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White House Honors Two Techies for Making Programming Cool

Bay Area residents Carlos Bueno and Kimberly Bryant are helping to prepare kids to use programming concepts in daily life and work.

Tech Titans Join Forces on Internet Surveillance

More than 60 technology firms and other groups are urging the federal government to let companies disclose Patriot Act data requests.

Moving Beyond Standardized Tests

Citing the need to adjust to new Common Core standards, the California Board of Education decided earlier this month to suspend the use of standardized test scores as its main measurement of school performance. This comes as teachers, parents and students nationwide protest against the overuse of tests. We talk with NPR education blogger Anya Kamenetz about the perils of overusing test scores and other methods of measuring school and teacher quality.

Wearable Tech Enables New Era of Employee Monitoring

New wearable devices have been allowing people to track their personal data at all times. Now, it's also making it easier for employers to collect information on their workers' productivity. This field of data collection, known as telematics, is projected to be an over $27 billion industry by 2018, and companies like UPS and Coca-Cola are already using it. We look at what the expanding industry means for workplace productivity and for workers' privacy.

PBS NewsHour

Armor-like shark skin may offer blueprint for defense against superbugs

White_shark

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: sharks. Just saying the word can send shivers down the spines of some, but as Hari Sreenivasan found in this report, studying their skin could be key to fighting diease and is on the cutting edge of the larger push announced at the White House today to contain superbugs.

It’s part of our Breakthroughs series on innovation and invention.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In a Colorado laboratory, 1,000 miles from the ocean, a team of scientists is trying to use the skin of a shark to save the lives of humans. The company called Sharklet Technologies has invented a manmade material that, like the skin of a shark, repels deadly bacteria.

Sharklet CEO Mark Spiecker:

MARK SPIECKER, CEO, Sharklet Technologies: We use textures inspired by the skin of sharks to control bacteria on surfaces, no chemicals, no antibiotics, no heavy metals. It’s really just the shape of the surface that the bacteria don’t like.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Scientist Ethan Mann shows how the bacteria, in this case a common staph germ, has trouble both attaching and growing to the Sharklet pattern.

ETHAN MANN: We compare a smooth surface right now to a Sharklet surface. There’s 10 to 100 more bacteria on the smooth surface compared to a Sharklet surface.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Spiecker and his team hope to bring Sharklet into hospitals.

MARK SPIECKER: We have got different kind of films. You can take those. Just peel and stick them.

HARI SREENIVASAN: They have created a textured film which can be attached to high-touch areas, like handrails and doorknobs.

MARK SPIECKER: About two million people a year get what are called hospital-acquired infections. That means they went in to the hospital for knee surgery or hip surgery and they ended up getting some kind of infection while there that they didn’t bring in with them.

Of those two million people, we spend about $30 billion a year treating those infections, and 100,000 people a year die from those infections.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A superbug outbreak has infected at least seven patients at a Los Angeles hospital, two of whom died.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Recent news about superbugs have brought new urgency to the issue.

The idea came from Anthony Brennan, a professor of engineering at the University of Florida. It all started 14 years ago, when Brennan was asked by the Navy to find a way to keep barnacles from attaching to their ships.

ANTHONY BRENNAN, University of Florida: As I was doing some evaluations for the Office Of Naval research, I came across this idea of the sharks, little nurse sharks, and I said, they don’t get barnacles on them, but a ship sitting in a harbor at a dock will have that same current, and they get barnacles.

HARI SREENIVASAN: When Brennan mimicked the surface topography in his lab:

ANTHONY BRENNAN: Lo and behold, the shark’s skin is very effective against the green algae.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Brennan believes the complex texture on a shark creates a dynamic and unstable environment for organisms.

ANTHONY BRENNAN: Places that should get cleaned more, but often don’t.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This fall, the company released a comparison study showing 94 percent less bacteria attached to surfaces with the microscopic shark skin pattern. This held true with multidrug-resistant staph bacteria or MRSA.

MARK SPIECKER: Some of the bacteria that are out there are resistant. They’re the multidrug-resistant bacteria that are resistant to different antibiotics. We just don’t want the bacteria to attach to our surface. And when they don’t attach, they die. So, whether they’re resistant or not resistant, they don’t like our surface.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Of course, a much simpler way to control the transfer of bacteria is diligent hand-washing. Whether hospitals will want to spend money on technology for a problem that can be addressed with sterile washing procedures may be a challenge for the company.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Dr. Margaret Sande is an associate professor at the University of Colorado Medical School.

DR. MARGARET SANDE, University of Colorado Medical School: We find that hand contact, as clinicians are going quickly from room to room, is often a means of transmission. So the hand can be sort of the source of all evil as we then deal with devices that we use to treat patients like catheters, et cetera. Things that become invasive then become a portal for infection for our patients.   

HARI SREENIVASAN: An emergency medicine doctor, Dr. Sande says nothing should replace rigorous hand-washing, but when time is critical, it can be forgotten

DR. MARGARET SANDE: When it really is a matter of life or death, people are always, by their natural instinct, going to jump in, roll up their sleeves and act.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Sande runs the university’s Wells Simulation Center, where medical students practice on high-tech mannequins.

DR. MARGARET SANDE: Minute by minute, we’re adjusting vital signs, we’re adjusting lab abnormalities or the course of the patient, depending on what is done to the patient during that scenario.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Last fall, Sande conducted a study with the Sharklet surface covering high-touch surfaces like the cart handles and drug vials.

DR. MARGARET SANDE: We intentionally had the staph aureus bacteria, which is a common bacteria, all on the leg of the patient, so that they started with a touch of the leg.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Sande then simulated a pulmonary embolism and cardiac arrest, the same scenario these graduate students were given on the day we visited.

DR. MARGARET SANDE: The patient became critically ill, and needed to have the defibrillator applied. And they grabbed that cart and they had to engage the defibrillator by pushing the button. We were able to prompt them essentially as the case unfolded to touch certain places in a given sequence.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The surfaces covered with the Sharklet film retained fewer germs.

MARK SPIECKER: There difference between the Sharklet surface the non-Sharklet surface was about a 13-fold decrease in bacteria that transferred on to those surfaces.

HARI SREENIVASAN: While the commercial appeal of Sharklet surfaces remains unproven, the company has won support from one key backer, the National Institutes of Health.  They awarded them $1.2 million to further develop the technology.

I’m Hari Sreenivasan for the PBS NewsHour.

 

The post Armor-like shark skin may offer blueprint for defense against superbugs appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Astronaut Scott Kelly to return to space for one year

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly is seen inside a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC), Wednesday,
         Mar. 4, 2105 in Star City, Russia. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly is seen inside a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC), Wednesday, Mar. 4, 2105 in Star City, Russia.
Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

On Friday, 51-year-old astronaut Scott Kelly, who has flown three previous space missions, will return to the International Space Station where he will remain for a year. A whole year.

Joining him on the long mission will be Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

Long-term space travel can do a number on the human body, causing muscle atrophy, bone loss and changes to the eyes. The space travelers’ sleep patterns, behavior, cognitive function, gut microbes and vision will be closely monitored during this time. From NASA:

“Functional studies will examine crew member performance during and after the 12-month span. Behavioral studies will monitor sleep patterns and exercise routines. Visual impairment will be studied by measuring changes in pressure inside the human skull. Metabolic investigations will examine the immune system and effects of stress. Physical performance will be monitored through exercise examinations. Researchers will also monitor microbial changes in the crew, as well as the human factors associated with how the crew interacts aboard the station.”

Meanwhile, Kelly’s twin brother, Mark Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut, will undergo a number of comparative tests on the ground.

Both Kelly and Kornienko told the Washington Post that they’d miss nature the most:

“Kornienko expects to miss flowing water — stuff he can swim in, not the floating globs he’ll deal with in space — and Kelly will miss the outdoors of his Houston home. “

The post Astronaut Scott Kelly to return to space for one year appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Designing disease-resistant robots for the front lines of the Ebola crisis

ebolarobot

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GWEN IFILL: Next: This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. We have learned a lot in 12 months, including this: how robots might one day help quell medical epidemics.

The NewsHour’s Mary Jo Brooks reports.

MARY JO BROOKS: This is an unmanned aerial vehicle?

ROBIN MURPHY, Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, Texas A&M University: Yes, it is. This is air robot AR-180 that we have been using for wilderness search and rescue.

MARY JO BROOKS: Robin Murphy is sort of the Indiana Jones of disasters. The Texas A&M professor showed us her storage room of robot-filled cases ready to be deployed in a moment’s notice.

ROBIN MURPHY: This class of robots has actually been used the most in building collapses.

MARY JO BROOKS: As head of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, Murphy has taken her high-tech teammates to the World Trade Center bombing, tsunamis in Japan, Hurricane Katrina, and the mudslide in Washington State one year ago.

Her mission? To use robots for tasks that are too difficult or too dangerous for human beings. It’s only natural, then, that when the Ebola crisis broke out last fall in West Africa, Murphy wanted to see if her disease-resistant machines could help.

ROBIN MURPHY: We, as roboticists, spontaneously said, is anything that we can be doing? This is a new set of disasters, a new set of issues for us.

MARY JO BROOKS: Murphy says she knows robots will never replace the care that doctors and nurses give, but she believes it is possible to use robots for logistical support, to deliver supplies or transport waste, for example.

ROBIN MURPHY: What we continue to hear from the health care workers, they want to be there themselves to help the victims. They’re trying to ease suffering.

So if we can let them spend their deep — their time in their suits and the time to decon in that stress to do those types of things and let the robots do things like swap out the I.V.s, take out the trash, do things like that, those are the things that are going to be the big win.

MARY JO BROOKS: In this country, hospitals have already begun using robots for routine tasks. The Geisinger Medical Centers use robots to distribute medicine and food to patients.

But Murphy says putting robots like that in a remote field hospital bring a whole new set of other problems. Can it work in less-than-ideal conditions?

ROBIN MURPHY: You can imagine anything with track, if it’s a tent floor, might start catching that up and getting it caught. You have got the lip of the tent as it goes in between the doors. A lot of robots would just simply get tangled up in it.

MARY JO BROOKS: One of the most promising robots is the MUTT. Designed for potential use by the military, the vehicle can carry stretchers with patients over long distances.

CLINT ARNETT, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service: If we move this way, it goes this way. If I move back that way, it goes backwards. Likewise, I can clip it on my belt and just walk off with it, and it will follow me.

MARY JO BROOKS: Clint Arnett demonstrated how it works at Disaster City, a training facility run by Texas A&M that looks like a Disneyland of disasters.

On the day we visited, first-responders were practicing on a derailed rain, a simulated propane leak, and a fire at a mock oil refinery. General Dynamics, the manufacturer of the MUTT, is using Disaster City to test the robot in a variety of real-world conditions.

David Martin is the facility’s program director.

DAVID MARTIN, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service: It can be utilized for transport of patients that are infected with Ebola. That would help, in that it would limit the exposure of people who would be coming in contact with the patient and would make it much easier for them to move patients around without having to suit up a number of people to transport that patient.

MARY JO BROOKS: Another potential weapon is the Xenex decontamination robot.

MORRIS MILLER, CEO, Xenex: And then it will start going up, so you’re going to expose all of the high-touch surfaces.

MARY JO BROOKS: Already used in 300 hospitals, the robots use U.V. light to disinfect hospital rooms.

Morris Miller, CEO of Xenex.

MORRIS MILLER: You turn it on, you set it to run. All of a sudden, the top starts lifting up. That bulb starts pulsing as soon as it’s visible. And it will go all the way up to 52 inches and then it comes back down. So it’s exposing all of the surfaces in a hospital room, in an operating room to this intense xenon lamp.

It will literally kill any virus or spore that we have ever seen.

MARY JO BROOKS: Simple to use, the robots are usually operated by hospital cleaning crews in two five-minute sessions. One machine, which costs $100,000, can typically decontaminate up to 50 rooms a day.

The Xenex robots had real-world testing with Ebola last fall. The machines were in use at the Dallas hospital where Eric Duncan was unsuccessfully treated for Ebola. The robots have also been used for two years at the University Health System in San Antonio.

And Dr. Jason Bowling says the robots are part of an Ebola response plan that they have developed.

DR. JASON BOWLING, University Health System: With a patient with Ebola virus disease, at all times, we were aware of where that patient was located to minimize their movement and then to keep the surrounding areas clean and decontaminated.

So, one of the things we wanted to do was use the Xenex machine to decontaminate those surrounding areas. Also, if the patient did need to be transported, for example, when they arrived, we were going to decontaminate areas through which the patient had passed, including the elevator.

MARY JO BROOKS: Earlier this month, a study published in “The American Journal of Infection Control” recommended that Xenex robots be used to disinfect the protective suits that health workers wear when treating Ebola patients.

Robin Murphy says it’s still likely to be six to eight months before robots of any kind are deployed to Africa. She concedes that with the number of Ebola cases dwindling, the need seems less urgent now, but she says all of the robotic work that’s occurred in the last few months means they will be ready when the next infectious disease outbreak occurs.

In College Station, Texas, I’m Mary Jo Brooks for the PBS NewsHour.

The post Designing disease-resistant robots for the front lines of the Ebola crisis appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Photo essay: DIY airplanes, submarines, Lamborghini and other homemade Chinese inventions

Liu Wanyong, 52, treads water while pedaling on his invention, a bicycle that stays afloat thanks to a pair of white
         plastic tubes, in Zhenning, Guizhou province in China. Photo by Reuters/Stringer.

Liu Wanyong, 52, treads water while pedaling on his invention, a bicycle that stays afloat thanks to a pair of white plastic tubes, in Zhenning, Guizhou province in China. Photo by Reuters/Stringer.

science-wednesday

What do restaurants, gunpowder and paper money have in common? They were all invented in China. The Chinese are known for their brilliant inventions. And that innovative spirit extends beyond factory floors and laboratories to the hands and brains of amateur engineers who rely on scrap metal and discarded glass to produce floating bicycles, suitcase cars and rickshaw pulling robots. Here’s a look at some of the weird and wonderful inventions hailing from China.

A man drives a tractor with 12 brooms tied in the rear that he uses to clean a dusty road in Mohe, Heilongjiang province
         in China. Photo by Reuters/Stringer.

A man drives a tractor with 12 brooms tied in the rear, as he tries to clean a dusty road in Mohe, Heilongjiang province in China. Photo by Reuters/Stringer.

Guo, left, a farmer in his 50s, looks on as his grandson gets on a scaled replica of a Lamborghini made by Guo, on a
         street in Zhengzhou, Henan province in China. Guo spent six months and about 5,000 yuan, or $821, to make the 2-meter-long,
         1 meter-wide "Lamborghini" as a toy for his grandson. Guo built the replica out of scrap metal and electric bicycle
         parts. He installed five sets of batteries, enabling the toy car to travel nearly 40 miles when fully charged, Chinese media
         reported. Photo by Reuters/China Daily.

Guo, left, a farmer in his 50s, looks on as his grandson gets on a scaled replica of a Lamborghini made by Guo, on a street in Zhengzhou, Henan province in China. Guo spent six months and about 5,000 yuan, or $821, to make the 2-meter-long, 1 meter-wide “Lamborghini” as a toy for his grandson. Guo built the replica out of scrap metal and electric bicycle parts. He installed five sets of batteries, enabling the toy car to travel nearly 40 miles when fully charged, Chinese media reported. Photo by Reuters/China Daily.

Chinese farmer Sun Jifa carries a brick to construct his new house in Yong Ji county, Jilin province. While fishing with
         dynamite 32 years ago, Sun lost both of his forearms in an accident, and prosthetic arms were unaffordably expensive. For
         two years, he told his nephews how to build him prothetic arms out of scrap metal and bits of plastic and rubber. For three
         decades, they have built about 300 prosthetic limbs that they sell for nearly $500 each.  Photo by Reuters/Sheng Li.

Chinese farmer Sun Jifa carries a brick to construct his new house in Yong Ji county, Jilin province. While fishing with dynamite 32 years ago, Sun lost both of his forearms in an accident, and prosthetic arms were unaffordably expensive. For two years, he told his nephews how to build him prothetic arms out of scrap metal and bits of plastic and rubber. Since the accident, they have built about 300 prosthetic limbs that they sell for nearly $500 each. Photo by Reuters/Sheng Li.

Farmer Zhang Wuyi, 37,
         tests the double-seater submarine that he built in a shipyard in Wuhan, Hubei province. Avid about science and inventions,
         Zhang has worked with engineers to construct six tiny submarines, selling one to a businessman for nearly $16,000. The submarines,
         mainly designed for harvesting aquatic products, such as sea cucumber, have a diving depth of 20-30 metres, and can travel
         for 10 hours, Chinese media reported. Photo by Reuters/Stringer.

Liu Fulong takes his homemade wooden electronic vehicle for a drive in Shenyang, Liaoning province. The wood car weighs
         more than 400 pounds and can drive up to nearly 20 miles per hour, according to Chinese media. Photo by Reuters/China Daily.

Liu Fulong takes his homemade wooden electronic vehicle for a drive in Shenyang, Liaoning province. The wood car weighs more than 400 pounds and can drive up to nearly 20 miles per hour, according to Chinese media. Photo by Reuters/China Daily.

Farmer Li Jingchun, 58, (top) oversees his family working on the homemade aircraft that he keeps on the roof of his house
         in Xiahe village near Shenyang, Liaoning province. The aircraft is about 25 feet long and is made out of recycled iron plates.
         Chinese media reported that the aircraft cost Li and his family more than $6,000 over two years.  Photo by Reuters/Sheng Li

Farmer Li Jingchun, 58, (top) oversees his family working on the homemade aircraft that he keeps on the roof of his house in Xiahe village near Shenyang, Liaoning province. The aircraft is about 25 feet long and is made out of recycled iron plates. Chinese media reported that the aircraft has cost Li and his family more than $6,000 over two years. Photo by Reuters/Sheng Li

Su Daocheng rides the mechanical horse that he built on a street in Shiyan, Hubei province. Su's robotic horse stands
         about as tall as an adult human, weighs more than 550 pounds and is the result of two months of work, Chinese media reported.
         Photo by Reuters/Stringer.

Su Daocheng rides the mechanical horse that he built on a street in Shiyan, Hubei province. Su’s robotic horse stands about as tall as an adult human, weighs more than 550 pounds and is the result of two months of work, Chinese media reported. Photo by Reuters/Stringer.

He Liang rides the suitcase vehicle that he spent 10 years perfecting along a street in Changsha, Hunan province. The
         tiny car can go as fast as 12 miles per hour and as far as 37 miles on a single battery charge, Chinese media reported. Photo
         by Reuters/China Daily.

He Liang rides the suitcase vehicle that he spent 10 years perfecting along a street in Changsha, Hunan province. The tiny car can go as fast as 12 miles per hour and as far as 37 miles on a single battery charge, Chinese media reported. Photo by Reuters/China Daily.

A walking robot pulls the rickshaw of farmer and amateur inventor Wu Yulu near his village outside Beijing. Wu began
         building robots nearly three decades ago, using items such as wire, scrap metal and debris that he found discarded in the
         trash.  Photo by Reinhard Krause.

A walking robot pulls the rickshaw of farmer and amateur inventor Wu Yulu near his village outside Beijing. Wu began building robots nearly three decades ago, using items such as wire, scrap metal and debris that he found discarded in the trash. Photo by Reinhard Krause.

A woman pedals
         a unicycle that resembles a human hamster wheel at a park in Shanghai. This unicycle's inventor Li Yongli called it

Chinese inventor Yang
         Zongfu emerges from his six-ton ball container named Noah's Ark of China after conducting tests on the vessel in Yiwu, Zhejiang
         province. Chinese media reported that Yang spent two years and more than $235,000 to build this 16-foot diameter bunker that
         is big enough to contain a three-person family and enough food to feed them for 10 months. Photo by Reuters/China Daily.

Xu Zhiyun, 60, drives the pocket-sized vehicle along a street in Shanghai, a vehicle that he invented after two years
         of work. The vehicle is about the size of a briefcase and contains an engine and five gears. Photos by Reuters/Aly Song.

Xu Zhiyun, 60, drives the pocket-sized vehicle along a street in Shanghai, a vehicle that he invented after two years of work. The vehicle is about the size of a briefcase and contains an engine and five gears. Photos by Reuters/Aly Song.

Chinese inventor Tao Xiangli uses a remote control to give commands to the robot, which he built out of scrap metal and
         wires and named

Chinese inventor Tao Xiangli uses a remote control to give commands to the robot, which he built out of scrap metal and wires and named “The King of Innovation,” in his Beijing home. It took Tao less than one year to build the $49,000 robot, which stands nearly seven feet tall and weighs more than half a ton. On command, the massive robot moves its hands and legs and can mimic the sound of human voice. Photo by Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon.

Farmer and former member of the Chinese navy, Jian Lin, 31, drives a tank that he built in a village in Mianzhu, Sichuan
         province. The 15-foot-long tank weighs almost three tons and cost more than $6,000 to build, Chinese media reported. Photo
         by Reuters/stringer.

Farmer and former member of the Chinese navy, Jian Lin, 31, drives a tank that he built in a village in Mianzhu, Sichuan province. The 15-foot-long tank weighs almost three tons and cost more than $6,000 to build, Chinese media reported. Photo by Reuters/stringer.

The post Photo essay: DIY airplanes, submarines, Lamborghini and other homemade Chinese inventions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.