Friday, February 13, 2009

Noor Medals at Evolution Olympiad

Duke's Mohamed Noor, a self-described "evolutionary geneticist" was honored in London yesterday by the Linnean Society with the prestigious and exceedingly rare Darwin-Wallace Medal for his work on speciation.

Noor, 38, was chosen to speak briefly on behalf of the dozen honorees, which included the late Stephen Jay Gould and the late John Maynard-Smith, Rosemary and Peter Grant of Galapagos finch fame, Lynn Margulis, and Noor's friend and collaborator Allen Orr. The last time they handed these out was 1958.

No video is available, but Mohamed did snap off and send a few cell phone pictures for us. He reports that his talk was well-received, in part because he spoke at half the speed of his usual auctioneer delivery.

Monday at 4:30 in BioSci 111, the Biology Department is hosting "Noorfest" to welcome our hero back to Durham.

From Claire Rawlinson's Facebook Page -

Jo Felsenstein, Robert Maynard Smith, Nick Barton, Mohamed Noor (photos), Linda Partridge, Mark Chase, Rosemary Grant, Peter Grant, Lynn Margulis, Allen Orr, James Mallet, Bryan Clarke, David Cutler

Monday, February 9, 2009

What makes a passive house a passive home?

On Saturday, Duke Smart Home students hosted Iowa State professor Mikesch Muecke to share his knowledge of sustainable building techniques. Muecke’s presentation focused on passive housing. A passive house can maintain a comfortable indoor climate without relying upon active heating and cooling systems. Specialized designs make this possible, utilizing the natural light and heat of the sun, as well as super-efficient insulation to reduce heating or cooling loss. The Smart Home utilizes some of these techniques in its own design. [ More about passive houses ]

In this way, “architects are responsible for a big chunk of energy use,” Muecke said.

The basic features of a passive home include:
  • compact form and good insulation

  • southern orientation and shade considerations

  • energy-efficient window glazing and frames

  • air-tightness of the building

  • highly efficient heat recovery from exhaust air

  • hot water supply using regenerative energy sources

  • energy-saving household appliances

Passive homes require substantially less energy than their actively heated and cooled counterparts. If a passive home is fitted with solar panels, sometimes it even produces surplus energy that can be fed back into the energy grid. In other words, instead of a homeowner paying the electricity company, it pays them. Not a bad deal.

Muecke also discussed the Solar Decathlon, an international competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy in which students compete to design and build the best energy-efficient, solar powered house. The finished homes are shipped to Washington D.C. and displayed on the National Mall. For a week, the houses are open to the public, and are evaluated by experts in terms of their architecture, market viability, engineering, lightning design, comfort zone, and other criteria.

In 2007, the last year the competition was held, Germany’s Technische Universitat Darmstadt took first place. But come this October, Muecke and his team from Iowa State University have their eye on it. [ Check out Iowa State’s passive home concept ]

Sunday, February 8, 2009

When Robots can think

Strengthening control sensing capabilities and artificial intelligence of robots is a prime objective for a lot of the current ongoing research in robotics.

Duke's Robotics and Manufacturing Automation Laboratory (RAMA labs), headed by Professor Devendra P. Garg, conducts excessive research in various fields, including mobile sensor development and robot-World Wide Web interfacing.

The focus of the team is also on the highly significant area of Artifical intelligence, and they are currently exploring ways of using neural networks and fuzzy logic to make the robots learn from their mistakes.

The aim is to be able to successfully design an intelligent automated system, and research on Swarm intelligence and control, industrial robotics and sensor fusion research conducted at the RAMA labs is closing in on the gap to achieve that goal.

The RAMA labs also collaborate with the Army Research Office, initiated by Professor Garg and is titled "Intelligent Multi-Sensor Modeling".

For his extraordinary contributions in the field of mechanical engineering and robotics, the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) has also created an award in Professor Garg's honor called the "Devendra P.Garg Award for Intelligent Systems".

Professor Garg was also honored with the prestigious Hind Rattan Award (Jewel of India) in 2007 during the Republic Day of India in January.