Science & Innovation

News about science and innovation

The Department of Energy (DOE) has announced it will approve grant funding for the design and licensing of two small modular nuclear reactors (SMR) to bring nuclear energy to a condensed area.

Representatives Tim Murphy (R-PA-18) and Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) introduced legislation last year calling for a public-private partnership. Murphy explained that the approval from the DOE is for competitive grants, and the companies must have a 50 percent cost-sharing through private investment.

Pennsylvania state Representatives and Senators received an overall failing grade on recent Marcellus Shale gas drilling votes, according to a new score card released today.

Environmental groups— PennEnvironment, Clean Water Action, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, and Sierra Club— graded all 253 Pennsylvania state lawmakers on how they voted on HB 1950.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is following the lead other counties have taken, in proposing legislation that would authorize an impact fee on Marcellus Shale natural gas wells in the county. Such a move, he said, would help take pressure off residents.

"This is another way to get revenues from the Marcellus Shale operations, it's basically an extraction fee, an extraction tax, which I think most people support in trying to alleviate the pressure on property tax," said Fitzgerald.

Pitt Researchers Make Bandwidth Discovery

Mar 19, 2012

A University of Pittsburgh research team believes transmitting data through fiber optics could be one thousand times faster.

Dr. Hrvoje Petek, a professor of physics and chemistry at Pitt, and Muneaki Hase, a professor of applied physics at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, partnered to create a fiber optic frequency comb, improving the speed information could travel.

Petek said people use fiber optic technology daily.

More than 80 worship leaders are set to meet with experts at the University of Pittsburgh's Voice Center on Sunday for a seminar on vocal health.

Voice Center Associate Director Jackie Gartner-Schmidt said many religious leaders experience vocal strain when delivering long, emotional sermons.

"We're rarely paying attention to how we speak and the emotions of what we're saying," said Gartner-Schmidt. "Especially in worship team, praise team, and worship leading, sometimes the emotion and speaking loudly, we can get a little carried away and our voice can take a hit."

CMU Research Sheds Light on Chinese Censorship

Mar 13, 2012

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have published a report showing that the Chinese government is censoring more internet content than previously believed.

Lead author David Bamman said Chinese censors blocked 16% of the 57 million microblog posts he monitored.

The posts were censored for a variety of reasons. Some were spam, others were pornographic, but Bamman said the most highly deleted terms were political.

Pittsburgh Zoo Loses “Unique Animal”

Mar 12, 2012

"Noname," the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium's Komodo dragon for more than 14 years, died during surgery on Sunday.

Henry Kacprzyk, curator of reptiles and Kids Kingdom at the zoo, said Noname came to Pittsburgh from the National Zoo. He said Disney's Animal Kingdom also wanted the animal, but the National Zoo thought the staff in Pittsburgh was more professional.

He said Noname became comfortable with people and their presence.

The Carnegie Science Center is holding an exposition to introduce middle school and high school students to career options in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In its twelfth year, "SciTech Days" is expected to bring in more than 3,000 students this week, learning about STEM professions from about 40 businesses and universities. Another 3,000 are expected in the November edition of SciTech Days.

Linda Ortenzo, Director of STEM Programs at the Science Center, said the students get to see how science and technology are used in business.

PA Turnpike Tolling Could Become Fully Electronic

Mar 6, 2012

Paying a toll on the Pennsylvania turnpike could become a thing of the past…well, kind of.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announced it will continue to pursue a conversion to an All-Electronic Toll (AET) collection system, which could enhance safety, improve customer convenience and increase operational efficiency.

Peoples Natural Gas is asking the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to approve a base rate increase of $28.4 million to fund its modernization efforts. The plan, which began last year, is to replace all 44 miles of cast iron pipes throughout the company's system.

"We look at the cast iron pipeline system as the most at-risk pipelines." said Joe Gregorini, Vice President of Rates and Regulatory Affairs. "The fact is that's fairly old pipeline that's been around many, many years."

Fallingwater App Now Avaliable

Feb 27, 2012

Ever wonder if there was a way to carry Fallingwater in your pocket all the time? Now you can have interactive photos and videos of Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece on your smart phone and in your hand.

The Fallingwater app was developed by in-D media, a multimedia company, for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which owns Fallingwater. The app includes 275 color photos, 17 virtual reality panoramas, and 25 minutes of video.

Linda Wagner, director of Fallingwater, said one of the most fascinating things about the app is its interactive content.

Virtual pickpocketing may have just become more challenging.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have created a new method to improve credit card security that allows a card to be turned "on" and "off."

With new technology such as Near-Field Communications (NFC) and Radio Frequency Identification (ID), consumers no longer have to swipe their credit card to make a purchase or withdraw money. Instead, they may simply "wave" their card over a scanner.

Penn State Explores Direct Digital Manufacturing

Feb 21, 2012

By the time the next academic year rolls around, scientists at Penn State University hope to have a cutting-edge manufacturing technology lab installed on campus.

Leaders of the school's Center for Innovative Materials Processing (CIMP) said the new facility explores "direct digital manufacturing" — a relatively new process by which machines can create products automatically, using only a digital blueprint.

Essentially, an engineer would be able to enter specifications into a computer and pick up the real, finished product at the other end of the lab shortly thereafter.

Highmark has chosen Verizon to develop Pennsylvania's first comprehensive health information exchange (HIE). Doctors will be able to enter a patient's information into a system that will then be accessible by other physicians treating that patient.

"Health information exchanges are designed to provide a clearinghouse for health care providers and hospitals to share and exchange information to improve patient care," said Aaron Billger, a spokesman for Highmark.

Track Crime In Your Area Online

Feb 20, 2012

The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Deliquency (PCCD) has launched a new website that will give the public better access to crime-related data.

The website is a clearinghouse for state and county justice statistics, data trends, and PCCD-funded research and evaluations. The site includes general information about crime in specific communities, including number of arrests, types of offenses, and the number of people incarcerated and paroled. The information is free and open to the public.

Different Approach To Environmental Argument

Feb 10, 2012

People either believe in climate changing patterns, or they don't. Dr. Andrew Hoffman, Director of the Erb Institute at the University of Michigan, looks beyond the scientific debate and considers the social aspect of the believers and non-believers.

Website Helps People Evaluate Tweets

Feb 6, 2012

Wonder what people think about your recent tweets? Well, a new website is offering feedback if users agree to anonymously rate tweets from people they follow.

"Who Gives a Tweet?" is a collaboration among researchers at Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Over 19 days, 1,443 visitors to the site rated more than 43,000 tweets.

CMU researcher Paul André said social media often help people express interest in things but not their dislikes.

One Year Later, Obama’s Energy Efficiency Plan Is Stalled

Feb 3, 2012

After last year's State of the Union Address, President Obama traveled around the country rolling out specific details of a broad policy platform he called "win the future." He made a stop at Penn State where he focused on a topic he admitted sounds kind of boring: improving energy efficiency.

"Everybody focuses on cars and gas prices and that's understandable. But our homes and our buisnesses use 40 percent of the energy," said Mr. Obama.

New Energy Coalition Touts Power of Wind

Feb 2, 2012

"I don't think the average consumer knows they have a choice about where their electricity supply comes from," said Katie Bellezza, marketing manager at EverPower Wind Holdings, Inc., at Thurday's ChoosePAWind website launch. A new wind energy coalition rolled out the program in Pittsburgh with the goal of educating the public about the benefits of wind energy, and how to buy it locally.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) latest report finds reserve estimates for the Marcellus Shale formation are dramatically lower than reported last year. The estimate in the Annual Energy Outlook 2012 (AEO2012) is 141 trillion cubic feet of gas, compared to 410 trillion in 2011.

Policy and Communications Director for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Steve Forde, said that isn't of much concern, and added that the estimate is simply a "snapshot in time." He said the coalition will continue to look at longer-term trends.

Marcellus Legislation Enters Final Phase as Budget Talks Loom

Jan 17, 2012

Reconciliation is underway in the state legislature for separate Senate and House versions of a bill that mandates impact fees on Marcellus shale gas drilling. Leaders from both chambers are working out discrepancies in the amount of the fee and how it will be collected, among other details.

With budget negotiations set to begin in earnest shortly, lawmakers are under pressure to wrap up the impact fee legislation in the next few weeks. Governor Tom Corbett said he'd like to see a final version by February 7.

A new DNA sequencing machine from Ion Torrent, a unit of Life Technologies Corporation, makes it possible to analyze a person's entire genome in just one day for $1,000. Previously that would take weeks and cost about $10,000, making it an impractical diagnostic tool.

Now that the cost and time have decreased, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Yale, and Baylor will study whether the technology can be put to practical use.

How One Thousand Pounds Of Butter Becomes Three Days’ Worth Of Energy

Jan 13, 2012

A dizzying fall from grace is in store for the Pennsylvania Farm Show's famed butter sculpture.

Thousands of people have snapped pictures of the refrigerated sculpture, which depicts a boy leading his prize-winning calf through a county fair.

Next week, however, a Juniata County farmer will unceremoniously dump it into a manure pit.

That's because he's turning the sculpture into methane gas. One thousand pounds of butter, it turns out, creates enough energy to power a farm for three days.

If the Well Blows, it's Time for a Specialist

Jan 9, 2012

When a natural gas well has a blow out or catches fire there is really only one option to call after dialing 911. More likely than not, it's the job of a Texas-based well plugging team to stop a spill or put out a blaze.

Wild Well Control uses sophisticated and sometimes remotely controlled equipment to do the work, equipment that is not found in your local fire hall. But there is competition coming into the market, a firm called Boots and Coots is making a name for itself.

Study Could Lead to New Vaccination Method

Dec 29, 2011

A new study from researchers at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh may be a first step in creating vaccines that protect people against a wider range of bacteria.

According to the research of Pitt professor Dr. Jay Kolls and his colleagues, vaccines to prepare "T" cells for infection rather than "B" cells might give people more bang for their buck.

The Carnegie Science Center will soon be selling round-trip tickets to the sun.

As part of a new 3-D presentation called SolarQuest: Exploration of the Sun-Earth System, the Science Center will dive into the study of heliophysics, a branch of science that looks into the continuous interactions between the earth and sun.

Survey Looks at Lack of STEM Diversity

Dec 7, 2011

Bayer Corporation's annual national survey polled department chairs at the top 200 research universities about the under-representation of women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) majors.

The professors found women to be the most well-prepared group, and under-represented minorities the least. However, women graduate in lesser numbers than white or Asian males, as do even those minorities who are comparably prepared.

Carnegie Science Center To Grow Career Programs

Nov 30, 2011

The Carnegie Science Center has teamed up with the Chevron Center to grow and promote a STEM Education and Career Development. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Those are fields that provide high-paying employment opportunities, but there are not always large numbers of students seeking out those fields.

The majority of electric consumers in Pennsylvania know that they can change their supplier, but only half have looked into the option, according to panelists who met with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commisison (PUC) earlier this month.

Environmental Group Releases Report on Green Infrastructure

Nov 21, 2011

Pittsburgh is making progress in using green infrastructure to combat water pollution, but more improvement is needed. That's one of the findings of the National Resources Defense Council's second "Rooftops to Rivers" report which explored the efforts of 14 cities.

David Beckman, Director of NRDC's Water Program, said green infrastructure mitigates urban storm water run-off and sewage overflows by using environmentally friendly practices to capture rainwater before it floods into storm drains or overwhelms sewer systems.

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