On Lake George, from the deck of the survey ship Mintaka, the threat to boats cruising past Shelving Rock near The Narrows is apparent in high resolution detail. Lurking beneath the water, where charts indicate consistent (if shallow) water, are intermittent formations of jagged hull-ripping rock ledge. Although the educated boater would be warned from these shores by well-placed channel markers, the moral of the story stands: there’s a lot we still don’t know about Lake George.

In the coming years we are going to learn a great deal more, thanks to the Jefferson Project at Lake George, a multi-million dollar collaboration between RPI, IBM, and the FUND for Lake George that will develop a suite of new technologies and techniques to revolutionize environmental monitoring.

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(Rensselaer civil engineering doctoral student Jingjing Tian iwrote this post about her experience at a huge shake-table experiment she and her adviser, Professor Michael Symans, attended last year. They are part of a multi-university research project dedicated to making buildings more resilient to earthquakes.)

A full-scale, multi-story wood-framed building with soft ground story was constructed and tested during this past summer at the NEES (Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation) Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), as part of the NSF-sponsored NEES-Soft project. The project focuses on seismic performance of multi-story buildings with weak (soft) ground stories. The test specimen was designed and constructed to resemble the architectural and structural characteristics of soft-story residential buildings located in high-seismicity regions of the western United States (see a comparison below).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.)

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