Prawn Nebula and New Stars in High Resolution

The glowing jumble of gas clouds visible in new image make up a huge stellar nursery nicknamed the Prawn Nebula. Taken using the VLT Survey Telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, this may well be the sharpest picture ever taken of this object. It shows clumps of hot new-born stars nestled in among the clouds that make up the nebula. This image also contains information from images of this object taken by Martin Pugh.

The glowing jumble of gas clouds visible in new image make up a huge stellar nursery nicknamed the Prawn Nebula. Taken using the VLT Survey Telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, this may well be the sharpest picture ever taken of this object. It shows clumps of hot new-born stars nestled in among the clouds that make up the nebula. This image also contains information from images of this object taken by Martin Pugh.

A glowing jumble of clouds nicknamed the Prawn Nebula containing clumps of hot new-born stars is visible in a new, sharp image taken with the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) VLT Survey Telescope in Chile as part of a public survey led by University of Hertfordshire astronomers. Read More →

Could Life Have Survived a Fall to Earth?

Asteroid impacting Earth's oceans. Credit: NASA/Don Davis

Asteroid impacting Earth’s oceans. Credit: NASA/Don Davis

It sounds like science fiction, but the theory of panspermia, in which life can naturally transfer between planets, is considered a serious hypothesis by planetary scientists. The suggestion that life did not originate on Earth but came from elsewhere in the universe (for instance, Mars), is one possible variant of panspermia. Planets and moons were heavily bombarded by meteorites when the Solar System was young, throwing lots of material back into space. Meteorites made of Mars rock are occasionally found on Earth to this day, so it is quite plausible that simple life forms like yeasts or bacteria could have been carried on them. Read More →

Human Brains Hardwired for Empathy & Friendship

Friendships

Perhaps one of the most defining features of humanity is our capacity for empathy – the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes. A new University of Virginia study strongly suggests that we are hardwired to empathize because we closely associate people who are close to us – friends, spouses, lovers – with our very selves. Read More →

Collaborating to Improve Student Behavior

ClassDojo share notification

Today, ClassDojo, a free behavior management platform for teachers, students and parents, is launching a ‘Class Sharing’ feature: the ability for teachers to share their classes with other teachers at their school. This enables teachers to collaborate in order to build positive behaviors and character strengths with their students across classrooms, throughout the school day. This is a positive step towards helping teachers break down the walls separating their classes, and providing them an easier way to consistently improve behavior with students as they move through classes during the school day. Read More →

Small Business Contributions to U.S. Space Exploration

NASA OSBP Associate Administrator Glenn Delgado in conversation at JSC Industry Day. Credit: NASA.

NASA OSBP Associate Administrator Glenn Delgado in conversation at JSC Industry Day. Credit: NASA.

MARS OSB_CS55_FINAL_LO=TAGGED

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Many of you have likely been following the progression of the Mars Rover Curiosity in recent weeks. I’ve personally developed an interest in the types of tests that are being done on the red planet during the mission. This interest led me to think about the types of test equipment that is being utilized not only for experiments, but to ensure the safety of astronauts in manned missions as well. As I began to research this area further, I discovered an entire segment of expert service providers that are utilized by NASA to develop these specialized systems. Many of them are smaller firms and they’re doing some pretty incredible work for the agency. In fact, I discovered that NASA does a great deal to support small businesses each year via the Office of Small Business Programs (@NASA_OSBP).

Case Study: G Systems, L.P.

Systems and equipment used by NASA and other aerospace organizations aren’t the kind that you can just buy off the shelf. A piece of equipment that is used in space is obviously subjected to vastly different conditions than those found on Earth. Each must be rigorously tested before ever leaving the ground. To meet this need, NASA and other organizations often contract with highly specialized service providers to develop the equipment needed for individual space missions – including appropriate testing equipment required to maintain mission integrity. One such provider in my own backyard is G Systems, a growing, Texas-based engineering firm.

Pressurization and Vent System. Credit: G Systems, L.P.

Pressurization and Vent System, G Systems, L.P.

Unlike most test equipment available on the market today, the systems that G Systems develops are actually customized, turnkey models. That means that they can be expected to work whenever they’re turned on – without fail. Proper operation and maintenance are huge concerns in the aerospace industry since individual launch windows are often very small and involve a great number of interoperable systems. Having stable equipment to work with is needed because proper operation in space is absolutely vital. This is an industry where a single bolt means the difference between life and death.

While most of you probably have never heard of the company, several of the most recent space projects have involved G Systems’ contributions. For instance, one of their recent projects involved the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV). Having delivered test systems for the new Orion exploration crew vehicle test facility at the Michoud Assembly plant, G Systems played a major role in ensuring that this project went off without a hitch. They shipped data acquisition devices that collect and record information concerning the crew module’s structural strength.

G Systems also provided Orion researchers with data distribution devices that collect video of the capsule in addition to audio recordings and parametric information. Because the equipment is necessary for pressure tests, it’s actually capable of independently pressurizing the cabin. In other words, it can use supplies of air and helium to alter the pressure inside of the Orion capsule automatically. Data distribution tools also include an operator control terminal so that an engineer can set these options remotely if desired.

Data Acquisition System. Image Credit: G Systems, L.P.

Data Acquisition System. Credit: G Systems, L.P.

While the Constellation program has been shelved (sadly), the Orion project remains active today. Structural tests on the capsule are extremely important, and firms such as G Systems have played a key role in the program’s success thus far. While I don’t always agree with the actions taken by NASA administrators, I love the fact that they tap into the amazing talent available at private firms today. In doing so, the agency is supporting small business – always a good thing. This is yet another reason I remain a vocal proponent of NASA today.

Reference:

Archibald, R., & Finifter, D. (2003). Evaluating the NASA small business innovation research program: preliminary evidence of a trade-off between commercialization and basic research Research Policy, 32 (4), 605-619 DOI: 10.1016/S0048-7333(02)00046-X

Rapid Development of Orion Structural Test Systems. (2011). G Systems, L.P. Retrieved February 12, 2013, from goo.gl/7QW4p

Mansfield, C. L. (2013, January 14). NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA. Retrieved February 12, 2013, from goo.gl/zqjQK

ResearchBlogging.org

Integrating Learning Health Systems into Medical Education

Medicine

The original concepts behind learning health systems (LHS) were meant to address myriad concerns within the field of Western medicine, ranging from the high cost of healthcare (and resulting need for clinicians to provide greater overall value of care to their patients) to the wasteful gap of time between scientific innovations and their implementation within clinical environments. Although LHS have displayed much promise, and have begun to hasten the pace at which new insights can be put into real-time medical practice, they have faced significant stumbling blocks along the way. The reasons for this slow progress revolve around the ways in which LHS demand that clinicians learn not only new skills, but also new ways of thinking and making inquiries. In this arena, clinicians entering the workforce for the first time have a distinct advantage. They learn the basic philosophy and applications of LHS as a part of their baseline training, without needing to unlearn ingrained mental habits that are the result of old practice models. The influx of a new generation of clinicians promises to expedite the growth of LHS into a universal standard.

Introduction

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Our technological progress has outstripped the capacity for traditional Western medicine to access and make constructive use of its innovations. New medical knowledge is generated at such a fast rate that it threatens to overwhelm clinicians. Our health system is constantly confronted with more options than it has the capacity to implement. High healthcare costs, and concerns about the quality of care being provided, have heaped further strain upon its resources. Clinical directors feel a financial imperative to ascertain what really works in medical practice, to draw upon practice-based evidence, and to implement this knowledge quickly.[i] Within such a climate, clinicians find themselves struggling to provide better and more affordable healthcare to a growing population of patients while continuing to educate themselves about the newest procedures that scientific innovation makes available.

Background and Significance

The concept of learning health systems (LHS) was first conceived as a means of rapidly converting scientific evidence into medical practice. It also envisioned a scenario wherein the relationship between medicine and scientific inquiry would be more reciprocal – i.e., research would be more closely aligned with the sorts of questions that practicing clinicians urgently needed answers for. Nowadays, the LHS model has begun to prove its efficiency in moving scientific innovations into the real world of clinical application. Figure 1: Learning Health Systems Data Flow to Outcomes

LHS FlowchartThe idea of LHS has essentially arisen in acknowledgement of the fact that innovation in itself cannot fix our nation’s healthcare system. In order for new information and evidence to have value, it must be put into use. Both clinicians and their patients benefit from the assurance that they are accessing the most state-of-the-art procedures. For too long, medical researchers and clinicians have operated in vastly different environments with incompatible timelines.[ii] This fragmentation of the health care system has taken a grievous toll in some crucial ways. Many innovations in the field of health care have taken years to finally become assimilated into common medical practice.[iii]

It isn’t economically feasible for established medicine to achieve the best possible results through the procedures that it has long relied upon. Evidence-based medicine seeks to do more with the knowledge that is generated by research. It focuses upon innovation, quality, value and safety, and continually seeks areas that are in need of improvement. LHS strive to make the best evidence available when it comes time for healthcare providers and their patients to make crucial decisions. As matters stand at the moment, many of the decision-making models that Western medicine employs were created during a time when it had access to vastly fewer information streams.

Entering a New Era

The key challenge inherent in implementing LHS is the actual dissemination of the new knowledge and evidence that is being generated by scientific research. Performing both research and clinical functions within the same organization can facilitate progress in this area. New insights and approaches must somehow reach clinical directors directly – and quickly. One key tool that has enabled the medical profession to begin adapting to the pace of change is electronic health records (EHR). Large EHR databases have been the most crucial development in the evolution of LHS.[iv] Studies of large populations can be conducted quickly and with much less expense than previously possible. Gone are the days of consuming valuable time sifting through mounds of paper records. Now a veritable mountain of health data can be aggregated, analyzed, and then disseminated throughout the medical community.

With 5.3 million patients and over 1,400 sites, the Veterans Health Administration (VA) created the largest integrated EHR of its time.[v] The journey began in 1982 with its creation of the Decentralized Hospital Computer Program (DHCH), one of the first programs to pull together various healthcare settings from multiple databases into one location. A network of other sites contributed to the evolution of this program over the next few years. Now known as VistA, it handles a wide array of functions to serve administrative, clinical and financial needs. Advances in EHR technology enable healthcare professionals to cull data from large populations and/or target their inquiries into specific health conditions. They can more easily draw conclusions about population measures of health and disease as well as the efficiency of their own performances – all while respecting the privacy of patients. Healthcare can be better coordinated between different branches of an organization. This is vital to optimizing resources within the medical infrastructure – i.e., improving the overall health of its patient constituency while reducing costs.[vi] It could be said that the overarching goal of LHS is to create an environment wherein clinicians are able to learn the best applications of new technologies at the same pace at which those technologies are being produced.

Current computer technology has opened avenues towards this reality in several ways. It’s become easier for different organizations to synchronize their efforts, both in research and implementation. This creates a kind of architecture for LHS on a national level. The evidence base that clinicians have access to has expanded significantly. Also, EHRs encourage patients to become more involved in the healthcare system. They can read their own records online as well as access other health information and online services. Some high-risk patients have in-home monitoring devices that can collect and transmit crucial information to care providers, enabling those providers to respond quickly in crisis situations. EHR also allow clinicians to identify more general trends that pertain to their practice. They can obtain a clearer picture of how well their care is working for a given individual over a period of time, for example. Data can also be cross-referenced to illustrate various drug interactions as well as low performance of certain medications across the board.

Short-Term Stumbling Blocks

EHR and other elements that are integral to LHS do not, as yet, compose a single system, but rather a series of interlinked systems – each with its own database. This limits a clinician’s ability to form general conclusions based upon all the evidence available in a certain area. Inquiries into the entire catalog of a particular patient’s history are difficult to make. Laboratory values have yet to be standardized across the field of medical practice, oftentimes making it hard to compare evidence between two or more systems. LHS can open up a much broader world of options and decisions for clinicians, and assimilate the constant stream of new evidence so that continual improvements can be made in the methods, philosophy and ideals of established medical practice. It is still in its nascent stages, however, and many changes must be implemented before it becomes a universal system. The question of data collection – particularly, when and how it may overstep a patient’s privacy rights – is one stumbling block.[vii] Concerns are often raised whenever clinicians desire access to data for any purpose beyond that of patient treatment (this is known as “secondary uses”).

Privacy laws on both state and federal levels govern how the healthcare system can collect and disclose identifiable health information. Determining when any disclosure contributes to the good of the general public is oftentimes a gray area. Federal research regulations can thus become an obstacle in the path of evolving LHS. Changes within any organization are oftentimes slow whenever they are profound enough to demand a shift in thinking. LHS represent a new model of the ways in which modern medicine can function. They essentially redefine every clinician’s role in the new paradigm. New kinds of patient-provider interactions fundamentally change the way in which medicine is practiced. How flexible can the medical profession be in examining its own belief systems and accepting new findings that contradict old “facts” – and thus call for new procedures? This can pose special challenges for clinicians who have been working in the field for a number of years. For such practitioners, old models of inquiry, research, education and procedure have become deeply ingrained. The process of unlearning must occur before the new system can be thoroughly accepted. For these reasons, LHS have not been broadly utilized by Western medicine, despite the fact that the Institute of Medicine and many prominent clinicians throughout the U.S. have long championed them.

A Possible Way Forward

These particular challenges won’t exist for clinicians entering the workforce for the first time, however. For decades, employment in the healthcare industry has been growing, undeterred even by our economic downturn. Health care opened its arms to 559,000 new employees between December of 2007, when the current recession began, and November 2009.[viii] The level of employment in healthcare-related occupations is projected to keep increasing, as well. Several factors can account for this growth. Technological advances in patient care allows for a greater number of health problems to be treated. Statistically, increasing numbers of people are seeking – and receiving – preventative care as well. What’s more, our nation’s population is both growing and aging. The baby boomers are entering a stage of life that typically involves more medical concerns and the need for added attention. Modern medical knowledge and procedure has extended the general life expectancy, creating a situation wherein our nation has a larger population of elderly people than it ever supported in the past. It is projected that by 2030 more than a fifth of the American population (70 million people) will be over the age of 65.[ix] This ensures the growth of career opportunities for geriatric health workers. The need for an influx of new employees in the field of healthcare is obvious. But advances in online educational opportunities have streamlined the training process for many people, as well, enabling them to qualify for certain positions much more quickly than workers of previous generations were able to. All of these workers entering into the field of healthcare will learn the fundamentals of LHS as part of their primary medical education.[x] [xi] This will include the increasing use of physics- and computer-based technology and training via simulation. They will not have to unlearn old mental habits before they assimilate these new models and procedures.

Using a computed health-knowledge base profoundly alters traditional roles and responsibilities within the clinical world. They demand changes in what a clinician needs to know as well as in the ways that he or she learns. But all of this is easier for people who are getting acclimated to the system for the first time, and are not steeped in older structures of medical thought. Such people will contribute greatly to the growth of LHS because they will absorb its basic principles as part of their fundamental medical education and then build upon that knowledge base for the remainder of their careers. Unhampered by previous (and now outdated) models and practices, they’ll be able to move forward with this new approach to medicine without having to fight against old ingrained habits. They will be more comfortable than their predecessors would have been in a working environment where new research constantly influences and changes existing practice.

Reference:

  1. Etheredge, L. (2007). A Rapid-Learning Health System Health Affairs, 26 (2) DOI: 10.1377/hlthaff.26.2.w107
  2. A ‘learning health system’ moves from idea to action,” Medicalxpress.com, August 2012.
  3. McGraw, Devin (2012) “Paving the Regulatory Road to the ‘Learning Health Care System’”  Stanford Law Review Online. http://www.stanfordlawreview.org/online/privacy-paradox/learning-health-care-system
  4. Etheredge, Lynn M. “Envisioning a Rapid-Learning Healthcare System”, Institute of Medicine (US) Roundtable on Evidence-Based Medicine; Olsen LA, Aisner D, McGinnis JM, editors. The Learning Healthcare System: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2007. 4, New Approaches—Learning Systems in Progress.
  5. Chou, A., Vaughn, T., McCoy, K., & Doebbeling, B. (2011). Implementation of evidence-based practices Health Care Management Review, 36 (1), 4-17 DOI: 10.1097/HMR.0b013e3181dc8233
  6. Elmore, Rich (2012) “Toward a learning health system” The Allscripts Blog.
  7. “The Common Rule and Continuous Improvement in Health Care: A Learning Health System Perspective,” Harry Selker, Claudia Grossmann, Alyce Adams, Donald Goldmann, Christopher Dezii, Gregg Meyer, Veronique Roger, Lucy Savitz and Richard Platt. October 2011. P.6.
  8. United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Health Care, 2009.
  9. “America’s aging will increase demand for geriatric health workers,” Explore Health Careers.org, 2009.
  10. The case for knowledge translation: shortening the journey from evidence to effect,”  Dave Davis, Mike Evans, Alex Jadad, Laure Perrier, Darlyne Rath, David Ryan, Gary Sibbald, Sharon Straus, Susan Rappolt, Maria Wowk, Merrick Zwarenstein. BMJ. 2003 July 5; 327(7405): 33–35.
  11.  “Training the Learning Health Professional.” Institute of Medicine (US) Roundtable on Evidence-Based Medicine; Olsen LA, Aisner D, McGinnis JM, editors. The Learning Healthcare System: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2007. 7.

What’s Killing Our Honey Bees – And What’s at Stake?

bees

Along with other pollinators (which include hoverflies, butterflies and moths), honey bees perform a crucial role in the production of one-third of all the food we eat. Honey bees alone pollinate roughly fourteen billion dollars’ worth of food crops annually. They comprise a necessary part of the living ecosystem, and we would be hard-pressed to supply our world’s food needs without them. Read More →

The History and Basic Principles of Archetypal Psychology

Archetypal Psychology

The basic philosophy behind archetypal psychology was inspired by Carl Jung’s concept of the archetypes: Primordial symbols, appearing predominantly within our dreams, which are the common heritage of all mankind. The concept of archetypes implies that there are sources of health, healing, strength and wisdom within the psyche that are accessible to all of us. Archetypal psychology seeks to open up connections to this deeper source, believing that the true cures for a wide array of mental and emotional problems can be found there. Read More →

Adding Another Dimension to Computer Simulations

Computer Simulations

Four-dimensional space is a difficult concept but this idea is driving a new revolution in programming today. Individuals familiar with August Ferdinand Möbius’ research know that an additional dimension allows a three-dimensional form to be rotated over on top of its mirror image. This gives us the so-called Möbius strip. While computer algorithms that really simulate scalable four-dimensional space are still in their infancy, they’re already making a big splash. Read More →

5 Active Learning Strategies for the Science Classroom

Image Credit: Fuse

Image Credit: Fuse

Active learning is all about engaging students and getting them to actively participate in a lesson. This is the very opposite of traditional science lectures, where students sit passively and make notes while a lecturer talks. Research has shown that the human brain is better at remembering facts, solving problems and stays more engaged when stimulated with an absorbing activity. The five strategies outlined below show how this can be achieved and how your students can become successful active learners in the science classroom:

1. Start with an opening question

The start of a new lesson or lecture should provide a bridge between content previously covered and that which is about to be covered. A quick and simple way of achieving this involves starting with an opening question that provokes thought. For example, a lesson could ask students to think of their own recollections of the 2012 Mars rover landing and give an example of a moment that inspired them. The scene is then set for a brief discussion which everyone can contribute to, before a transition to the main part of the lesson.

2. Think-pair-share

‘Think-pair-share’ is an active learning strategy that requires students to develop their ideas as an individual, as a pair and as part of a larger group. The technique can be used at the start of a lesson to introduce a theme and also mid-way through to summarize the learning that has taken place. In the first step, students are asked to note down their thoughts in response to a question. They then pair up and explain ideas verbally to a partner. Finally, the teacher asks several pairs to share their best ideas with the class. The strategy works well with classes of various sizes and can be completed in as little as two or three minutes, making it a versatile technique which is easily incorporated into lesson plans.

3. Focused listing

Focused listing involves asking students to produce a list in response to a specific question. For example, ‘list ten learning outcomes that were covered in the previous lesson’ or ‘list as many biological characteristics of the human heart as you can’ will quickly generate a large number of responses from the class. The teacher can circulate round the class while students are producing the list and gauge the level of understanding or recollection that is present. Finally, students can be invited to share their lists which can then be summarized with the rest of the class.

4. Brainstorm

Image Credit: Indiana University

Brainstorming works well at the beginning of a lesson and requires students to list what they know about a certain topic. The activity works best when carried out in pairs or small groups, as students can often develop surprising connections between the ideas that are listed. Like the other strategies that have been listed, brainstorming can be adapted to classes of various sizes and requires minimal time to prepare

5. Question and answer pairs

In this technique students are paired together and take it turns to question and answer each other. The activity works well at the end of a lesson (or series of lessons) where a review of the learning needs to take place. Formulating and phrasing questions in the correct way is an excellent way of developing verbal communication skills and improving confidence with course content. If a competitive element is introduced, it can be interesting to see students striving to ask more and more challenging questions to catch their partner out!