Category Archives: Science

On D-Day, Exploring the Context of “As We May Think”

As We May Think (Cover)

During National Poetry Month (April), I thought it would be interesting to quote one of the poems published in the same issue of The Atlantic Monthly as the incredible essay, “As We May Think,” by Vannevar Bush.

“As We May Think” was required reading when I was in grad school, and it still it. This is a work that was truly seminal in shaping the origins of the Internet, hypertext, the Web, more. Provocative, inspirational, decades before its time. It’s online, easy to find, and it’s even open and free to the world. When I went looking for poems from the issue, though, that was not easy to find, much less free. I ended up having to request the print copy. Print. Really? You must be kidding me, but no, it’s true. It took me a month to believe I wasn’t going to find it online, and another few weeks for me to place the request for the print and find time to actually look at it.

You know what happens with print? You go looking for one thing, and find something else. You turn a page, and a picture catches your eye. You start to skim one article, but a beautiful word or phrase on the facing page distracts you. Before you know it, you are turning pages whether or not they have anything to do with your original question.

Let me tell you something about the issue of The Atlantic for July 1945. It was published less than a year after D-Day. It was published only a few months after the official end to the war. It was published when people first began to see, to believe, that World War II really was going to end, and stay done. It was the beginning of moving through the shock and trauma of the war, beginning to tell stories that couldn’t be born, that no one wants to remember.

When I first read “As We May Think” it seemed all shiny and glossy, this vision of what might someday become computers, personal assistants, ready flexible access to information. The dream that was so much bigger than people realized at the time, bigger than I realized when I read it in grad school. I had no idea that this was one essay of a larger series that The Atlantic was publishing on science and the war, no real idea of the world in which it was written. Sure, we studied WWII in school, read about the concentration camps, the war bonds, the atom bomb, the refugees, the destruction of historical treasures across Europe, the bombing of London, the evacuations, the debates in America about whether or not to enter the war, the American resistors who joined the war efforts in Europe early and were shunned as unpatriotic for the rest of their lives.

It never really came alive for me, though, in the way that it did when my computers broke this week and I went through the journal issue that contained Vannevar Bush’s essay. Some of what I found there:
– “paper bombs” as tools to influence thought
– Ad: advertisements on new technologies created for the war that had drastic impacts on food and home lives of civilians (from ice cream to oranges to vitamins)
– serious examinations of media reporters, “their reliability, their prejudices, and their mistakes”
– the role of propaganda on both sides of the conflict as obvious and visible even at the time
– first person reports of Buchenwald, shocking ghastly stories neglected from modern reports of the camps
– bitter heart-wrenching poems of soldiers from the fronts
– sweet stories of life back home, still edged with fatigue and loss and an undertone of the global anxieties, and stories of life with what we now call PTSD or depression or anxiety or others
– “Should Jews Return to Germany?”
– Ad: the misunderstood science that led to putting iodine in gasoline
– “Prithee, Little Book, Who Made Thee?”
– Ad: “Coal? Yes, indeed, it’s a big item in the drugstore!”
– Ad: “For the first time in history, a world without poverty and without war is technically possible. Whether we achieve it depends on how well we understand the ‘Economies Of Peace’.”
– book reviews of and advertisements for works by Henry James, Upton Sinclair, Thomas Mann, John Crowe Ransom, W. H. Auden, and other familiar names.

Somehow, “As We May Think” takes on a different flavor in the context of essays, and poems like this snippet from Sasserath, which resonate so very differently now than when they were written, that echo with limits and struggles that repeat now in some places and yet have become fictions in others.

“We who must live on substitutes for life,
The powdered egg, the dehydrated spud, …
Or learn the art of love with plastic limbs …”
“On Anodynes, by Simpson Sasserath, RT2/c

Reading and seeing “As We May Think” in the context of the series of which it was a part, similarly lends a depth that makes it seem even more extraordinary. The series was called, “A Scientist Looks at Tomorrow,” beginning in 1945 ad stretching to at least 1947. It included titles such as these:

– The Social Animal / Caryl P. Haskins
– Stars, Proteins, and Nations / Philippe Le Corbeiller
– A Design for Fighting / Harlow Shapley
– Penicillin, Plasma Fractionation, and the Physician / Dr. John F. Fulton
– A Physicist Returns from the War / I. I. Rabi
– Psychiatry and the Way / Big. Gen. William G. Menninger
– DDT and the Balance of Nature / V. B. Wigglesworth

I’m now curious to find them all, as a fascinating window into what was considered the cutting edge of emerging technologies in the mid-1940s. But the few sentences that resonated with me most closely came from a few months after the Bush essay, towards the end of the year, in an essay called, “The Return to Love,” by Rollo Walter Brown.

We can take our choice. If we do not believe that the awakening, the generosity, the loyalty, the warmth, expressed in love can transform the world into something more livable than what we now have, then we can take the alternative and believe that husbands and wives who cannot endure each other, neighbors who cannot endure each other, races who cannot endure each other, people who scoff at anyone who would make an improvement, can somehow, added together, constitute one world living in amity. We can wait among our raucous hatreds until somebody somewhere decides to enforce his special hatred with some super-super atomic bomb. That is something definite and “realistic.” But might we not have a more interesting world if we tried love?

Celebrating Women Inventors at UofM (for #AdaLovelaceDay)

Ada Lovelace Day in Second Life

Why Ada Lovelace Day matters, asks the Guardian today. Usually people celebrate by highlighting famous women scientists. I asked myself, what about right here, right now? What are women scientists and inventors doing at the University of Michigan?

I figured the best way to find out was to go through the UM Tech Transfer database of Available Technologies for licensing. I skimmed the most recently deposited 100 inventions, looking for women. I found inventions in education and healthcare (even new cell lines!). I also found women inventing new batteries and biosensors, researchers working in engineering and code and physics, and even, yes, gamma rays! Some were prolific with MANY inventions listed recently. Most had one or two. They are ALL fabulous. And I am proud to say I know some of them personally. Take a look. See what cool smart women are inventing here. And remember: The sky is the limit!

Elizabeth W. Anderson – Responsible Conduct of Research for K Awardees (RCR4K) | Trainer’s Guide for Responsible Conduct of Research for K Awardees (RCR4K)

Valeria Bertacco – Post-Silicon Bug Diagnosis with Inconsistent Executions

Sarah Hawley – iCanDecide Conjoint Analysis Breast Cancer Treatment Decision Aid (ICanDecide)

Jane E. Huggins – Direct Brain-Computer Interface for Cognitive Assessment

Lori L. Isom – beta1/Contactin Cell Line

Helen C. Kales – WeCareAdvisor (based on her DICE method for dementia management)

Naheed Wali Khan – Multimodal Imaging in Retinal Diseases

Michelle Meade – Mobile Game for Spinal Cord Injury Health and Behavioral Rehabilitation

Sandra I. Merkel – Face, Legs, Activity, Cry, Consolability (FLACC) Observational Tool as a Measure of Pain

Janis Miller – Self-Instructional Voiding/Intake Diary and Individualizing Target Bladder Health Goals through Beverage Management

Mahta Moghaddam –
Method of Including Full-Wave Source Model in Acoustic and Electromagnetic Scattering and Inverse Scattering Formulations
Antenna and Propagation Model for Free-space Measurements and Experimental Inverse Scattering
Method for Large-Domain Microwave Breast Imaging

Sara Pozzi – Combined Scintillator-based Neutron and Gamma-ray Dosimeter

Emily Kaplan Mower Provost – Smartphone app for aphasia therapy

Mary C. Ruffolo PhD – Online evidence-based practice training modules

Melanie S. Sanford –
Organic Anolyte Materials for Flow Batteries
Generation of Ag18F and its use in the synthesis of PET radiotracers

Mary Simoni – Block M Records (University of Michigan Recordings) (Catalog)

Nancy Butler Songer – Evidence-based Learning Method for K-12 Students to Evaluate the Ecological Impacts of Climate Change

Laurie Sutch – Teaching and Technology Collaborative Workshop Registration System

Amy J. Teddy – Online concussion education for parents and coaches

Margaret S. Wooldridge – Cylinder Pressure and Heat Release Analysis Tool for Advanced Combustion Engines

Laboratory Life Online, Part 1 (A HOTW Post)

Second Life: Nanotechnology Island

There has been a lot of science communication (#SciComm) action on Twitter recently centering around what does life look like for real scientists. I have a head start on this because when I was a little tyke, my dad dragged me into the lab with him and told me things like to watch the door of the High Wind Velocity Testing Lab so that the tornado didn’t get out while he was working on his mass spectrometer lithium sample testing. What can I say? I was gullible. So all those fun lifestyle pithy tweets will come in a later post, but for today, here is proof of presence of laboratories on Twitter. For the record, there are a lot more of these in each category, because Twitter’s search limits don’t return complete results for matches to the search criteria. Basically, that means I found a lot of these by browsing, when I should have been able to find them through search. I hope this is a useful resource. Enjoy!


American Laboratory
Lab Design News
Lab Guru
Lab Life (@LabLife)
Lab Spaces
Lab TV
Laboratory EQAS
Laboratory Equipment
Laboratory News
Laboratory Products


Cardinale Lab (ecology and biodiversity lab)
Decision Lab
Edelstein Lab
Lauring Lab
Mahon Lab @CMU_Antarctica
Michigan Tech High Performance Computing (HPC) @MichiganTechHPC
MLabs (pathology)
National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (@NSCL)
NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL)
Tronson Lab
U.M. Sex Lab
U Mich Concept Lab
University of Michigan Childhood Disparities Research Laboratory (@UMCDRL)


Ames Laboratory @Ames_Laboratory
Argonne National Lab @argonne
Berkeley Lab @BerkeleyLab
Berkeley Lab CS @LBNLcs
Brookhaven Nat’l Lab @BrookhavenLab
DOE Science
Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) @ESnetUpdates
Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC) @federallabs
Fermilab @Fermilab
Idaho National Lab @INL
ISS U.S. National Laboratory, Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) (@ISS_CASIS)
Jefferson Lab P.A. @Jblab
LBNL Media Report @LBNLmediareport
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) @Livermore_Lab
Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) @LosAlamosNatLab
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) – Health (@LANL_Health)
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) – Space
National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC)
National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) @NETL_News
National High Magnetic Field Laboratory @NationalMagLab
National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) @NREL
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) @NASAJPL
NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory (AOML)
NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL)
Oak Ridge National Laboratory @ORNL
Oak Ridge National Lab, Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (ORNL Manufacturing) @ORNLMDF
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) @PNNLab
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) @PPPLab
Sandia National Labs @SandiaLabs [Sandia National Labs @SandiaLabsUVM
Sanford Lab @SanfordLab
Savannah River National Laboratory @SRSNews
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory @SLAClab
U.S. Army Research Labs
U.S. Global Development Lab


Arne Lindqvist Lab (cancer research) @LindqvistLab
Boulby Laboratory (deep underground science)
Cavendish Laboratory (physics)
Happe Lab (autism research)
Hewlett Packard Labs
HHS Idea Lab
MIT Lincoln Laboratory
MIT Media Lab
National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) Media Labs
Public Laboratory (open source) @PublicLab
Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory @SuicideResearch
The Food Lab
U.K. National Nuclear Laboratory @UKNNL
Wired Gadget Lab @GadgetLab
Wise Laboratory (toxicology)

From the Arxiv (What Caught My Eye Last Week)

Quantifying the impact of weak, strong, and super ties in scientific careers
Alexander Michael Petersen
Soundbite: “We find that super ties contribute to above-average productivity and a 17% citation increase per publication, thus identifying these partnerships – the analog of life partners – as a major factor in science career development.”

Do we need another coffee house? The amenity space and the evolution of neighborhoods
César A. Hidalgo, Elisa E. Castañer
Soundbite: “Neighborhoods populated by amenities, such as restaurants, cafes, and libraries, are considered to be a key property of desirable cities. … Finally, we use the Amenity Space to build a recommender system that identifies the amenities that are missing in a neighborhood given its current pattern of specialization.”

Liberating language research from dogmas of the 20th century
Ramon Ferrer-i-Cancho, Carlos Gómez-Rodríguez
Soundbite: ” Those tenets can be summarized as a belief in the existence of word order constraints that cannot be explained by evolutionary processes or requirements of performance or learning, and instead require either (a) heavy assumptions that compromise the parsimony of linguistic theory as a whole or (b) explanations based on internal constraints of obscure nature.”
Interesting: “We submitted our commentary to PNAS but it was rejected. We hope that the availability of our submission helps to liberate language research from dogmas of the 20th century”

Estimating Reproducibility in Genome-Wide Association Studies
Wei Jiang, Jing-Hao Xue, Weichuan Yu
Soundbite: “This can be used to generate a list of potentially true associations in the irreproducible findings for further scrutiny.”

Nucleosome positioning: resources and tools online
Vladimir B. Teif
About: Gene Regulation Info
Includes: Nucleosome positioning datasets sorted by cell type

Combining exome and gene expression datasets in one graphical model of disease to empower the discovery of disease mechanisms
Aziz M. Mezlini, Fabio Fuligni, Adam Shlien, Anna Goldenberg
Soundbite: “It is not unusual to observe a significant gene expression change in thousands of genes, the majority being a downstream, rather than the driver, effect (e.g. inflammation, drug response, etc) Additionally, and more importantly, there is a large heterogeneity in gene expression in cancer: many patients within the same subtype will appear to have an abberant expression. These variations are of unknown cause.”

Using Genetic Distance to Infer the Accuracy of Genomic Prediction
Marco Scutari, Ian Mackay, David Balding
Soundbite: ” In human genetics, decay curves could be used study to what extent predictions are accurate and thus to improve the performance of medical diagnostics for the general population. In plant and animal breeding, on the other hand, it is common to incorporate distantly related individuals in selection programs to maintain a sufficient level of genetic variability.”

Population genomics of intrapatient HIV-1 evolution
Fabio Zanini, Johanna Brodin, Lina Thebo, Christa Lanz, Göran Bratt, Jan Albert, Richard A. Neher
Soundbite: “In most patients, the virus populations was initially homogeneous and diversified over the years, as expected for an infection with a single or small number of similar founder viruses (Keele et al., 2008). In two patients, p3 and p10, the first sample displayed diversity consistent with the transmission of several variants from the same donor.”
Soundbite: “Our reasoning proceeds as follows. Figure 6B indicates that diversity accumulates over a time frame of 2-4 years, i.e., about 1,000 days. Recombination at a rate of 10−5/bp/day hits a genome on average every 100 bps in 1000 days. Mutations further apart than 100bps are hence often separated by recombination and retain little linkage consistent with the observed decay length in Figure 7.”

Inadequate experimental methods and erroneous epilepsy diagnostic criteria result in confounding acquired focal epilepsy with genetic absence epilepsy
Raimondo D’Ambrosio, Clifford L. Eastman, John W. Miller
Soundbite: “Because the authors could not induce focal seizures by FPI, they ended up comparing absence epilepsy in their controls with absence epilepsy in FPI rats, and concluded that they look similar. They also used inappropriate epilepsy diagnostic criteria that cannot distinguish between focal non-convulsive seizures and genetic absence epilepsy. Moreover, the authors failed to consider all literature conflicting with their conclusion, and surmised similarities between the absence epilepsy in their rats with the focal seizures we induce by rpFPI.”

Reduction of Alzheimer’s disease beta-amyloid pathology in the absence of gut microbiota
T. Harach, N. Marungruang, N. Dutilleul, V. Cheatham, K. D. Mc Coy, J. J. Neher, M. Jucker, F. Fåk, T., Lasser, T. Bolmont
Soundbite: “Our results indicate a microbial involvement in the development of Alzheimer’s disease pathology, and suggest that microbiota may contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases.”

Fractal Fluctuations in Human Walking: Comparison of Auditory and Visually Guided Stepping
Philippe Terrier
Soundbite: “[B]ecause it can be assumed that AC and VC mobilize the same motor pathways, they can probably be used alternatively in gait rehabilitation. The efficiency of VC to enhance walking abilities in patients with neurological gait disorders needs further studies. However, the high gait variability induced by VC might have detrimental effects, for instance, a lower dynamic balance. This should be taken into account in the development of VC rehabilitation methods.”

The Brain Uses Reliability of Stimulus Information when Making Perceptual Decisions
Sebastian Bitzer, Stefan J. Kiebel
Soundbite: “Our analysis suggests that the brain estimates the reliability of the stimulus on a short time scale of at most a few hundred milliseconds.”

Brain Model of Information Based Exchange
James Kozloski
Coolness: IBM Neural Tissue Simulator (about NTS | NTS slides | 1st article)

Interplay between the local information based behavioral responses and the epidemic spreading in complex networks
Can Liu, Jia-Rong Xie, Han-Shuang Chen, Hai-Feng Zhang, Ming Tang
Soundbite: “The spreading of an infectious disease can trigger human behavior responses to the disease, which in turn plays a crucial role on the spreading of epidemic…. Our finding indicates that, with the increasing of the response rate, the epidemic threshold is enhanced and the prevalence of epidemic is reduced.”

Identification and modeling of discoverers in online social systems
Matus Medo, Manuel S. Mariani, An Zeng, Yi-Cheng Zhang
Soundbite: “We develop an analytical time-aware framework which shows that when individuals make choices — which item to buy, for example — in online social systems, a small fraction of them is consistently successful in discovering popular items long before they actually become popular. We argue that these users, whom we refer to as discoverers, are fundamentally different from the previously known opinion leaders, influentials, and innovators.”

Time-aware Analysis and Ranking of Lurkers in Social Networks
Andrea Tagarelli, Roberto Interdonato
Soundbite: “Our goal in this work is to push forward research in lurker mining in a twofold manner: (i) to provide an in-depth analysis of temporal aspects that aims to unveil the behavior of lurkers and their relations with other users, and (ii) to enhance existing methods for ranking lurkers by integrating different time-aware properties concerning information-production and information-consumption actions.”

Plain Language Summaries for Translation in Science

First posted at the Krafty Librarian blog.


At MLA last May, I was walking around the vendor hall, like most of us who attended, I assume. I was on a mission, though. I stopped by every vendor table that had anything to do with publishing or translational science, and talked with them at length about the idea of having plain language abstracts. I’ve been a fan of plain language initiatives for a long time, as evidenced by our library’s Plain Language Medical Dictionary app from some years ago. I wish I could say that I was doing this as a direct result of the PNAS article on the topic published in March, but no such luck. That would have helped make my arguments more compelling, I’m sure. I found the article today, thanks to the National Science Communication Institute retweeting Len Fisher.

A circuitous route, but effective enough to reach me. The article in question was this.

Lauren M. Kuehne and Julian D. Olden. Opinion: Lay summaries needed to enhance science communication. PNAS 112(12):3585–3586. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1500882112

The article was short and sweet. It talked briefly (very briefly) about alternative modes of science communication, such as social media and blogs, and how they impact on audience, understanding, and adoption of new ideas. The authors then pointed out that these are limited to the few who choose to follow that channel, and it misses the benefits and affordances of mass media channels, a concept which they illustrated with a diagram of how they perceived the connections between the information channels and the audiences. Here’s the gist of it.

Scientists communicate with the public through these channels:
1) Social media and press releases
2) Journalist contacts
3) Lay abstracts
4) Traditional abstracts

The potential audiences are:
1) Public
2) Managers and decisionmakers
3) Scientists in other fields
4) Scientists in your own field

So far so good? There are obviously many more potential audiences as you subdivide these. In my conversations I was rather fond of mentioning insurance companies and agents as critical links in the chain of adopting healthcare innovations who are perhaps more likely to benefit from a plain language abstract. I also talked about the importance of highly motivated patients who take new articles to their clinicians as a recent and influential loop in the information chain that changes practice. For benefits to come through these channels requires not simply that there be a version of the abstract that is in plain language (a lay summary) but also, and equally important, that those lay summaries not be behind a paywall. One of the publishers was absolutely sure their abstracts were not being a paywall, and then when they went to show me, well (ahem), they found they were. As in, the abstracts were locked behind a paywall. Oops.

The most important part of the article’s diagram was the very subtle sideways dashes. Where do the journalists get the hook, the info that leads them to ask more questions and write those mass media articles that reach such large audiences? What triggers the journalist to reach out for those important conversations with the scientists? Well, the press releases, of course. That’s why our organizations work so hard on them. Seeing something posted and reposted on social media is another good way to reach them. But the traditional abstract? Not so much. The traditional abstract is crafted explicitly for other scientists in your field, and only partly for scientists beyond that. Now, a lay summary, a plain language abstract, that has HUGE potential as a way to reach journalists. It’s another marketing tool, beyond being the right thing to do to help patients, or to help get science into the hands of those who actually use it, or to help influence clinical practice and foster more rapid adoption of new discoveries and treatments.

The WORST Thing About Depression is …

Pic of the day - Not a Happy Musical

There is a fantastic, passionate, profoundly honest, deeply wrenching effort going on RIGHT NOW to try to take the stigma out of depression. What I’m talking about is the movement gathering under the hashtag #TheWorstPartOfDepressionIs. People are telling their stories, and the stories of those they love, with and without names, but always with bald-faced honesty. They describe the ways in which expectations, interactions, judgments, sensations, and experiences serve to compound what is already a paralyzing destructive illness. Here are just a few of these amazing tweets.








At The Movies: Tactile Art & Tech for Autism

David Chesney is Back. This Time With Sean Ahlquist (Art & Architecture) and Sile O’Modhrain (Music). The project being highlighted this time is designed to use a flexible stretch “coloring book” to provide a kind of engaging biofeedback to children with autism regarding the amount of pressure they are using. This would have been fantastic to have when my son was small.

David Chesney: “The research that I do here at the University of Michigan is at the intersection of technology and childhood disability.”

Tactile Art | MichEpedia | MconneX

University researchers and students create device designed to aid in Autism therapy

More videos about the project from Dr. Ahlquist.

Social Sensory Surfaces Research Project from Sean Ahlquist on Vimeo.

Social Sensory Surfaces Research Project

Stretch|PLAY from Sean Ahlquist on Vimeo.


Social Sensory Surfaces:

Related work from Dr. Chesney on his work with autism.

Software Engineering Class Hacks Autism

Digital avatars help children with autism – w/video

Hacking Autism and University of Michigan

Video games help autistic students in classrooms

More interesting projects by Dr. Chesney & his students.

Untapped Resonance: David Chesney at TEDxUofM

Engineering with Grace:
Engineering with Grace: Software class aims to help one teen communicate:
Computer Science with Soul:

Provost’s Seminar on Teaching – Presenter David Chesney