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Does Your Audience Understand?

A recent The Scientist article talks about the appalling lack of understanding of key scientific concepts and terminology among science teachers and scientists!  If even those who work in the field can't follow exactly what you mean when you use terms like theory, and hypothesis, and fact, how can we expect a non-scientific audience to follow?

It is incumbent upon us, as science communicators, to be familiar with our audience, the terms they know and use, and what those terms mean to them.  Work with your audience, not against them, and recognize that does not mean you are "dumbing down" the science.  When your 14 year-old uses different words to talk to you and your friends than she does her friends, is she "dumbing it down" for you, or is she communicating with you in a way that you intuitively understand?

Congratulations, SpaceX!

Straight from the SpaceX Website this afternoon,

"Nominal Second stage cut off (SECO) - Falcon 1 has made history as the first privately developed liquid fueled launch vehicle to achieve earth orbit!!!!!!"

This is a fantastic achievement in the development arc of commercial space, and I'm sure only the first of many to come for SpaceX.  Personally, I find it very exciting to be here at the beginning stages of our evolution into a private spacefaring race.

Who, and what, is next?

Falcon 1, Flight 4

For those of you (like me) who found it sneaking up on you, SpaceX could launch the 4th flight of Falcon 1 as soon as today (Sept. 23)!

Like the other launches, I'm sure video will be available live on the Spacex Website.

VC Tip of the Day

Via the always excellent A VC, I found out about the new Twitter bot VC TipsBryce Roberts has rounded up several VCs to post short tips straight from the VCs mouth.  While the Twitter format isn't really going to allow for great insights or huge revelations, I'm sure that reminders of the basics are good, as many entrepreneurs have their heads down and forget the basics far too frequently.



Technology Transfer and the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980

Universities and governmental agencies are by far the largest research and development machines in the United States; though it is often through the interaction of universities (or government agencies) and businesses that the public finally sees the benefits of research. Each entity brings a unique dynamic to the relationship; universities can easily form multidisciplinary relationships as well as work on basic research that has no immediate profit. On the other hand, businesses understand consumer needs and the barriers involved in taking a product to the marketplace.

Before 1980, the U.S. government retained all rights to university inventions created under federal funding. Businesses interested in using government patents were usually granted non-exclusive licenses, which their competitors could obtain as well. This created a low interest in technology transfer between the government and industry. The Bayh-Dole Act was enacted in 1980 (so named for its sponsorship in the senate by Birch Bayh and Bob Dole) to increase this technology transfer and thereby stimulate the economy. The act has allowed universities, small businesses, and non-profits the ability to patent inventions and techniques created under federal funding.

Universities now are able to generate income to fund their own research or other university endeavors. Universities make money through the issuing of exclusive patent use rights to businesses. Businesses make money by offering unique products. In the end, the government also makes money as well, through taxation of the new products created (as well as income tax from possible increased job employment through increased industry). The government also retains the right to protect the public interest through non-exclusive use of a patent.

Recently the Act has received some criticism. Critics are worried that there will be a cultural shift in universities away from basic research which has a lower profit value. Some businesses also complain that what is now being patented would have previously been given freely and that it should be given freely since the research is funded through taxes. Whatever the case, it can’t be denied that this act has greatly increased the transfer of technology from universities to businesses. It also offers a powerful case study on how the dynamics of law and business can effect commercial scientific development.

NASA and the Evolution of the Swimsuit

So far, Michael Phelps has won an amazing six gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Phelps and fellow US teammates have sworn by their sponsor, Speedo, and their brand new swimsuit line, the Speedo LZR Racer. It is being marketed as “the fastest swimsuit in the world” and has indeed sparked controversy based on its ability to vastly “outperform” other suits.

And how does one swimsuit outperform another exactly? Well the LZR was designed to have the lowest water friction drag while compressing the swimmer’s body into a smoother aqua-dynamic shape without restricting the range of body movement available. More specifically, the seams are “ultrasonically bonded” to ensure a fully smooth surface area while still lightweight and water-repellent. The fabric is being marketed under a special proprietary name, the Speedo Pulse fabric. It has been designed to “reduce muscle oscillation and skin vibration through powerful compression” (from the Speedo website). A corset like core is designed into the suit to support an optimum swimming posture while worn. Unlike the regular fashion suits seen in stores that hang flat on the hangers, these suits were designed in 3-D and still have the body shape when not worn so as to mimic a second skin. The suit is so tight and thin that it can take swimmers over thirty minutes just to put it on!

It was developed with the help of NASA; an obvious choice due to its’ decades-long history of wind tunnel friction research for spacecraft. NASA specifically tested over sixty types of potential fabrics to determine the one with the lowest drag. Speedo also collaborated with the Australian Institute of Sport and the University of Otago in New Zealand for testing of other components for the suit.

This is not the first time NASA’s space research has made waves in the evolution of competition swimming. In the early 1980s Langley Research Center was researching a way to minimize air drag on plane surfaces when it developed the Riblet. A Riblet is a tiny groove in the external material of the plane (or swimsuit). If Riblets are placed over the most turbulent areas of the object it can significantly alter the turbulence experienced. In 1996 a company named Arena North America developed the ribbed swimsuit based on this concept and placed riblets in the chest and buttocks areas of the swimsuit. Upon testing, it was shown to be over ten percent faster than any other swimsuit types previously developed at the time.

This technology has also been used for other non-aerospace or aquatic uses (to line pipes and ducts) and is a great example of scientific research’s utility for the general public.

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