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The National Science Board says leading science and engineering indicators tell a mixed story regarding U.S. achievements in science, R&D, and math in international comparisons. As reported in NetWorkWorld, U.S. schools continue to lag behind their internationally counterparts in science and math education. On the flip side, the U.S. leads in patent development and is the largest R&D-performing country in the world, investing $340 billion in future-related technologies. While the report is massive, the NSB came up with 13 prime observations, or what it calls the leading Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 (www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=110984). Along with the educational signals, the report also notes U.S. firms increased the number of people employed in R&D jobs outside the U.S. by 76% and employment within the U.S. by 31%, while U.S. subsidiaries of foreign firms increased their U.S. R&D employment by 18%. Moreover, the U.S. remains the leading producer in high-tech manufacturing and knowledge-intensive services, but several Asian countries, led by China, are rapidly increasing their global share.

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Robot-Propelling Thoughts

The robotics world registered a significant advancement in brain-machine interface technology last January when a 12-lb monkey climbed onto a treadmill at Duke University and began walking at a steady pace, prompting a 200-lb humanoid robot on a treadmill in Kyoto, Japan to do the same. It was the first successful attempt at using brain signals to make a robot walk, thus producing bountiful implications, reports the New York Times. Miguel A.L. Nicolelis headed up the Duke experiment that robotics experts worldwide called an exciting and important advancement in brain-machine interfacing. "It's one small step for a robot and one giant leap for a primate," said Nicolelis after the test. The monkey, trained to walk on two legs, had electrodes implanted in her brain to record the activity of the 250300 neurons that fired as she walked. These signals were fed into the computer and transmitted via the Net to CB, the Computational Brain robot at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Japan, chosen for its extraordinary ability to mimic human locomotion. These experiments represent the first step toward brain-machine interfacing that may someday may permit paralyzed people to walk by directing devices with their thoughts.

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Global Database

The FBI is coordinating global allies in the "war against terror" to build an international database to hunt major criminals and terrorists. The "Server in the Sky" program would require cooperation among police forces in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, U.S, and the U.K. to share more than the current practice of sending fingerprint faxes across the Atlantic. The Guardian reports the working group, called the International Information Consortium, will strategize on how to best share biometric measurements, irises or palm prints, as well as fingerprints and other personal information likely to be exchanged through the network. The FBI proposes three categories of suspects for the shared system: internationally recognized terrorists and felons; major felons and suspected terrorists; and subjects of terrorist investigations or criminals with international links. An FBI spokesperson says the agency hopes to see a pilot project up and running by mid-year.

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Know the Enemy, and Yourself

In other defense news, a Pentagon chief acquisition official has asked the U.S. Defense Science Board to organize a "Task Force on Understanding Adversaries." The board, an advisory group to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, was established 50 years ago and is known for its respected reports on science and technology issues. The task force will be responsible for increasing the understanding "of adversaries, their operating environment, and the relevant host populationto devise effective terrorist and insurgent countermeasures, and support strategic communications." The Pentagon memo prompted a Wired.com blog that wondered how science and technology experts would approach issues outside their primary field, in this case, the social sciences. While Board chairs have been thinking of recruiting social scientists to join what is typically a hard-science-heavy organization, observers wonder if these diverse groups can come to any meaningful recommendations, recalling an ill-fated attempt to recruit social scientists during the Vietnam War era. Said one blogger: "If the Pentagon is really serious about gaining expertise in the social sciences, why not have a Defense Social Science Board?"

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Body Electric

Scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory believe they have discovered a much more efficient way to use silicon to convert body heat into electricity for use in a variety of products ranging from cars to portable electronics. According to TG Daily, the concept of converting waste heat into electricity isn't new but never really materialized due to efficiency obstacles. Now, researchers using what they describe as "rough" silicon nanowires created in a process of "electroless etching" may increase the conversion efficiency by a factor of 100. While the research is far from complete, the scientists believe potential applications include the Department of Engery's hydrogen fuel cell-powered Freedom Car and personal power jackets that could use heat from the human body to recharge cell phones, iPods, and other electronic devices.

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Orbital Games, Virtually

NASA is exploring the possibility of developing a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game for students that would simulate real NASA engineering and scientific missions. NASA believes the game would help find and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers needed to fulfill its vision of space exploration, reports BBC News. The agency recently issued an RFI from organizations interested in developing the platform. The document calls for a game engine with powerful physics capabilities that would support accurate in-game experimentation and research, saying "A NASA-based MMO could provide opportunities for students to investigate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics career paths while participating in engaging game play." For more, see http://procurement.nasa.gov/ cgi-bin/eps/synopsis.cgi?acqid=128415.

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Author

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Footnotes

DOI: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1325555.1325557


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