“How can I combine all sorts of science together in one really awesome NSF funded program at Northeastern?”
Well the answer is simple, PRISM. Short for Proactive Recruitment in Science and Math, PRISM is a venture funded by the NSF (National Science Foundation) to promote research in a variety of disciplines and topics. In fact, all of the Researchers of the Week I have written about have ALL given a talk to PRISM students this year.
As far as the specifics go, I already talked about the Fall Preview portion in an earlier blog post, so I will move on to the Fall Seminar series/class in this post. Basically, in the Fall we hold a once a week class (free tuition to students) where we alternate between working on projects and listening to exciting presenters from Northeastern. These talks are open to everyone at NU, but the projects and the help from the mentors (which I am one of) is unique to the students in the class. We also have the help of two amazing professors, Prof. Porter in the Math dept. and Prof. Zahopoulos in the engineering and STEM departments. In this class you have the option to do any kind of project/presentation on mostly any topic you want, the only restrictions being time (we only have 2 months) and also it must connect to science in some way, however EVERYTHING connects to science, so that is hardly a restriction.
This year we had three amazing projects from three groups. First being one on chaos theory and the Mandelbrot set, if you’ve never heard of either of those things, I’ll attempt to break it down for you. Chaos theory, and specifically fractals, is a very useful tool for tons of complex dynamical systems and math, including the weather, getting accurate geological maps of coastlines, and even fractal antennas. The Mandelbrot set is a mind-blowing example of fractals, check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEw8xpb1aRA
The next project we had was one on aging, and what cutting edge research is being done on it at this point in time. The group talked about diseases such as progeria, which causes extremely fast aging, and also a couple of interesting genes that could cause changes in aging, like the FOXO gene. They also talked about animals who defy the “laws” of aging, one of the coolest being the species of hydra, who don’t die, ever (wouldn’t that be cool, kind of). This also brought up the omnipresent question of medical ethics, i.e. if humans could live forever, would that be a good thing? Seriously, think about it, there are a lot of ethical questions.
The final group presented on the telegraph and the various engineering feats that brought us to the telecommunications world that we live in today. It really put into perspective everything that fell into place before us, and how cell phones are just about the most astounding invention in the last century. This project summed up how interdisciplinary science actually is, as it took optical physics, mechanical and electrical engineering, city planning, and network and social theory to create the kind of infrastructure we have today. To me, this is a perfect example of why PRISM is so special, it allows you to investigate these topics and ideas that you normally would not get with a lecture class.