A colleague of mine, Associate Professor Ágnes Mócsy, just released her first short film, smashing matters:
Featuring a really broad array of eminent physics researchers, this film uses the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider as a case study for how funding basic science research leads to social progress. Although I am not predisposed to believing that all basic research is equal (I tend to think we need to prioritize our basic research funding based on our social goals and aspirations), I really appreciated that this film endeavors to explain to the general public how very abstract basic research can translate to technological innovations of great social importance.
Carole Sirovich, Agnes Mocsy, and me at Pratt’s Commencement ceremonies (photo by Agnes)
Pratt celebrated its 124th commencement ceremony at Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall on Tuesday, May 14th, 2013. I always try to make it to graduation to honor the hard work of our graduating seniors. Although there are usually a few students graduating who I worked with closely, mostly I go to see the many students who took my classes to fulfill their math and science requirements walk across the stage.
These ceremonies can drag on, but this one seemed to flow pretty smoothly. The highlight for me was Kurt Andersen’s address to the graduating class. Andersen, a Pratt trustee and general media polymath, extolled the importance of maintaining one’s amateur spirit even upon entering the professional world. He explained how the word “amateur” — which simply means “lover of” — has gone from describing a passionate enthusiast to its current-day description of someone who is unskilled, naive, or clumsy. Andersen encouraged the class of 2013 to embrace the old definition of being an amateur, carrying the playful spirit of exploration for exploration’s sake into their professional lives. I sat their smiling, because coming to Pratt was pivotal in maintaining my own playfulness; it would have been easy for me to find myself in a narrow academic job that would have stunted my creative exploration of the diverse scientific topics I now call part of my scholarly world.
After commencement was over, I headed over to the Flameproof show. Featuring work from Fine Arts seniors whose studios had been destroyed by a fire in Pratt’s Main Building, the show was a great way to complete the day of celebration. It was inspiring to see how these students had striven to create new work out of the literal ashes of their Pratt careers.
Me with Quinn and graduating seniors Matt Black and Tony Wylen in front of Matt’s work at the Flameproof show.
Rhett Bradbury has been a crucial member of Envirolutions over the past two years. Our only graduate student member, Rhett started coming to club meetings during his first semester at Pratt. Rhett’s skills as a graphic designer have had a profound effect on how Envirolutions has communicated with the rest of the campus: his posters, logos, and other visual work has helped the club further its goal of making Pratt a more sustainable campus.
Today I went to see Rhett’s final presentation of his thesis, “Leveling Up Leadership”. Rhett did extensive research on how turning important activities into a game (also called “gamifying”) could be used to foster the next generation of political leaders. Based on the completion of political “quests”, participants in Rhett’s “Lead Up” conceptual iPad application would be able to improve their overall scores for political leadership. The idea is interesting, as currently there are very few ways of assessing the integrity, effectiveness, and actual track record of political candidates.
I provided Rhett with a little editing help, and I was excited to play a very small part in his very interesting thesis project.
NPR All Things Considered “Cities Turn Sewage Into ‘Black Gold’ For Local Farms”
This is a really interesting piece because it suggests that the costs associated with properly disposing of human waste are beginning to incentivize municipalities to repurpose this waste as fertilizer. As this feature indicates, landfilling and (even worse) incineration have been in the past the cost-effective means of disposing of human waste. But these means of getting rid of this “waste” are pretty tragic, because they fail to reincorporate all the nutrients found in human waste back into our agricultural systems. This results in increased use of synthetic fertilizers, which depend on the consumption of methane and produce greenhouse gases during both their production and later use. In order to become a truly sustainable society, we need to recapture most of the nutrients lost in human waste — in particular nitrogen and phosphorus — and return these nutrients to our agricultural systems.
This piece does not go into the problem of nutrient pollution and eutrophication, which often result from the intentional or inadvertent release of treated or untreated human waste into waterways. My assumption is that as regulations become stricter and limit how much waste can be discharged in this manner, the economic incentive to recycle the nutrients found in human waste will become even greater. Regulations are thus potentially critical to making recycling a cost-effective means of waste disposal.
During this year’s Green Week celebration, Envirolutions club members brought their Room for Improvement campaign to the campus, asking members of the Pratt community to identify where the campus has the most “room to improve” in terms of sustainability. Two enticements incentivized participation: those who filled out a survey could grab a snack and pick out their own Envirolutions button to wear with pride.
The goal of the survey is to get a sense of what the Pratt community already knows about its sustainability. Envirolutions plans to aggregate the data gathered in a way that can visually represent this snapshot of Pratt’s sustainability.
The gallery below captures the day’s activities:
I am excited by the recent publication of my review of Agent-based and individual-based modeling: a practical introduction in the January issue of Ecology. The review, entitled “Individual-based modeling for the masses“, lauds this valuable textbook designed to support individual-based modeling courses. I expect the combination of this text and the very valuable NetLogo modeling environment to foster a whole new generation of modeling courses and to make this theoretical approach accessible to far more students and researchers.
This is the second feature-length book review that I have published in the past year; I expect one more to come out soon.
College of the Holy Cross “Harvard Scientist to Lecture at Holy Cross on God and Evolution”
It is amazing to hear someone like Nowak say “God uses evolution to unfold the living world around us”. This is radical stuff for a theorist to say, as we generally try to understand properties and dynamics of systems rather than trying to understand their intent.
This week, students in Pratt’s Envirolutions club launched their newest campaign for on-campus sustainability. Called “Room for Improvement”, the campaign seeks to lower the environmental footprint of the school caused by resource consumption. The posters that advertise the campaign are themed around iconic “warning” posters:
Envirolutions will also be tabling during Green Week on Thursday, March 28th to encourage members of the Pratt community to submit their ideas for how the Pratt campus could become more sustainable.
If you are interested in suggesting a place where Pratt could reduce its environmental footprint, leave a suggestion here.
World Wildlife Fund Earth Hour
Will an hour of darkness give us the time to contemplate both the importance of ecosystem services and how our voracious energy consumption threatens those services? It is certainly worth a try.
WNYC The Leonard Lopate Show “ Please Explain: Hearing and Sound”
Interesting that Horowitz discusses the same rationale for why the cell phone conversations of others are so much more annoying than other conversations, a topic I have discussed here.
Scientific American blogs “Science in Ten-Hundred Words: The “Up-Goer 5″ Challenge”
THE UP-GOER FIVE TEXT EDITOR
Oh, and by the way the title of this post would not pass the up-goer five test!
Thanks to one of my Pratt students, Tony Wylen, for showing me this site.
National Geographic “California Ports Go Green”
This is a nice infographic showing that changes in policy can have a big impact on the sustainability of commerce. It is amazing how much efficiency improvements can lower ecological impacts.
WNYC “NYC’s Top Dogs: Mapping Names & Breeds in the City”
WNYC “Dogs of NYC”
Data sets like these, even flawed by their incompleteness (only 20% of dogs in New York City are registered) are fascinating. The human relationship with dogs has changed radically as we have urbanized as a species: I would suggest that the dominance of “toy” and “miniature” dogs reflected in the map below suggests that what we now ask from dogs has changed radically. Humans no longer need dogs to do work or to be protective (tougher neighborhoods dominated by pitbulls not withstanding), and instead needs dogs to stand in for offspring and/or social partners. The radical shifts in the social nature of human culture are reflected in our shifting relationship with dogs.
Posted in A Minor Post, Canids, Coevolution, Gene-Culture Coevolution, Geography, Human Evolution, Human Uniqueness, Mutualism, Public Policy, Radio & Podcasts, Web