Nov 21, 2011

The Discovery Files: Convincing Evidence

Want to convince someone to do something? A University of Michigan study examines how various speech characteristics influence people's decisions to participate in telephone surveys. But its findings have implications for many other situations, from closing sales to swaying voters to getting spouses to see things your way.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

It's Not Always What You Say, It's How You Say It.

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

From convincing your spouse to closing a sale, researchers at the University of Michigan have identified some speech characteristics that may help your success ratio.

The team broke down 1,380 phone calls made by 100 male and female interviewers trying to convince people to participate in a telephone survey. Here are the findings -- which may not always work, but could give you a better overall chance.

Speed: Interviewers who spoke moderately fast (about 3½ words per second or the pace I'm speaking now) had better luck; any faster and you come off as untrustworthy; slower and you seem unsure, not too bright.

Liveliness:The team found that too many inflections make you sound fake or like you're trying too hard.

Pitch: Depends on if you're a man or a woman. Men with higher-pitched voices fared worse than men with deep voices. With women, pitch was not a factor.

The last characteristic was pauses. The least successful interviewers had no pauses and came off sounding scripted. Pausing a lot did better but tended to make the speaker sound uninformed. The right amount of pauses seems to be about 4 or 5 per minute.

Now using these guidelines get out there and talk someone into something. Some "convincing" evidence.

The Discovery Files: Power Grab

Researchers have discovered a way to capture and harness energy transmitted by such sources as radio and television transmitters, cell phone networks and satellite communications systems.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: Electronic sucking sound)Power Grab[1]. (Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Shhhh. Can you hear it? Do you feel it all around you? Probably not, but it's there, (Sound effect: light hum and buzz of many radio, telephone, and electrical sources fades in) ambient energy. You know, the electromagnetic energy emitted by cell phone and radio and TV towers even satellite systems. It's just coursing through the air.

Researchers at Georgia Tech have discovered a way to harvest and store ambient energy. In order to be able to pick from the many frequency ranges, the team used an ultra-wideband antenna that can get everything from FM radio to radar signals. Their scavenging devices capture, then convert the power from AC to DC, and store it in capacitors or batteries.

(Sound effect: hair dryer)Now you're not gonna exactly going to be running your hairdryer with ambient power just yet. More likely small electronic devices like sensors and microprocessors.

The team is using inkjet printers to "print" sensors, antennas and energy-capture capabilities on paper or flexible polymer material. Imagine wireless, self-powered sensors in airport security for detection, monitoring temperature and humidity throughout your home, in buildings and bridges to warn of structural problems, even as inexpensive food-spoilage detectors and (Sound effect: beeping from medial machine) wearable bio-monitors that observe patient medical issues.

All powered with energy harvested in an electromagnetic field. Sort of a high-tech dream-catcher[2].

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.


[1] power grab
The original meaning means the attempt or action of acquiring or accomplishing something that was previously unattainable but is now possible through newly acquired power. However, here the word "power" indicates electrical energy.

[2] dream-catcher
A Native American craftwork consisting of a small hoop covered with string, yarn, or horsehair mesh and decorated with feathers and beads and believed to give its owner good dreams.

Nov 20, 2011

The Discovery Files: Stress Test

In her research, University of Chicago associate professor in psychology Sian Beilock, has shown the brain can work to sabotage performance, often in pressure-filled situations that deplete brain power critical to many everyday activities.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Stress for Success.

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

(Sound effect: college classroom sound)"Ok, listen up, 'cause there's going to be a test." Those words can send students everywhere into a panic. It seems for some, no matter how much they've studied, the stress of the test can get the best of them -- while others appear to thrive on it.

Sian Beilock (see-on bye-lock) and her research team at the University of Chicago gave 73 undergrads a stressful math test and measured two things: the students' working memory, how well they temporarily manage and store information and their level of math anxiety -- or fear about doing math. (Sweaty palms anyone?)

(Audio: Sian Beilock)"We have a variety of brain and body reactions under pressure in stressful situations but what our research shows is that it's not so much about these bodily reactions, but how you interpret them whether you interpret them as a sign you're going to succeed, or a sign that you're ready for failure that predicts whether you thrive or dive in the pressure-filled situation."

The research honed in on cortisol[1], "the stress hormone." If you're a student with a large working memory but with a fear of math, rising cortisol levels can lead you to choke. No fear of math? The more your cortisol goes up, the more your test score might, too. So change your perspective, and you might just change your grade. One caveat: you still have to know the material -- a point worth "stressing."

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.


[1] cortisol
腎上腺皮質素 An adrenal-cortex hormone. For more information, please refer to the following links:

Oct 31, 2011

The Discovery Files: Power Nap

A new "subconscious mode" for smartphones and other WiFi-enabled mobile devices could extend battery life by as much as 54 percent for users on the busiest networks.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: Smart phone ring) A Smarter Smart Phone.

(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

When your smart phone is waiting for your next hookup, it's on alert looking for messages and searching for clear communication channels. Did you know that it could be using as much power then as when it's sending and receiving messages? Researchers at the University of Michigan are working to make that idle time a lot less of a drain.

Meet "E-MILI," which stands for "Energy Minimizing Idle Listening." A way to have smart phones go into a slower, deeper mode of sleep, but still be ready to jump to full power when needed. The team believes that by using this new technology most smart phones could still keep one eye open for incoming messages while using as much as 44% less power.

E-MILI slows the clock in your Wi-Fi card to one-sixteenth of its normal frequency, that's easy, the hard part is to get the phone to recognize incoming messages while almost in a coma, so it can jolt back to full speed. Their solution was to get it to recognize just the headers of incoming messages. So they found a new way to encode the address header. To do this, it's going to require firmware modifications by the Wi-Fi chipset manufacturers, as well as getting the makers of smart phones onboard to install the chips in new phones. The project is in the proof-of-concept stage and could be reality soon.

Smart phones taking a real "power nap" -- would that make them "sleeper cells?[1]"

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.


[1] sleeper cells
It is used as a pun here. Sleeper cells originally means secret people who receive specialized training in their home countries and are then assigned to assimilate into another country's culture and society. These sleeper cells may spend years performing their regular duties while living deep undercover, then suddenly receive orders from their overseas handlers to either commit an act of terrorism or provide aid to those who will.

Oct 29, 2011

The Discovery Files: Game Changer

The Discovery Files: Game Changer[1]
Gamers have solved the structure of a retrovirus enzyme whose configuration had stumped scientists for more than a decade. The gamers achieved their discovery by playing Foldit, an online game that allows players to collaborate and compete in predicting the structure of protein molecules.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: online gaming sounds)High-stakes Gamers[2].
(Sound effect: theme music)

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

Here's a first--online gamers have solved a molecular biology problem in just 3 weeks, one that scientists couldn't unravelin 10 years. The project is the brainchild of scientists at the University of Washington Department of Biochemistry and the UW Center for Game Science.

The mission was to model the structure of a retrovirus enzyme from an aids-like virus. If scientists can determine its structure, they'll be better able to create anti-aids drugs to deactivate it. For over a decade, the usual methods of solving the puzzle were tried but science couldn't get a handle on what the enzyme's structure looked like.

The team turned to an unlikely group--online gamers. Reasoning that human intuition is something computers don't have, they used an online game created at UW called "fold it," and enlisted thousands of players worldwide to take a crack at cracking it.

Groups of players were soon rotating 3-d chains of amino acids in cyberspace and were able to generate models good enough for the researchers to refine and within a few days determine the enzyme's structure.

The game of science meets the science of gaming. Look for other 'gamely' collaborations that may change the way we teach math and science. In the article that published the findings in a scientific journal, the gamers were listed as co-authors.

"It's not a game--it's molecular biology, mom."

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.


[1] Game Changer
A person, an event or a new and different idea that completely changes the way a situation develops.A person, an event or a new and different idea that completely changes the way a situation develops.

[2] High-Stakes Gamers

Most high stakes gamers are experienced people who have an aptitude for gambling. In this article, a gamer indicates a computer game player and high stakes gamers means experienced people who show a talent for computer games.

Oct 22, 2011

Yes or no, that’s a question!
(C4 Speech Script by April Chung)

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,

In our life, we can heard someone persuade somebody to do something every day. Excuse me; could you do me a favor? Could you hire me? Could you lend me money? Or when could you deliver your speech? Are you afraid of being rejected, too? Don’t worry; just give them a good reason for your purpose. Because, the meaning of persuasion is to make someone decide to do something, especially by giving reasons why they should do it. Yes or No is depend on your question or reason.

One day, my supervisor gave me a task to count the customer complaints from our Japanese customers. I told him, “I only can read simple sentences in Japanese. Could you ask Ms. Kao who speaks fluent Japanese to deal with the document and I still have to do something important and urgent.”
He said, “But it’s a good chance to improve your Japanese ability.”
I said, “Thank you, Sir. I know it’s a good chance to improve my Japanese ability, but my ability is not good enough to deal with those documents. I have to look up the dictionary word by word, analyze the grammar, and ask others to help me. I will spend too much time on this matter.”
At that moment, my supervisor seems a little angry and said coldly, “…………hum, let me think over your suggestion.”
After working, I received a call from my supervisor, he was very angry and shout at me, “April, I want to tell you something, if you can’t accept the assignment, please tell me in private, not in public. Remember that I’m the supervisor in this office, you refuse to do my order quickly in public, how can I have the power to lead the team?”
I said, “Sorry, sir, I don’t have that meaning. I apologize to you for my rude action. Next time, I will notice my behavior.”

General speaking, persuader doesn’t have advantage of psychology. Before the communication, you can follow the word “5P”: Patience, Personality, Position, Pride, and Place. You must have the patience and know the personality, especially his or her position is higher than you, please take care of their pride in a good place to make them feel free. Then, make sure 3W: What happen; Who has the connection to the case; and What’s the effect of this matter. In the end, take the good timing to persuade them.

When you discussed how to promote cooperation, please don’t criticize each other, please find out the advantages of each other and balance point. Please be clear, simple and forceful. You have to get the point in a short time, otherwise the listener not only feel confused but also hit back at your point easily. Yes or No is to depend on your question and good reason. Guess what! What happen to those hot potato documents? I persuaded my supervisor successfully; I passed the difficult task to my coworker who speaks excellent Japanese.

Sep 27, 2011

The Discovery Files: Birth And Syntax

Cognitive scientists at Johns Hopkins University have new evidence that confirms an older theory that human beings are born with some innate knowledge of certain rules of linguistics that make learning human languages easier.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Wired for Speech. (Sound effect: newborn baby cries)

(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

"Gleej, slergena, glawb" do not adjust your ear buds. I'm trying to speak 'verblog' an artificial nanolanguage developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University to test a hypothesis from over a half-century ago.

Let me back up a bit. 50 years ago, linguist/philosopher Norm Chomsky[1] put it out there that we are born already knowing some grammatical rules or at the very least having certain language sense kind of wired into our brains.

The Johns Hopkins study demonstrates that perhaps Chomsky was right, and in addition to death and taxes[2], we might have two more things on the 'sure' list: birth and syntax. We come into this world knowing certain rules that make it easier to learn language.

To test the theory the team came up with this made-up language called 'verblog,' constructed to utilize word-order combinations not usually found in most human languages. Sure enough, participants had difficulty learning verblog in its pure form, but could more easily grasp versions of it if some of the word-order combinations were adjusted to match those commonly found in human languages. It's as if the brain knew that the structure was unlikely.

Now we may be born with some linguistic capabilities but I'm sure one of them wasn't how to diagram a sentence; still can't do that.

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.


[1] Norm Chomsky
-- An great American linguist. For more information, please visit at
[2] Death and tax
-- A proverb. Please refer to

Sep 16, 2011

Mysterious light (C8 Speech by Charles Lu)

Albert Einstein is perhaps the most famous scientist of the 20th century. One of his most well-known accomplishments is the formula E=mc^2. It means that energy is equal to the mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light.

Einstein realizes that mass and energy are really different forms of the same thing. Mass can be turned into energy and energy into mass. For example, here is one kilogram of pure water. If it could be suddenly turned into energy, it would become:

=1x 300,000,000x300,000,000
=90,000,000,000,000,000 Joules(焦耳) (ninety thousand trillion Joules)

This is the equivalent of the energy that we burn 10 million gallons of gasoline. That’s really unbelievable. Here in the formula, “c” represents the speed of light because light speed is a constant. It is always 300,000,000 meters per second invacuum under any circumstances.

Now let me try to explain it.

Suppose we are now riding a car and trying to chase a train. The speed of the train is 100 miles per hour and the speed of our car is 99 miles per hour. Then we can see the train is running away from us by the speed of 1 mile per hour. Now let’s replace the train with a beam of light, or suppose that the train’s speed has the same property with light. Then what we see is that the light beam is not running away from us by the speed of 1 mile per hour. It is still running away from us by the speed of 100 miles per hour. In that case, we don’t believe our eyes and try to accelerate our car to the speed of 99.99999 miles per hour. We consider that we are going to catch up with the beam of light, but when we look out of the window, the light beam is still flying away from us by the speed of 100 miles per hour. It seems like we are not moving.

It is very weird. How can it happen this way?

Einstein himself is very shocked when he finds out this phenomenon. He studies it more, and finally comes to an amazing conclusion. For the people riding in the car, TIME BECOMES SLOWER. If there is a bystander on the road and he uses a telescope to watch us, he can see that everyone in the car moves very slowly and he can see the car is squeezed into a flat thing like an accordion.

Scientists have proved this theory. Whatever our speed is, the light speed is always a constant-- that is, 300,000,000 meters per second. This is because when we move faster, the clock runs slower and the tool we use to measure the distance becomes shorter. Therefore, the result of the measurement is always the same.

Can we see or feel this effect? No. Because when we move near the speed of light, our minds would think with a slower process, and our bodies become thin in size. So we cannot perceive the change. Nature plays tricks on us. This is called “Special Relativity.”(狹義相對論). With further studies, Einstein finally figures out the distinguished formula E=mc^2.  This formula has completely changed our world.

Love (C4 Speech by Trinity Cao)

Without love, life is the seasons with no summer. Without love, life is like rock ‘n’ roll with no drummer. Without love, we have nothing. Have you ever thought what love is? Now Hollywood wants to make you think they know what love is, but I'm telling you what true love is. Love is not what you see in the movies. It is not the ecstasy. It is not what you see in that scene. Do you know what I mean? I'm telling you right now. True love is sacrifice. Love is thinking about others before you think about yourself. Love is selfless not selfish. Love is laying down your life for another whether for your brother, your mother, your father or your sister. It is even laying down your life for your enemies. That's unthinkable, but I’ve heard a touching story about this kind of true love.

When I studied in elementary school, there came a transferred student. Her name is Amy. She was quiet. Amy laughed and ate less than most classmates. She sometimes suddenly cried loudly in class and made everyone shocked. Most of my classmates thought that Amy was a freak. Someday I heard two of my teachers whispering about Amy. Amy was one of the survivors in 921 earthquakes.

My teacher asked me to take care of her because I was the class leader at that time. I tried my best to chat with her and eat lunch with her. At last, she told me what happened about her horrible experience of 921 earthquakes. In the midnight of twenty-first September in 1999, Amy fell asleep. She was woken by a severe shake. She heard many people shriek because of fear and despair. Amy’s grandmother took her hand and rushed out of their houses. Amy meant to save her pet cat in their house, so she struggled to go back. Amy’s grandmother stopped Amy to do so, she herself dashed into the caving house without hesitation. After Amy’s grandmother ran into the house, the earthquake became more and more violent. All of a sudden, Amy’s home collapsed. Her grandmother didn’t escape from their house in time. Amy broke down at once because she thought that she killed her grandmother. Fortunately, Amy’s parents survived this devastating disaster because they worked in other county. After the earthquake, she felt guilty deeply for her grandmother’s death. Although Amy’s parents tried their best to comfort her, she still wept every day. Finally, Amy’s parents sent Amy to another elementary school in order to help her to forget the misery.

Amy also told me that she was a stubborn girl before the earthquake. She rebelled her parents and didn’t care about if she hurt her parents’ feelings or not. She often argued everything with her grandmother though her grandmother

brought her up hard. Amy was a picky eater, so she was skinny. When she was little, her grandmother needed to use a spoon to feed her during the meal. She took her grandmother’s love for granted. Amy didn’t understand how much her grandmother loved her until she lost her grandmother. Amy also realized that her grandmother loved her so much that she went back to the crumbling building to save the pet for Amy. After earthquakes, Amy learned that she has to cherish her people around her. Amy is not selfish anymore. She is considerate now. She is also willing to help others.

What is love? Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, it always perseveres. Love never fails. Love is everlasting. It is eternal, it goes on and on, it goes beyond time. Love is the only thing that will last when you die. But ask the question why? Do you have love?

The Discovery Files: Brain Feed

According to researchers at Caltech deciding what to eat forces your brain to figure out how it feels about a food's taste versus its health benefits versus its portion size or even its packaging, and it needs to determine the importance of these attributes relative to each other.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Think Healthy, Eat Healthier.
(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Decisions, decisions. When it comes to making food choices, your brain is in charge of weighing all the options. Almost instantaneously, complex neurological processes kick in, based on everything from palatability to portion-size to packaging. New research out of Caltech indicates that we may be able to sway the brain toward making healthier choices.

The study involved 33 hungry adult volunteers being shown pictures of various foods while brain activity was monitored. Each looked at 180 different food items, from chips and candy bars to chicken and broccoli. With three seconds to decide whether or not they'd want to eat the food shown. They knew they could be served any one of the foods from their "yes" or "strong yes" list at the end of the experiment.

One more thing: before every 10 food choices, one of three instructions appeared on the screen "consider the healthiness," "consider the tastiness" or "make decisions naturally."

When asked to think about healthiness, subjects were less likely to choose unhealthy foods. Just getting the health instruction increased activity in the part of the brain responsible for self-control -- helping them to make better choices.

Jeez, all this food for thought is making me hungry.

For the discovery files, I'm Bob Karson.

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.

Aug 4, 2011

The Discovery Files: Wing Talkers

When African Grey parrots talk, do they mimic sounds or consciously understand their speech? Irene Pepperberg, a comparative psychologist at both Brandeis and Harvard universities believes African Greys actually know what they're talking about.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Grey Area (Sound effect: parrot squawk)

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

Since 1977 when she bought an African grey parrot named Alex at a pet store, Dr. Irene Pepperberg has been investigating the premise that with the right training, these creatures can do a lot more than just 'parrot' back words and phrases. She believes that they can understand concepts and actually communicate. Before her prize student Alex died of natural causes in 2007, he had mastered the meanings of over 100 English words and he knew his colors and shapes.

(Sound effect: sound byte)

In addition to the verbal exercises and shape recognition, she's had the parrots correctly respond to tests involving color, material, number concepts, similarity, difference and absence. Pepperberg is always careful not to tip off the birds with subtle clues demonstrating that it's not simply rote learning.

These training techniques may reach far beyond our fine-feathered friends to human communication. Some of the methods are being tested to help autistic children better communicate.

Although I couldn't get to interview any of the parrots directly about Dr. Pepperberg (Sound effect: parrot audio: "I'm sorry."), I'm sure they speak highly of her.

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.

Jul 19, 2011

Decoding Disasters: Are We Prepared for Another 9-11?

Disaster Research Center scientists study world's worst disasters in hopes of saving more lives in the future.

At the site of a terrorist attack, an earthquake or a tsunami, emergency responders are focused on search and rescue, and saving lives.

Some disaster sites provide an opportunity for experts with different skills than the police, firefighters and aid organizations that are first on the scene.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), sociologist Tricia Wachtendorf and teams from the Disaster Research Center (DRC) go to devastated locations to learn more about how lives may be saved in the future.

The DRC started in 1963 at the Ohio State University, and moved in the mid-1980s to the University of Delaware in Newark.

"We try to learn from disasters, not only to make a contribution to science, but also to try to take our findings and find out how we can apply that to better emergency management practice more generally," says Wachtendorf.

"We also have a very strong educational component," she adds. "We involve graduate and undergraduate students in all of our research."

Wachtendorf spent several weeks near ground zero after the 9/11 attacks in New York City. She spent time in command centers, watching how critical decisions unfolded.

Wachtendorf says DRC had a good working relationship with New York City emergency personnel before the terrorist attacks and this allowed the center important access even in the chaos.

"They lost friends, they lost family members, and they were very willing to have us shadow them, answer questions, and to actually say, 'Come here, you need to hear this, you need to learn from this,' and tell us what's going right and what's going wrong," says Wachtendorf.

Over the years, DRC research has recommended better ways to recover and handle human remains, streamline accounting of donations and supplies, and ways for small businesses to quickly reopen after a disaster. Through outreach to practitioners, many of their recommendations find their way into practice.

One specific study of the 9/11 response focused on the evacuation of half a million people from lower Manhattan the day of the attacks, including a spontaneous and successful effort by tug, ferry, dinner cruise and sightseeing boats. DRC Director James Kendra had a major part in that research.

"The mariners have a very particular culture and having worked in that environment in different kinds of ships, I think it was very helpful for us in being able to speak their language," says Kendra, who, in addition to a doctorate in geography, also has an undergraduate degree in marine transportation and a Merchant Marine Master Mariner license.

It was a case of ordinary people springing into action, making good decisions in spite of the danger and uncertainty surrounding them.

"We talked to 100 people who were involved in the evacuation," says Kendra.

"Many of them were mariners. They knew there was a terrible calamity at the World Trade Center, and they figured boats would be helpful in some way. That largely stems from what seafarers have to do ordinarily, which is to be creative, to be improvisational, to be ready for anything, even if you don’t know what the danger is going to be. They always have to be alert for surprises. That experience and that training carried over into their ability to take part in this evacuation."

Along with a library containing 60,000 publications related to disasters, at DRC, there are also several display cases that contain items from both ancient and recent disasters. Wachtendorf showed some items from the 2008 China earthquake. These objects, she says, are powerful teaching tools.

"A little bit from a teacup and a mah-jongg piece are very indicative of the daily life of what was going on when the earthquake happened. People were engaged in cooking and playing games and sometimes, it's these very small items that we pick off the ground that helps resonate how much this impacted daily life," she explains.

"It's one thing to read a paper about the disruption of a disaster on daily life; it's another to actually take a piece of an item that was scattered on the ground and to bring that message home; to be able to touch it, to feel it and use that in our conversations about the impact of disaster events."

One recurrent observation from DRC field studies is the kindness of strangers.
Kendra documented that compassion when analyzing some responses to the 9/11 attacks.

"People will delay their own evacuation in an effort to help somebody else," says Kendra. "That was reported to us over and over. The crowds were orderly and basically respectful even though they were obviously very shaken up."

And Wachtendorf found a similar sense of community after the 2004 Asian tsunami, meeting with residents of devastated fishing villages in India and Sri Lanka.

"In one village, we found over 50 fishermen who needed to get back to sea. They only had seven boats they were able to get donated to them. They made an arrangement that those boats became the community boats, so they took turns sharing the catch. It was a way to make sure everybody was able to get back in the sea and begin working again," she says.

But Wachtendorf also found inequality in the distribution of resources following some disasters. Often, she says, it's simply the result of access.

"Sometimes we also end up seeing that there are particular areas that get a lot of media attention. They are sometimes the areas that are easy to get into. They might have areas for journalists. And we hear a lot about those communities.

Unfortunately, what sometimes happens is, aid flows to those communities and doesn't always reach neighboring communities that are equally impacted, but don’t make it on TV," she explains.

Field study is important for graduate students at the DRC. Rochelle Brittingham is a doctoral student in the School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware. She has studied evacuation and sheltering projects in North Carolina. She's also doing field work in Japan, following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster there.

"After such a large-scale disaster in Japan, we want to see, what did the Japanese government do, were non-governmental organizations involved, basically how did it all work? We're going to go and see if there are any answers there," says Brittingham.

Lucia Velotti is also a doctoral student in the School of Public Policy and Administration. She says an understanding of local cultures is critical when spending time in a disaster zone. She did research in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

"Listening is very, very important and so is listening to different perspectives. You need to have the whole picture. You need to try to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. When I went to Haiti, we interviewed people from UN agencies. We also talked to non-governmental organizations and grassroots community leaders. We really wanted to understand different perspectives," says Velotti.

DRC's work involves input from many social and physical scientists. Civil engineer Rachel Davidson finds the collaboration critical.

"If you are looking from only one disciplinary domain, you can't see the big picture," says Davidson, who does modeling and analysis of building codes and evacuation strategies.

Speaking of her social science colleagues, she says, "I've learned a lot from them. In a way they kind of keep us honest. Because (in) developing engineering models, sometimes we're tempted to make assumptions about how the world works. And they'll often tell us, 'No, that's not actually how people make decisions.' Or 'No, that's not how people actually behave'. And so, we want to try to work together to develop better models and better understanding to improve the decision making in the long run. And hopefully, they've learned something from us as well."

Wachtendorf says compared to 50 years ago, there's been a tremendous emphasis on emergency management planning in the United States. Both federal agencies like FEMA--the Federal Emergency Management Agency--and state and local emergency managers have invested in facilities and planning.

But she also notes disaster planning is constantly changing.

"As we have a combination of new threats that face us--natural and technological--as we have changes in climate, as we have changes in population density, in where people are living, people are put at risk and new issues are created. It's never a stagnant field. So something that we might know back in the 1960s, we need to learn again in the 1980s to see how much of that is still relevant, and what has changed. (It's) the same thing now as we look back at that historical research, how do we need to adapt our plans in terms of political context or economic context?" says Wachtendorf.

From Science Nation

Jul 17, 2011

The Discovery Files: Golden Y-Ears

A growing body of research finds musical training gives students learning advantages in the classroom. Now a Northwestern University study finds musical training can benefit the grandparents, too, by offsetting some of the deleterious effects of aging.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Music--the Anti-aging Supplement.

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

A Northwestern University study shows that musical training could have beneficial effects in your later years. Groups of musicians and non-musicians, ages 45 thru 65 were tested. The team found those with lifelong musical training were better at recalling what they heard and could more easily discern speech in a noisy environment.

According to the researchers, the musicians train themselves to be able to remember complicated sound sequences, and to extract meaningful sounds from a complex soundscape--hearing their own instrument in a symphony and working with harmonies and rhythms.

As we age, our memory declines. At the same time, being able to hear a single voice in a crowded room often becomes next to impossible. The team believes a lifetime of musical training 'fine-tunes' the nervous system, sharpening our abilities to take in sound, hold it in memory, and process it. All of the musicians tested have been playing since age 9 at the latest.

The study shows that had you kept up with those lessons, your golden years[1] would have provided you with a better sense of hearing. So kids, tell your parents you want to join a band so you'll have better hearing when you get older. Yeah--that should go over.

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.
[1]golden years
-The time of life after retirement from active work.

May 27, 2011

Discovery Files: Flaw Dropper

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University and in Switzerland have developed a polymer-based material that can heal itself with the help of a widely used type of lighting. Imagine repairing unsightly scratches on your car or dining room table quickly, easily and inexpensively.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Just (Sound effect: key scratch sound) Scratching the Surface.

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

Aarghhh -- I hate that sound, the unmistakable key scratch on the finish of my new, not-yet-paid-for car. Thanks to researchers here at Case Western Reserve University and in Switzerland, soon there could be a way for that scratch to completely heal itself in under a minute.

(Sound Byte :07.5) "We came up with this idea to basically develop a coating that, if it was scratched, you could simply take out a light and heal the scratch."

Stuart Rowan, one of the lead researchers, on "metallo-supramolecular polymers" -- that when exposed to UV light, become liquid at the site of the damage, and fill the crevasse. Switch off the light and the polymers resolidify, leaving the surface as good as new.

(Sound Byte :11) "We took out a razor blade and deliberately scratched the material and then put it under a UV light and within 30 seconds the scratch had disappeared."

The team had previously developed this material for a different application. It just took the right modifications to give it its "flaw-dropping" power. And if you think it's only for cars, scratch that.

(Sound Byte :06) "This could be a new varnish for your dining room table, where if you get a scratch on your table, it can be easily removed."

There are probably endless applications. "Scratch 'n sniff"[1] was cool, but just wait 'til we enter the world of "scratch 'n fix."

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.
[1] Scratch 'n sniff
Scratch 'N Sniff™ is the trade name for a special kind of perfume or scent saturated printing in which the scent is enclosed in minute capsules, which can be broken open by friction. Read more:

Apr 26, 2011

Discovery Files: Cleaner water through biodiversity

Diverse Osmosis

New evidence from the University of Michigan that biodiversity promotes water quality suggests that accelerating species losses may compromise future water quality.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

It Takes a Village.[1]

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

We hear a lot of reports about accelerating losses of species. Does it really matter? Scientists say biodiversity is important in keeping the earth's ecosystem in balance -- from freshening the air to purifying the water. But, some of these benefits have been lacking supporting data.

Now, a groundbreaking or should I say "watershed" study out of the University of Michigan verifies for the first time that biodiversity promotes better water quality.

Streaming: For the study, researchers built 150 miniature model streams with all the riffles, runs and pools you'd find in real streams. They added nitrates, the most common water pollutant and from one to eight species of pollution consuming algae. Each species of algae has evolved to occupy a particular mini-habitat or niche in streams. The more species, the more unique niches are filtered and cleansed.

In the experimental streams with all eight varieties of algae, the water was cleansed about four and a half times faster than streams with just one kind. The scientists say the study adds to the growing evidence that modern mass extinction of species is going to affect humanity in some big, important ways.
We may not need to save the planet as much if we just allow the planet to save itself.

"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.

[1] It takes a village.
--The phrase is attributed to the Nigerian Igbo culture and proverb "Ora na azu nwa" which means it takes the community/village to raise a child. For more detail, please visit

Apr 13, 2011

Discovery Files: Catching Rays

Using a common metal most famously found in self-cleaning ovens, Sossina Haile of CalTech University hopes to change our energy future. The metal is cerium[1] oxide -- or ceria -- and it is the centerpiece of a promising new technology developed by Haile and her colleagues that concentrates solar energy and uses it to efficiently convert carbon dioxide and water into fuels.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Capturing Sunbeams in a Jar?

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

Solar energy, plentiful and free, but we need to find a practical way to bottle and store it. Scientists at Caltech have taken a unique approach to the challenge. A team has developed a solar reactor technology that uses the sun in a different way.

Their prototype reactor is two feet tall with a quartz window. The quartz acts as a magnifying glass to focus the sun's rays and a chamber that contains a material called ceria, a metal oxide. It has the ability to "inhale" oxygen into its crystalline structure.

When carbon dioxide or water is pumped into the reactor, the ceria strips the oxygen from it leaving behind carbon monoxide and/or hydrogen gas. The hydrogen gas could be used to fuel hydrogen fuel cells or, combined with the carbon monoxide and converted into liquid hydrocarbon fuels and once the ceria has inhaled all the oxygen it can, heating it up using sunlight makes it "exhale" the oxygen it took in starting the process anew.

We could someday have large-scale solar reactors that could actually take the CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants and use sunlight to convert them to transportation fuels.

Nothing like, "catching some rays."

"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.

[1]cerium /'sɪrɪəm/
--The chemical element of atomic number 58, Ce (鈰). Cerium is a silver-white metal used in the production of glass and ceramics. (See it in Wikipedia.)

Apr 12, 2011

Silver Saver

Nanotechnology keeps the shine on silver

Anyone who's ever polished silver knows that keeping the tarnish at bay[1] is never ending work. But, you may not know that polishing also rubs away some of the precious metal, whether it's your grandmother's silver bowl or a 19th century museum treasure.

"We're always looking for some kind of barrier that will protect the surface so we don't have to keep polishing it," says Terry Drayman-Weisser, director of conservation and technical research at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

Twenty miles from the museum, materials scientist Ray Phaneuf and his team at the University of Maryland are working on a small solution to this big problem. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), they're producing and testing a protective coating so thin, you can't see it with the naked eye.

"The method that we use to apply it is called atomic layer deposition. So, literally, we're able to control the thickness of the film at a sub-nanometer level," explains Phaneuf.

Using a special reactor inside a clean room, they apply nanometer thick films of aluminum oxide to a sample silver wafer about the size of a silver dollar. Phaneuf says the films conform to the recesses and protrusions of the silver, creating a protective barrier.

Art conservators say atomic layer deposition, or ALD, will have to pass rigorous testing before they use it to protect irreplaceable treasures.

At the lab, the coating is put through a series of tests. Using a spectrometer the research team measures how light reflects off the surface of a test wafer, and how the ALD coating affects the wafer's color.

Another test measures how quickly sulfur penetrates the coated wafer. Sulfur is what tarnishes silver. The test will help determine how many layers of coating will be needed to keep the silver shiny. In another controlled chamber, the team heats a coated wafer to speed up the tarnishing. Phaneuf says this helps scientists figure out how long a barrier will last.

"Part of the challenge is to determine what the optimal thickness is that keeps sulfur off the silver surface. Eventually, thermodynamics tells us that the sulfur will diffuse through any layer we put down. The denser the layer, the slower the diffusion," explains Phaneuf. "So we'll start with films that may be a few nanometers thick and investigate the efficacy of these films all the way out to maybe a few hundred nanometers. If we can increase the lifetime of these films to a century, you may not need to do this very often."

Art conservators won't give ALD a thumbs-up until they can show that it works better than the lacquers they are using now, which have to be reapplied every decade or two. The conservators also will have to be able to remove the coating without damaging the piece.

"When it comes to art objects, the less treatment the better," says Glenn Gates, a scientist at the Walters Art Museum. "The standard treatments that use lacquers or nitrous cellulose coatings can give off a plastic look. The ALD coating is very, very thin, and orders of magnitude thinner than the wavelength of light; the idea being that it's going to impact the aesthetic presentation of the object much less than a thick organic lacquer coating that we generally apply these days."

If ALD proves a shining success, silver works of art will remain at their best for future generations to enjoy. And for many of us, it may mean never polishing silver again.

From Science Nation


[1] hold/keep somebody/something at bay
--To prevent an enemy from coming close or a problem from having a bad effect

Mar 29, 2011

Discovery Files: Earth Wake

The potential for a huge Pacific Ocean tsunami on the West Coast of America may be greater than previously thought, according to a new study of geological evidence along the Gulf of Alaska coast.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Finding fault[1]-- From Sendai to the San Andreas.

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

The magnitude[2] 8.9 Japan earthquake and destructive tsunami cause many to be concerned about whether similar events could occur on our own west coast. Research led by the University of Texas at Austin following the Haiti quake is kind of a "sorta-good-news -- not-so-good-news" kind of thing. The sorta good news is that the San Andreas Fault is a "strike-slip" fault[3]. The two plates are passing each other moving in opposite directions. The Sendai quake occurred on a subduction[4] fault -- one plate riding under the other.

Traditionally, tsunami risk is considered to be higher in these subduction areas because they displace huge amounts of water when they rupture.

Which brings us to the not-so-good-news for the U.S. the research team found that you do not need a large quake to produce a large wake. In strike-slip areas like those around the San Andreas Fault, large tsunamis can occur through "submarine landslides." Sediment slides along the seafloor and displaces the water above it.

The team conducted geological surveys on and off shore around the epicenter[5] of the Haitian earthquake. They found that tsunamis around Haiti are about 10 times more likely to be generated by submarine landslides than previously thought. Meaning higher risk of destructive tsunamis in places near strike-slip faults -- like Kingston, Istanbul, and Los Angeles.

"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.

[1] Fault
--A mistake.
--In geology, a fault(斷層) is a planar fracture in rock in which the rock on one side of the fracture has moved with respect to the rock on the other side.

[2] Magnitude規模
--The size of an earthquake.

Intensity of earthquake motion震度
--the strength of ground motion

[3] Strike-slip fault 平移斷層
--The fault surface is usually near vertical and the footwall(下磐) moves either left or right or laterally with very little vertical motion.

[4] Subduction 隱沒
--The sideways and downward movement of the edge of a plate(板塊) of the earth's crust into the mantle beneath another plate

[5] Epicenter震央
--The point on the earth's surface vertically above the focus(震源) of an earthquake.

Mar 28, 2011

Babies and Learning

The good, the bad and the baby

Babies know when their diapers are clean or dirty, or when their tummies are empty or full. All you have to do is ask any sleep-deprived parent. But can babies tell when someone is acting good or bad? With the help of some creative puppetry, Yale University psychologist Karen Wynn is proving they can.

Wynn runs the Infant Cognition Lab at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. With help from the National Science Foundation (NSF), she studies the roots of morality, addressing such questions as: what makes us cooperative and altruistic individuals, even from a very young age?

"Babies are oriented towards pro-social individuals. They prefer interacting with a pro-social individual over an anti-social individual," she explains.

Weekdays are often busy at the lab, with babies and their parents coming and going on the hour as scheduled. On the day we visit, Wynn demonstrates how the noon appointment, a 19-month-old named Sara, can easily distinguish a puppet's good behavior from bad behavior.

Sara is subjected to one puppet show starring a helpful, well-behaved doggy puppet displaying pro-social behavior, and then to another show starring a misbehaving doggy puppet. The shows are actually clever experiments devised by Wynn and her team to observe the reaction of toddlers to the good and bad puppets.

"We have a puppet who is trying to open a box; he sees a nice toy inside of it. It's a Plexiglas® box he's just trying to open--he can't lift [the] lid. Then another puppet comes along and helps him open the lid so he can get to the toy inside; so that's the helpful puppet," explains Wynn.

Then Sara is exposed to the second show, but this time the puppet that is trying to open the box is exposed to a different doggy puppet, with a very different outcome.

"Next, he's again trying to open up the box," continues Wynn. "And, a different puppet comes along and jumps on top of the box lid, slamming it shut and dashing his hopes of getting in there."

Sara watches each show a number of times. Now it's time for the plot twist that a 19-month old can appreciate. After the shows, a researcher brings out both doggy puppets to within Sara's reach, and each puppet has a plastic treat in a bowl placed in front of them.

The researcher then introduces a third puppet that also wants a treat, and Sara must decide which doggy must give up its treat to the new puppet: the nice doggy that opened the box or the mean doggy that jumped on top of the box. Wynn says a majority of the time, toddler's choices "are pretty clear, they will take the treat from the cad who was rude enough to slam the lid on the puppet."

Wynn says there is evidence that distinguishing between good and bad behavior starts even younger. For example, three-month-old Addisyn participates in an experiment for infants. She watches a different show. She bears witness to a kitty cat puppet playing ball with two bunny puppets. When they're done with their little game, one bunny returns the ball, while the other just takes it and goes away.

After the show, Addisyn, like 80 to 90 percent of the infants Wynn tests, spends more time paying attention to the "good" bunny that returned the ball. When Wynn first started testing infants she was surprised. "We weren't necessarily expecting to find responses as strong as we have found at such young ages," she says.

"In their first year, young infants appear to like others who reward good behavior and punish bad behavior, and in their second year, they themselves reward and punish deserving individuals appropriately," Wynn explains. "It shows that young infants have the capacity to assess others by their social behavior."

Wynn suspects these capacities and inclinations are universal and unlearned biological adaptations that make the cooperative social structure of human society possible. "It is essential for navigating the social world," she explains. "Adults assess the actions and intentions of the people around us, and make decisions about who's a friend and who's a foe, who's a potentially useful social partner and who is not. We judge good behavior as deserving of reward and bad behavior as deserving of punishment."

Wynn also believes there are benefits to understanding moral development. "Maybe we'll gain a better understanding of sociopathy or psychopathy. Understanding the roots of moral development could lead to a better understanding of developmental disorders like autism," she notes. "The more we understand about normal development, the better we are able to address problems when it goes awry."

From Science Nation

Mar 5, 2011

A Useful Tool for English Writing

The Microsoft Research ESL Assistant is a free web service that provides correction suggestions for typical ESL (English as a Second Language) errors (e.g., the choice of determiners “the” or “a” , and the choice of prepositions) and word choice suggestions from a thesaurus.

In order to help the user make decisions on whether to accept a suggestion, the service displays "before and after" web search results so that the user can see real-life examples of the usage of both their original input and the suggested correction.

The ESL Assistant is easy to use.

Step 1: Go to the website at
Step 2: Type or paste your text in the upper box.
Step 3: Click “Check” then you will see the suggestions in the lower box.

That’s it!

Feb 25, 2011

Mem-Sleep -- The Discovery Files

Remember to Sleep, and Sleep to Remember!

Scientists have found that sleep helps consolidate memories, fixing them in the brain so we can retrieve them later. Now, new research from the University of Notre Dame and Boston College shows that sleep also seems to reorganize memories, picking out the emotional details and reconfiguring the memories to help you produce new and creative ideas.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Remember to Sleep -- Sleep to Remember.

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

When you're asleep, your brain is very active. Looking at research out of Notre Dame and Boston College, sleepy time is when your brain, among other things, is analyzing, organizing, and reconfiguring memories, so you can retrieve them later. The project showed regions of the brain most active during sleep included emotion and memory consolidation. They found that your brain is giving each memory an once-over, and filing it in such a way as to make the memory stronger.
The team believes that as your brain processes memories, it hangs on to the most emotional parts and gets rid of some of the less useful fine detail. The researchers say a good night's sleep (eight hours in most cases) can also enhance creativity, because your brain has distilled the memories down to the most salient and useful information. It's sort of like when you de-frag a computer, it can accomplish new tasks more efficiently.

It takes time for the brain to accomplish this. You may think you can cheat the sandman but without enough sleep, your brain may not have finished its work. The researchers say even a relatively small amount of sleep deprivation could profoundly affect your cognitive abilities.
So sleep well tonight -- think better tomorrow.

I think I need a power nap.

"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.

Feb 8, 2011

An Excellent Website for Learning English

Here is an excellent website, English with Jennifer, providing videos about Grammar, Vocabulary, Pronunciation, etc. for English learners and teachers.

Jennifer, the website owner said,
"Whether you're currently enrolled in a language program or not, take advantage of free online instruction from an experienced teacher. The lessons will introduce new content to some and serve as a review for others."

Let's learn English with Jennifer at

Feb 7, 2011

Spatial Circumstance-- The Discovery Files

Studying the strategies we employ to find our way in unfamiliar areas.

Some people always know how find their way around a building while others have difficulty doing so. Differences among people that include spatial skills, experience, and preferred strategies for way finding are part of what determines whether people get lost inside buildings--and psychological scientists could help architects understand where and why people might get lost in their buildings, according to the authors of an article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

You Are -- Here.

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

Work led by cognitive scientists at Notre Dame could be of some help to those of us who easily get lost in large buildings -- who are, let us say, "directionally challenged?"

I mean it sometimes I get in these places and I feel like a rat in a maze. This new information shows there may be better tacks one can take to navigate based on the way one's own brain works. Here are the 3 different factors that may influence your ability to find your way. Lead researcher Laura Carlson:

(Laura) "One is: features of the building itself so, good lines of sight if there's symmetry, good signage in the building might help. Another is the "cognitive map," so that's just this internal representation that you build that has elements of the building. So some objects that you pass by, landmarks, certain paths, and so on and then the third factor are things about the person navigating themselves they might be someone who never gets lost, they might be someone who gets lost all the time and they may have different strategies about encountering in a novel space."

The team shows how using different strategies may help. For instance, you might want to build that GPS in your head using landmarks instead of relying on remembering that series of right and left turns. This research could give architects a blueprint for creating buildings that have features that make them a lot more maneuverable.

Now, how do I get out of here?

"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.

Feb 1, 2011

Photos of Tsoying High School Youth Leadership Program Graduation Ceremony

Tsoying Toastmasters Club conducted a Youth Leadership Program for Tsoying High School Students during the first semester of School Year 2010-2011. And the close ceremony was held on January 29.

Please visit the following links for the Video and photos:!/album.php?

Deeply thanks to Wen-hung, Angela, Amber, Kevin, Nina, Fu-mei, Mike, Grace, Tsoying High's principal, Tsoying Club members and who all supported this program.

Jan 11, 2011

Rome in a Day: Virtual Reality Maps

Rebuilding the world one pixel at a time.

Who says Rome wasn't built in a day?

With the muscle of about 500 computers and 150,000 still images, Steve Seitz, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington's Seattle campus, and his colleagues have reconstructed many of Rome's famous landmarks in just 21 hours.

"The idea behind "Rome in a Day"' is that we wanted to see how big of a city or model we could build from photos on the internet," says Steve Seitz from the university's graphics and imaging laboratory. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), they're rebuilding Rome pixel by pixel rather than brick by brick.

Calculations that once took months now take hours. "This is the largest 3-D reconstruction that anyone has ever tried," explains Seitz. "It's completely organic; it works just from any image set."

The project starts with a trip to the photo-sharing site Flickr to search for images of the real thing. Once pictures are identified, the computer starts the process of making 3-D objects from 2-D stills. Sameer Agarwal, a former postdoctoral scholar, at the university is mostly responsible for creating the algorithm that makes 3-D objects in virtual space from thousands of 2-D images.

"If I am a sculpture and there were three photographs of me, we would try to find three points in each photograph that point to my nose. From that we know that there are three points in these images that correspond to a single point in the 3-D world," explains Agarwal. "We would be able to say where in a particular image corresponding to that camera, the image of my nose should show up. This statement can be written as an equation involving the position and orientation of the camera, the position of my nose and where in the image my nose shows up. And you can connect all of these equations together and solve them to, in one shot, obtain both the positions of the cameras as well as the position of my nose in the 3-D world relative to those cameras."

Computers map huge clusters of points in 3-D space creating ghost-like images called "Point Clouds."

Seitz says the imaging is very accurate. "For the buildings, I think we can get accuracy to within a few centimeters. We've measured this. For individual objects that are photographed closer, we can potentially do a lot better, like millimeter accuracy."

Finally, color and texture are added. What Seitz and his colleagues have gotten are virtual 3-D tours of cities like Dubrovnik, Croatia or Venice, Italy.

"What excites me is the ability to capture the real world; to be able to reconstruct the experience of being somewhere without actually being there," says Seitz.

In the future this "next generation" technology may show up in places online like mapping sites, video games or real estate sites--it's a virtual guarantee.

From Science Nation