Middle Schoolers Get a BOOST in Chemistry

Seventy middle school students oohed and aahed as soap bubbles full of propane burst into flame.

“First row, don’t get burned!” shouted Douglass Coleman, director of the BOOST program, a summer science camp program for students in grades 5 through 12.

Duke Chemistry Outreach

Duke Chemistry Outreach student Danielle Holdner makes fire do tricks.

Duke chemistry instructor Ken Lyle and student Danielle Holdner brought their travelling chemistry demos to the MDB Trent Semans Center Monday for the BOOST kids.

They created chemical smoothies and rainbows that taught the students about acids and bases. They sparked up fireworks to teach the students about gases such as butane and propane.

BOOST (Building Opportunities and Overtures in Science and Technology) is designed to teach kids from all cultures and racial backgrounds about science and inspire them to pursue careers in science, technology engineering, medicine and related fields.

“My favorite experiment was the bubbles filled with propane,” said Karen Gonzazlez a student in the program. “I enjoyed seeing them blow up with fire.”

BOOST director Coleman, who is known for his playful antics at the presentations, said the program opens doors for students and provides them with opportunities.

“These kids would not be able to meet with professors or work in labs if it was not for this program,” said Coleman. “It is important that they are around students just like them who are striving and building for success.”

BOOST is divided into three groups depending on grade level and interest of science. Rising 5th and 6th graders are in Boost, rising 7th graders who are interested in food science/chemistry or technology are in Boost XL. Rising 8th graders interested in biological science or engineering are in Boost XXL.

Teachers and junior coaches at the program said it keeps students eager to learn science.

“This program keeps students engaged and motivated in hands- on activities, “said Stefanie Joyner, a teacher for Boost XXL.

Sierra Foster, junior coach for Boost XXL, said BOOST can open students’ eyes to new science.

“This program can build their knowledge and help them understand more than what they might already know,“ said Foster.

BOOST is funded through a grant from the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Institute of Health (NH).

For more information on BOOST, visit http://sites.duke.edu/boost/ or call (919) 681-1045.

Warren_Shakira_hed100Guest Post by Shakira Warren, NC Central University summer intern

Duke’s MOOCs Used to Supplement Education

Startup Stock PhotosA new Duke study of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, has found that they are democratizing learning by supplementing traditional forms of higher education.

A study of 13 free, open-access digital courses offered by Duke using the Coursera platform illustrates that MOOCs are popular among youngsters, retirees and other non-traditional student populations.

The study is in the current issue of Educational Media International.

Duke researchers analyzed data from pre-course surveys administered to everyone who registered for a Duke MOOC in the Fall 2014 semester. They looked specifically at three groups: people under 18, adults over 65, and people who reported that they did not have access to higher education opportunities. Based on comments from over 9,000 learners who fell into these groups, the researchers found qualitative evidence that MOOCs met their needs for content they would not otherwise have access to.

student_laptop_link“The idea was trying to get a better handle on individuals who were underserved, because so much of the popular press has focused on highly-educated, white (for the most part), upper middle class folks taking Coursera courses,” said Lorrie Schmid, the lead researcher on the study. “We wanted to get a sense of these other groups and how they might be approaching, in similar or different ways, these types of classes. “

The study, based on surveys of MOOC enrollees, found that many people under 18 took MOOCs to learn about topics not taught at their school and to explore different disciplines, often to help them choose their future academic or career path. Adults over 65 often took MOOCs to pursue lifelong learning and keep their minds active, regardless of age, and because they wanted to mentor younger students in their professional field.  In addition, the online courses were the only option for some older adults with limited mobility and finances, the study found.

A few examples: A 10-year-old with autism who is home-schooled reported taking a MOOC to learn more about chemistry. A grandmother took a MOOC course in order to help her granddaughter prepare for nursing school. And a graduate student took a Duke statistics MOOC to hone research and analysis skills.

Schmid said that across all three groups, “the theme that was most pronounced was that Coursera classes were supplementing or enhancing their education that they were getting from other either K-12 or higher education formal courses.”

LockemerGuest Post by Courtney Lockemer, Center for Instructional Technology

Researcher Goes to the Dogs, Lands on TV

Fresh off a visiting teaching gig at Duke-Kunshan University and a sabbatical in Australia, canine and primate cognition researcher Brian Hare is about to land in your living room.

Hare, an associate professor of Evolutionary Anthropology and founder of Duke’s canine cognition lab and the Triangle startup Dognition.com, is now a television host too.

He’ll be hosting a three-part series on Nat Geo WILD at 10 p.m. ET this Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights called “Is Your Dog a Genius?”

Hare will introduce viewers to some of the latest knowledge about what our dogs think and understand, as well as sharing some at-home games you can use to reveal your dog’s personality. He’ll also visit with some ordinary and extraordinary dogs to see their problem-solving in action.

Friday’s episode is titled ” Doggy See Doggy Do.” Saturday is “Who’s Your Doggy.” And Sunday is “Talk Doggy to Me.”

Imagining Alternate Realities: Is Brian Williams in the Clear?

By Duncan Dodson

When I go home and reminisce with family about road trips we took or embarrassing moments they facilitated, eventually we’ll disagree on “what actually happened.” We’re all so certain—our memories unfold vividly yet contrarily. It’s clear the past can be subjective, but why is this so?

As part of Duke University’s Brain Awareness Week, I went to a talk at Fullsteam Brewery on imagining alternate realities by Dr. Felipe De Brigard, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and member of Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. De Brigard began by discussing studies of patients with hippocampal atrophy (as in amnesia, PTSD, and severe depression) struggling to place themselves in both the future and the past. Their impoverished answers contrast with those of healthy controls, suggesting a link between areas of the brain accessed for recalling the past and picturing the future.

Dr. Felipe De Brigard presents his recent studies on the relationship between the neural default network and autobiographical thoughts at Fullsteam Brewery 3/19.

Dr. Felipe De Brigard presents his recent studies on the relationship between the neural default network and autobiographical thoughts at Fullsteam Brewery 3/19.

De Brigard buttressed this by displaying fMRI neural images of parts of the brain used when imagining future events and evoking memories. These parts encompass the default network: a system of functions and firings executed when the brain is not engaged in a specific task. Evidence shows the default network allows engagement in “mental time travel” or the projection of oneself into the future or onto the singular, objective past. This assumption leads to temporal asymmetry: only one past exists with which the imagination can corroborate yet it can visualize limitless possibilities.

De Brigard challenged this view: what if the default network works in both directions? He argues that the parts of the brain used for imagining possible futures also allow us to conceive potential outcomes in our past that did not occur, the process of counterfactual thinking. He has found that when contemplating an alternative reality considered likely to have occurred, the brain behaves as if it were remembering. Memory is not haphazard reproduction but probabilistic reconstruction — our memory is constantly rebuilding the past with both fact and what are likely facts, and frequently the distinction is blurred.

A fascinated and packed Fullsteam, many audience members were at their second or third event for Brain Awareness week at Duke.

A fascinated and packed Fullsteam; many audience members were at their second or third event for Brain Awareness week at Duke.

“Perhaps we should cut Brian Williams a little slack?” De Brigard chuckled. Ample evidence shows that engagement in especially rich and detailed counterfactual thinking can increase the probability of constructing — and believing the authenticity of — false memories.

More intriguing than pardoning Williams are potential contributions to treatment of anxiety, depression, and PTSD. A common debilitating trigger among these disorders is repetitive counterfactual thinking, “I shouldn’t have said that, I shouldn’t have said that.” Perhaps with further study on the default network and its relationship to autobiographical contemplations, neuroscientists might develop tools to alter the pathways or functionality of the default network.

As for my family, they have some major counterfactual thinking patterns to alter; my memory is immaculate.

Science Bracketology Runs Amok

By Karl Leif Bates

Okay, this bracket thing might be getting out of hand.

In addition to the men’s basketball tournament — where nearly 20 percent of the surviving teams are from our fair Triangle — and the women’s basketball tournament, in which both Duke and UNC are still alive — there have been a wave of science-related me-too brackets hoping to garner some social media love.

But hey, we have some big dogs in all of those fights too, so we’ll play along.

Maintenance workers inside the Super Kamiokande neutrino detector float on a rubber raft atop superpure water. (Kamioka Observatory, Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, The University of Tokyo)

Maintenance workers inside the Super Kamiokande neutrino detector float on a rubber raft atop superpure water. (Kamioka Observatory, Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, The University of Tokyo)

The particle physics folks at Symmetry magazine rolled out a bracket this week that pits sixteen of the coolest big machines in experimental physics against each other in head-to head-fashion.

Round one of their pair-wise elimination tournament pits an underground dark matter detector called LUX (The Large Underground Xenon dark-matter detector, naturally) against Swiss media darling, the Large Hadron Collider.

We’re going to stay on the sidelines for this one, as both experiments involve Duke people: Neutrino hunter Kate Scholberg, a professor of physics, works with LUX . And the LHC — specifically the ATLAS experiment — has dozens of Duke folks involved, most notably Mark Kruse, the Fuchsberg-Levine Professor of physics and head of ATLAS outreach in the U.S.

The fifth match in the physics bracket pits the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector in Japan against something called DEAP in Canada which is looking for WIMPS. (We’re not making that up; it stands for Weakly Interacting Massive Particles.)

Kate Scholberg is a professor of physics at Duke.

Kate Scholberg is a professor of physics at Duke.

DEAP is probably a piece of junk though, because Super K has Scholberg and Associate Professor Chris Walter in its corner. And by the way, they’re already at work on Hyper-Kamiokande, which we’re sure the Canadians could only match with what, hyper wimps?

Go ahead and vote before 3 a.m. March 27, if you’re a fan of giant, expensive physics machines. We know we are!

UPDATE: April 7, 2015: The Dark Energy Camera, a big boy at the top of a Chilean mountain, topped the Large Hadron Collider in the final. Read the results here. We can’t believe there wasn’t some concerted ballot-stuffing going on.

Meanwhile, the good folks at ThomsonReuters have once again put out a bracket pitting the 64 universities in the men’s basketball tournament against each other on the strength of their academic publishing stats.

Last year, you’ll recall, the Blue Devils lost a heartbreaker in the final round to some California team that has like, a dancing tree for a mascot? What the Fir is up with that?

The ThomsonReuters contest is waged over h-indices, citation impact, international collaborations and other measures of research publishing rigor.

The California tree-huggers’ ballers didn’t make the basketball tournament this year, so maybe we have a clear shot to the finals again. Wisconsin and Harvard might give us a scare coming from the other side of the bracket, though.

UPDATE – April 7, 2015: We did indeed have a clear shot to the final contest, where Harvard beat us. This marks our second consecutive final-round disappointment. Read the disappointing news from Thomson Reuters. 

By the way, Duke won the dang basketball tournament at least!

Cameron Crazies are rooting for our scientists too!

Cameron Crazies are rooting for our scientists too!

Blake Wilson: Pioneer of the Modern Cochlear Implant

By Anika Ayyar

Despite severe hearing difficulties, William H. Gates Sr. sat listening to his son, Bill Gates, deliver an acceptance speech after winning a Lasker Award for Public Service in 2013. He was able to participate in this momentous occasion thanks to his cochlear implant, an electronic device that simulates the functions of the cochlea (a cavity in the inner ear) by transmitting sound signals to the brain.

Coincidentally, three of the masterminds behind this very device were also present at the same ceremony, as they themselves were being awarded Lasker Awards for their work developing the modern cochlear implant. Blake Wilson, one of these scientists, noted during his speech at Duke last week that it was quite an experience for them to watch a device they had pioneered transform a personal interaction between William Gates Sr. and his son, right before their eyes.

Blake Wilson displays a cochlear implant.

Blake Wilson displays a cochlear implant.

Rewind 50 years, and few people would have paused to even consider the possibility of such a device that could capture sound signals and make them audible to individuals whose ears were damaged. Physiologist Merle Lawrence stated in 1964 that stimulation of auditory nerves would never result in perception of speech, while Rainer Klinke, a German neurophysiologist, went as far as to claim that “from a physiological point of view, cochlear implants [would] not work”.

Luckily, Blake Wilson thought differently. Starting in the 1980’s, he worked with teams across the globe, from the US, to Belgium, to Australia, to develop an innovative device that was able to process sound waves. As of 2015, this innovation has restored hearing capabilities to more than 450,000 individuals.

The path to generating an effective cochlear implant was characterized by continuous discovery and improvement. The first step in the process was simply to build a safe electronic device that had a lifespan of many years. This device was engineered to generate artificial electrical stimuli that triggered neurons in deaf individuals, whose sensory cells do not respond to the body’s chemical signals.

Diagram of cochlear implant in the human ear.

Diagram of cochlear implant in the human ear.

As the diagram on the right shows, both external (radio receiving and transmitting coils, processing chip) and internal (an array of electrodes around the helical structure of the inner ear) components work together in a cochlear implant to allow for speech recognition and hearing capabilities without the functionality of the cochlea’s natural functions.

Once scientists successfully engineered a device that stimulated the inner ear without causing any harm, teams in Palo Alto, Vienna, and Melbourne worked to enhance the implant by utilizing the tonotopic arrangement of the human auditory system. Stanford Professor Blair Simmons discovered that cadence, in addition to place of stimulation, was an important aspect of auditory signals, and he spearheaded experiments that sent different pulses to different electrodes in order to create a variety of perceptions of pitch.

By 1988, the NIH said that 1 in 20 patients who had received cochlear implants were able to carry out normal conversations without lip reading- a phenomenal accomplishment. The Consensus Statement also suggested that multichannel implants might be more effective than single-channeled ones, an idea that brought Wilson from Palo Alto to Duke in 1989, where he began to research multilateral stimulation. With support from the Research Triangle Institute, as well as members of the Duke community such as Dean Katsouleas of the Pratt School, Wilson was able to provide bilateral electrical stimulation to patients, by combining electric and acoustic methods for people who had residual, low frequency hearing. He also worked with colleagues to compress the range of sounds in the environment to a narrower range that could be transmitted to patients, by using filters to divide sounds into different frequencies.

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Blake Wilson converses with a user of a cochlear implant. The joy in the individual’s face is clear- and she is able to understand Wilson clearly!

Together, these prominent advances as well as numerous others fueled the evolution of the modern cochlear implant, which is projected to reach more than one million deaf and hearing-impaired individuals by 2020.

Listening to Wilson describe the history and progress of the project made it clear that the modern cochlear implant is not only a revolutionary creation in itself, but also that it holds enormous potential as a model for further development of other neural processes, such as restoration of vision and balance. Perhaps the most inspirational part of Wilson’s presentation however, was his description of the profound joy experienced by patients, doctors, and families whenever a cochlear implant restores auditory capability to an individual who otherwise never dreamt it possible to be able to hear.

Blake Wilson can be contacted at blake.wilson@duke.edu

To learn more about the event, please visit this page.

View the entire lecture, with introductions by Provost Sally Kornbluth and Dean Tom Katsouleas of the Pratt School of Engineering. (1:08)