3° with with Emily Liu

by Michael Mullaney on December 20, 2013

Nuclear engineering expert Emily Liu is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer. We ask Emily about her work:

Q: Your research is fascinating! It spans from nanomaterials, to radiation damage, to nuclear threat detection. What is the overall problem you are trying to solve?

A: My research targets a fundamental problem: How do we link nanoscale observations with macroscale phenomena? In our lab, we utilize laws from physics combined with experiments and simulations to explore this question. The answers we find will be very beneficial for designing and modifying new nano- or macroscale materials, as well as biological or chemical functions.

Outside of the lab and the classroom, what do you like to do for fun?

Many things. I especially like reading books and exercising. When it’s warm, I am fascinated by taking my kids swimming, rafting, and horseback riding.

What kind of music do you like?

Half of the time, I like romantic and soothing pop music such as the song “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack. However, when I am excited or very happy, I enjoy rock music a lot.


If you wanted to learn to speak Chinese – really speak Chinese at a level that allowed you to converse with native speakers at a high level and conduct business in China – you’d have to go to China, right?

Not necessarily, thanks to the work of some Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professors.

They’re working to create the next generation of language education – a hybrid of immersive classroom experiences and virtual reality adventures designed to grab students’ attention and keep it as they master Chinese.

Teaching a foreign language, especially one as difficult for native English speakers as Chinese, is a particularly thorny problem. Listening, speaking, reading, and writing are all crucial components, but so is the cultural context in which the language is spoken or written.


A New Kind of Princess

by Emily Donohue on December 10, 2013

(Photo: John Killings / Rensselaer Union)

The princesses on campus last weekend weren’t waiting around in a tower to be rescued by a prince. They weren’t tripping over their own glass slippers on the way home from a fancy ball. And they certainly weren’t sleeping, waiting for a magical kiss to wake them.

These princesses — Eco Princesses, actually — were all about action. They learned about sustainable energy and recycling, composting, and water pollution. They learned that while they may only be pretend princesses (or princes, as the case may be) they really can be masters of their own universe.


My Night With SOFIA

by Mary Martialay on November 14, 2013

Daniel Angerhausen celebrates his flight aboard SOFIA

(We’ve been following Daniel Angerhausen, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy, in his quest to conduct research aboard NASA’s flying observatory, SOFIA. From anticipation in April, to disappointment in May, we are pleased to at last report success and joy. Congratulations Daniel!)

“So I spent the night at 42,000 feet on a billion dollar NASA aircraft observing an alien world 63 light-years away. How was your night?” — Tweet from Daniel the morning after his very first flight on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

I finally did it: I flew on SOFIA — and it was truly amazing.


Archies reImagining miSci

by Emily Donohue on November 12, 2013

I grew up in Schenectady and as a kid one of my favorite Electric City excursions was a trip to the science museum and, even better, the planetarium it contained. I have fond memories of snuggling into the reclining planetarium chairs and watching as stars, planets and constellations were pointed out, visiting the museum’s optical illusion exhibit and trying, often in vain, to see the old woman within what looked to me like simply a picture of a young woman. Touching the Van de Graafe generator that made my hair stand on end was another classic museum experience.

After nearly two decades, I visited the museum — now called miSci — again last week and it’s grown up a lot. miSci features even more interactive, hands-on exhibits and some very cool artifacts highlighting Schenectady’s history in technological innovation.


Fractals — endlessly repeating patterns that are self-similar at different scales and are found throughout nature (see: seashells, trees, leaves, and the Romanesco broccoli above) — also frequently appear in design in Africa, from fabric to buildings to entire villages, as Rensselaer Science and Technology Studies professor Ron Eglash explained in his fascinating 2007 TED Global talk.

As a fractal pattern repeats and grows and repeats and grows, so too does the knowledge Eglash gained while studying fractals in Africa. He shared that knowledge in a book, African Fractals, and the TED talk and it sparked the imagination of Spanish architect Xavier Vilalta, who then shared what he learned in another TED talk.


A century ago, American audiences were shocked by an armory filled with controversial new works from the most interesting European artists. Artists including Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, already established in Europe, were brought to the forefront of American culture by way of the Armory Show of 1913.

By today’s standards, much of the work isn’t particularly avant garde, but the show remains an important point in the history of art in America. (More on the culture shock of 1913 in this fascinating special program from WNYC —history of the Armory Show and its effect on American art begins around the 4 minute mark.)


Today marks the first day of the new school year here at Rensselaer! We at The Approach would like to take this opportunity to welcome our first-year students, welcome back our returning students, and applaud our ever-outstanding faculty and staff! Here’s to another great year!

What better way to mark the occasion than with some good news? The preeminent science journal Nature recently featured a Q&A with our very own Riccardo Bevilacqua, pictured above in his lab. A distinguished assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering here at Rensselaer, Riccardo spends his time and energy dreaming up and designing fascinating new ways to control spacecraft and satellites. He navigates this bold trek with funding from the NASA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, DARPA, and the Office of Naval Research. (Read about some of those funding awards here and here.)


3° with Liping Huang

by Michael Mullaney on August 15, 2013

Liping Huang is an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer. We ask Liping about her work:

Q: What problems are you trying to solve?

A: Glasses are everywhere in our daily lives, functioning with excellent optical, electronic, mechanical, and bio-related properties. Yet, glasses are usually brittle; their service lifetime is often capped by mechanical failures. For instance, cracked or broken screens account for 82% of all accidental iPhone4 damages . My research has been mainly focused on understanding the brittleness of glasses and how to make glasses tougher.

How would you describe your research to a first-grader?

If you accidentally dropped a glass cup or an iPad on a concrete floor, what would happen and why? My research is to design glass that is less likely to break, or touch-screen devices like iPad can be used for long time without any scratches on the surface.

How would you describe your teaching style?

I believe that teaching is not just a matter of teaching the knowledge itself; it is furthermore about teaching students how to learn, where to find out what they need to know, and how to use the information they get. In this respect I am inspired by the proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”


Eric Shapiro, Amanda Knight, and Diogo Moitinho de Almeida

Eric Shapiro, Amanda Knight, and Diogo Moitinho de Almeida winners of one of five “Outstanding” prizes in the Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling

Here’s a knotty problem: There is a relationship between human activity, damage to the environment, and harm to people (greenhouse gases leads to sea level rise which threatens coastal populations), but the cause-and-effect isn’t always clear. And while environmentalists collect stats on damage to the environment (pollutants in air and water, deforestation, species loss), policy makers who can shape human activity think in terms of harm to people (public health crisis, unemployment, threats to infrastructure). So how can we close the loop between human actions, environmental changes, and effects on humanity to save the planet and ourselves?