Science & Innovation

News about science and innovation

The Big Brain Theory

  The Big Brain Theory premiered this week on the Discovery Channel. The reality TV series seeks to find the next big innovators through extreme engineering challenges. All of the contestants must work on teams but the threat of elimination means individual creativity is also necessary. Contestants Eric Whitman and Joel Ifill come from Carnegie Mellon University, and live in Pittsburgh. They talk about the pressures they encountered on the Big Brain Theory.

Carnegie Mellon University

Thousands of high school students from across the country will compete in a first-of-its-kind computer security competition starting today. It’s being run out of Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Morning Edition host Josh Raulerson speaks with CMU professor David Brumley, who helped to organize the event.

Ticks are about as well-loved as invasive dental surgery, so it’s likely a relief to many that 2013 is forecast to be an average or below average tick year, according to the Carey Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

Despite that prediction, it’s still important to be wary of ticks, said Ed Rajotte, a professor of entomology at Penn State.

An institute formed in 1913 to help support basic chemistry research in Pittsburgh has been given Historic Landmark Status by the American Chemical Society. The Mellon Institute, which was eventually absorbed into Carnegie Mellon University, was recognized in a small ceremony Thursday for the work that went on inside its walls between the two great wars.

People may soon be able to charge purchases to their personal accounts with the tips of their fingers, thanks to a new invention from four students at Carnegie Mellon University.

Brian Groudan, Kelly Lau-Kee, Umang Patel and Christian Reyes came together in their senior year to create PayTango, a new technology that identifies a person's fingerprint for use as a human debit card.

Pop City Innovation News

Mar 26, 2013
Pop City Media

  Each week, the e-zine Pop City publishes stories of Pittsburgh’s newest innovations, startups and more. Pop City Tech and Innovation reporter Debra Smit joins us now for a look at Pittsburgh’s innovation news. Could Pittsburgh become a hub for "big data?"

Carnegie Mellon University

Imagine this situation: There is a fire in a warehouse creeping toward explosive material.

But instead of the fire department sending in firefighters, a robot saves the day by moving the material to a safe location.

A robotics team at Carnegie Mellon University is working to create that robot.

The team says the robot looks like a monkey and is named CHIMP (CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform).

The machine is being built to work in human situations with tools normal responders would work with.

How Is Your School Doing?

Mar 15, 2013
Shannan Muskopf / Flickr

How Is Your School Doing? is an interactive tool that allows parents and residents to see how their district is performing. Enter a child's grade and demographic subdivision — white, black, male, female, etc. — and you'll be able to see how your school compares to others in your district, how your child's demographic is being served and where your school stacks up statewide.  Developer and Pittsburgh Post Gazette Reporter, Andrew McGill talks about how the program works.

This segment originally aired on Essential Pittsburgh on October 30, 2012

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Frisbee-throwing robots are the main event in a competition at Pitt’s Peterson Events Center Friday and Saturday.

Talking TechShop and Innovation with Deb Smit

Feb 28, 2013
Pop City Media

Pop City reporter, Debra Diamond Smit returns with a look at TechShop Pittsburgh, an innovative way for people to test out their manufacturing ideas. And Birchmere Ventures, a big name in venture capital starts funding the little guys with Birchmere Labs.

Cyber Crime Conversation Continued

Feb 28, 2013
Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

We'll continue our conversation with Mike Prusisnki, Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist for the cyber intelligence company Tiversa. A new report from the Federal Trade Commission gives a comprehensive break down of credit complaints.

For more information on what you heard in this segment, visit:

Cyber Crime on the Rise

Feb 25, 2013
IntelFree Press / Flickr

According to a survey released last week 12.6 million Americans were victimized by identity theft in 2012. We'll learn how this happens, why this crime is on the rise and what you can do to protect yourself with Mike Prusisnki, Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist of the cyber intelligence company Tiversa.

Selected Key Findings from the survey

Identity fraud incidents and amount stolen increased—The number of identity fraud incidents increased by one million more consumers over the past year, and the dollar amount stolen increased to $21 billion, a three-year high but still significantly lower than the all-time high of $47 billion in 2004. This equates to 1 incident of identity fraud every 3 seconds.

1 in 4 data breach notification recipients became a victim of identity fraud—This year, almost 1 in 4 consumers that received a data breach letter became a victim of identity fraud, which is the highest rate since 2010. This underscores the need for consumers to take all notifications seriously. Not all breaches are created equal. The study found consumers who had their Social Security number compromised in a data breach were 5 times more likely to be a fraud victim than an average consumer.

Fraudsters misuse information fewer days than before—Consumer information was misused for an average of 48 days in 2012, down from 55 days in 2011 and 95 days in 2010. Misuse time was down for all types of fraud including fraud on cards, loans, bank accounts, mobile phone bills and other types of fraud due to consumer and industry action.  More than 50 percent of victims were actively detecting fraud using financial alerts, credit monitoring or identity protection services and by monitoring their accounts.

Small retailers are losing out—Fraud victims are more selective where they shop after an incident, and small businesses were the most dramatically impacted. The study found that 15 percent of all fraud victims decided to change behaviors and avoid smaller online merchants. This is a much greater percentage than those that avoid gaming sites or larger retailers.

Millions of people around the world get paid to perform small online tasks for private companies. By most estimates, these 'crowd workers' get paid anywhere from $3 to $9 per hour to gather information, transcribe text, or evaluate websites. Some work for as many as 50 companies in one day, with flexible hours and little commitment.

Usually, there are no contracts, no unions, and no opportunities for training or advancement. Sometimes, there's no pay at all.

Misconceptions people have of evolution lead them to believe males are the workers in every species and that some species are more advanced than others.

That’s according to Dr. Marlene Zuk, professor of ecology at the University of Minnesota and tonight's speaker at Duquesne University’s annual Darwin Day lecture.

She said people often see progressive evolutionary charts in biology books, ones where fish evolve into reptiles, then reptiles to mammals.

What’s bigger than a shrew and smaller than a squirrel?

It’s not a riddle for an international research team but rather part of the answer to a question the team explored.  With the 5,100 species of placentals alive today--from animals that walk, or fly or swim and, of course, humans, what could their common ancestor possibly look like. 

A team of 23 researchers has just completed a six-year groundbreaking study of the evolution of placental mammals, as they tried to construct “The Tree of Life” --well, at least the mammalian branches of that tree.

'A Digital Playground for Teachers'

Feb 7, 2013

In a bustling room jam-packed with hi-tech gadgets at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Waterfront office, Sam Cohen drags a cursor across his computer screen. A little pixilated dragon follows close behind. Sam and the dragon swerve to avoid airplanes, cars, and any number of other obstacles as they advance from level to level.

“This is my dragon, the basic sprite, and this first code here, that makes the dragon follow the mouse pointer," he explains, pointing to the screen.

Despite earning a $431,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study semiconductors, Duquesne University associate chemistry professor Dr. Jennifer Aitken has no delusion that her research team will find the next important synthetic material to hit the markets.

"The odds are that we won't find the next best material," said Aitken. "More people fail than will succeed."

W28C4 Y68R P27S9O73S... (Watch Your Passwords)!

Jan 29, 2013

While teachers may have scolded your bad grammar in school, it could make for a stronger password.

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have built a password cracker that takes into account grammar and parts of speech to steal a password.

Ashwini Rao, a software engineering Ph.D. student at CMU who led the research team, said the cracker is different from others out there.

“Those take one dictionary word and make changes to it. They could combine maybe at max two words, but not more than that.”

More than one billion people around the world are active on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and more than a billion people have smart phones. To mark “Data Privacy Day” professors at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science hosted a panel examining how mobile apps and social networking impact user privacy. The consensus was that as of now, mobile privacy is unchartered territory. Wrap.mp3

The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) is introducing its latest, one-of-a-kind supercomputer to the national community Friday.

Mid-Atlantic power company FirstEnergy has announced a plan to send scrubber material and coal combustion byproducts (CCBs) from its Bruce Mansfield Plant in Shippingport, PA to a coal mine reclamation project in La Belle, PA.

PA Soldiers Practice in Virtual World

Jan 11, 2013

The Pennsylvania National Guard’s training center at Fort Indiantown Gap is getting a new $500,000 virtual training device that allows its soldiers to be completely immersed in a virtual battlefield.

During a demonstration at the Lebanon County facility, soldiers wear helmets and virtual reality goggles. Their weapons are replicas, and they have nodules all over their bodies corresponding to their virtual avatar.

Carnegie Mellon University is issuing a large bond and accepting gifts from private donors to pay for a $62 million research facility to be constructed on campus over the next few years.

The university hopes to open the Sherman and Joyce Bowie Scott Hall in 2015 with office and lab space for nanotechnology, biomedical engineering, and energy research. Helium.mp3

When asked what comes to mind when the word “helium” is uttered, everyone I asked had the same answer – balloons, second only to references of the “chipmunk voice” sucking on the gas gives you. Balloons and silly voices are, so far, the two things being hit hardest by the helium shortage. Rhonda Bastolla is the owner of Odd and Unique Furnishings in Homestead, which sells helium balloons.

Too Much Work+Truancy=Antisocial Behavior?

Jan 7, 2013 Workers Wrap_Emily Farah_SOC.mp3

Sending a high-risk teen to work won't necessarily keep him or her out of trouble, according to a recent University of Pittsburgh study.  The research indicates  high school-age juvenile offenders who are employed during the academic year and do not attend school regularly are more likely to engage in antisocial, or destructive, behavior.

Environmental New Year's Resolutions?

Dec 31, 2012

With the New Year comes resolutions. While many people are sticking to the old "losing weight" or "getting healthy" resolution, the Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) hopes some New Year’s resolutions will include actions that will be good for the environment.  

PRC Western Regional Director Dave Mazza said you can “reduce” by buying only what you need, whether it’s paint, fertilizer, cleanser, etc.

“Reuse” means finding a group that will take used building materials, medical equipment—even pet supplies.

What's Everyone Looking At?

Dec 24, 2012 Wrap_Emily Farah_SOC.mp3

A robot that can understand human social situations is a technological curiosity that has been explored in many entertainment classics, like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who.  The exploration into the possibility didn’t stop there.  WALL-E, I Robot, and other pop-culture motion pictures have looked into the possibility of artificial intelligence interacting with humans.

At Toy Lending Library, Play Reigns Supreme

Dec 19, 2012

It’s the Holiday season and stores and companies are trying to outdo each other in toy sales. But at the Toy Lending Library in Shadyside, it’s not about buying or selling or what the hottest toy of the season is. It’s just about play. 

Are Electronic Health Records Safe, Secure?

Dec 12, 2012 Wrap_Emily Farah_SOC.mp3

The increasing use of electronic health records (EHRs) raises a concern for patient safety and their sensitive medical information.  Some claim it's just as easy for a doctor to write a prescription for the wrong drug on paper than it is to pick the wrong medication from a drop-down menu on a computer.  Critics of EHRs claim that patient safety and confidentiality is compromised when records are put on a computer server.

What Goes On At Google's Pittsburgh Office?

Dec 11, 2012

Google is one of the most high-profile companies contributing to Pittsburgh's resurrection as a tech industry hub, its familiar multicolored logo unmistakable atop the Bakery Square development its offices anchor.