Aug 16, 2014

Cubelets: Small Robots Teach Big Science Lessons


These simple robotic cubes are the building blocks of intelligent systems

Cubelets are magnetic, electronic building blocks, each with a small computer inside, that can be connected in many different ways to move around a table, follow a hand signal, turn on a light, play sounds, or do many other creative tasks.

They were developed by Eric Schweikardt and his team at Modular Robotics, with support from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

"Cubelets come in three categories: sense, think and act. That's our working definition of a robot--any mechanical device that senses, thinks and acts," says Schweikardt.

"Cubelets are an example of a complex system. They're made of lots of little cubes--each with a different capability, such as a distance sensor cube, a drive motor cube with wheels and a battery cube. And, when you put them together, they do something greater, such as drive when they detect an object," he continues. "They're inspired by natural systems of individuals that join forces and work together, such as insect swarms or birds flying in a 'V' formation."

These 21st century building blocks are meant to help kids learn about the basics of robotics while boosting their confidence to solve problems.

"Cubelets, by Modular Robotics, make powerful ideas of computational thinking accessible in a fun and hands-on way to students of all ages," says NSF program manager Glenn Larsen. "The next generation of citizens needs to understand complex systems like our ecosystem and our economy. Cubelets lays the foundation for this understanding by putting the building blocks of complex systems in children's hands."

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Marsha Walton, Science Nation Producer

May 22, 2014

Secret of the Equation P=M*V (C10 Speech)

Amber Wang

Ladies and gentlemen, when talking about vulnerability, what ideas come to your mind: weakness, loser, shame or fear? I believe most people will associate the word “vulnerability” with negative meanings. We’re always shaped to be strong, especially in traditional Chinese culture. But in fact, the driving force to become truly strong lies in admitting and accepting your vulnerabilities. Are you surprised? Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the starting point of joy, belonging, creativity and love. Only when we are brave enough to face the challenges of our lives will we discover the infinite power of hope. Next, I would like to illustrate my points by telling a moved life story of Joshua Hsu.

Before Joshua was thirty-three, his life looked so perfect. He was energetic, talented in many fields, and had gotten countless first winner places since his childhood. He had graduated from National Taiwan University, College of Medicine and married his beautiful wife, Susan. Wow! It’s just like a fairy tale where the prince and the princess will be happy forever! However, in 2007, his idyllic world was dramatically turned upside down by a skiing accident which seriously damaged his spine. This rendered him physically disabled and paralyzed from his waist down. Owing to the spinal cord injury, he is even unable to control the passing of his urine and feces. The medical term for this condition is “incontinence.” It is like a walking time-bomb which bothers him so much. Besides, the nonstop nervous pain tortures him every second.

What would you do if you were him? Cry? Blame others or the circumstances for such a misfortune? Of course, he did that! But moreover, he chose another positive way to find inner peace and the strength to overcome his tragedy.
By taking off his mask, he had more opportunities to know love, compassion and blessing from others than before. From this accident, he learned to reflect on his life path, have more gratitude for his family, and strive for unity in it.

By feeling the depths of his lows, he fully appreciated the depths of his highs.
Though Joshua lost some abilities, he chose to never give up. He strengthened his upper body through weight-lifting. He trained very hard to drive by himself, be a psychiatrist and do something as possible as he can. Because of his life experience, he had more empathy to comfort and inspire his patients. Furthermore, he cooperated with the Industrial Technology Research Institute to invent devices that help the disabled to walk.
By totally accepting his vulnerability and negative emotions, he realized more about the true meaning of courage. He shared his experiences by writing a blog, being interviewed on TV and on radio programs to positively encourage more people. He enthusiastically served as the CEO of the Spinal Cord Injury Foundation to help people with the same injury go through the suffering and integrate into society more.
The accident hurt his central nervous system, but gave him chances to weave a web of more connection with this world.

Joshua’s story has greatly enlightened me; furthermore, he is a good example of being “whole-hearted” which is a term created by Brené Brown. She is a research professor of social work and a renowned speaker as well. Her 2010 talk on the power of vulnerability and 2012 talk on listening to shame are two of the most watched talks on During her decades of research and interviews, she has found something confusing and meaningful.

When she asks people about love, belonging and connection, they often tell her about heartbreak, being excluded and disconnection instead. On the contrary, “whole-hearted” people are a special group that has a deep sense of self-worth and of course, feels very happy and satisfied. They all have something in common.
Courage – These folks have a strong sense of courage to admit they are not perfect and tell the story of who they are. They are just real and honest. No matter whether they’re scared, have made a mistake, or feel hurt, they just admit it.
Compassion – They have the compassion to be kind to themselves first. They are willing to let go of something bad but has happened and believe they are worthy of love and belonging.
Change & Connection –The hardest and most important part. Whole-hearted people learn from the greatest lessons of sorrow and vulnerability, then modify their values of life and share their experience with others.

So ladies and gentlemen, as a science teacher, here is an equation I would like to teach you when facing the challenges. P=M*V Taking motions and efforts to make changes is no doubt necessary. But the multiple effect of vulnerability is even more. The dark does not destroy the light, but defines it instead. Embracing vulnerability fully brings a purpose and meaning to life. Vulnerability isn’t a curse but a gift for us to have more capacity for empathy and awareness of being worthy.

Mar 8, 2014

The Discovery Files: Babble On

Research from the University of Washington and the University of Connecticut shows that what spurs early language development isn't so much the quantity of words a baby hears as the style of speech and social context in which speech occurs.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Whooo's my little baaaybeeee?

(Sound effect: baby talk)

Whooo's my little baaaybeeee?

(Sound effect: baby coo)

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: sound under: parent interacting with child)

If you're not around kids a lot, the strange way of speaking to infants known as 'parentese' may sound funny, or overly cute. But researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Connecticut say, "hold on, baby" that speech pattern might well be beneficial for baby's current and future language skills.

(Sound effect: baby sounds)

The team outfitted one-year olds with tiny vests that contained audio recorders to collect the sounds around them, including interactions with family members. The team analyzed over 4,000 intervals of recorded speech, noting among other things, whether or not the adult used parentese, or baby talk.

A year later, parents filled out a questionnaire measuring how many words their children knew. On average, infants who heard the most baby talk knew 433 words, those who heard the least, 169.

The findings reveal that what spurs early language development isn't so much the quantity of words parents use, as the style of speech. The study also showed parentese works best one-on-one. Speak slowly and emphasize important words. Your goal is to get the baby to babble back.

(Sound effect: baby babble sound)

This would probably work on your husband too.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

Jan 25, 2014

The Discovery Files:Tomato Tweak

Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have found a way to allow commercial tomato growers to coax their plants into producing more fruit without sacrificing the unique and necessary bushy shape of the plants.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Yield--for tomatoes.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

1908: New York State's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Botanist George Shull (shool), discovers that cross-breeding genetically distinct plants produces offspring more robust than either inbred parent. A phenomenon called 'hybrid vigor,' that's been used to improve agricultural productivity for over a century--even though scientists couldn't agree on exactly how or why it worked.

Fast-forward to Cold Spring Harbor today, where researchers have found a way to coax tomato plants into producing more fruit, while still keeping a compact, bushy plant shape that allows mechanical harvesters to reap the crop.

Previously, the team had ID'ed a rare example of hybrid vigor involving a change in the gene that makes florigen, a hormone in charge of flowering and flower production. Now, they've found that the genetic change lowers the amount of florigen in tomato plants causing the plants to postpone the moment when they stop producing flowers. Result: Super-productive plants!

The researchers predict it may be possible to tweak florigen levels to get even higher yields--not just in tomatoes, but in other flowering plants as well.

The next time you enjoy a B.L.T.[1], think of the researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Lab, a group of 'budding geniuses.'

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.


Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato the name of a sandwich that contains these foods.

Dec 8, 2013

How to be an evaluator for a speech?

An evaluation workshop in HOPAX by Caroline.
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