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Science Buddies Blog: May 2010 Archives

National K-12 Science Video Contest

kavli_scivideo_ad3.jpgDo you love science? Do you love taking photos and/or making home movies? Have you ever looked at science photos and thought, "Wow... that's so amazing!" Do you hear a soundtrack running in your head for the wonders and mysteries that science lets you explore?

The USA Science & Engineering Festival's Kavli Science Video Contest is a great opportunity for budding cinematographers and scientists to capture "science" on camera and answer the question: "Why is Science Cool?"

Your Movie, Your Story

What story might you tell? What kinds of images could you string together that might excite someone else about the possibilities of scientific research, discovery, and experimentation?

If you've got a video camera at your disposal, this is a great opportunity for summer fun. Work on your own, or team up with a friend, and create and submit your own movie for the USA Science & Engineering Festival's Kavli Science Video Contest.

Think Big!

The sponsors are looking for cutting-edge videos, so let your imagination loose and bring your creative senses to bear on your favorite area of science. According to the USASEF, "Videos might explore a scientific concept, show us the wonders of nature, give us a glimpse into the future, show us what scientific discovery has done for us in the past or will do for us in the future, introduce us to a great scientist or engineer, tell us why you think science is so cool or simply show us why we should care about science and/or engineering."

It's wide open!


Winners will receive cash prizes for their school, software or electronics prizes, and a trip to the USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo in Washington, DC, October 23 and 24, 2010.

Ready, Set, Record

The submission deadline is July 15, 2010. For more information on video requirements--or to upload your video--visit: http://www.usasciencefestival.org/2010festival/contests/kavli-science-video-contest. (Entering is a two-step process. You'll need to upload your video on the SciVee site as well as fill in the form on the USASEF site.)

Think edgy. Think surprising. Think science. Then hit "record" and see what happens!

Science Buddies is proud to be a USA Science & Engineering Festival partner.


Symantec and Science Buddies Special Award in Computer Science

Last week, Science Buddies joined with Symantec, a sponsor of the 2010 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), to evaluate projects in the area of Computer Science and to name winners of the 2010 Symantec Science Buddies Special Award in Computer Science.

This special award reflects the high-quality computer science projects that are being conducted by top students around the world.

"Symantec was honored to be a Special Awards Organization recognizing outstanding computer science research at this year's Intel ISEF competition," says Zulfikar Ramzan, Technical Director at Symantec Corporation. "The quality of this year's projects in the area of Computer Science was exceptional, making it challenging to identify the winners. As one of Symantec's Special Award judges, I would like to congratulate the top five winners for their dedication, hard work and talent."

The following projects were selected as winners of the 2010 Symantec Science Buddies Special Award in Computer Science:

First Award, $1,500

    Automatic Parallelization through Dynamic Analysis
    Kevin Michael Ellis
    The Catlin Gabel School
    Portland, Oregon

    Abstract: Parallel programming is necessary both for high-performance computing and for continued performance increases in consumer hardware. To advance parallel programming, we develop an automatically parallelizing tool called Dyn. Dyn uses novel dynamic analyses to perform data dependency analysis, data privatization, control flow analysis, and profile the program. The data from these analyses is used to generate parallel C code from a serial C program and is capable of targeting a variety of implementations of parallelism, currently multicore via OpenMP, GPU via CUDA, and clusters thereof. Dyn also uses its own new software distributed memory system which, in concert with profiling data, will automatically tune itself to the cluster in question. We develop a set of benchmarks which would be difficult to automatically parallelize using conventional static analysis, yet we show to be easily automatically parallelizable using our dynamic analysis. We also test Dyn against scientific computing libraries and applications, achieving speedups comparable to, and occasionally exceeding, those obtained by manual parallelization. We also develop a formal system for describing dynamic analysis and parallel computing known as the Calculus of Parallel States. We prove semantics preservation with respect to parallelization of terms without data dependencies. Our final result is a dynamic-analysis based method of automatic parallelization and a rigorous mathematical theory to support it.

Second Award $1,000

    Novel Computer Controlling Wireless Device for Handicapped People
    Ganindu Nanayakkara
    Ananda College, Colombo - 10
    Western, Sri Lanka

    Abstract: Physically disabled people lose the ability of experiencing benefits of the modern technology. Preliminary research was carried out, in order to analyze characteristics such as simplicity, reliability, customizability and affordability of ICT-based products available in the market, specifically designed for handicaps. As a result, I figured out that their qualities are not adequate enough to satisfy requirements of such users. Therefore, invention of a computer controlling tool with all the above qualities was considered as a necessity. The developed product is an interplay of hardware and software, which controls an entire computer system, depending only on 4 input commands. Its driver software contains all the basic features a user expects from a PC. The method of providing user inputs is totally adjustable depending on the user's requirements. Also, it is extremely simple, customizable and affordable, so that any kind of a handicap can use and afford one. This product is also responsible from the environmental point-of-view. Combination of a number of hardware and software based special features enables the invention to stand as an environmentally friendly "green product." In conclusion, the developed product is outstanding under a number of sectors such as functionality, economy, Eco-friendliness and simplicity. Therefore, it is ideal to be used not only by handicaps, but also by ordinary PC users; although its design is particularly focused on the former party.

    The Classification and Recognition of Emotions in Prerecorded Speech
    Akash Krishnan and Matthew Fernandez
    Oregon Episcopal School
    Portland, Oregon

    Using Matlab and a German emotional speech database with 534 files and seven emotions (anxiety, disgust, happiness, boredom, neutral, sadness, and anger), we developed, trained, and tested a classification engine to determine emotions from an input signal. Emotion recognition has applications in security, gaming, user-computer interactions, lie-detection, and enhancing synthesized speech. After our speech isolation algorithm and normalization was applied, 57 features were extracted, consisting of the minimum, mean, and maximum values of fundamental frequency, first three formant frequencies, log energy, average magnitude difference, 13 Mel-frequency cepstral coefficients (MFCC), and its first and second derivatives. The MFCC
    data, resorted from minimum to maximum, resembled a tangent function, so we developed a program to determine the optimal values of a and b in the tangent equation: f(x)=a*tan((pi/b)(x-500)). Clusters of the first 18 features were grouped and, in conjunction with a weighting system, were used to train and classify features of every emotion. In addition, an MFCC input feature matrix was compared against each emotion's MFCC feature matrix with another weighting system that gives importance to dissimilarity among emotions. Overall, our program was 77% accurate, only 3% worse than an average person who identifies emotions with 80% accuracy. Anxiety was 99% accurate, sadness had zero correlation with anger, and with neutral removed from the results our accuracy increased to 84%, implying that neutral is in the middle of emotional spectrum. Future work will involve comparing the results of human subjects to our program's results, and training our program with new speech databases.

    Interested? To explore science and engineering projects in this area, check these Science Buddies project ideas:

Third Award $750

    A Parallel Computational Framework for Solving Quadratic Assignment Problems Exactly
    Michael Christopher Yurko
    Detroit Catholic Central High School
    Novi, Michigan

    Abstract: The Quadratic Assignment Problem (QAP) is a combinatorial optimization problem used to model a number of different engineering applications. Originally it was the problem of optimally placing electronic components to minimize wire length. However, essentially the same problem occurs in backboard and circuit wiring and testing, facility layout, urban planning, ergonomics, scheduling, and generally in location problems. Additionally, it is one of the most computationally difficult combinatorial problems known. For example, a recent solution of a problem of size thirty using a state-of-the-art solver took the equivalent of 7 single-CPU years. The goal of this project was to create an open and easily extendable parallel framework for solving the QAP exactly. This framework has shown good scalability to many cores. It experimentally has over 95% efficiency when run on a system with 24 cores. This framework is designed to be modular to allow for the addition of different initial heuristics and lower bounds. The framework was tested with many heuristics including a new gradient projection heuristic and a simulated annealing procedure. The framework was also tested with different lower bounds including the Gilmore-Lawler bound (GLB). The GLB was computed using a custom implementation of the Kuhn-Munkres algorithm to solve the associated linear assignment problem (LAP). The core backtracking solver uses the unique approach of only considering partial solutions rather than recursively solving sub-problems. This allows for more efficient parallelization as inter-process communication is kept to a minimum.

    Interested? To explore science and engineering projects in this area, check these Science Buddies project ideas:

    Does Practice Make Perfect? The Role of Training Neural Networks
    Brittany Michelle Wenger
    The Out-Of-Door Academy
    Sarasota, Florida

    Abstract: Does practice really make perfect when applied to neural networks? Neural Networks operate by selecting the most successful option based on prior experiences in a certain situation. This project explores the difference in learning levels between a soccer neural network trained in games versus a neural network that was trained via scenarios, which emulate a practice type atmosphere, to determine which training mechanism is most beneficial.

    This project was developed from the existing soccer neural network. The program was enhanced to allow for the implementation of scenario based training. Ten scenarios were defined to optimize the training experience. Twenty trials of scenario trained teams were compared to twenty trials of game trained teams. To assure the results were statistically significant; a t-Test was conducted comparing both winning percentage and goal differential.

    Out of forty trials, eleven trials achieved nearly optimal learning capacity - eight trained via scenarios and three trained through games. The average goal differential and winning percentage is better for the scenario trained teams and the results proved to be statistically significant at a 95% confidence level. Scenario based training is more effective than game or simulation based training.

    The results confirm that the hypothesis was correct and that convention wisdom is effective. Especially for those creating a medical neural network, I would recommend following the idiom "Practice Makes Perfect" when running simulations of the neural model because you can never be too careful.

Project Ideas and the Advanced Guide

While we have noted a few science project ideas that would allow students to explore topics in the general area of some of these award-winning projects, these projects are not intended to offer Intel ISEF-level research and exploration. These projects can, however, offer an introduction to a new area of research for a student and may offer building blocks upon which advanced projects can be envisioned and conceived.

Students working on the kinds of advanced and highly specialized projects that appear at the Intel ISEF benefit from resources available in the Science Buddies Advanced Project Guide. For example, for students already thinking about next year's top science competitions, reviewing the roundtable discussion Finding an Idea for an Advanced Science Fair Project can help point students in the right direction.

Congratulations to these special award winners and to all students who competed in this year's Intel ISEF!

UPDATE: We've published overviews of some of the winning projects on the Science Buddies website.

Symantec is the sponsor of the Computer Science interest area in the project directory of over 1,100 science project ideas on the Science Buddies website.

Taste Bud Savvy?

The under-ten crowd in my house uses strawberry toothpaste. I can't stand the smell of it, and I can't imagine not having minty-fresh breath. But they can't imagine using anything with even a hint of mint in it. Both of them react strongly to mint. In their lingo, mint is too "hot."

After reading an article this morning passed on to me by a colleague here at Science Buddies and then looking at the experimental procedure in one of our Human Biology science projects, I think I may have to buy some paper hole reinforcing rings and dig around in the kitchen cupboard for some blue food dye.

I've long questioned my own palate. I am pretty sure I don't taste things with as much "refinement" as others. I watch shows like Iron Chef or The Next Food Network Star, and I am constantly amazed at how the judges "describe" the taste of food. I know such subtleties as they mention would go unnoticed by my tongue. I'm notorious, in fact, for being a super-salter, but I think it likely I'm at the opposite end of the spectrum from a "supertaster."

Extreme Tasters

Supertasters have extremely sensitive taste buds... or maybe it's more accurate to say that they have far more taste buds than some people, which makes them more sensitive to certain tastes. For example, supertasters often react strongly to things that are bitter or salty or sweet.

If you're a picky eater, it's possible there's a reason!

You can put this to the test by doing a survey in your house. The experiment is simple, but make sure you are cautious about hygiene (and germs) as you perform the test. With a bit of testing and a few blue tongues, you can classify your friends and family as non-tasters, supertasters, or average tasters.

Science Mom's Radio Appearance

If you missed Science Mom on the radio Saturday morning, you missed a great talk about science, parenting, and the ways in which science impacts every aspect of our lives!

The Science Mom Perspective

"You have to get kids at a young age thinking critically and asking questions—'Is this true?'"

"We have to open up our outlook about what it means to be a science-literate citizen. It doesn't mean that you have to be a rocket scientist. It means so much more."

"Don't worry about starting with science. Start with your kid's own interests."

Science Mom talked with Joanie Greggains about Science Buddies and the importance of bringing science into the home and making it part of everyday family life. Encouraging parents to not be intimidated by talking about science with their kids, Courtney stressed: "It's not about having the answer. It's about having the willingness to find the answer."

Giving parents examples of the kinds of science projects that can help parents explore health and fitness with kids, Courtney and Joanie talked about projects like these from the Science Buddies directory of project ideas:

You can download or listen online to Courtney's May 8, Science Mom appearance on the Joanie Greggains sho (KGO AM 810): http://vaca.bayradio.com/podcasts/Joanie8am050810.mp3. (Courtney's segment appears about halfway through the show.)

Science Mom on the Radio

twitter-SM-2010.pngCourtney Corda, our very own Science Mom, will be live Saturday morning (May 8, 8:30 AM PDT) on the KGO radio Joanie Greggains show.

A former PE teacher, Joanie Greggains is a special advisor to the California Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

Tune in as Courtney talks with Joanie about the importance of science literacy and the ways in which students interested in sports can find exciting projects that put scientific principles in context of something they enjoy.

Courtney will be talking about projects from the Science Buddies project library that are great choices for family-centered science and sports science experiments and conversations—whether over a bowl of cereal or at the park with a jump rope in hand. (We'll post a full list here on the blog after the show!)

More from Science Mom

If you missed Science Mom's TV appearances, catch up with the videos online. To stay up-to-date with future appearances and Science Mom news, subscribe to Courtney's Twitter stream.

Pop! Goes the Canister

There's more to baking soda and vinegar than just volcanoes in the sand!

One day last summer I opened the gate that shields the preschool from the eyes of the surrounding neighborhood and caught sight of a film canister being launched into the air by an excited four-year-old. Under the supervision of a space-minded father, preschoolers that morning were being treated to launch after launch after launch of canister rockets, each accompanied by a resounding "pop" as the lid blew off and the empty canister was propelled high into the air.

As the kids clamored to be next or to "do it again," I heard the parent asking questions of them...

So do you think you need more vinegar? Or less.

Should you use more baking soda?

Which one should you have the most of?

Which combination made it fly higher?

What do you think will happen if we use less vinegar?

Watching the test-flights and listening to the discussion, I was excited to hear, basically, an informal science project in action with a group of four- and five-year-olds. An older sibling who happened to be on hand had different questions as he thought about the chemical reaction taking place and noted what he was observing with each different formula he tried for combining the two ingredients.

As the conversation continued, I heard hypotheses being made. "If I do this, then this will happen."

Taking it the the Next Level

For the younger crowd, this experiment has just enough bang and gee-whiz factor to get them excited. That they got a bit of science and scientific reasoning thrown into the mix shows how easy it can be for a parent to take a simple activity and give it the framework of a wonderful hands-on learning opportunity.

For older students, there are many ways to expand upon the project and the general concept to give context to the chemical reaction taking place and to further explore Newton's third law of motion.

The Rocketology: Baking Soda + Vinegar = Lift Off! project idea puts this experiment into the context of a rocket launch and explores concepts and relationships between fuels, combustion, oxidation, thrust, and pressure. (Difficulty: 6)

This is a fun (and noisy) project, but there's a lot to learn here as you put old film canisters to new and high-flying use.

Who needs paper airplanes when you've got propulsion?

(In truth, I love a paper airplane for talking about science with students! But for today, let the canisters fly!)

Scientist's Pick: A Biotechnology Laboratory...on Your Kitchen Counter!

Note: This month's "Scientist's Pick" is from Science Buddies' staff scientist, Sandra Slutz. ~ Science Buddies' Editorial Staff

Project: Forensic Science: Building Your Own Tool for Identifying DNA
Scientist: Sandra Slutz
Science Buddies' Difficulty Level: 7-9

Sometimes, when I'm supposed to be sitting down and concentrating on a task, my mind wanders. You never know what will come of those momentary mental strolls. In this case, the result was a pretty cool Do-It-Yourself project to build one of the very basic tools used in a biotechnology lab: an electrophoresis chamber.

I was supposed to be working on a science project called Investigate Native Plant Evolution with Chloroplast Sequencing. The project shows students how to harvest plants indigenous to the area in which they live, extract DNA from the plants, and then sequence the DNA. Then (drum roll for the really awesome part) if the sequence is new, meaning if no one has ever recorded that information before, they can submit the data to GenBank — the public gene sequence data bank — for scientists worldwide to see and use!

The only downside to the project is that it requires access to some specific biotechnology equipment. As I started to write down the list of materials and equipment that the project calls for, I asked myself, "Hey, I wonder if you can build any of this stuff yourself?"

From there my mind went racing through a list of possibilities. What I finally settled on was an electrophoresis chamber, the fancy title for a box that you pass current through to separate DNA into different size pieces and get a look at those pieces. The electrophoresis chamber is one of the most common pieces of equipment in any biotech laboratory. Why? There are literally dozens of reasons, but here's an example:

Imagine you are working in a forensics lab trying to determine if the hair left at a crime scene belongs to any of the suspects. How would you do it? You would isolate DNA from the crime scene hair and some DNA from each suspect. Then you'd cut up each DNA sample using enzymes. When you cut the DNA this way, each person has his or her own unique pattern of pieces (similar to the way each person has a unique fingerprint—in fact the DNA pattern is referred to as a DNA fingerprint). To look at the DNA pattern, you would use an electrophoresis chamber. If one of the suspects' DNA pattern matched the crime scene hair's pattern, you'd be able to place that suspect at the scene of the crime.

As you can see, the electrophoresis chamber is an important tool for forensics research!

It turns out you can make a simple version of an electrophoresis chamber on your own kitchen counter using just a few household items like batteries, a plastic soap dish, some stainless steel wire, and baking soda.

Once you've built your electrophoresis chamber, you have lots of options for putting it to use. Don't feel up to processing DNA on your home-made electrophoresis chamber? No problem! You can use the same equipment to examine food dyes. Did you know that some of the primary colors (like red) in food dyes are actually blends of several colors? Can you guess which colors? Give it a try! You might just find yourself hooked on the power of kitchen biotech.

~ Sandra

For similar project ideas, explore the Biotechnology interest area, sponsored by Bio-Rad, in the Science Buddies Project Directory.

You may also enjoy these related blog entries:

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