Northeastern University has announced plans to build a state-of-the-art interdisciplinary science and engineering research facility in Roxbury on Columbus Avenue. Scheduled for completion in fall 2016, the new complex will provide 220,000 square feet of research and educational space and is part of the university’s ongoing effort to expand its capacity to engage in path-breaking research across disciplines.
“This new complex is the canvas upon which our faculty colleagues, students, and staff will produce the next generation of breakthroughs,” said Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun. “It will be a hub of scholarship and teaching and will significantly advance our mission as a use-inspired research university. We are also proud to create the first private research development in Roxbury.”
The Boston Globe reported the news Thursday morning.
The interdisciplinary science and engineering complex will be located next to the expanding Ruggles MBTA station and house wet and dry lab facilities, educational laboratories, classroom space, and offices for faculty and graduate students. It will feature cutting-edge scientific equipment to be shared by researchers from Northeastern’s College of Science, Bouvé College of Health Sciences, College of Engineering, and College of Computer and Information Science. The project will also include a 280-seat auditorium and a large atrium with a spiral staircase.
The six-story facility will be designed with open shared laboratory space, and numerous areas that promote informal serendipitous discussions will foster interdisciplinary collaboration. Through the liberal use of glass walls, faculty, students, and visitors will be able to view a broad range of research activities that are underway.
“Solutions to many of the world’s most pressing challenges are created at the intersection of disciplines,” said Stephen W. Director, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “Our integrated science and engineering complex will allow Northeastern researchers to address challenges across many fields, with particular emphasis on our signature research themes of health, security, and sustainability.”
Construction of the new facility will provide much-needed space for Northeastern’s ongoing faculty-hiring initiative. Over the past seven years, the university has recruited 387 new tenured and tenure-track faculty members, many of whom have joint appointments across academic disciplines. The university is continuing to recruit tenured and tenure-track faculty at a record pace.
Northeastern has increased its annual research funding by more than 100 percent since 2006, and in the 2011–2012 academic year the university received more than $100 million in external research funding. The university is also diversifying its research funding by deliberately increasing support from philanthropic and corporate sources, not just government grants.
The new LEED-certified facility will be constructed on a 3.5-acre parcel owned by Northeastern and currently used as surface parking. The site’s development provides an opportunity to strengthen the Columbus Avenue corridor, improve pedestrian connections, and create new open space and streetscape amenities to be shared with the surrounding community. The project represents an investment by the university of approximately $225 million.
Designed by the architectural firm Payette, the project also includes plans to construct a unique pedestrian bridge over the MBTA Orange Line, commuter rail, and Amtrak tracks. The bridge—similar to New York City’s “Highline”—will connect two distinct sections of Northeastern’s campus and bolster the university’s strong ties to its surrounding communities.
The new science complex is a key part of Northeastern’s Institutional Master Plan, which university officials developed over the past two years in collaboration with faculty, students, staff, city planners, and campus neighbors. The plan was approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority on Nov. 14.
“At the outset of this process we identified mutuality, respect, and transparency as our guiding principles,” said Ralph Martin II, senior vice president and general counsel, who spearheaded the Institutional Master Plan Process. “After nearly two years of discussion, debate, and negotiations with elected officials and neighbors, and guided by the redevelopment authority, we believe we have a plan that serves those principles and will have a transformational effect on both Northeastern and our neighborhoods.”
In 2011, scientists successfully engineered a lethal avian flu virus to be transmissible between birds as well as mammals and possibly humans. The novel virus, a genetically engineered variation of H5N1 avian influenza, sparked an enormous debate among both the research community and the public about how to manage such research and whether it should even be carried out at all.
That’s where Northeastern stepped in. “We thought it was important to provide some hard numbers to the debate,” said Alessandro Vespignani, a world-renowned statistical physicist and the Sternberg Family Distinguished University Professor.
In a paper released Thursday in the journal BMC Medicine, Vespignani and his collaborators provide those hard numbers—and they aren’t terribly reassuring. “This study provides a very accurate modeling approach to assess the probability of containment in the case of accidental escape,” explained Vespignani, who holds joint appointments in the College of Science, College of Computer and Information Science, and Bouvé College of Health Sciences. “Unfortunately there are large chances that the outbreak will not be contained.”
Vespignani and his research team used census data from the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands to create a computational model that tracked how an experimental virus would spread if it were accidentally released from a facility operating at a biosafety level of 3 or 4. These labs carry out the most health hazardous biological research in the world and are often located in populous urban areas.
The team, which includes collaborators at the Bruno Kessler Foundation in Trento, Italy, looked at the effectiveness of several non-pharmaceutical interventions following a release: isolation of the laboratory; household quarantine of the infected worker; and quarantine of individuals who came into contact with the infected worker.
They examined these containment scenarios in the context of different viruses, ranging in transmissibility from a mild seasonal influenza to one similar to the Spanish flu, which killed nearly 5 percent of the world’s population in 1918.
The results of the simulation suggest a 5–15 percent chance that an accidental escape would not be detected, especially in the case of very transmissible viruses and those where symptoms are not immediately spotted. In addition, they found that containment would depend on the structure and density of the local population surrounding a facility.
“Most BSL labs are in big urban areas,” Vespignani explained. “In those areas we show that the probability of not containing the outbreak is three to five times larger than what it would be in isolated areas.”
While the probability of accidental release is extremely low—there’s only 0.3 percent chance of a virus escaping one of these labs each year—even a single event can translate into a vast public health emergency, said Stefano Merler, one of the researchers who is based at the Kessler Foundation. Moreover, the number of BSL3 and 4 laboratories is increasing, creating a greater combined risk the world over.
As such, this type of research could prove extremely useful for policymakers deciding where to build facilities, Vespignani said. “It’s also useful in weighting the opportunity of authorizing experiments and in defining protocols for containment,” he added.
When technology companies get floated on the stock market, it prompts all kinds of analytical soul searching. Is Facebook really worth its $135 billion valuation? Is Zynga worth anything at all? Twitter is the latest Silicon Valley darling to offer the public a slice of its financial future. It is pricing its shares at $26 each, which values the company at more than $14 billion.
The company is pinning its hopes on boosted advertising revenues from its social media platform, but it also makes about $47 million a year from licensing its data to other firms. These companies can use the information to identify trends or monitor sentiment, for example. And it is not just big businesses that have an interest in this gold mine of data. Researchers also analyse it to gain insights into the way we behave. New Scientist has written about many of these over the years – here are five of the most exciting ones.
1. Tweet for the sick
You can use tweets to track the spread of disease. Adam Sadilek at the University of Rochester in New York and his colleagues used Twitter to follow the spread of flu virus in New York City. They used machine learning algorithms to search 4.4 million tweets for signs that people were feeling unwell. The system could differentiate between actual and metaphorical sickness, so “I’m sick of this traffic”, for example, wouldn’t register as illness. Combining this with location data, the team was able to see how the flu was travelling and predict when twitter users would fall ill. It could, perhaps, one day be used to warn people when they’re about to enter an area with a high infection rate.
2. The evolution of language
Twitter isn’t just good for telling you the latest news, it can also show how words are developing and spreading. Jacob Eisenstein of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta tracked the evolution of words. “Bruh”, a variation on “bro”, rose out of the south-eastern United States and made its way to California. “CTFU”, which stands for “cracking the fuck up”, emerged in Cleveland, Ohio, before spreading into Pennsylvania.
3. Beating the stock market
Can the fickle swing of Twitter conversation predict the billion-dollar jitters of the stock market? One hedge fund, Derwent Capital Markets, thought it could, but had to close its doors in May 2012. Twitter’s data can help predict stock market movement though. In October, The Wall Street Journal reported that subscribers to a company called Dataminr got an alert to take action 5 minutes before news of a shooting on Capitol Hill in Washington DC reached US TV. When the news hit the wider media it led to a 20 point drop in the Standard & Poor’s 500 financial index. Dataminr used an algorithmic assessment of Twitter to find the information fast.
4. Mapping America’s emotional state
Psychiatrists aren’t running machine learning on their patients’ Twitter profiles – yet. But large volumes of tweets can be used to make assertions about the happiness of large groups of people. A sentiment analysis run by Alan Mislove of Northeastern University in Boston measured every public tweet posted between September 2006 and August 2009, using a psychological word-rating system to identify happy or sad tweets. It turns out that the US west coast is happier than the east. Happiness peaks each Sunday morning, then dives to an all-week low on Thursday evenings.
5. Track food poisoning in restaurants
Social media messages can also tell us which places to eat might give our stomachs a nasty turn. Another system developed by Sadilek, called nEmesis, gathered 3.8 million New York tweets and ranked them for relevance to food poisoning. Messages containing words like “stomach” and “ill” were some of the key indicators that things weren’t right. A crowd of online workers then fell on the suspect tweets and ranked them according to likelihood that the tweeter had food poisoning. The human-generated results were used to automatically tag suspect tweets and show which restaurants might be best avoided.
Article on NewScientist.com
It is becoming the preferred social network for American teens. It is an important “second screen” for TV viewers of NFL football and “Dancing With the Stars.”
It also happens to be a tool for social activists which arguably can help topple governments.
In its brief history, Twitter has become ingrained in global politics, culture and entertainment, in addition to being a simple tool for sharing ideas.
Twitter has become a democratizing force in political life, as seen during popular movements in Arab countries, but also in the United States and other developed nations.
In Arab countries, “it is very difficult for the state to dominate public discourse anymore because of Twitter,” said Adel Iskandar, a Georgetown University professor of communication and scholar of Arab studies.
“You can have an official statement, and this can be taken to task in an instantaneous way by the public at large. This changes the dynamics and structure of power.”
Iskandar said it would be “an oversimplification” to attribute the Arab Spring uprisings to Twitter, but maintained that the one-to-many messaging service “speeded things up.”
“These protest movements could have occurred over six or seven years,” he said. “But in a couple of days people found out what was happening a thousand miles away.”
Important tool for democracy activists
Iskandar said the same is essentially true in the United States and elsewhere, because the populace on Twitter can instantly respond or debunk messages from political leaders trying to control their message.
Twitter “has a way of disrupting the status quo in an almost effortless way,” he told AFP.
Philip Howard, who heads the Digital Activism Research Project at the University of Washington, said Twitter “is still one of the most important social networking tools for democracy advocates.”
Howard told AFP that authoritarian regimes have cracked down or entrapped dissidents using Facebook but that “content flows more quickly on Twitter and it’s harder to do that.”
He said that Twitter’s speed and mobility is useful “in the heavy days of protests when you are trying to get thousands of people to the central square.”
Zeynep Tufekci, a University of North Carolina sociologist who researched recent protests in Turkey, said Twitter was “pretty much the social network that facilitated the protesters ability to break censorship.”
She said dissidents in Turkey like Twitter “because it is lightweight, it protects the users, and you can follow people without having to friend them, which is important for many forms of communication.”
Panagiotis Metaxas, who heads media arts and sciences at Wellesley College, said Twitter has some advantages over other platforms like Facebook, because each tweet is equal.
“The kind of things we broadcast on Twitter have a greater propagation life than on Facebook,” he said.
Additionally, he said Twitter harnesses the power of the crowd to effectively squelch rumors and false statements in a way Facebook cannot.
“If someone wants to say silly things on Facebook you can’t prevent that, but on Twitter it will be drowned out,” he told AFP.
Twitter’s immediacy is being used in television ratings, and for instant feedback for live programs like “Dancing With the Star,” or to vote for contestants on “American Idol.”
Twitter can measure happiness, track flu outbreaks
The more Twitter grows, the more it can be used to analyze trends, moods and other important societal data. It has been used to track outbreaks of flu and other diseases, and cases of food poisoning.
Researchers like Twitter because almost all tweets are open, and the company provides an easy way to download the data, says Northeastern University computer scientist Alan Mislove, who worked on a study measuring “the pulse of the nation” published in 2010.
“You can get a large sample of data that covers a whole country or several countries,” he said. “You can get the text to look at sentiment, to look at patterns. This kind of data is being used by researchers in psychology, sociology, political science, geography.”
Other scientists have used Twitter for a “happiness index,” while some have focused on mood swings over a day or a season.
So while Twitter is a useful organizing tool, it also measures the kinds of chatter that can be used to show who might win an election, or how popular a film might be.
Teens ‘escape their parents’
US teens are gravitating toward Twitter as their preferred social network as well, according to a recent survey by the investment firm Piper Jaffray, which found 26 percent of youngsters naming Twitter their favorite.
A Pew Research Center report this year showed Facebook remains on top, used by 90 percent of teens, but that Twitter had doubled in popularity among teens.
“Twitter is meeting a need for a sense of simplicity,” said Pew researcher Amanda Lenhart.
“It’s 140 characters and that’s kind of freeing. You don’t have to write much. And young people appreciate the privacy settings, it’s on or it’s off.”
Lenhart said teens view Twitter as requiring less maintenance than a Facebook page because the tweets are a flow and “it feels like it disappears.”
Tufekci said many young users are on Twitter “to escape their parents on Facebook.”
Article from France24.com