January 11th, 2013
10:54 AM ET

Insane Membranes

Written By Heather M. Higgins, CNN
Video Edited By Nina Raja, CNN

A video of rainbow-pigmented cells opening and closing to the deep bass beats of an iconic 1990s rap hit has 2.1 million views on YouTube - all because a Michigan-based neuroscientist is using it to teach a new generation of young people about the brain.

“If you have an idea that involves the nervous system and electricity you can do that with very, very cheap parts – that’s the insight,” said Alex Wiltschko, a PhD student at Harvard University.  “So you can clip a wire onto a squid and pump in Cypress Hill into this squid’s membrane and see its colors react, see the chromatophores open and close to the music.”

The science behind this phenomenon is explained by Greg Gage, the co-founder of Backyard Brains, the company he created to democratize neuroscience education.

“The reason why it’s dancing to the music is that at that frequency, the low frequencies have long wave forms. Those long wave forms allow current to pass by, which causes an action potential, which causes the muscles inside the chromatophores to open for that brief moment of time,” Gage said.
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Filed under: Education • Innovation • Science • Tech • The Next List • Video
October 8th, 2012
11:12 AM ET

Japanese artist gives statue monumental abode

Written By Heather M. Higgins, CNN
Video Edited By Nina Raja, CNN

New York – On October 8, the world’s largest celebration of Italian-American heritage will travel up New York's Fifth Avenue in honor of the exploration and the courage that inspired Christopher Columbus’s discovery 520 years ago.

However, just three blocks to the west, residents and tourists have a rare opportunity to discover Columbus for the first time - at a whimsical art installation that has already caused intrigue and irritation within the community.

“When will you ever get the chance to have this face-to-face experience with the monument, the statue of Columbus,” said Nicholas Baume, director and chief curator of the Public Art Fund, a non-profit with a mission to bring dynamic, contemporary art projects to New York City.

“I think it’s a way of creating an intimacy and turning the public into the domestic in a very unique way," Baume continued. “And I think it’s a work about imagination, turning a fiction into a temporary reality.”

Japanese intervention artist Tatzu Nishi’s first major U.S. work, “Discovering Columbus,” places a 13-foot-high icon in the center of a modern American living room six stories above one of the city’s most bustling intersections.

This fresh vantage point offers dramatic views of Central Park and Midtown Manhattan from four loft-style windows. But more importantly, many see this exhibit as a teachable moment about Columbus, the statue, and the circle itself.
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Q&A: Innovation through the eyes of a former intern
Persaud teaching children littleBits at Maker Faire Bay Area in May 2012
July 5th, 2012
04:07 PM ET

Q&A: Innovation through the eyes of a former intern

By Heather M. Higgins, CNN

New York (CNN) – Daylight pours in a large northern exposed window and bounces off the grape-colored walls of a 13’ x 10’ office that is part of the 5500 square foot arts and science co-operative called Collab.

The six employees who work shoulder-to-shoulder at this lower Manhattan startup are designing tiny, brightly colored electronic squares. However, these Lego-like modules are much more than the next hot toy on the market – they’re encouraging young boys and girls to learn about science, engineering and basic circuits.

“The idea is that we want to make every single electronic interaction in the world into a ready to use brick,” says Ayah Bdeir, 29, founder and CEO of littleBits, a company that has been selling their product for less than a year.

One of the people collaborating to advance this mission is Krystal Persaud, 23, a 2010 graduate of Georgia Tech who interned for three months before being hired as a full-time junior industrial designer on June 1st. Persaud, who has always been into art and painting, pushed herself to pursue a degree in industrial design.

Her skills were tested at a recent workshop she titled ‘Techno Jungle’ – a littleBits Saturday class to inspire children to build animals whose tails spin and eyes light up.

“Krystal impressed me when I met her on Skype by her project ‘The Closed Loop,’ Bdeir said. “She grew weary of superficial sustainability solutions and embarked on a self-imposed project over several months where she was not going to produce any waste, and instead was going to live with her trash. I hired Krystal because, like us, she wants to change the world, she is starting from within, and most importantly, she knows how to have fun doing it.”
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Inside Philadelphia's energy innovation hub
June 27th, 2012
01:51 PM ET

Inside Philadelphia's energy innovation hub

By Heather M. Higgins, CNN

Philadelphia (CNN) –  There's a monstrous industrial eyesore that sits ominously along Philadelphia's Delaware River waterfront. However, behind the cobalt blue gates at the southernmost tip of Broad Street is a booming energy innovation center that has the potential to put the City of Brotherly Love back on the national map.

“This area was lifeless and look at it now – it's really special,” said Dave Ziel, chief development officer of Urban Outfitters, Inc, which, along with others, is helping revitalize the Navy Yard area. “The isolation is what gives it the opportunity itself.”

The hipster-friendly retailer, which also operates the Free People and Anthroplogie brands, moved its headquarters into the 19th century red brick workshops at Philadelphia’s Navy Yard in 2005. The workspace promotes a culture of socialization and connectivity while maintaining the integrity of each brand. FULL POST

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An ancient instrument goes mobile
Cameron Carpenter and Robert C. Tall before organ performance on Venice Beach.
June 14th, 2012
01:00 AM ET

An ancient instrument goes mobile

By Heather M. Higgins, CNN

Los Angeles (CNN) – Perched high above Glendale, Calif., in the dry heat of the Verdugo Mountains sits an octagonal room that houses a musical instrument with a storied past and an uncertain future.

“There's no question about it that the pipe organ will always be the most revered of the organs, but it doesn't reach the masses now like the digital organ will,” said Robert C. Tall, PhD., 74, an organist who has played many of the great organs around the world.

If you've never stepped inside a church like the magnificent Milan Cathedral, or if you've never attended a concert at a hall like the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, chances are you haven't heard live organ music. All of that could change. The fledgling digital organ, which has been relegated to second class, has a new generation of champions.

One of those champions is virtuoso and traveling sensation, Cameron Carpenter.

“The organ is in a kind of crisis. I think it needs radically outsider approaches to reestablish its connection with the world at large. And that's what I'm doing,” said Carpenter at the TED 2012 conference in Long Beach, Calif. earlier this year.

Carpenter is embracing new technology to design a digital touring organ invented specifically for the 21st century.

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Innovators turn 'disruption' into positive change
February 14th, 2012
01:26 PM ET

Innovators turn 'disruption' into positive change

By Heather M. Higgins, CNN

(CNN) - Disruption is often associated with negativity – it implies trouble and confusion.

But, once in a while, a good shake-up may be just what the world needs. Nearly 400 creative thinkers gathered in Lower Manhattan on a recent Saturday to fuel a dialogue that aims not only to spark innovation but to propel change in the next three to five years.

The early February event was billed as “TEDxBigApple Disruptive Ideas,” and it provided a platform for an impressive roster of 15 change agents. Speakers ranged from physicians to fashionistas, green-tech innovators and urban planners. The group is purely volunteer-driven. It's independently organized but is designed to mimic a TED-like experience. TED is a group dedicated to "ideas worth spreading." FULL POST

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