Science & Innovation

News about science and innovation

Corbett Offers Tax Break to Shell

Jun 5, 2012

In March, Shell Oil announced it was considering building a multi-billion dollar processing plant in Pennsylvania. Governor Tom Corbett wants to give Shell a $1.7 billion tax break to convince the energy giant to build an ethane cracker plant in Beaver County that would be used to convert natural gas compounds into chemicals used to make plastic.

Rare Phenomenon to Occur as Venus Passes Before Sun

Jun 4, 2012

There's only one way humans can see a planet moving in the sky, according to Dan Malerbo, education coordinator at Carnegie Science Center's Buhl Digital Planetarium & Observatory, and that's if the planet happens to pass directly in front of the sun. Venus will be doing just that during a rare phenomenon Tuesday, June 5, at 6:04 PM.

"It's one of the astronomical highlights of the century," Malerbo said, "and what it shows us is the workings of the inner solar system."

Pittsburgh Chosen for Science Pilot Program

May 31, 2012

Pittsburgh was chosen over about ten other cities in a search for a pilot program organized by two departments of the National Academies. The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering are teaming up on the project and will begin the "Science and Engineering Ambassador Program" in the fall.

Asthma Summit Highlights Regional Problems

May 16, 2012

Pollution and high obesity rates help to make Pittsburgh fourth highest in the nation for asthma rates, according to experts at an asthma summit on the North Side on Wednesday.

Speakers at "The Air We Breathe" summit highlighted links between asthma and obesity in children, as well as the role played by air pollution and viral infections.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University used a popular social network called Foursquare to get a better understanding of the city. Foursquare allows users to "check in" at a location, and it posts the information online.

Carnegie Mellon University is offering free sightseeing visits to the roof of the U.S. Steel Tower.

Well, sort of.

Students and staff at CMU's Entertainment Technology Center have constructed a virtual world in which the one-acre space atop the skyscraper becomes an entertainment destination.

David Bear of CMU's STUDIO for Creative Inquiry said visitors to the "High Point Pittsburgh" website can wander through a three-story glass enclosure that includes a stage, a gallery, a restaurant, and even a green space.

Washington & Jefferson College hopes to elevate the debate over America's energy policy with a new index of annual data from the federal government.

The college's Center for Energy Policy and Management will oversee the new Energy Index. CEPM Director Diana Stares said the database will provide lawmakers with unbiased information.

Act 13 is the recently-passed law that regulates oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania. There are many provisions within it, including impact fees for counties, chemical disclosure regulations, and where energy development can take place. But, it's a legislative document and is therefore long and sometimes hard to understand. That's where Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture) comes in. The non-profit environmental advocacy group has released a plain-language guide and analysis.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Pittsburgh Friday, praising one of the largest pipeline modernization projects in the nation's history. Hundreds of thousands of pipes run under communities in the U.S., transporting natural gas, but many are very old and some are starting to crumble.

A year ago, Secretary LaHood called upon pipeline operators to take a hard look at their infrastructure and make needed improvements. He says companies such as NiSource, which includes Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, took that call and ran with it.

A report issued by the RAND Corporation finds that using abandoned mine drainage for hydraulic fracturing gas wells could be employed more frequently in future development, thereby lessening the burden on fresh water supplies. The report, funded by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, concludes that drainage from closed mines is plentiful, and the technology to use it is feasible.

The Allegheny Observatory in Riverview Park is the subject of a new film to be debuted Wednesday night. Undaunted looks at the history of the University of Pittsburgh owned and operated facility, first opened in 1867, and the people that brought it to life. The film goes so far as to call it the true birthplace of aviation and the field of astrophysics.

Somerset County Latest to Enact Marcellus Impact Fee

Apr 11, 2012

The Somerset County Commission has voted to enact an impact fee on Marcellus drilling operations, though at this point, they're not sure how much money that will mean for the county. At a meeting Tuesday Commissioners John Vatavuk and Joe Betta approved the fee. Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes was absent from the meeting, though Betta said she does support the move.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh in collaboration with engineers at MIT have demonstrated that a substance known as BZ gel can sense and respond to stimuli, similar to human skin.

When placed in an environment with certain agents, the gel, with a chemically-attached catalyst, will begin to pulse as it expands and contracts. Few materials can mimic this autonomous oscillation. The gel can, with the potential to restart pulses by sensing touch.

Zero Waste Pittsburgh Expands Certification Efforts

Mar 29, 2012

Zero Waste Pittsburgh is introducing ZIP certification for businesses and institutions that set and achieve greater waste reduction goals.

Zero Waste Pittsburgh is a project of the Pennsylvania Resources Council, and offers waste program evaluations, studies, technical assistance, and employee training. Since 2007, Zero Waste Pittsburgh has certified events such as the Annual Strawberry Festival, the Three Rivers Arts Festival, and the 2011 Blues Festival.

57,000 People Could Be Without Heat & Electricity

Mar 28, 2012

In a few days, a winter ban will end that's kept power companies from shutting off the heat and electricity for low-income families that haven't paid their bills.

But a legal aid non-profit is asking utilities companies to show some clemency to Pennsylvanians who need help paying those bills.

Michael Froehlich, a lawyer with the Community Legal Services based in Philadelphia, said it's an issue because more than 57,000 applications for heating assistance are still pending.

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.