Anima Anandkumar wants computer scientists to move beyond the matrix, among other challenges.
Anima Anandkumar, Bren Professor of computing at the California Institute of Technology and senior director of machine learning research at Nvidia, has a bone to pick with the matrix. Her misgivings are not about the sci-fi movies, but about mathematical matrices — grids of numbers or variables used throughout computer science. While researchers typically use matrices to study the relationships and patterns hiding within large sets of data, these tools are best suited for two-way relationships. Complicated processes like social dynamics, on the other hand, involve higher-order interactions.
Luckily, Anandkumar has long savored such challenges. When she recalls Ugadi, a new year’s festival she celebrated as a child in Mysore (now Mysuru), India, two flavors stand out: jaggery, an unrefined sugar representing life’s sweetness, and neem, bitter blossoms representing life’s setbacks and difficulties. “It’s one of the most bitter things you can think about,” she said.
She’d typically load up on the neem, she said. “I want challenges.”
Read the full story in Quanta Magazine
These scientists created living robots out of frog cells. Now these “Xenobots” are reproducing.
IT WOULD PROBABLY have been the science story of the year—any other year. In January 2020, a team of biologists, roboticists and computer scientists announced that they had created the world’s first living robots. These Xenobots were cells culled from a frog, sculpted with the help of an evolutionary algorithm, and then set free to roam under the microscope. Liberated from the constraints of frogness, these cells had designs of their own. They collaborated. They interacted. They performed basic tasks. And eventually, in more recent experiments, they started to multiply.
This is the team’s latest revelation: Xenobots can autonomously assemble identical copies of themselves from individual cells floating in the spring water around them.
Read the full story in GROW.
ACS ChemMatters Magazine
Aidan Mouat credits “dumb luck” for setting him on a path from chemist to CEO. Mouat has for the past six years run Hazel Technologies, which invented a small packet of chemicals to keep food fresh longer before reaching grocers.
If your store shelves are stocked year-round, you might wonder why these pouches are useful in the first place. What you don’t see is what gets thrown away. The reality is that the world produces “a colossal amount of food waste,” Mouat says. “We have a food system that is focused very heavily on production, instead of efficiency.” So, Mouat and his company co-founders devised a way to help prevent produce spoilage on its way from farm to store.
Read the full story in the December issue of ChemMatters
Ask Brandon Presley about any twist and turn in his chemistry journey, and he’ll tell you about people: The high school teacher who gave him the courage to sink his teeth into chemistry; the family and friends who encouraged him; and the mentors and colleagues who gave him focus when he’d spread himself too thin. For Presley, that deep connection between chemistry and people motivates him every day.
Read the full story and Q&A in ACS ChemMatters (Printed in the April 2021 Issue)
In her new book, Brandy Schillace recalls the unbelievable legacy of a Cold War era neurosurgeon’s mission to preserve the soul.
BRANDY SCHILLACE SOMETIMES writes fiction, but her new book is not that. Schillace, a medical historian, promises that her Cold War-era tale of a surgeon, neuroscientist, and father of 10 obsessed with transplanting heads is true from start to finish.
Schillace came across the story behind her book, Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher, somewhat serendipitously: One day, her friend, Cleveland neurologist Michael DeGeorgia, called her to his office. He quietly slid a battered shoebox toward her, inviting her to open it. Schillace obliged, half-worried it might contain a brain. She pulled out a notebook—perhaps from the ‘50s or ‘60s, she says—and started to leaf through it.
“There’s all these strange little notes and stuff about mice and brains and brain slices, and these little flecks,” Schillace says. “I was like, ‘What … what are all these marks?’”
Probably blood, DeGeorgia told her. The blood-flecked notebook belonged to Robert White, a neurosurgeon who spent decades performing head transplants on monkeys, hoping to eventually use the procedure to give human brains new bodies.
Read the full story and Q&A in WIRED
Po-Shen Loh has harnessed his competitive impulses and iconoclastic tendencies to reinvigorate the U.S. Math Olympiad program.
Po-Shen Loh has resurrected the United States International Mathematical Olympiad team, leading it to four first-place rankings in the last six years as the team’s head coach.
But in 2002, when a friend suggested Loh apply for an open position as a grader with the team, he hesitated. “I had never thought to apply before,” Loh said. “Not because I didn’t want to. But because I thought there are better people out there.”
He eventually agreed, and by the end of the team’s June 2002 training program, he’d made an impression. “Somehow I got voted best lecturer,” he said. In 2013 the Mathematical Association of America, which coordinates the team, asked Loh to become the head coach. He accepted, and two years later the U.S. achieved a top ranking in the IMO for the first time in 21 years.
Read the full story in Quanta Magazine
ACS CHEMMATTERS MAGAZINE
Yajaira Sierra-Sastre is always looking for new worlds to explore. As a young girl growing up in Puerto Rico, she gazed at stars through a clear night sky. “My first passion was for anything related to astronomy and planets and stars and space,” she says. Sierra-Sastre fell in love with science during childhood, and went on to study chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez.“I could see chemistry all around me,” Sierra-Sastre says. After graduating, she started on a path to connect her studies with the real world in as many new ways as possible. “I had this desire of just going out on an adventure.”
In the 20 years since, she has used her degree to teach high school chemistry; earn a PhD making nanomaterials for space experiments; help create new types of textiles and batteries; spend months living in a Mars simulation; and oversee the research projects that keep printed money secure.
Read the full story and Q&A in ACS ChemMatters Magazine (Printed in February 2021 Issue)
Laura Hoch’s career began with a murder. Well, not a real murder—a murder-mystery game staged by her high school chemistry teachers in central Pennsylvania.
“There would be all these clues, and then you put together a forensic report based on all you’ve been able to find out by analyzing stuff,” she says. “It wasn’t on my radar to be a chemist, but I just had that memory of chemistry being really fun and interesting.”
Read the full story and Q&A in ACS ChemMatters Magazine (Printed in December 2020 Issue)
Tosca Terán and Sara Lisa Vogl speak with Massive about stimulating senses in their art
Nature can feel you. Its roots, leaves, and vegetative filaments don’t sense with fingertips or retinas. But they can feel your approach and touch, react accordingly.
In a forthcoming art installation for the Goethe-Institut’s New Nature project, a group of artists want to translate these alien sensations and immerse you in their world. Their “Symbiosis/Dysbiosis” uses fungi, electrodes, lights, sound, and virtual reality to launch you in the microbiome all around you.
Read the full story and Q&A in Massive Science
From ant colonies to single-celled slime mold, biologist Audrey Dussutour explores the wonders of animal cognition.
Audrey Dussutour is not shy about admitting that her career, and fame, is a bit of an accident. The French specialist in animal behavior didn’t set out to make discoveries about slime minds, or to write a hugely popular book (Le Blob) about the single-celled learners. “It was not my wish to work on slime molds at all,” Dussutour told Massive, letting out a slow sigh. The first time she saw the organism, as a postdoctoral fellow in Australia, she thought, “My gosh it’s really disgusting. What can I do with this thing?”
Dussutour radiates an infectious passion for slime molds. “It’s one of the most interesting systems to study because it’s a single cell, but you can actually see it with your naked eye,” she says. Now a researcher at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, Dussutour studies how ant colonies and patches of slime molds — neither of which have a central brain — can make decisions with distributed intelligence and emergent plasticity.
Read the full story and Q&A at Science Friday or Massive Science