Rochester’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 experience includes a film student from RIT

As a post script to the whole Amazing Spider-Man 2 phenomenon in Rochester, it is nice to know that at least one student at RIT got some genuine learning experience out of the whole thing. School of Film and Animation student Loren Azlein worked as a camera production assistant while the crew filmed shots in downtown Rochester. Not simply fetching coffee for the pros, it looks like her experience was pretty hands-on:

RIT film and animation student helping shoot ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ – RIT News

As a camera PA, Azlein is serving the set’s entire camera crew. She helps the crew with whatever it needs, but primarily takes the camera magazines—light-tight chambers designed to hold the film and move motion-picture film stock before and after it has been exposed in the camera—from the film loader and delivers them directly to the camera on set. She also charges and distributes batteries for the cameras, assists in the changing of lenses, collects and distributes camera reports, and “many other little things that make the camera crew function smoothly,” Azlein says.

Rochester Technology

RIT doctorate plans to automate satellite photo peeping

You think there’s a lot of satellite information about where you are now? Just wait. RIT doctoral student Abdul Haleen Syed says 238 new satellites will be launched in this decade alone, and this is an increase from the 135 launched in the previous decade.

But analyzing that satellite image data currently takes human operators to trawl through image after image, spotting roads, bridges, houses, military installations and the like. The logical next step is to provide some sort of automated process, handled by computers, to get that work done. Lots of people are working on this kind of algorithm, and Syed’s cutting-edge research has already won him accolades in a Rio de Janeiro.

Other research and even practical applications exist. For example, the US DoD is building web applications aimed at helping many countries better analyze satellite and other data to defend their coasts from everything from pirates to poachers.

But the goal of Syed’s research is completely automated satellite photo analysis.

Rochester Technology

Game theory: how RIT students beat some of IT security’s best minds.

On March 9th, an RIT team traveled to Franklin, Massachusetts to compete in the annual Northeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. The competition tests students on their ability to protect and prevent computers and networks from being susceptible to hackers or viruses floating over the Internet. Without protection, a company’s private information could be stolen and released, or its network could be destroyed.

Upon arrival to the event, all 12 teams participating in the regional competition had their cell phones, cameras, USB drives and all other electronics taken away for the weekend. Each group of 8 was put in a room with 8 desktop computers, a router switch and a printer network for a total of 20 hours over the three-day weekend. Their mission was to hypothetically replace a previous IT team of a small company and make sure that their client, a blog site, was constantly up and running and safe from attacks by the “Red Team.” The “Red Team” was made up of a group of professionals who were assigned to break into the system and networks of the fake companies that the students were required to protect.

“The first fifteen minutes are critical because everything is wide open with no security in place,” 4th year Applied Network Systems Administration student Jeremy Pollard said. “Getting those first couple of actions to muscle memory is crucial.”

The RIT team set up triggers and alarms to monitor the network traffic; logging the information as website viewers or as someone trying to hack into the account. They used firewalls to protect the inbound and outbound traffic and were required to defend all outward facing nodes, storage, the website, emails and the network printer.

“In addition to securing the company’s current infrastructure,” 4th year Information Security and Computer Forensics student Neil Zimmerman explained. “We were required to build upon it by implementing new technologies, and to write policies to ensure future safety.”

For each attack that got through their system the team lost points. In order to gain these points back the team would need to complete an “instant response report” which explained what happened and how they fixed it.

The team believes they had a leg up on the competition because their teammate, 4th year Information Security and Forensics major Griffith Chaffee, competed on last year’s winning team. The team also believes this because they were taught how to configure systems and networks in school, as opposed to other teams who only knew how to program.

“We had experience from extensive lab work and co-ops,” Pollard said. “Other teams didn’t have any job experience,” Zimmerman agreed.
Although beating teams like Harvard University in the Northeast regional competition was a “nice feeling,” returning member Chaffee says the team still has a lot to prepare for.

“The computers out number you,” Chaffee said. “There are 12-16 computers so you really have to manage resources. Also, the red team is much, much better. The best in the business.”

So until the National round in April, the RIT team will be spending their free time practicing and learning things that they aren’t too familiar with. The team has also ordered new equipment to study and will practice having teammates take over for each other if one should become too overwhelmed.

“We are all from various backgrounds so we divide up work really well,” Zimmerman said.

They will be competing for the national title in Texas against nine other regional winners, including Texas A&M University, Air Force Academy, UNC Charlotte and last year’s winner, University of Washington.

Rochester Science Technology

RIT project spreads wind farms across Kosovo

Imagine trying to farm under the pall of lignite coal smoke. Imagine what that dairy must taste like, since the cows are breathing the same acrid air as you.

In the newly-independent Kosovo, dairy farmers are dealing with just such problems. And on top of that, the coal-burning electric plants that pollute the air often don’t even meet the needs of their customers, dropping service routinely. But a group of boffins from RIT plans to help transition local farmers over to small personal wind farms that will provide enough constant power that, like their American counterparts, may even allow farmers to sell unused electric back to the grid.

It’s an exciting program that likely will reveal processes and efficiencies whose usefulness will extend well beyond the Central European nation. For example, the project has already developed a system of transient recorders to monitor the power output of individual wind mills and report that data back via cellular comms.

Winds of Change: Kosovo – RIT News.


Can ya year me now? #RIT boffins develop sensor tech to monitor wireless hardware failures

Lost connections and dead zones in coverage are the most irritating facet of our always-on wireless world. But new research by #RIT techs and a Syracuse telecom company aim to make identifying cabling failures much faster, leading to what the university claims will be millions of dollars of money saved on locating the problem.

Anybody who works with networking hardware certainly knows the nightmare of trying to identify the one cable out of a sea of interwoven cables in a network closet that’s been damaged. But in cell towers, hundreds of cables sit unattended until they break. The problem often isn’t identified until the tower is either sufficiently incapacitated or just plain dead. RIT’s new quarter-sized sensor can uniquely identify a cable and report when that cable has been damaged.

Particularly as our wireless communications require faster and faster data transfer rates, such innovations are the little things that will make consistent network speed possible.

‘Smart Connector’ Could Save Millions in Lost Revenue.

Politics Rochester Technology

RIT boffins say: mo toys, mo learning.

I think most of my audience would agree with the idea that more technology is always good. But now, RIT provides us documentarian evidence of same.

Researchers at RIT took a few low-performing classes in the engineering department – classes that had typically high failure and drop-out rates – and switched up the course to include things like tablet learning software and an interactive environment including smart boards and the like.

What they found should not have been terribly surprising: students generally performed better when the class used the same language they’re used to speaking in the outside world. Strange that we need to reenforce this exact same concept with every new technology, but there you have it.

Researchers also plan to expand this research to find out if underrepresented groups such as the deaf will see the same benefit from the use of a high-technology classroom.

Now if we could only get our leaders to fund a high-technology classroom, we’d be all set.

Use of Technology-Rich Learning Environment Reveals Improved Retention Rates – RIT News.

Journalism Rochester Science

The breathtaking race in biological science: why is there no media coverage?

There are a few very particular races happening in the world of medical science that are probably at least as important to our current era as the Space Race was to the Nuclear Age, but they receive very little press, indeed.

The first is the race to map and contextualize the genomes of the various species on the planet. The sequencing and understanding of the various blocks of data found within the genome – basically, the framework of DNA upon which every individual of a species is built – is yielding unprecedented discoveries about the way biotic systems go together.

But that isn’t the only one. Another hugely-important race is the race to identify all the various forms of protein that exist in life on the planet. Proteins perform a wide variety of functions in the body; we generally accept that you need to eat protein so your body can build muscle and bone. But these are not the only functions of proteins.

For example, DFE recently reported on Professor Andre Hudson’s research on the protein involved in allowing algae to photosynthesize. In this case, the protein is an enzyme that allows the photosythetic process to happen. Once identified, researchers can find ways to arrest photosynthesis in a single species of algae, thus controlling it while leaving the rest of the ecosystem intact.

RIT just recently published a presser on colleagues of Professor Hudson’s and the project to map out all known forms of proteins. The idea of this project is geared at the second phase of Dr Hudson’s research and others: by creating a single database with all the protein information you need, technologists and companies can use the data to create their own solutions to biological problems.

At the same time, in addition to knowing what the protein is, knowing how it is formed is equally important. Researchers elsewhere in the community are finding that gamers are doing some of the best work figuring out how the “game theory” of protein shapes work best.

The pace of this research is breath-taking. The consequences of mapping the genomes of every species on Earth and knowing every protein out there is pretty staggering. Honestly, its also a little bit scary. Which is why the lack of proper coverage in mainstream circles is more than a little upsetting.

It is ironic that the mainstream media is focused on the trial of a celebrity doctor who proscribed drugs to a willing patient while the whole of our understanding of biology – to say nothing of the relatively narrow field of medicine – passes them by.

Science Space Porn

We are stardust: #RIT boffins discover evidence of organic compounds in interstellar space

There are stars and comets and asteroids and matter formed into all manner of shape and size in the universe; there are black holes and red dwarves; there are nebulae and clusters. Galaxies are made up of these things, plus clouds of dust and ice. Our little planet exists on the lonely edge of one of these, the Milky Way. But beyond our galaxy and in between all that stuff, it is generally understood, are unknowably vast stretches of nothing. A vacuum, perforated by radiation from stars, that is otherwise empty.

But perhaps not.

Professor Donald Figer and a team of scientists at RIT have discovered evidence that maybe that interstellar space isn’t quite as empty as we thought. They have picked up on data suggesting that floating within that nothingness may be the very same organic chemicals that formed life on Earth. Dr. Figer wasn’t looking for anything of the sort. In fact, he was readying research for a soon-to-be-published paper on his field of study, super-massive stars, when he happened upon an irritating irregularity in his data that turned out to be this rather amazing discovery.

A spectrum band of white light.

The story of this discovery is all about a research method known as spectroscopy. Spectroscopy is the process of bending light through a prismatic system to get the classic rainbow effect you see when viewing light through any prism. Scientists measure the intensity and width of the bands to determine the chemical makeup of the star whose light they are studying.

Spectrum showing absorption lines

However, between the star and our own planet, there may be matter that absorbs some of the star’s light. When this happens, black bands appear in the spectroscopy where a specific element has absorbed a specific frequency of light. These are known as Absorption Lines. The process of identifying which element is causing which absorption line to appear is based on some of your old Chemistry class math: the amount of energy required to make an electron of a given atom jump to various excited states.

The crazy thing is: while science has positively identified hundreds of elements in absorption lines, many lines are unaccounted for. To further complicate the picture, molecules (which may have multiple elements) appear as what you might call “tone clouds” of several absorption lines, close together.

Back to Professor Figer’s research, in studying super massive stars, the assumption was that they would not be getting any absorption lines at all, since they didn’t anticipate any matter between the stars and the sensors. Again: interstellar space should be empty. And since the light from super massive stars tends to be reliably balanced white light, they expected to find perfectly even spectra. As you no doubt have guessed by now, that was not the case.

Instead, team member Tom Geballe found those tightly-packed absorption lines, 500 in all, occluding not one but every single observation of every star they looked at. Consistency is evidence in science, and this particular evidence pointed to one conclusion: whatever was causing the absorption lines must be present in interstellar space, not simply around one or two stars.

And based on the above-mentioned math, Professor Figer and his team have determined that the “whatever” in question is likely to be organic material, once thought to be fairly rare in the universe and definitely central to our understanding of life.

Is this organic material RNA? Is it the seed from which the Panspermia theory says we all evolved? Well, that’s a lot of “maybe’s” that Professor Figer isn’t speculating on. But certainly, his discovery points to organic compounds being even more ubiquitous in the universe than first thought. Rather than simply appearing as specks of simple amino acids and peptides on meteor fragments, this evidence points to a universe shot through with the stuff of life. A cloud of potential, from which any number of colonies of life might suddenly be formed in almost any corner of the universe.

Ed Note: This article was checked for accuracy by Professor Figer and some small changes made to reflect that accuracy.

Rochester Science

RIT scientist might be the savior of Durand beachgoers

View of Durand Park Beach, courtesy of mjernisse on

Seems like every year, at least once, the Durand-Eastman Park beach closes. This same pattern is echoed around the lake for a variety of reasons, but the biggest and most dangerous reason is the presence of an algae bloom. Algae blooms happen when, for one reason or another, large quantities of algae are produced in a local area. Algae can starve the water of oxygen and poison it for swimmers and wildlife, alike. Minor blooms such as those that close beaches might get you sick. An algae bloom run amok could spell the end of countless species within an ecosystem.

But Dr. Andre Hudson, a professor at RIT, may have found the beginnings of a solution to the problem. Dr. Hudson discovered a means by which the normal photosynthetic process in algae might be short-circuited, eliminating the algae while leaving other life in the same ecosystem intact.

The key to the discovery actually is a key of sorts, specifically the enzyme algae use to produce a protein called Lysine. An enzyme is a molecule produced by a living organism that facilitates and speeds up specific chemical reactions in the presence of another chemical, generically referred to as a “substrate.” Like a lock and key, the enzyme binds to the substrate and in this case, causes lysine to be produced.

Lysine molecule

The algae rely on lysine to continue to survive and reproduce. If a chemical were introduced into their habitat that bound to the enzyme as well or better than the algae’s normal substrate, but did not allow the same chemical reaction to occur, the algae’s ability to produce lysine would be severely inhibited. In short, no more algae.

But lysine is a basic building block of life everywhere on Earth: not just algae but *all* photosynthesizing organisms – plants, algae and some bacteria – produce it. Those of us not fortunate enough to be photoautotrophs rely on eating those primary producers to get it for ourselves. So, how do we not have a massive, pan-species death chemical on our hands, capable of destroying plant life directly and starving animals, casting the entire ecosystem into barren oblivion? That would suck.

The answer is, again, the enzyme: now that Dr. Hudson has identified the enzyme itself, other researchers can pick up the ball and analyze the enzyme as it appears in a variety of species. Enzymes being highly complex structures, chances are that two different species of algae – to say nothing of other plants – will have completely differently-organized enzymes that perform the same function. Every organism is likely to be highly-specialized.

So our anti-lysine chemical could be tailor-made to hit exactly the targets we wish to eliminate. No death for the innocent, in other words.

This specialized means of eliminating photosynthesizers means that the discovery that could end irritating beach closures could have far more widely-spread effects. Any kind of aquaria – from pools to aquariums to drinking water – could be purified in this fashion. Other non-algae plant life could also be targeted, even pathogens that might otherwise be treated by penicillin.

In fact, with the enzyme now identified, the future of anti-algae efforts may not even rely on a synthetic chemical at all: the only requirement is that the chemical be one which fits as well or better with the lysine enzyme, which we may find occurs in nature. It may be just these kinds of discoveries that enhance our ability to be the stewards of the Earth that our Earth requires.