October 22, 2014

Business & technology: Making advances in Florida

Advances are being made in the fields of business, engineering, computer science, agriculture, physical education, astronomy, history, psychology, politics, marine science and music.

Amy Keller | 6/1/2012

Computer Science

» Bandwidth Bandits
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When it comes to watching movies online, you don’t need to get what you don’t see. Hari Kalva, an associate professor in Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, is working on ways to whittle down the bandwidth needs of video services. Netflix alone eats up nearly a third of the internet’s bandwidth during peak viewing hours from 7 to 10 p.m. daily. Kalva’s research focuses on not transmitting all the data that comprise a movie without affecting the viewer’s perception of quality. “It turns out, when you’re watching a video, you’re not seeing everything that’s on the screen,” says Kalva. When a movie cuts from one scene to another, for example, viewers experience “temporal masking” — for a fraction of a second before and after the transition, they can’t perceive any reductions in video quality. Such moments create opportunities for bit-rate decreases without degrading the viewer’s experience, says Kalva.

Agriculture

Fly Baiter
Florida Fly Baiter
» Fly-Baiting
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Flies like blue. University of Florida researcher have found out that flies prefer to fly toward it more than other colors and react to it more. Application: A new, blue, insecticide-laced fly control device called the Florida Fly-Baiter.


Physical Education

» Exercise and Learning
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Scientists who investigate how the brain responds to stimuli have found connections between “thinking” activities and physical activities. Research has shown, for example, that spinning stimulates the same part of the brain as learning math; skipping stimulates a part of the brain that’s also linked to reading.

Nancy H. Cummings, chair of the physical education department at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, is trying to use that knowledge to determine whether physical activities can help children with dyslexia improve their reading and literacy scores with a “movement and performance” curriculum for elementary school children with dyslexia. “If a child has difficulty skipping by a certain age, then we also know the way the brain is wired they’re most likely struggling with reading as well,” she says.

“We are finding with certain activities that jumping jacks, balancing and fine motor coordination with the upper extremity is correlated to the reading and the literacy test scores,” says Cummings. “You can trick the brain into learning because it does not know the difference between a physical stimulus or a cognitive stimulus, and if we can create a stimulus through a physical activity, then that pathway is open when they go into the classroom.”

Astronomy

» Double Suns
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Double Suns
UF’s Eric Ford and other astronomers have recently discovered planets that orbit two suns.
Star Wars aficionados may recall that Luke Skywalker came from a planet called Tatooine that orbits two suns. Using data from NASA’s Kepler telescope, researchers including UF astronomer Eric Ford recently discovered two new planets each orbiting twin suns. In addition to the novelty of the discovery, it also contributes to “our understanding of planet formation,” says Ford. “This is another example of a completely different type of solar system where the planets orbit a pair of stars that orbit each other in an even more compact orbit than the planets’ orbit.” Kepler-16b, the first discovery of a Tatooine-like planet last year, is 200 light years from Earth. The two newly discovered planets, Kepler-34b and Kepler-35b, are 4,900 and 5,400 light years away, making them among the most distant planets discovered. Ford says the planets were detected by virtue of their silhouettes when they passed in front of the stars and temporarily blocked a portion of the star’s light.


» Acidic Moon
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Iced-over Europe
Iced-over Europa
Jupiter’s moon, Europa, is roughly the same size as Earth’s moon but far smoother because its surface is composed of ice. While scientists have theorized for decades that some form of life might exist in the saltwater ocean believed to lie underneath Europa’s crust, Matthew Pasek, an astrobiologist at the University of South Florida, says that’s highly unlikely. By feeding data collected from the Galileo probe into computer models, Pasek and University of Arizona researcher Richard Greenberg were able to conduct a chemical analysis of Europa that showed that moon’s ocean is likely too acidic for life. Their computer models predicted that the high levels of oxygen in Europa’s crust would likely combine with sulfur and other materials from the rocks at the bottom of the ocean to generate sulfuric acid. That would produce water with a pH of about 2.6 — about the same as your average soft drink, Pasek says. “Fish, corals, whales or other large animals would find it difficult to live within the ocean of Europa.”

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