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Making Tomorrow Happen http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow Northeastern University Research Fri, 22 May 2015 18:49:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ferdi Hellweger studies urban water safety http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/ferdi-hellweger-studies-urban-water-safety http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/ferdi-hellweger-studies-urban-water-safety#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 18:48:46 +0000 http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/?p=625
Hellweger is fascinated by the idea that city dwellers worldwide could someday swim in urban waterways like Boston’s Charles River, as they did decades ago. Existing tests for water-borne pathogens are slow and imprecise, making it difficult to know at a given moment which sections of a river are safe. To fix that, Hellweger builds mathematical models to depict and analyze how plumes of bacteria move through creeks, lakes, rivers, and other water bodies located in cities. By tracking the path of E.coli and other microbes, Hellweger is discovering more about the conditions that sustain or derail such pathogens. Hellweger’s models will help policymakers and city residents predict, in real time, the location and levels of bacteria and where it is safe to swim—bringing his vision of urban swimming holes one step closer to reality.]]>
Hellweger is fascinated by the idea that city dwellers worldwide could someday swim in urban waterways like Boston’s Charles River, as they did decades ago. Existing tests for water-borne pathogens are slow and imprecise, making it difficult to know at a given moment which sections of a river are safe. To fix that, Hellweger builds mathematical models to depict and analyze how plumes of bacteria move through creeks, lakes, rivers, and other water bodies located in cities. By tracking the path of E.coli and other microbes, Hellweger is discovering more about the conditions that sustain or derail such pathogens. Hellweger’s models will help policymakers and city residents predict, in real time, the location and levels of bacteria and where it is safe to swim—bringing his vision of urban swimming holes one step closer to reality.]]> http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/ferdi-hellweger-studies-urban-water-safety/feed 0 Len Albright tracks sustainable design http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/len-albright-tracks-sustainable-design http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/len-albright-tracks-sustainable-design#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 18:46:31 +0000 http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/?p=622
Albright, a leading thinker on urban sustainability, says U.S. cities spent the last century hiding nature behind concrete and steel. Now many cities are embracing nature as a new generation of city dwellers craves green space amid skyscrapers. Albright explores how communities react to climate change and create resilient spaces in which to live, work, and play. As a sociologist and author of the upcoming book The Urban Fish, Albright is especially intrigued by how cities across the U.S. are re-thinking their use of vital waterways. By unearthing buried sections of river, building creek-side trails, and supporting locally sourced fish—among other initiatives—cities are bringing nature back to the urban jungle. Restoring waterways to their natural form has added benefits, he says: improving residents’ wellbeing, spurring tourism and economic growth, and buffering the landscape against natural disasters. By tracking patterns in sustainable design, Albright will help urban planners and policymakers imagine and build cities of the future.]]>
Albright, a leading thinker on urban sustainability, says U.S. cities spent the last century hiding nature behind concrete and steel. Now many cities are embracing nature as a new generation of city dwellers craves green space amid skyscrapers. Albright explores how communities react to climate change and create resilient spaces in which to live, work, and play. As a sociologist and author of the upcoming book The Urban Fish, Albright is especially intrigued by how cities across the U.S. are re-thinking their use of vital waterways. By unearthing buried sections of river, building creek-side trails, and supporting locally sourced fish—among other initiatives—cities are bringing nature back to the urban jungle. Restoring waterways to their natural form has added benefits, he says: improving residents’ wellbeing, spurring tourism and economic growth, and buffering the landscape against natural disasters. By tracking patterns in sustainable design, Albright will help urban planners and policymakers imagine and build cities of the future.]]> http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/len-albright-tracks-sustainable-design/feed 0 Randall Hughes shores up coastal wetlands http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/randall-hughes-shores-up-coastal-wetlands http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/randall-hughes-shores-up-coastal-wetlands#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 20:28:31 +0000 http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/?p=619
Coastal wetlands are one of the most valuable natural ecosystems based on the benefits they provide to humans, yet they are also one of the most undervalued ecosystems, according to the global conservation group WWF. In fact, a study of the role of coastal wetlands in reducing the severity of impact from hurricanes in the U.S. found that they provided storm protection services with an estimated value of more than $28 billion a year, according to a 2009 study published in Annual Reviews of Marine Science. The total dollar value of wetlands benefits—including nutrient removal, providing fish and shrimp nurseries, food production, recreation, and providing raw materials for fur trapping—was estimated to be $14.3 trillion. Hughes’ team looks at why and how marsh plant diversification factors into conservation and restoration of coastal wetlands. Using data collected from a large-scale Marine Biological Laboratory TIDE study, she and her team are looking at how rising nutrient levels affect different marsh grass species, which form the foundation of coastal wetlands. The body of evidence she and her team are compiling will help urban policymakers make smarter decisions when it comes to rebuilding and protecting wetlands—and help shore up cities against storms like Hurricane Sandy.]]>
Coastal wetlands are one of the most valuable natural ecosystems based on the benefits they provide to humans, yet they are also one of the most undervalued ecosystems, according to the global conservation group WWF. In fact, a study of the role of coastal wetlands in reducing the severity of impact from hurricanes in the U.S. found that they provided storm protection services with an estimated value of more than $28 billion a year, according to a 2009 study published in Annual Reviews of Marine Science. The total dollar value of wetlands benefits—including nutrient removal, providing fish and shrimp nurseries, food production, recreation, and providing raw materials for fur trapping—was estimated to be $14.3 trillion. Hughes’ team looks at why and how marsh plant diversification factors into conservation and restoration of coastal wetlands. Using data collected from a large-scale Marine Biological Laboratory TIDE study, she and her team are looking at how rising nutrient levels affect different marsh grass species, which form the foundation of coastal wetlands. The body of evidence she and her team are compiling will help urban policymakers make smarter decisions when it comes to rebuilding and protecting wetlands—and help shore up cities against storms like Hurricane Sandy.]]> http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/randall-hughes-shores-up-coastal-wetlands/feed 0 Richard Roberts oversees rare ocean genomics library http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/richard-roberts-oversees-rare-ocean-genomics-library http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/richard-roberts-oversees-rare-ocean-genomics-library#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 20:26:01 +0000 http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/?p=616
The ocean is one of the earth’s most enigmatic places—a biologically rich environment about which much is still unknown. Roberts, a Nobel laureate and an expert in genomics and molecular biology, helps lead a first-of-its kind “library” that could unlock the secrets of the sea. As board chairman of Northeastern’s Ocean Genome Legacy, Roberts oversees a research team that is gathering genetic information from more than 4,000 rare and endangered marine species. This resource is housed at Northeastern’s state-of-the-art Marine Science Center in Nahant, Massachusetts. Scientists worldwide can access the genomes, or DNA blueprints, to study organisms that are rapidly disappearing from our oceans. By learning more about the genetics of imperiled marine life, researchers can develop ways to protect the sea from threats like pollution and over-fishing. Scientists can explore this trove of DNA data for many other purposes, including creating new medicines, restoring vanishing ecosystems, and curbing climate change.]]>
The ocean is one of the earth’s most enigmatic places—a biologically rich environment about which much is still unknown. Roberts, a Nobel laureate and an expert in genomics and molecular biology, helps lead a first-of-its kind “library” that could unlock the secrets of the sea. As board chairman of Northeastern’s Ocean Genome Legacy, Roberts oversees a research team that is gathering genetic information from more than 4,000 rare and endangered marine species. This resource is housed at Northeastern’s state-of-the-art Marine Science Center in Nahant, Massachusetts. Scientists worldwide can access the genomes, or DNA blueprints, to study organisms that are rapidly disappearing from our oceans. By learning more about the genetics of imperiled marine life, researchers can develop ways to protect the sea from threats like pollution and over-fishing. Scientists can explore this trove of DNA data for many other purposes, including creating new medicines, restoring vanishing ecosystems, and curbing climate change.]]> http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/richard-roberts-oversees-rare-ocean-genomics-library/feed 0 April Gu pioneers new water testing technology http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/april-gu-pioneers-new-water-testing-technology http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/april-gu-pioneers-new-water-testing-technology#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 17:57:21 +0000 http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/?p=611
April Gu is pioneering new technologies to quickly and effectively identify toxic substances in drinking water in both developed and developing nations. Scientists suspect there are hundreds or even thousands of chemicals in a single glass of water. But existing water-quality tests—even in first-world countries—are often time-consuming and imprecise, which means that most of the chemicals in our water remain a mystery. Gu wants to change that. Gu and her team are creating devices such as a nanobiosensor that would detect in water trace amounts of increasingly common environmental pollutants, such as antibiotics and endocrine disrupting compounds. If consumed daily, such chemicals could lead to health issues later, including cancer and reproductive problems. Gu’s test will arm policymakers with more precise data about our water—the first step toward developing better technologies and regulatory will to clean it.]]>
April Gu is pioneering new technologies to quickly and effectively identify toxic substances in drinking water in both developed and developing nations. Scientists suspect there are hundreds or even thousands of chemicals in a single glass of water. But existing water-quality tests—even in first-world countries—are often time-consuming and imprecise, which means that most of the chemicals in our water remain a mystery. Gu wants to change that. Gu and her team are creating devices such as a nanobiosensor that would detect in water trace amounts of increasingly common environmental pollutants, such as antibiotics and endocrine disrupting compounds. If consumed daily, such chemicals could lead to health issues later, including cancer and reproductive problems. Gu’s test will arm policymakers with more precise data about our water—the first step toward developing better technologies and regulatory will to clean it.]]> http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/april-gu-pioneers-new-water-testing-technology/feed 0 Stacy Marsella creates virtual humans http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/healthcare-delivery/stacy-marsella-creates-virtual-humans http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/healthcare-delivery/stacy-marsella-creates-virtual-humans#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 14:13:40 +0000 http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/?p=548
Marsella, a leader in the field of human-computer interaction, is opening whole new possibilities for computers to promote healthy behavior and help us learn more about how and why people act as they do. Using a combination of psychological models and machine learning tools—including technologies pioneered by Marsella and his research partners—he is creating virtual humans that interact with people in ways that are more human than virtual. Picking up on voice and visual cues—a hesitant reply or a downcast gaze, for example—Marsella’s virtual humans can infer the emotions of a human subject and respond with meaningful questions and comments, while using the kind of realistic facial expressions and hand gestures that are lubricants to human interaction. Marsella and his team are making computational models of behavior easier to assess by putting them into human form. These virtual humans also have practical applications as coaches in tasks such as teaching medical students how to break bad news to patients and helping gay men avoid risky behaviors. ]]>
Marsella, a leader in the field of human-computer interaction, is opening whole new possibilities for computers to promote healthy behavior and help us learn more about how and why people act as they do. Using a combination of psychological models and machine learning tools—including technologies pioneered by Marsella and his research partners—he is creating virtual humans that interact with people in ways that are more human than virtual. Picking up on voice and visual cues—a hesitant reply or a downcast gaze, for example—Marsella’s virtual humans can infer the emotions of a human subject and respond with meaningful questions and comments, while using the kind of realistic facial expressions and hand gestures that are lubricants to human interaction. Marsella and his team are making computational models of behavior easier to assess by putting them into human form. These virtual humans also have practical applications as coaches in tasks such as teaching medical students how to break bad news to patients and helping gay men avoid risky behaviors. ]]> http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/healthcare-delivery/stacy-marsella-creates-virtual-humans/feed 0 Carol Livermore integrates origami into tissue engineering http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/curing-disease/carol-livermore-integrates-origami-into-tissue-engineering http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/curing-disease/carol-livermore-integrates-origami-into-tissue-engineering#comments Tue, 11 Mar 2014 17:07:39 +0000 http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/?p=537
Engineering tissue to create livers and other human organs for transplant is a fast-growing field in biotechnology. To overcome one of its critical challenges, Livermore is applying the ancient Japanese art of paper folding, origami. Current tissue engineering methods lack precision in placing blood vessels and other organic structures. Backed by a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Livermore and her team are attempting to solve that by working with origami artists and theorists to assemble different cell types onto a biocompatible, two-dimensional scaffold—the “paper.” The example Livermore holds here was created by renowned origami artist Robert Lang. By folding the scaffold correctly, they could construct a three-dimensional block of tissue with the blood vessels and other structures running through it, she says—much like some origami designs neatly fold into a 3D object, such as a bird or flower. They have successfully tested an initial stage of this technique, inducing mouse cells to self assemble at specific locations on two-dimensional surfaces. The next step, says Livermore, will be determining how to “unfold” an existing piece of tissue to provide a template for the scaffold.]]>
Engineering tissue to create livers and other human organs for transplant is a fast-growing field in biotechnology. To overcome one of its critical challenges, Livermore is applying the ancient Japanese art of paper folding, origami. Current tissue engineering methods lack precision in placing blood vessels and other organic structures. Backed by a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Livermore and her team are attempting to solve that by working with origami artists and theorists to assemble different cell types onto a biocompatible, two-dimensional scaffold—the “paper.” The example Livermore holds here was created by renowned origami artist Robert Lang. By folding the scaffold correctly, they could construct a three-dimensional block of tissue with the blood vessels and other structures running through it, she says—much like some origami designs neatly fold into a 3D object, such as a bird or flower. They have successfully tested an initial stage of this technique, inducing mouse cells to self assemble at specific locations on two-dimensional surfaces. The next step, says Livermore, will be determining how to “unfold” an existing piece of tissue to provide a template for the scaffold.]]> http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/curing-disease/carol-livermore-integrates-origami-into-tissue-engineering/feed 0 Mark Patterson advances undersea monitoring http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/mark-patterson-advances-undersea-monitoring http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/mark-patterson-advances-undersea-monitoring#comments Wed, 05 Mar 2014 20:53:20 +0000 http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/?p=528
Understanding, predicting, and ultimately mitigating the impact of climate change on our urban coastlines requires close, continuous monitoring of earth’s oceans, as well as its atmosphere. But manned diving expeditions are expensive and limited in the amount of ocean area they can cover. To overcome those constraints, Patterson has developed a line of autonomous, underwater robots known as Fetches. Equipped with GPS, cameras, and various types of sensors, Fetch bots can collect vast amounts of data over time about water movement and the ocean floor, marine life populations, the condition of coral reefs, and oxygen levels. “The robot is thinking for itself, executing its mission, dealing with unforeseen circumstances, trying to preserve itself, and reacting to things it sees in the coastal zone,” says Patterson. By deploying a small army of Fetch bots, scientists gain a more accurate picture of how and where the ocean is changing, and the impact of oceanic change on our climate and coastlines. ]]>
Understanding, predicting, and ultimately mitigating the impact of climate change on our urban coastlines requires close, continuous monitoring of earth’s oceans, as well as its atmosphere. But manned diving expeditions are expensive and limited in the amount of ocean area they can cover. To overcome those constraints, Patterson has developed a line of autonomous, underwater robots known as Fetches. Equipped with GPS, cameras, and various types of sensors, Fetch bots can collect vast amounts of data over time about water movement and the ocean floor, marine life populations, the condition of coral reefs, and oxygen levels. “The robot is thinking for itself, executing its mission, dealing with unforeseen circumstances, trying to preserve itself, and reacting to things it sees in the coastal zone,” says Patterson. By deploying a small army of Fetch bots, scientists gain a more accurate picture of how and where the ocean is changing, and the impact of oceanic change on our climate and coastlines. ]]> http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/urban-sustainability/mark-patterson-advances-undersea-monitoring/feed 0 Rebecca Carrier advances drug delivery http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/curing-disease/rebecca-carrier-advances-drug-delivery http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/curing-disease/rebecca-carrier-advances-drug-delivery#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 21:35:57 +0000 http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/?p=516
Scientists and doctors have long known that food digestion affects the way the body absorbs not just nutrients, but also drugs. Fat molecules, in particular, can help people absorb drugs, including oral chemotherapy treatments, more efficiently. What we have yet to discover are the details of this process that would enable doctors to fine-tune drug dosages, minimize side effects, and make drug delivery more efficient. But Carrier may soon be able to start filling in those knowledge gaps. With funding support from the National Institutes of Health, she and her team are gaining a clearer understanding of the mechanisms behind this phenomenon. In one project, they’re developing predictive models for how ingested lipids, or fat molecules, change the way the body absorbs different compounds. In a second project that will help advance the modeling goal, Carrier’s lab is exploring the properties of the gastrointestinal mucus barrier, which simultaneously protects the body from harmful bacteria while allowing the absorption of needed vitamins and nutrients.]]>
Scientists and doctors have long known that food digestion affects the way the body absorbs not just nutrients, but also drugs. Fat molecules, in particular, can help people absorb drugs, including oral chemotherapy treatments, more efficiently. What we have yet to discover are the details of this process that would enable doctors to fine-tune drug dosages, minimize side effects, and make drug delivery more efficient. But Carrier may soon be able to start filling in those knowledge gaps. With funding support from the National Institutes of Health, she and her team are gaining a clearer understanding of the mechanisms behind this phenomenon. In one project, they’re developing predictive models for how ingested lipids, or fat molecules, change the way the body absorbs different compounds. In a second project that will help advance the modeling goal, Carrier’s lab is exploring the properties of the gastrointestinal mucus barrier, which simultaneously protects the body from harmful bacteria while allowing the absorption of needed vitamins and nutrients.]]> http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/curing-disease/rebecca-carrier-advances-drug-delivery/feed 0 Auroop Ganguly pursues extreme weather trends http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/infrastructure-resilience/auroop-ganguly-pursues-weather-trends http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/infrastructure-resilience/auroop-ganguly-pursues-weather-trends#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 18:05:38 +0000 http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/?p=480
In the past, engineers were able to design electrical and water systems to handle weather extremes—heat waves, cold snaps, storms, and drought—simply by understanding and accounting for normal climate fluctuations. But climate change has made extreme events far less predictable in severity and frequency, making it harder to plan for them, says Ganguly. He and his team are searching for trends in today’s extreme weather to give design engineers and public policymakers a more reliable basis for developing tomorrow’s infrastructure projects. Spotting those trends requires the analysis of huge amounts of climate and engineering data, according to Ganguly. The trick, he says, is to “extract the small data that we care about”—instances of rare weather events and how they’ve changed from the storms and droughts of the past, and real and potential causes of infrastructure failure. The ability to apply highly integrated computational analysis techniques to weather data makes Ganguly’s team uniquely suited to help cities and towns build greater structural resiliency.]]>
In the past, engineers were able to design electrical and water systems to handle weather extremes—heat waves, cold snaps, storms, and drought—simply by understanding and accounting for normal climate fluctuations. But climate change has made extreme events far less predictable in severity and frequency, making it harder to plan for them, says Ganguly. He and his team are searching for trends in today’s extreme weather to give design engineers and public policymakers a more reliable basis for developing tomorrow’s infrastructure projects. Spotting those trends requires the analysis of huge amounts of climate and engineering data, according to Ganguly. The trick, he says, is to “extract the small data that we care about”—instances of rare weather events and how they’ve changed from the storms and droughts of the past, and real and potential causes of infrastructure failure. The ability to apply highly integrated computational analysis techniques to weather data makes Ganguly’s team uniquely suited to help cities and towns build greater structural resiliency.]]> http://www.northeastern.edu/tomorrow/infrastructure-resilience/auroop-ganguly-pursues-weather-trends/feed 0
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