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With This Smart Microscope, You Can Play Pac-Man With Live Microbes

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Screenshot via YouTube

A 3D-printed microscope attachment can turn scientific observation into a video game. LudusScope, a smartphone microscope designed by Stanford University researchers, could be a low-cost way to get kids invested in biology, its creators write in a paper in PLOS One. As reported by Gizmodo, the microscope can be connected to a phone to allow you to play games with microbes, particularly Euglena, a single-cell microorganism that’s attracted to light and often used in science labs.

LudusScope consists of a 3D-printed microscope with four LED lights controlled by a joystick. A smartphone holder keeps your phone camera positioned over the microscope eyepiece so you can see what’s going on in the microscope slide. Android software (the code is freely available on GitHub) allows you to play games by superimposing images over the view of the slide, so that, for instance, it looks like the bacteria are roaming around a soccer field.

Kim et al., PLOS One (2016)

 
Because the microbes respond to light, you can guide their movements with the LEDs. One game allows user to turn one of the microorganisms into Pac-Man, while another turns one into a soccer ball ready to be lured between the goalposts by the LED flashes. The software also tracks the real-time speed of the Euglena’s movements. Other programs included are purely educational, allowing you to collect data on the microorganisms' behavior.

The PLOS One study showed that 12-year-olds could successfully assemble the LudusScope by themselves using basic instructions provided, and a second demo with 10 high school students found that all 10 were able to operate the microscope and accurately make observations of and draw the Euglena they saw. According to the researchers, building the full set-up on your own would cost about $100, but if you already have access to a 3D printer—as some schools do—it would only be $60, and even less if you just build the attachment to use on a standard microscope. They estimate that mass-producing the microscope (rather than 3D printing it) would lower the cost to about $30 per microscope.

Ingmar Riedel-Kruse, the Stanford bioengineer whose lab developed the technology, is currently working with an educational game company to develop science kits that would be available within the next year.

If you’re interested in building the kit for yourself, there are instructions in the paper’s supplementary materials.

[h/t Gizmodo]
 

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Tulane University Offers Free Semester to Students Affected by Hurricane Maria
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As Puerto Rico continues to assess the damage left by Hurricane Maria last month, one American institution is offering displaced residents some long-term hope. Tulane University in New Orleans is waiving next semester’s tuition fees for students enrolled at Puerto Rican colleges prior to the storm, Forbes reports.

From now until November 1, students whose studies were disrupted by Maria can apply for one of the limited spots still open for Tulane’s spring semester. And while guests won’t be required to pay Tulane's fees, they will still be asked to pay tuition to their home universities as Puerto Rico rebuilds. Students from other islands recovering from this year’s hurricane season, like St. Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are also welcome to submit applications.

Tulane knows all too well the importance of community support in the wake of disaster. The campus was closed for all of the 2005 fall semester as New Orleans dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. During that time, schools around the world opened their doors to Tulane students who were displaced. The university wrote in a blog post, “It’s now our turn to pay it forward and assist students in need.”

Students looking to study as guests at Tulane this spring can fill out this form to apply.

[h/t Forbes]

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Pablo, a Groundbreaking New BBC Series, Teaches Kids About Autism
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BBC

Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 68 kids in the U.S., but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the nature of the condition and what it feels like to have it. As BuzzFeed reports, a new British children’s program aims to teach viewers about autism while showing kids on the spectrum characters and stories to which they can relate.

Pablo, which premiered on the BBC’s kids’ network CBeebies earlier this month, follows a 5-year-old boy as he navigates life with autism. The show uses two mediums: At the start of an episode, Pablo is played by a live actor and faces everyday scenarios, like feeling overstimulated by a noisy birthday party. When he’s working out the conflict in his head, Pablo is depicted as an animated doodle accompanied by animal friends like Noa the dinosaur and Llama the llama.

Each character illustrates a different facet of autism spectrum disorder: Noa loves problem-solving but has trouble reading facial expression, while Llama notices small details and likes repeating words she hears. On top of demonstrating the diversity of autism onscreen, the show depends on individuals with autism behind the scenes as well. Writers with autism contribute to the scripts and all of the characters are voiced by people with autism.

“It’s more than television,” the show’s creator Gráinne McGuinness said in a short documentary about the series. “It’s a movement that seeks to build awareness internationally about what it might be like to see the world from the perspective of someone with autism.”

Pablo can be watched in the UK on CBeebies or globally on the network's website.

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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