Helping Farmers in East Africa- Michigan State University Researchers

Michigan State University Research

It is so exciting when researchers are able to take concepts and ideas from the classroom and apply them in a real world setting.

It is especially exciting when it means that this can make a difference in people’s lives.

That is exactly what a team of researchers from Michigan State University did when they travelled to Tanzania and Kenya to help improve agricultural practices.

MSU doctoral candidate in media and information studies, Tian Cai, and a research team, created a research project-creating low-budget videos of videos that communicated farmers perspectives for not using drought resistant maize.

Then, they  showed a group of villagers the videos followed by a discussion. The control group did not receive the videos. An additional treatment group received the videos and a text message.

This group indicated they were most likely to use drought resistant maize, which would benefit their likelihood of success, and help the environment.

This is a great example of applied research and the significant impact that researchers can have in helping those that might not have access to the necessary information and support to make lasting changes. Teachers of media studies, environmental science will especially want to share this research with their students.

For a link to the MSU news article by Nicole O’Meara, please click here. 

Questions for Discussion

  1. Who was involved in providing input at the initial one day workshop?
  2. What government agency provided funding?
  3. What is the local language of the region studied?
  4. Which condition had the most impact?
  5. What additional data would you want to review to determine the efficacy of this research?
  6. What changes might you make to this research to potentially improve its outcomes?
  7. Why did professor Steinfield say this research was aligned to the philosophy of the media and information department at Michigan State University?

Quantum Computing Innovation at Yale

Quantum Computing at Yale

Quantum computing is heralded as an important step in the development of the next generation of computing power. Using quantum mechanics, computers will have the potential to process information significantly faster than they currently process.

Like any innovative technology, the progress is mixed, with each step fraught with challenges that limit utility.

Currently, the laser that is used to activate the protons, cause additional noise which impedes the quantum effect.

Linran Fan, a Yale student has developed a potential solution to this problem. In an elegant solution he changed the medium in which the light wave travelled to aluminum nitride and this has had a significant impact by eliminating the “noise.”

Helping your students understand quantum computing is not necessarily an easy task, but helping them develop a surface understanding of the concepts is possible.

Discussing the following questions from the Yale article can help introduce this important engineering/physics innovation to your students. I think it’s especially inspiring that Fan began his interest in this aspect of physics while in high school.

Questions for Discussion

  1. How was Linran Fan’s solution different than previous solutions?
  2. What are the limitations with using nonlinear optical effects?
  3. What is a propagating medium?
  4. What are common examples of propagating media?
  5. What is the piezoelectric effect?
  6. How long did the process of changing the proton’s frequency in the waveguide take?
  7. How long is a picosecond?
  8. How will this process impact quantum computing?

Re-Discovering Ancient Greece Using Modern Tools

Rediscovering Ancient Greece

For an enthusiastic look at ancient Greece read the brief account of Michigan State University professors Jim Peck and Jon Frey’s work on archaeological sites in Greece.

This is an engaging, brief reflection by video and communications professor Jim Peck who worked with archaeologist Jon Frey to use drones and software imagining techniques to create 3-d images of ancient sites such as the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia.

Peck’s writing helps bring alive the sense of history at being at these ancient sites and illuminates how Jon Frey became interested in archaeology and Frey’s enthusiasm for digital archaeology.

This brief read with the questions below could be a great “quick-read” for any secondary English/History course.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why was Ishtmia important to ancient Greek culture?
  2. Besides athletics, what other qualities did ancient Greeks value?
  3. Why did the ancient Greeks build a wall?
  4. What career was Frey considering before becoming an archaeologist? What changed his mind?
  5. What are the tools of digital archaeology?
  6. What is Frey’s attitude towards digital archaeology?
  7. What does Peck mean regarding Jon Frey’s attitude when he writes, “He says with that kind of openness, the potential for discovery is greater than ever.”



Improving Stroke Outcomes-A Student Created App

One of the perennial frustrations we educators often experience is of a student asking, “Why do we need to learn this?”

It is always fun to say, “because one day you can do really cool stuff with that knowledge.”

It is even more fun to have an example to back it up.

Kudos to the student team from the University of Southern California who are developing an app, INTRAM, to improve health outcomes for individuals suffering a stroke.


Prompted by a close family member suffering a stroke, Manjima Sarkar and her two classmates wanted to come up with a solution.

Their app will link the individual to diagnostic/symptom information, plus with the swipe of their insurance card will help find a clinic/hospital with the shortest wait time, as time is critical in ensuring a positive outcome for the patient.

These engineering students are one of 5 university groups representing the United States in the International Student Day Business Model Competition in Washington DC.

Best of luck at the competition and in bringing this useful app to market!

Teachers of biology, anatomy, engineering tech, and entrepreneurship will find this article especially useful.

Click here for Marc Ballon’s article at USC News.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What are the symptoms of stroke?
  2. What are the current limits that impact patient accessing care?
  3. Why is time so critical in treating a stroke?
  4. What was the initial event that prompted Sarkar to develop this app?
  5. What are the features of the app?
  6. How many people does stroke impact in the United States?
  7. Who is the target market for this app?


Visual Communication of Science Concepts-Felice Frankel

One of the many challenges educators face daily is how to communicate ideas to learners with a wide range of background knowledge, learning style, interest/motivation and aptitude.

How many of us have told fascinating stories, presented compelling information, or sketched out ideas on the board-only to have a certain segment of the class stare at us blankly?

I think this is especially true in an area like science, where the real world connections are a bit harder for students, especially younger secondary students to make.

So, for an appreciation of the true challenge and artistry necessary to make compelling visual representations of scientific concepts, you may want to read the MIT News article about Felice Frankel’s work. 

Felice is an award winning, MIT research scientist and photographer has spent decades perfecting this craft and has created free tutorials in MIT’s Open Courseware.

I think any secondary science teacher would enjoy reading about her process and may enjoy using principles from the course to enhance their own pedagogy. It’s also a reminder for all of us non-science teachers to think about how we are communicating our lessons and to examine whether we might benefit from a creative re-examination-possibly utilizing some of Felice Frankel’s work as inspiration. I also think students may benefit from reading about her career as it is a blend of the artistic and the analytical and utilizes the best of each to help individuals develop a deeper understanding of their world.

Questions for Discussion

  1. How often do you use visual representations to enhance your lessons?
  2. Why does Felice Frankel encourage researchers to develop “metaphors” to help explain their work?
  3. Is there a concept that you think your students would benefit from seeing a visual image?
  4. What are some creative methods you have used to help “illustrate” a concept?
  5. What is Felice Frankel’s background-how might this have impacted her work?


“Big Frog/Small Pond?”-University of Michigan Research

I often am intrigued by how people make decisions. Rarely, is it rationally. Whether it is choosing an automobile, a home, a college, or a career, there usually is some latent force that propels individuals to choose-often  without considering even the most basic facts of the options at hand.

This sort of unconscious motivation is not particularly new to any student of psychology/philosophy or even just a curious observer of human nature.

I love it, however, when researchers actually are able to identify the processes by which we humans function and are able to articulate them.

So, I was very pleased to read about University of Michigan doctoral candidate, Kaidi Wu’s research which identified the role of culture in individuals making college/ career decision.

Specifically, Wu’s research noted that Chinese individuals were about twice as likely as European-Americans to choose to be the “little frog in the big pond.” That is, to enroll in a top college, even when their grades were below the average, than European-Americans. Similarly, they prefered to work in a top 10 company, again almost twice as frequently as European-Americans.

Wu emphasizes the importance of cultural values and norms in making a decision, suggesting there is no gold-standard for decision making.

I think a follow up study in which students were asked to articulate their “reasons” for this decision which might help reveal the extent they themselves are aware of the impact that culture makes in decision making.

To read more about the research, please read Jared Wadley’s article from Michigan News.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why is understanding the decision making process important?
  2. Why did Wu choose this sample population?
  3. How large was the sample size-do you think this is a sufficient amount for this research?
  4. What would you choose- to be the big fish in the small pond, or vice-versa? Why do you think you chose this way?
  5. What additional information would you need to be sure it is “cultural appropriateness” and not some other factor contributing to this decision?
  6. How could one study whether or not the individual made the “right” decision for themselves?


University of Washington-Targeted Treatment of Essential Tremor Disorder

Any of us who know a friend or family with a movement or other neurological disorder, understand how difficult life can be.

The simplest tasks such as writing, drinking your morning coffee, or brushing your teeth are fraught with difficulty and frustration, or  the inability to complete the task.

Thankfully, there is hope on the horizon, if the initial success of University of Washington’s interdisciplinary researchers continues through additional clinical trials.

The treatment, a form of targeted brain stimulation, created by an interdisciplinary team of electrical engineers, medical researchers and ethicists, have created an innovation based on deep brain stimulation.

Essentially, deep brain stimulation is always “on” which reduces battery life and can create  the need for additional surgery. However, with this targeted treatment, the electrical stimulation can be delivered only when necessary.

Hopefully, this important research will continue to be successful and deliver additional relief to the over 7 million Americans who suffer with Essential Tremor Disorder.

Check out Jennifer Langston’s article for a more comprehensive look.

Teachers in any science class would find sharing this with their students a valuable endeavor to help create real-world connections to their content.

Questions for Discussion

  1. How does traditional deep-brain stimulation work?
  2. What does this treatment do differently?
  3. When are individuals with Essential Tremor least likely to be affected?
  4. How long does a battery last in the current treatment? How much longer will it last with this innovation?
  5. How are the neural signals decoded?
  6. What role did ethicists play in this research do you think?
  7. What additional uses will there likely be if this is successful?
  8.  How will this device be likely turned on and off in the future?