Solar array using the Fibonacci formula

1. While most 13-year-olds spend their free time playing video games or cruising Facebook, one 7th grader was trekking through the woods uncovering a mystery of science. After studying how trees branch in a very specific way, Aidan Dwyer created a solar cell tree that produces 20-50% more power than a uniform array of photovoltaic panels.

2. His impressive results show that using a specific formula for distributing solar cells can drastically improve energy generation. The study earned Aidan a provisional U.S patent – it’s a rare find in the field of technology and a fantastic example of how biomimicry can drastically improve the design.

3. Aidan Dwyer took a hike through the trees last winter and took notice of patterns in the mangle of branches. His studies into how they branch in very specific ways lead him to a central guiding formula, the Fibonacci sequence. Take a number, add it to the number before it in a sequence like 1+1=2 then 2+1=3 then 3+2=5, 8, 13, 21 and so on a very specific pattern emerges.

4. Turns out the pattern and its corresponding ratios are reflected in nature all the time and Aidan’s keen observation of how trees branch according to the formula lead him to test the theory. First, he measured tree branches by how often they branch and at what degree from each other.

5. To see why they branch this way he built a small solar array using the Fibonacci formula, stepping cells at specific intervals and heights. He then compared the energy output with identical cells set in a row. Aidan reports the results: “The Fibonacci tree design performed better than the flat-panel model. The tree design made 20% more electricity and collected 2 1/2 more hours of sunlight during the day. But the most interesting results were in December when the Sun was at its lowest point in the sky. The tree design made 50% more electricity, and the collection time of sunlight was up to 50% longer!”

6. His work is certainly piquing the interest of the solar industry, and even more impressively he is demonstrating the power of biomimicry — a concept that many see as the pinnacle of good design, but one that thus far has been exceptionally difficult to achieve. Way to go!

By: Andrew Michler (Inhabitat)

Linking Trees’ Fibonacci Sequence to Solar Power Wins Student A Young Naturalist Award

1. When 13-year-old Aidan took a winter hike through the Catskill Mountains, he noticed something spectacular about the bare trees. “I thought trees were a mess of tangled branches,” he would later recall, “But [then] I saw a pattern in the way the tree branches grew.”

2. Armed with a protractor, Aidan measured the angles of the branches and discovered they grew in a Fibonacci sequence—a mathematical pattern that can be observed throughout nature, from the curve of nautilus shells to the spirals of galaxies. In this famous sequence, each number is the sum of the previous two: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, continuing infinitely. Could this branch pattern help trees absorb more sunlight? Aidan’s pursuit of that question in his essay The Secret of the Fibonacci Sequence in Trees earned him a 2011 Young Naturalist Award.

3. To test his hypothesis, Aidan constructed a model tree based on the Fibonacci sequence of an oak, using PVC pipes as branches and PV solar panels as leaves. After testing his prototype against a flat solar panel, Aidan confirmed that trees outperformed the traditional model—in winter, by as much as 50 percent.

4. As it turns out, this distribution of branches minimizes the extent to which limbs shade the leaves below them. And unlike a flat solar panel—which must be mechanically readjusted to follow the Sun’s moving path—a Fibonacci-sequence tree can still absorb light when the Sun sits low in the sky. “Collecting the most sunlight is the difference between life and death,” wrote Aidan, who thinks humans can put treelike solar panel designs to use, especially in urban spaces where sunlight is scarce. He has already applied for a patent for his PV solar panel tree.

5. For his next project, Aidan plans on comparing the Fibonacci sequences of different trees to see if one species’ branch arrangement is more efficient than another. He knows he’ll find another secret in nature if he just keeps looking up.

(Courtesy: American Museum of Natural History)

Tip on how to reduce stigma

1. People are very afraid of labeling. What more if it about labeling them as mental patients. How do I explain in order to minimize stigma?. This is just my way of doing things. You can follow if you like. The example below is how I go about normalizing the stigma about mood disorder.

Man is in fact an emotional creature. Everyone experiences happiness, sadness, fear, disgust and anger. These emotions help us to identify our place among our friends.

Emotions come and go like waves. They determine our state of mind. Everyone has ups and downs. Sometimes you feel sad and at other times you are happy. It’s very much like the waves in the South China Sea (because I am living near the South China Sea). These variation of mood is part of life. It is not unusual to feel sad in adversity.

But it is abnormal to feel sad for too long and to the extend that you cannot go to work (or to school).  When your emotional experiences are very intense, they can become like in a monsoon season.

If you descend to the depths, you are suffering from depression. If you ascend to the height you are suffering form mania. Both episodes when we total up is called bipolar disorder.

2. In most instances, my patients are happy to this kind of approach. Then you can proceed in explaining about drugs, side-effect and the important of compliance.

An Office on Every Surface

How Microsoft’s chief strategy officer views the future of our workspaces.

1. In a futuristic demo video that he showed in an internal sales meeting in 2009, Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research, and strategy officer imagined what work and life might look like a decade hence. The technologies showcased included massive touch screens connecting offices around the world, computer interfaces in tabletops, and mobile devices that receive data seamlessly.

2. Since then, mobile devices have surged in popularity, and companies including Cisco are sketching future offices based on them. Major companies are also embracing cloud computing, with Microsoft itself recently releasing Office 365, an online version of its productivity software.

3. In a time of such rapid change, Mundie recently described why his vision of data-driven spaces with interfaces built into every surface has essentially remained unchanged.

TR: What today is Microsoft’s vision of the future office?

Mundie: We will continue to see desktop computing. In fact, one of the things that I have predicted is that there will be a successor to the desktop, and I think it’s the room. There will be what I call a fixed computing environment, and it should evolve in quite dramatic ways to become a much richer and immersive experience.

We will see a lot more displays in the office, and they will be built into surfaces horizontally and also be on the walls or in the walls. I think that a kind of completely continuous model, where you are using speech, gesture, and touch in a more integrated way, will become more commonplace. There will be a subset of that fixed environment that you will want to take with you, called the portable office, and the evolution of the laptop will be that. And there will be a mobile environment, which is the phone and other devices [including] tablets of certain types.

TR: Tablets are big right now. Why don’t you see that as a key trend?

Mundie: It isn’t clear to me whether the tablet, in that exact form factor, will be a persistent thing or not. There may be other display technologies that people may look at over that longer horizon. Tablets will still be important over the next five to 10 years, but there are still things that they are not great at, particularly in this area of lifelike collaboration and interaction.

TR: So tablets and mobile devices become what, then?

Mundie: If you walk into an office and there is a big screen on the wall, and even if you have a tablet or a phone, you may decide to use them in conjunction with one another. Or the computing that is on your phone or tablet may project something on the large screen while you are there.

TR: And will we interact with these surfaces in the same way as today?

Mundie: While the graphical interface won’t disappear—as it will still be optimal for a number of detailed types of tasks—I do think that you will start to look to the computer to provide assistance at a much higher semantic level of tasks. Computers in many scenarios will present themselves to you in a personified way. You can see it happening with things like Avatar Kinect [Microsoft’s motion-capture gaming system for Xbox, which allows users to meet virtually with up to seven friends].


Categorical Brain

1. The human brain is adept at recognizing similar items and placing them into categories — for example, dog versus cat, or chair versus a table. In a new study, MIT neuroscientists have identified the brain activity that appears to control this skill.

2. The findings, published in the July 27 issue of the journal Neuron, suggest a potential explanation for why autistic children focus intently on details, but often seem unable to group things into broad categories, says Earl Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience and senior author of the paper.

3. “We think what may happen in autism is the system may get out of balance … and as a result, the details overwhelm the category. Then you have a brain that’s not only too good at memorizing details, it can’t help but memorize the details,” says Miller, a principal investigator at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT.

4. Miller and Picower postdoc Evan Antzoulatos focused their study on two brain regions, the prefrontal cortex and the striatum, which is part of a larger structure known as the basal ganglia. Both regions are known to be important for learning.

5. Until a few years ago, it was believed that the prefrontal cortex learns information quickly, then sends what it learns to the basal ganglia, which helps form habits, such as the ability to play a musical instrument. However, in 2005, Miller and colleagues showed that when monkeys learn simple tasks, their basal ganglia are more active early in the process, followed by a slower activation in the prefrontal cortex.

6. In other words, the striatum quickly learns the individual puzzle pieces, and the prefrontal cortex puts them together, Miller says. He and Antzoulatos theorized that the same pattern would be evident during category learning.

7. For the new Neuron study, Antzoulatos trained monkeys to assign patterns of dots into one of two categories. At first, the animals would see only two examples, or “exemplars,” from each category — a small enough number that they could memorize the category to which each belonged, without having to learn the general category traits.

8. After the animals learned the first two exemplars, the number would be doubled. Eventually, the number of exemplars became so great that it was impossible to memorize them, and the monkeys’ brains would start picking up on general traits that characterize each category.

9. As they did so, brain activity shifted from the striatum, a more primitive brain region, to the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for high-level functions such as planning and decision making.

10. “What happens during category learning is the more primitive, faster basal ganglia can memorize the exemplars, but then it sends what it learns up to the prefrontal cortex. And the prefrontal cortex figures out what’s common among all the exemplars, among all the individuals, and extracts the essence,” Miller says.

11. Gregory Ashby, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, says the new study represents the “clearest picture yet” of the striatum’s involvement in category learning. “We’ve known for quite a while that the striatum plays an important role in category learning, but it was not at all clear exactly what that role was,” he says.

12. In future studies, the MIT researchers hope to test their theory that autism results from an imbalance between the striatum and prefrontal cortex by interfering with the normal balance between the two brain regions and observing the results.

(Courtesy: Anne Trafton, MIT News Office)

Braking Circuit

1. Many high-end cars today come equipped with brake assist systems, which help a driver use the brakes correctly depending on particular conditions in an emergency. But what if the car could apply the brakes before the driver even moved?

2. This is what German researchers have successfully simulated, as reported in the Journal of Neural Engineering. With electrodes attached to the scalps and right legs of drivers in a driving simulator, they used both electroencephalography (EEG) and electromyography (EMG) respectively to detect the intent to brake. These electrical signals were seen 130 milliseconds before drivers actually hit the brakes—enough time to reduce the braking distance by nearly four meters.

3. Seated facing three monitors in a driving simulator, each subject was told to drive about 18 meters behind a computer-driven virtual car traveling at about 100 kilometers per hour (about 60 mph). The simulation also included oncoming traffic and winding roads. When the car ahead suddenly flashed brake lights, the human drivers also braked. With the resulting EEG and EMG data, the researchers were able to identify signals that occurred consistently during emergency brake response situations.

4. “None of these [signals] are specific to braking,” says Stefan Haufe, a researcher in the Machine Learning Group at the Technical University of Berlin and lead author of the study. “However, we show that the co-occurrence of these brain potentials is specific to sudden emergency situations, such as pre-crash situations.” So while false positives from the signal are possible, the combination of EEG and EMG data makes a false positive much less likely.

5. While this kind of brain and muscle measurement works in lab conditions, the next step—real-world application—will likely be much more difficult technically to arrange. The first thing Haufe and his team will investigate is whether or not it’s possible to accurately gather data from EEG and EMG measurements in a real-world condition. In the lab, participants were asked not to move while attached to the wires, but real-world drivers move around however they please.

6. “The current challenge is to determine how to make use of the important, but still small and unreliable, information that we can gather from the brain on the intent to brake,” says Gerwin Schalk, a brain-computer interface researcher at the New York Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center.

7. Although research into mind-reading-assisted braking systems will continue, tests involving real vehicles are likely many years away. The research may never lead to a fully automated braking system, but it could ultimately result in a system that takes brain data into account when implementing other assisted-braking measures.

8. Whether drivers would feel comfortable handing over any braking responsibility to a computer hooked up to their head is another question. “In a potential commercial application, it, of course, would have to be assessed whether customers really want that,” adds Haufe.

BY: KRISTINA BJORAN (Courtesy: Journal of Neural Engineering, Technology review, MIT)

Culturally-tailored Conversation

1. As a student in the West, once upon a time, I had to learn some body language and non-verbal utterance of the Western people. Western people dislike verbal behavior the linguist called Hedging. However, in the Eastern culture, this is acceptable.

2. In the West, these utterances are exactly equivalent to wearing a big sign that says, “please kick me off”. In the East, they indicate politeness, as one keeps oneself lower than his subject masters.

3. Look carefully at these conversations; they should be avoided in the West as they indicate weakness and low self-confidence.

– “I know this is probably a stupid question, but…”

-“I am sure everybody else knows the answer to this question except me but…”

-“I know I am wasting your time asking this question, but..”

-“I know this is against the rules and there’s no point in even asking for an exception, but..”

4. Another advice is, don’t behave like a foolish doormat when dealing with Mat Salleh. You expect to be stepped on and don’t complain about it. Look at these conversations.

Lecturer: How many pages of assignment do you think would be reasonable for your project, Mister?

Student: Oh, I don’t know anything about that! You are the expert! Whatever you say is fine with me!

Lecturer: I think 200 pages should about to cover it, then.

5. asked for it. If you expect timbang rasa, perhaps think carefully. My students may expect that from me. Eastern people perhaps acquire a higher Theory of the mind – the emphatic feeling for others.

6. If you forget to read whatever it was that you were supposed to read, never let people find out. In fact, you should cover your deficiency by asking questions and ask for more clarification, explain that you’re not sure you understand. Westerners like discussion. Don’t mention if you failed to read something which your lecturer asked you to do so. Being honest in this case, in the West, means you bring yourself down to the gutter.

7. Honesty is appreciated in the East. Most lecturers will respect students who are honest.

8. The universal conversation that I find neutral in both East and West is when students approach me at every new posting: “I am here to introduce myself” and I will reply, “Welcome to the department”.