Birds and the Bees ... and the Robots
teachers have taught for many years that reproductive ability is one
way to distinguish living creatures from inanimate objects, but
self-replicating robots may alter that assumption. Researchers
’s Computational Synthesis Lab have built a robotic device that
can reproduce by grabbing cube-like, electronically equipped modules
from a “feeder station” and assembling them into a replica of
itself. A program tells the device when and where to get the
building blocks and where to put them. The scientists admit that the
process is not as sexy as biological reproduction, but point out
that “... on the other hand, rabbits can’t reproduce in deep
space.” This technology may have applications in, for example,
repairing and replacing worn-out or damaged components in nuclear
reactors or in deep space, where humans cannot go.
Stephen Leahy, “Go Forth and Multiply, Little Bot,” Wirednews.com,
May 12, 2005
continues to blur traditional distinctions. We must train our
students to develop those higher order thinking skills in Quadrant D
of the Rigor/Relevance Framework that will equip them to deal with
the unexpected and the unconventional.
Tech researchers have developed a microgenerator the size of a dime
that can produce up to 1.1 watts of power – enough to run a
cellular telephone. Researchers are trying to increase the power
output enough to run a laptop computer. Future applications could
eliminate the need for heavy, space-consuming power-storage
batteries in military electronics, portable consumer devices, and
anything else that runs on batteries.
“Microscale Generator Yields Macroscale Power,” Small
Times, May 19, 2005
frontiers of micro- and nanotechnology will continue to be pushed
ahead by researchers and engineers. We need to encourage more
students to take the rigorous math and science coursework that will
prepare them for careers in research and development.
a Finger at Retail
security systems already use facial and iris optical recognition in
national defense and consumer security systems, for example, at
airports and ATMs. Soon, fingerprint-based IDs may replace cash and
check payments at retail outlets. Consumers will “enroll” in the
system by having the prints of their index fingers scanned into a
database that will be cross-referenced to their checking accounts.
After entering a password, users will place their index fingers on a
countertop reader that will automatically subtract their purchase
amount from their checking account.
Ellen McCarthy, “Cash, Charge, or Fingerprint?” washingtonpost.com,
June 9, 2005
will continue to make inroads into our everyday lives, including
perhaps in school security and student identification. Educators
need to anticipate such innovations, always balancing privacy
concerns with security issues.
Over, Double Helix
has long been considered the primary device for storing genetic
information, but scientists are increasingly recognizing that RNA
molecules may be more than passive messenger molecules and play a
greater role in heredity than was previously believed. By examining
a rare species of plant, scientists have discovered that RNA has the
ability to reshape itself and to bring about chemical reactions that
cause replication of genetic data. The research suggests that life
may have been begun from RNA rather than from DNA.
JR Minkel, “RNA to the Rescue,” ScientificAmerican.com,
May 23, 2005
Have a Hamburger. No, Make that Two
and meat from cloned animals are safe for human consumption,
scientists at University of Connecticut report. In fact, researchers
found that cloned cows produce healthier meat and more milk than do
cows bred using traditional methods. Proponents argue that cloning
will reduce the number of dairy cows needed to provide our supply of
milk and will also help developing
countries, where cows typically produce far less meat and milk than
do today’s selectively-bred stocks in the
The findings will be considered by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA), which asked for additional research on the
safety of products from cloned cows a year ago. Research continues.
Kristen Philipkoski, “Cloned Cows Yummy and Safe,” Wired
News, April 11, 2005 www.wired.com/news/medtech/0,1286,67175,00.html
students need to discuss issues such as cloning so they can make
informed decisions about the benefits vs. the ethical limits of
uses complex computer programs to imitate biological processes. The
programs simulate such bodily functions as absorption of nutrients,
insulin release, and muscle activity so scientists can, for example,
more accurately predict the impact of drug treatments on body
systems. While not a substitute for clinical trials, biosimulation
is helping drug companies and the FDA avoid costly errors in the
development and testing of new drugs. As the programming becomes
even more sophisticated, biosimulation could save years of time in
the testing and approval of new pharmaceutical solutions.
“Models That Take Drugs,” The
Economist, June 17, 2005
increasing integration of computer technology and medicine reminds
us that our students need to develop high levels of technical
know-how in a wide variety of fields of study.
and Say Nano
camera-in-a-pill nanotech devices for diagnosing gastrointestinal
problems in the small intestine have been in use for several years.
The microminiature camera-in-a-capsule records thousands of pictures
over the eight hours it takes for the body’s normal processes to
move it through the small intestine, an organ that was previously
inaccessible to endoscopes. Scientists are now experimenting with
adding robotic “legs” to the capsules, so they can pause them or
even back them up when they want to inspect a site of interest more
Source: Nano Robotics Lab
Putting Out the
Grad Studies Welcome Mat
new report by the National Academies Press makes the case that U.S.
colleges and universities need to recruit foreign students more
actively for graduate studies in science, engineering, and
technology. A third of the Ph.D.’s in science and engineering in
the United States in 2003 were conferred on international students,
many of whom have, fortunately, stayed in the United States
and become part of our
nation’s scientific-technical elite. The report cautions that
post-September 11 anxieties and the federal government’s recent
tightening of visa-granting procedures should not be allowed to send
the wrong signals to would-be graduate students from other
countries. The report also urges American colleges and universities
to recruit more American students for advanced studies in science
and engineering. A complete copy of the report is available at http://books.nap.edu/catalog/11289.html
National Science Teachers Association. NSTA Express May 23, 2005 http://science.nsta.org/nstaexpress/nstaexpress
a land of immigrants and opportunity, America has always welcomed
international workers and scholars. Today more than ever, we need to
draw from that global talent pool – as well as tap our own
domestic potential – in order to ensure a supply of the brightest
and the best scientific minds to maintain our leadership position in
42% of the students in U.S. public schools were
designated as minorities, up from 22% in 1972.
percentage of white students decreased to 58% from 78% in 1972.
increased from 6% in 1973 to 19%.
Hispanic students have
outnumbered African-American students since 2002. In the West,
minority enrollment surpassed white enrollment.
Approximately one in five
students had at least one foreign-born parent.
Nearly 60% of children
aged three and four were enrolled in pre-kindergarten.
2.2% of all students were
46% of high school
graduates were enrolled in college, with about one third of
undergrads in two-year colleges.
Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census