10% of the national budget in 1968 to less than 4% in 2015. A 2014 article illustrated some of the extraordinary yields our past commitment enabled, from GPS, to the discovery of cancer cells and other medical breakthroughs, to LiquiGlide, which was named by TIME magazine as among the best inventions of 2012.  From the article:

For more than 60 years, MIT and other American research universities have led the world in discovery and innovation—with benefits to the entire country—due to federal funding. This vital support, however, is now on the decline. In 1960, for example, 55 percent of MIT’s campus revenue came from federal research dollars. By 2013, it fell to 22 percent. Chisholm says the decline is disrupting the research process.

‘Researchers are focusing on projects with a high probability of results, because these projects have a better chance of getting funded. What’s happening is faculty are doing safe things because they know they’ll work. They take fewer risks, but then the probability of discovering something really new and exciting goes down.”

The challenges we face are great, and we will not meet them by hoping that great men will resolve them on the way to seeking their own fortunes. There are some endeavors that require us to come together and make investments into the pursuit of knowledge for the common good. Basic scientific research is one of them. From dominoes to rockets, from a quirk of light to the computer, we don’t always know what we will find when we veer off the beaten path. It may seem like we’re merely taking the scenic route. However, we rarely find something truly new when we stick to the main road; the innovations that touch billions of lives lie in yet-undiscovered country.

The challenges we face are great, and we will not meet them by hoping that great men will resolve them on the way to seeking their own fortunes. There are some endeavors that require us to come together and make investments into the pursuit of knowledge for the common good. Basic scientific research is one of them.

Spencer Thomas is a PhD candidate in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. He also happens to be Katie’s brother. He studies metals at the atomic level; the way atoms are arranged in a material can change its properties. There are ways to take an ordinary metal and make it 10-100x stronger, but they return to normal over time by a process called grain growth. In his recent publication in Nature Communications, he develops a rudimentary theory, backed by simulations, for understanding the fundamental mechanisms of grain growth and what they mean for attempts to stabilize these materials. While we and many involved in the study of very small things are excited about that, here we look forward to sharing with you other things that stimulate his very sharp mind.