DIY’ers, attention! NASA’s Space Apps Challenge comes to RIT this month.

I realize that many of you in Rochester are brushing up your Chewbacca impressions, but there are at least a few space fans here working on a completely different angle of space exploration. RIT is hosting one of 18 US Space Apps Challenges by @NASA to develop the next big thing:

During the two-day event, participants with a broad variety of skills will work in teams to create open-source solutions for 50 software, hardware and visualization challenges, including robotics, citizen science platforms and applications of remote sensing data. Challenges vary from developing a mobile application that allows observers of a meteor shower to trace the location, color and size of a shooting star to creating a narrative and visualization of NASA data that tells the “why” of space exploration.

The Space Apps website explains that the idea behind the project is to bring together a global community to solve challenges that will enrich our lives globally. The goal is transparency and open data, with projects including a means to synchronize all NASA open source projects to their Github repository, improvements to the open source satellite system ArduSat, a meteor tracker software app so you can watch meteor showers in real-time and even a monitoring application to keep an eye on a once-in-80k-years meteor that may or may not strike Earth in 2026.

The Challenge is a two-day event on April 20th and 21st for those interested in throwing their hats in the ring.


2,400 come out to Cowboys Stadium for RIT’s Big Shot of the year

Big Shot: a project by the RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences to teach students about flash photography that has been going since 1987. The idea: take a landmark, shoot a long-exposure of it in as close to total darkness as you can. But here’s the twist: use a bunch of volunteers to hold flashes and create their own brief illuminations of their own small parts of the landmark, to see what kind of result you get. This year, 40 students traveled to Dallas, Tx to shoot the Cowboys Stadium, the first time that stadium has been in complete darkness since it began operations.

Photography requires light to enter a lens and focus on the photo-making medium. In traditional photography, the light has to hit photosensitive film. In modern digital photography, it hits an electronic photosensor. Regardless of the medium, however, there is a minimum amount of light necessary to get the shot, which is determined by the size of the lens, the size of the recording medium and other factors.

You can get the required light by two means: by adding light in the form of some sort of photographic flash, or by holding the aperture of the camera open a very long time to allow more of the natural light in.

The old Brownie. Photo courtesy

Photo flashes – whether they’re the old school single-use flash bulbs or modern strobe lights, help fill in the required light and allow the photo to develop. But with such a large area as Cowboys Stadium, no one single flash would adequately light the whole scene. Big Shot’s objective is to fill in the scene with not one, but a huge number of individual strobes to create a lot more light. Add to that a long exposure time and you get amazing results.

Big Shot has done a lot of landmarks in the past, including the Alamo and the U.S.S. Intrepid. Last November, the project photos our own Seabreeze Amusement Park, a considerably more humble but very beautiful project.


Better wine through genomics: Rochester boffins discover wine grape bacteria

As world populations continue to climb and food sources become more and more crucial to protect from all threats, it is good to know that someone’s taking the wine seriously.

Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in cooperation with an international team of boffins, have isolated the genomic structure of bacteria which are commonly found hosted in Riesling wine grape vines. They have also discovered another bacteria commonly found populating sugarcane crops. The information for these two pests has been submitted to the GenBank: a National Institutes of Health database of genomic structures. From there, other researchers can use the RIT team’s research to further their own studies:

“We assembled millions of short DNA sequences into long sequences and made biological sense out of them,” Gan says. “Having the near complete genetic information from a bacteria will bring us to a new level of research.”

“We can tease out information based on the genome of the organism that live inside the plant,” Hudson adds. “The question is, why are these bacteria living in the plants? Are they destroying the plants or are they providing a benefit? Are they providing nutrients that are helping the plant grow, like plant hormones, phosphorous or nitrogen? Is it a mutualistic relationship where the plant and bacteria are both benefiting?”

One researcher is Professor Andre Hudson, whose work with protein folding structures in algae has been previously reported on by DFE.

The research into these two pests goes well beyond applications to wine or sugar cane. The Methylobacterium and Novosphingobium bacteria studied in grape vines, for example, is a pest that feeds on the xylem inside plants. Xylem is the vascular system of a plant, allowing nutrients and waste to pass through the plant as necessary. Understanding the nature of this bacteria may unlock secrets that help grow a wide variety of other crops more efficiently.

Rochester Science

Your next pair of contacts may wear better thanks to RIT

There I was, sitting in the chair at a local eye-glass and contacts company, trying my damnedest to get my new contacts in. As a dude, we’re not anywhere near as often playing around with our eyeballs. You ladies have been putting pencils near your orbits since about a year or two before your moms allowed it, don’t lie.

But me? Well, I couldn’t stop blinking the little bastards straight off my finger and away from their intended targets. Eventually, the woman who was “helping” me got frustrated, tipped my head back and put the damned thing in herself in about two seconds. Fully-extended arm, I’m lucky I’m not blind.

For the rest of you, contacts are a must-wear. But they come at a cost to your health: dry eye syndrome is quite common amongst contact lens wearers, in part because contacts can get in the way of the eye’s natural ability to keep itself lubricated. This has to do with the way the contact is formed to sit on your eye, a design process which has until now been done largely as guess-work.

But researchers at RIT aim to change all that with a new set of mathematical algorithms born out of the wizardry known to many as fluid dynamics:

Ross, who researched fluid mechanics with Eastman Kodak Co. before becoming a professor at RIT, says that the research is a new, purely mathematical approach to looking at the tear film of the eye. “We initially envisioned the lens floating in a sea of tear film, when in fact, this is not the case,” Ross says. “The lenses are 100 to 200 microns thick, while the tear film is only 5 microns thick.”

Maki and Ross hope that Bausch & Lomb will eventually be able to implement their research into new design processes for their contact lenses.

So in short, your new contact lenses could very soon make your eyes a whole lot less itchy to wear. Which is a great comfort, especially to those one or two of you who have accidentally fallen asleep with them in…


RIT’s information security program trains students to catch a data thief

RIT’s percentage of students who receive full-time jobs after graduation is currently 95%. The college hopes to keep this number high as the world continues to advance technologically. This is the reason for the recent creation of the Department of Computing Security. This department looks to improve cyber security by combining the efforts of faculty and students from a wide range of fields, such as computer science, software engineering and information sciences and technologies departments.

The students and staff are experts in their fields, making a well-rounded, assorted security program. Between the creation of this department and the changes made to the college’s security-oriented degrees, RIT graduates are educated to better fit the criteria that modern employers have.

The nation as a whole depends on skills that involve strengthening cyber security. The United States relies heavily on technology for military and economic uses especially. Other countries are becoming increasingly technologically based as well, causing for more possible threat to the U.S.

In the recent past there have been reports declaring that telecommunication equipment companies in China are a potential threat. This can increase China’s sabotage abilities to the point where they can render our military equipment useless and block forms of communication during a national crisis or war.

We are moving into an age where cyber security is becoming increasingly more important. RIT is working to make sure that the nation is equipped with intelligent individuals who can protect the public in the case of threats from other countries through technology.

Sylvia Perez-Hardy, chair of the Department of Computing Security, stated; “The interdisciplinary members of the faculty enrich the curriculum by addressing security-related issues that exist within their disciplines in order to offer the strongest, most diverse security degree in the country.”


Tracking #Sandy on Twitter: RIT boffins create realtime geo-tagged tweet tracker.

As usual for those of us on Twitter, our news feeds are the place to which we find ourselves glued in the Hurricane Sandy crisis. From useful information, to sometimes even more useful humor to words of encouragement and word that our friends and family are ok, Twitter provides instantaneous, ad hoc community that is simultaneously both in and out of danger. But two masters students at Rochester Institute of Science went a little farther in showing just how global concern for Sandy’s victims really is:

Currently, the app pins a tweet regarding Hurricane Sandy on the world map and displays it for 10 seconds. It then stores the message and location in a database, before displaying the next tweet.

“We want to collect a timeline of tweets from Sandy’s start to finish,” Williams says. “If everything holds up, we’ll have stored up to 150,000 geo-located tweets by the end of Oct. 30.”

The project is powered by tapping into Twitter’s public timeline and searching for tweets that have specific terms or hashtags. Since Twitter allows users to “geo-tag” their tweet – to give the precise geographical location they’re at when sending a tweet – the Sandy mapper is able to determine where on the planet each corresponding tweet comes from and place it on the world map. As new tweets come up, the map pans from location to location. The system isn’t always perfect: for example, someone who writes a tweet about “Sandy” as in someone named Sandy might appear on the map, even though they have nothing to do with the storm.

Check out the project yourself. My only request might have been that they embed Twitter Intents to the results, so you could RT a few. Very fascinating to just watch as tweets come up, regardless. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to hit the “publish” button on this post and quickly snap back over there to see it!

Rochester Technology

RIT grad students lend a sustainable hand in Haiti

Sitting anywhere on a college campus, you’ll hear a lot of students discussing what they can do to benefit themselves. “Which classes should I take next quarter?” or “What club or activity would look best on my resume?” Very rarely, it seems, do you hear someone say “What can I do to help others?”

In August, four RIT students asked that very question. As part of a class in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, Sarah Brownell and Brian Thorn led a 10-day trip to Haiti. Along for the ride were graduate students Shwe Sin Win, Kim Hunt, Ricki Pavia and Darinee Narimarnkarm. In Haiti, the students worked on a project for Meds & Food for Kids.

Meds & Food for Kids was created in 2003 by Dr. Patricia Wolff:

Meds and Food for Kids’ approach is to use local labor and local resources to manufacture Medika Mamba, a treatment for malnutrition, which in turn develops the local economy.

The students worked with MFK to help find a better way to deal with a contaminant occasionally found in the peanuts used. By removing the contaminant, MFK would be able to use more of the locally grown peanuts, in turn helping Haiti’s economy and lowering the rate of malnutrition.

The students were able to see what it’s like to have the experience of developing and manufacturing a product in a developing country,” said Sarah Brownell, Engineering and Developing World teacher. “I think they wanted to see what constraints there are and how they can design better with them in mind.”

In a day and age where it seems that the typical human tends to think more about what can help than, as opposed to what can help others, it’s nice to see that there are still some college kids out there that want to truly make a difference.

On their trip, these four graduate students not only did what they could to help at that moment, they also planned for the future. The students met with organizations like Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods and MFK to discuss projects for future RIT graduate students to complete.

For more information on what you can do to help Haiti, go to

Rochester Technology

RIT to get new data center security, paid security gigs for students

McAfee’s generosity has landed itself in a sweet position with Rochester Institute of Technology for many years to come. The company donated $2.3 million in security hardware and software to RIT in an effort to enhance information security and research programs on campus. The generous donation will be used towards the establishment of a new data center located in Institute Hall as well as the McAfee Interlock Lab which will be launched in RIT’s B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences.

These data centers will be available to the entire RIT community. The energy-efficient labs will provide the latest in processing and storage, high-speed networking, and server management. The McAfee Interlock Lab will also provide opportunities for students to perform research and learn more about endpoint, server, and mobile security.
One way McAfee is benefitting of this great partnership is the opportunity to showcase its world-class security solutions in a higher learning environment. As a security provider to one of the top computing and information technology universities in the country, McAfee will certainly get recognition from the media as well as other higher learning institutes. McAfee can also expect new recruits from RIT’s graduating classes within the College of Computing and Information Sciences. What better than to hire individuals who already have experience with the latest technology McAfee has to offer?

The main point of this collaboration is that McAfee will certainly provide more than just increased information security for RIT students. Ultimately, cooperative experiences will be available for students within the College of Computing and Information Sciences. These paid positions would include working on RIT’s information security and performing tasks in the data center itself—while working as McAfee employees.

In an interview with Buffalo news Channel 7, Mike Goffin, a 4th year Information Security student discusses job opportunities in the field.

“I’ve already gotten several offers,” said Goffin. “There are always companies out there that don’t even know if they need security. It’s just really great to get the word out there so companies start to realize that they need to take it up a step. RIT is really providing those students to those companies.”
According to Goffin, the job market in the field of information security is growing and will continue to grow with better and newer technology that becomes available.

Through this brilliant partnership, both sides are sure to reap the benefits. RIT will improve its network security and have the tools to teach more effectively. By providing the opportunity and the technology, McAfee has established for itself a bounty of skilled and well-informed individuals who will be able to apply their knowledge of McAfee products and software their first day on the job.