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?


All hands on deck! It’s Rensselaer biology professor Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, with partners Harry Kolar (right) from IBM and Eric Siy (left) from the FUND for Lake George. They were on the water yesterday celebrating the launch of the Jefferson Project, an exciting new research effort to turn Lake George into the world’s biggest and most scrutinized freshwater lab experiment.

(What you don’t see in this photo is me and some of my colleagues, in a second boat, about 20 feet off in the distance.)

You can read all about the Jefferson Project here, and check out some news stories about it here, here, and here.

Also, below is part of a great blog post written by Sandra and Eric for the IBM Smarter Planet blog. See the full post here.


Visions of Science

by Mary Martialay on May 23, 2013

Drosophilia melanogaster Wing Stroke, by Chris Newhard

Drosophilia melanogster Wing Stroke, by Chris Newhard

Now here is something really fun! The School of Science just posted a gallery of images from their Research Photo Contest. These are photos that chronicle the work of researchers within the School of Science at Rensselaer, and they run the gamut from a glorious shot of twilight on an Adirondack lake – taken in the course of work through the Rensselaer Darrin Freshwater Institute, to “the Arginine magic” — an image produced from molecular dynamics simulation to help develop a model for how drugs are moved through mammalian cells.

Laurie Leshin, dean of the School of Science, had this to say when asked why the school held the contest:


SOFIA - Inside the hanger

Flight training

(In our last report, Daniel Angerhausen, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Jon Morse, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professor of physics, was poised to fulfill a longtime dream and fly about NASA’s flying observatory, SOFIA. Alas, the path to science is often paved with setbacks and … well, we’ll let him tell you about it himself.)

Recently I wrote about my trip to California to make a long-cherished dream come true by flying aboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), NASA’s Boeing 747-SP with equipped with a 2.5 meter-wide telescope. Today I have to report that it did not work out for me. And a tiny $12 electrical spare part bears the blame.


Daniel Angerhausen with SOFIA

Daniel Angerhausen with SOFIA

(Later this week, Daniel Angerhausen, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Jon Morse, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professor of physics and associate vice president for research for physical sciences and engineering, will be flying aboard the airborne telescope SOFIA. Angerhausen, a native of Uerdingen, Germany [about 30 minutes from Cologne], sent us this excellent post about the flight and his research. Enjoy!)

My name is Daniel Angerhausen, I’m a postdoc in the Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy at RPI, and on Thursday I will fulfill one of my biggest dreams: I will be on board the flying observatory SOFIA to observe a planet in a another solar system.


Emily DeLarme with a graph displaying light from the secondary transit of Kepler 2b

More than 1,000 light years from Earth, a giant gaseous planet is in a tight and fast orbit around a star larger than the Sun, and, between the two of them, there’s something funny going on. The star is known as HAT-P-7 or Kepler 2, the planet is Kepler 2b, and Rensselaer physics and astronomy student Emily DeLarme has the latest clue in the mystery.

DeLarme – whose research will be part of the April 24 Posters on the Hill exhibit on Capitol Hill, sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research - is studying data gathered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. Kepler, launched in 2009 to search for Earth-size planets, gathers data on approximately 150,000 stars. Analysis of Kepler data has led to identification of 2,740 planetary candidates, and 115 confirmed planets.