Ring any bells? Readers of the Approach may remember a 2014 post on the Image-Based Ecological Information System, or IBEIS, an experimental software tool that can identify individual animals pictured in the thousands of ordinary photos taken by tourists in game parks such as Yellowstone National Park, Amboseli National Park in Kenya, or the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. The 2014 post explains how the system works.

As the poster suggests, a test of the system (a collaboration between researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Princeton University, and the wildlife conservation organization Wild Me) will be held March 1 and 2. Chuck Stewart, head of the Department of Computer Science at Rensselaer, and a lead researcher on the project, gave this quickie description of how the event will work:

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(In this guest post, School of Science Ambassadors Heili Springsteen (a sophomore mathematics student) and Jeremy Amdur (a sophomore chemistry student) share their experiences — and a few images — from their work visiting area middle and high schools to promote interest in science.)

Looking back at middle school and high school, most of us can think of someone who inspired us, or a moment when we realized “this is cool and I might want to do this for the rest of my life.” As Science Ambassadors, our hope is to push students toward that moment of realization, to encourage them that science is, in fact, cool.

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Rensselaer Professor Karyn Rogers wrote this guest post while cruising at 30,000 feet aboard a Boeing 737 on a flight from Albany to Managua, Nicaragua. After landing, hopefully without delay or lost luggage, she will travel to the colonial city of Leon, jumping off point for the expedition to the Cerro Negro volcano (pictured above) which she describes below.

My name is Karyn Rogers and I am a professor in Earth & Environmental Sciences (E&ES) in the School of Science at Rensselaer, and also a member of the New York Center for Astrobiology.   Depending on the day, and the expedition, I am a geochemist or geomicrobiologist or astrobiologist.  On this expedition, I am all three!   Our research team includes a geochemist and a planetary geologist from the University of Colorado, a graduate student from the University of Colorado, and our very own Diana Parios, a graduate student with me in E&ES.

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The college application deadline is fast approaching and within a few short months, it will be decision day for millions of students who must declare where they plan to go to college. Students will take many factors into consideration when making their decision –including size of the student body, location of the institution, availability of preferred major, success of those who have graduated from each school, and financial support –among the variables that differentiate the more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, which includes all private and public four-year and two-year institutions.

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Images of plankton identified using IBEIS

Images of plakton captured with CPICS. Courtesy of OceanCubes.whoi.edu

Among my favorite research projects at Rensselaer are two — the Jefferson Project at Lake George, and the Image Based Ecological Information System (IBEIS) — that use data and computation to understand and protect our environment. So my interest was piqued when I heard researchers involved with the two projects were planning a collaboration. A collaboration that, for the purposes of this blog post, I’m calling “Plankton Cam.”

The CPICS camera developed at Wood Hole Oceanographic Institute

The idea behind Plankton Cam is to: tow a specialized camera through the waters of Lake George, capturing more than 100,000 images per day; use advanced pattern recognition software to sort resulting images of phytoplankton by species; and then develop tools to visualize the distribution patterns of the animals at the base of the Lake George food web. The camera, pictured to the left, was developed at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

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A vertical profiler deployed as part of the Jefferson Project at Lake George.

On a windy day on Lake George, when the surface is whipped into white-caps, you might wonder: where is all that water going? The answer, in astonishing detail, is within our grasp as a network of sensors is deployed throughout the watershed as part of the Jefferson Project at Lake George, a partnership between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM, and The FUND for Lake George.

The sensors, including two “vertical profilers” like the one pictured above (deployed on just such a windy day last week), will gather data to fuel three complex computer models — a weather model, a runoff and circulation model, and ultimately, a food web model — that will give scientists an unprecedented understanding of the Lake George watershed and how stressors such as contaminants, invasive species, and development affect its pristine ecosystem.

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A group of middle school students from the Greater Amsterdam School District got a taste of college life as part of a program offered by the Center for Initiatives in Pre-College Education this summer. The students spent a week on campus learning how to build and program robots and working together to put their robots through a series of challenges.

The program encourages the students, who will all enter 8th grade at the Wilbur H. Lynch Literacy Academy this September, to think about college earlier than most would otherwise, said Assistant Principal Chuck Myers. The students who participated were all recommended for the residential program by their science teachers. When they get back to school, “they’ll be a step ahead and will have a lot of knowledge to share with their classmates,” Myers said.

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Great communication about science neatly and elegantly explains immensely complex concepts (think: Neil DeGrasse Tyson at his best) in language that non-scientists can understand and relate to.

Great communication about science is also really difficult to do. Science is messy, complex concepts are interconnected, and knowledge is constantly growing and changing. The nature of a scientist’s job is to have a laser focus on one particular subject and seek to expand knowledge in that area. That’s great for scientific progress, but not so great for explaining the broader picture of the universe to laypeople.

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Rensselaer researcher Carlos Varela has developed a computer system that detects and corrects faulty airspeed readings, such as those that contributed to the 2009 crash of Air France flight 447. Their approach to detecting errors could make autopilot systems safer and could also be applicable in many systems that rely on sensor readings.

Varela spoke to WAMC recently and his explanation of his work aired on the Academic Minute July 25.

Here’s an excerpt of his explanation:

Every day we use machines and devices that are loaded with sensors collecting information on everything from outside air pressure and traffic jams to body temperature and heart rate.

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On Thursday, July 24, Wiseman and fellow Astronaut Steve Swanson will be speaking live with the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee from the International Space Station. Watch the conversation live at 11 a.m. or follow it on twitter using the hashtag #LiveFromSpace.

In just 140 characters NASA Astronaut Reid Wiseman is bringing his 167,000 (and counting) Twitter followers aboard the International Space Station (ISS) several times a day, sharing the amazing and mundane details of life in space. His stunning photos are retweeted hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of times. His Vines – six-second video clips shared on a social media platform – garner incredulous reactions from his Earth-bound fans and are the first to ever be shared from space.

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