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

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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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Kyle Ely
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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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The Facts Behind That $5 Billion in 'Forgiven' Student Loan Debt
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The New York Times created a considerable stir on July 17 by detailing a widespread student loan repayment crisis. According to the paper, one of the largest holders of private loans, National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts, has been struggling to provide documentation that proves it owns the $5 billion in delinquent accounts that it’s been attempting to collect. Without that paperwork, dozens of lawsuits brought against defaulting borrowers are being dismissed.

A lack of a paper trail is never a good thing for the plaintiff in attempting to collect a debt. But it’s not exactly great news for the borrower, either. 

Here’s why: First, it’s helpful to understand how a typical chain of custody works for private student loans. (Federal loans, which typically have more forgiving terms, are a separate issue entirely.) Banks and other lenders offer loans to applicants, then turn around and sell bundles of those loans to a depositor. That depositor will offer the loans to an umbrella organization like National Collegiate, which is comprised of 15 private trusts holding the paper on more than 800,000 loans.

This lengthy chain of custody is where the problems begin. Because loans pass through several hands, it’s not always clear who has retained the documentation needed by courts to prove that National Collegiate is the owner of the debt they’re attempting to collect from a borrower in default. As a result, judges tasked with these cases often have no choice but to dismiss them.

That’s led to a series of headlines about $5 billion in “forgiven” debt, which may sound comforting to someone burdened with a towering student loan at exorbitant interest rates. However, as several attorneys speaking to the media have pointed out, it’s not that simple. The cases that have been dismissed were in court because the borrower was already in default. In situations where National Collegiate can prove ownership of the debt, those debtors are facing wage garnishment and a negative impact on their credit score. Simply defaulting on a loan and hoping you happen to be one of the people whose paperwork is incomplete is a dangerous form of wishful thinking.

In the event you had no choice but to default and might benefit from National Collegiate's poor record-keeping, you may not walk away unscathed. According to debt relief attorney Daniel Gamez, a student borrower who sees his or her case dismissed is not facing a clean slate. National Collegiate is fighting so many defaulted loans that they may choose to drop cases based on logistical issues like witness scheduling. Still, even if the lawsuit is dropped, National Collegiate may have the option to refile it at a later date—this time armed with the documentation and resources they need. And any debt, even if it’s been declared unenforceable, may still affect your credit score.

Ultimately, whether or not National Collegiate can produce paperwork doesn’t change the fact that a borrower has a student loan that they’ve agreed to repay. As a creditor, National Collegiate is likely to take every legal measure available in order to collect on that debt. While those amounts may be “forgiven” in court, they’re not likely to be forgotten.

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