Science, Health & Tech

We cover these essential linchpins of the Pittsburgh regional economy, and how they impact residents' personal health and employment. 

Laurl Valn / Flickr

In a sparsely decorated office in Braddock, two men are trying to build a parking payment empire and it all started with a lunchtime conversation.

“One of our colleagues, she opened up her purse to help chip in and instead of pulling out money she pulled out a fist full of parking tickets,” said MeterFeeder co-founder and CEO Jim Gibbs. “She looked at us with desperation in her eyes and said, ‘If you make an app where I can pay for parking I would use it every day.’ And two weeks later MeterFeeder was born.”

NASA

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are working on technology that could help make a human mission to Mars possible.

Flickr user Yale Rosen

Bacteria that cause Legionnaires' disease have been found in two water tanks at Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side.

Staff Sgt. Regina Machine / U.S. Army

Earlier this week in Westmoreland County, the Hempfield Township’s zoning hearing board decided to allow a teenage girl to keep her four pet therapy chickens despite initial neighbor complaints.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

In an open layout room filled with natural light, Carnegie Mellon University Human-Computer Interaction Institute PhD students Yang Zhang and Gierad Laput fiddle with wires and switch on levers. The tables in front of them are covered in interfaces, sensors and tools, and several nearby glass walls display multi-colored formulas and troubleshooting lists. This, Laput says, is the Future Interfaces Group research lab.

Akira Ohgaki / flickr

When it comes to treating a stroke, experts say time loss equals brain loss. Matthew Kesinger, founder and CEO of Forest Devices Inc., developed a device entering clinical trials that aims to decrease time loss by diagnosing strokes faster and more accurately.

Luyen Chou / Flickr

  

Jeff Blood has been fishing for more than 50 years. He’s cast his line for steelhead in Lake Erie, trout in State College and mined waters as far away as Alaska, Europe, South America and Central America.

“I have lots and lots of memories,” Blood said.

He's one of more than 800,000 licensed fishermen and women in Pennsylvania, according to Angler Labs founder Nic Wilson. It’s a growing sport, Wilson said -- one he loves. And it's that passion that inspired Wilson to create a soon-to-launch data tracking app for fishing enthusiasts.

Courtesy Maker Faire Pittsburgh

Maker Faire Pittsburgh is now accepting applications from artists, scientists, inventors and tinkerers who want to showcase their work at this year’s event.

“Maker Faire is the greatest show-and-tell on earth,” said lead organizer Kayce Dewey. “It’s a combination between craft fair meets science fair meets Burning Man.”

U.S. Food and Drug Administration / Flickr

Advances in 3-D printing are making prosthetic limbs more affordable and easier to acquire.

A global community called e-Nabling the Future is making low-cost prosthetic hands across the world. A traditional prosthetic limb can cost a person thousands of dollars, but the hands produced by e-Nabling, are free.

Rev. Xanatos / Flickr

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh said they have made a major discovery that could lead to new treatments for Parkinson’s disease.

Scientists have long known that people whose brains make too much of a protein called alpha-synuclein end up getting Parkinson’s, but they didn’t know why that particular protein was toxic to brain tissue.

Flickr user Hitthatswitch

A lab worker at the University of Pittsburgh has contracted the Zika virus by accidentally sticking herself with a needle.

The Allegheny County Health Department reported the county’s fourth case Thursday.

According to a Pitt spokesman, the accident occurred on May 23. The worker developed symptoms by June 1 and returned to work on June 6.

In a statement, ACHD director Karen Hacker said, “there is still no current risk of contracting Zika from mosquitos in Allegheny County.”

Jamie / Flickr

Pennsylvania has used a prescription drug monitoring program and database since 1972 and it’s due for an upgrade.

“Although it was a prescription monitoring system, it was woefully inadequate,” said Michael Zemaitis, a University of Pittsburgh pharmaceutical science professor.

Takashi Toyooka / Flickr

Reviewing a lengthy legal document can be a long and tedious task.

“Imagine looking at a computer screen for eight hours a day reading legal terms and trying to find the needle in the haystack,” said Alan Veeck, vice president of Denali Group, a Pittsburgh-based procurement service. “Doing that for eight hours makes your eyes bleed.”

LegalSifter, based in Lawrenceville, is offering an alternative. The program ContractSifter uses algorithms to extract certain terms and phrases from thick, wordy, legal documents, said CEO Kevin Miller.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

Nancy Furbee, of Wexford, has her smartphone loaded with apps, like many people. But she has strategically placed two health related apps right where her thumb hovers each time she unlocks her iPhone.

“Because it really keeps me focused," she said. "And every time I look at my phone, they’re a little smack in the face to remind me to not eat too many things and to really keep honest with my fitness goals."

Furbee said her friends greatly impact her app choices.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Updated: 12:45 p.m. May 6, 2016. 

One of the Phipps Conservatory’s most popular and pungent flowers is gearing up to bloom again this year.

Lack Of Summer Donations Leaves Blood Banks Dry

Jun 6, 2016
Charleston's TheDigitel / Flickr

Most people are focused on outdoor activities or travel in the summer, but not usually donating blood.

“(They) sometimes tend to forget that people need blood to survive,” said Central Blood Bank spokeswoman Megan Lakatos. “Summer gets in the way.”

Though fewer people think to donate blood during the warmer months, demand for blood transfusions stays constant, she said. To combat the issue, blood banks are launching campaigns focused on rewarding blood donors who make appointments during the summer.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Patients of all stripes leaned back in rows of dental chairs on the main floor of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center early Friday for free procedures ranging from walk-in cleanings to root canals and extractions.

Jennifer Szweda Jordan / 90.5 FM WESA

A locally made app called Seekahoo connects electrical, plumbing and other contractors with customers. The concept may sound like the well-known site Angie’s List, but Seekahoo's creators said they designed their platform with contractors in mind.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

The cicadas are back after 17 years underground, and cicada mania is in full swing.

Flickr user Microbe World

A Pennsylvania woman has been infected with a rare form of E. coli that is resistant to a last-resort antibiotic, typically only administered when all other antibiotics have proven ineffective.

Courtesy Carnegie Mellon University

Graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University have discovered a method for classifying nerve fibers that could accelerate the pace of brain-mapping projects.

Spilled pill bottle
Charles Williams / Flickr

Pennsylvania is experiencing an overdose epidemic.

Allegheny County alone has seen its number fatal drug overdoses nearly double over the past five years, from 227 in 2010 to 409 in 2015. Neighboring West Virginia, where more than 35 residents out of every 100,000 died of drug overdoses in 2014, is home to the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country.     

Meet Herb, A Robot To One Day Help Around The House

May 24, 2016
Carnegie Mellon University

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Personal Robotics Lab have spent years working on ways to make robots execute subtle, human-like movements in the hopes of helping around the house. 

With cameras for eyes, two thick arms and the occasional bowtie, Herb – an acronym for home exploring robot butler – only recently learned to move a cup across a table.

"We’re trying to get robots to be able to work in a home environment," said Carnegie Mellon University Ph.D. student Jennifer King. 

Flickr user Giulia Forsythe

Graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University will spend 24 hours this week trying to “hack” the brain using big data.

OpenBiome

They're not as ubiquitous as blood or sperm banks, but another kind of biological substance also sits in cold storage ready to treat desperately ill or ailing patients. In Pittsburgh, the use of stool banks for fecal transplants is on the rise.

Virginia Alvino / 90.5 WESA

This month, Pittsburgh officials and members of the organization Donate Life are encouraging locals to consider becoming organ donors.

According to Donate Life, there are more than 8,000 people in Pennsylvania waiting to receive organ transplants. Most transplanted organs come from deceased donors, but just 46 percent of Pennsylvanians are registered eye, organ and tissue donors. While advocates are working to increase that number, they're also looking for more options to meet the demand.

For some, like Steve Debakawitz, that’s a living donor.

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

Saint Bartholomew School student Daryl Jean, of Penn Hills said she can’t understand why more girls don’t get excited about science and technology.

“I feel like girls, they can like science and stuff, but they don’t understand it, and some boys can be intimidating,” she said. “But I think you should try your best, because there’s a lot of inspiration out there.”

The American Association of University Women tried to kick start some of that inspiration in young Pittsburghers last weekend with its “Tech Savvy” computer coding workshop at La Roche College.

Flickr user t b

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have unraveled one of the longstanding mysteries of how our sense of smell works.

Harrisburg Ramping Up Lead Testing, Remediation Efforts

May 12, 2016
Emily Previti / WITF

Lead-based paint remains in homes in cities nationwide, including many in Pennsylvania, despite long-standing awareness of health risks to young children.

So Hamilton Health Center, located in one of Harrisburg's most distressed neighborhoods, already does free lead-exposure screenings for children under six.

But a new partnership with the city will mean the health center gets new equipment that will mean faster testing and response.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Health insurer Highmark is launching a new mobile health clinic in an attempt to bring care to those who find it difficult to get to the doctor’s office.

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