SciTech Now Episode 509

In this episode of SciTech Now, explore the chemistry of cider; how squiggly lines may replace passwords; a look at how one classroom is using VR googles and flight simulators for learning; and keeping up with the innovations of healthcare.



Coming up... The chemistry of cider...

A lot of cider making does involve chemistry and an understanding of chemical reactions that occur. squiggly lines just might replace the need for passwords...

It ends up being a surprisingly powerful technique compared to other alternatives.

...hands-on simulations for students...

The students are going into a virtual world and learning about lift and drag and thrust and really the physics of flight.

...keeping up with innovations in health care.

And what we have here are two small screens right in the front that project our animation in space.

Funding for this program is made possible by...

Hello. I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Welcome to 'SciTech Now,' our weekly program bringing you the latest breakthroughs in science, technology and innovation.

Let's get started.

Yeast, air, carbon dioxide, all different chemical components in the process of hard apple cider making.

In this segment, we take a behind-the-scenes look at how the Nine Pin Cidery in Albany, New York, uses chemistry to brew cider.

Our partner, 'Science Friday,' has the story.

Cider making is about 50 percent chemistry, and the other 50 percent is the art.

I mean, it's like the Wild West.

We've got everything that's cool about wine making, and we've got the freedom that's in the culture of craft beer making.

My name is Alejandro del Peral, and I make Nine Pin Cider for a living.

We probably have about 750,000 to a million pounds of apples in the cidery at any given time if you were to translate all our liquid into physical apple weight, which is a lot of fruit, and it gives you sort of an idea of how many apples we process.

A lot of cider making does involve chemistry and an understanding of chemical reactions that occur during fermentation.

Fermentation is the conversion of sugar by yeast into carbon dioxide and alcohol, and the gas coming out of there is carbon dioxide.

You know, you can make alcohol out of anything with sugar in it, so any apple will do, but, you know, the type of apple you use will obviously influence what your final cider is going to taste like.

New York, we're number one in the nation for apple varieties, so we grow more types of apples than any other state.

That's a huge palette of little nuanced flavors to work with, so this is essentially a cider maker's dream place.

When you bring in the sweet juice, fresh pressed from the orchard, a lot of times there's so much sugar in there that it's hard to judge how sour the fermented version of it will be, so we test acidity by doing an acid-base titration, which essentially you take a known quantity of base and then you add cider to it, and then you add a base back to that, and based on the difference, you can calculate what the perceived sourness of your final cider is going to be like.

The yeast is another great aspect in the cider making process that you can tweak to come up with different cider styles.

We use predominantly a commercial white wine yeast.

It gives our cider sort of a Prosecco, Moscato, sparkling wine-like quality, but we also make a cider with a Belgian yeast, which will give the cider... The aroma is sort of banana-esque and tropical fruity.

There's tons of natural yeast that is in cider.

It's all found on the skins of the apples and the juice and the air in the cidery, and the problem with natural yeast is that there's no controlling what kind of flavor they'll impart on the cider, so sulfites, or sulfur dioxide, helps prevent those microbes from establishing themselves and allows the cider to age and mature without essentially turning to vinegar or generating other off flavors.

We do things like co-fermentation, so that's where we actually will ferment the cider with other ingredients.

Take blueberries, for example.

It's not like you're adding blueberry flavoring.

You're actually allowing the yeast to consume the sugar within that blueberry and produce whatever blueberry flavor the yeast decides to produce, so it results in like a really well-integrated blueberry note.

So it goes from fresh-pressed juice to our full alcohol content in about 7 days.

Then we transfer the cider into a newly sanitized secondary fermentation vessel, and it will sit in that vessel for anywhere from 3 months to a year.

Then it gets transferred into our package and sent off to the market.

You know, because it's such a new category, there's no real expectation.

There's no real tradition.

Not only can we be experimental like a wine maker would be with the types of grapes they use and, you know, aging practices, but we can also be experimental in the way a craft brewer would be in terms of infusions and fermenting with other non-apple ingredients.

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We use smartphones to ensure that life runs smoothly, but as we store more personal information on these devices, having a good password becomes just as important as locking your door at night.

Now researchers have developed a new method of password security that uses squiggly lines instead of traditional passwords.

Here to discuss this breakthrough is Janne Lindqvist, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rutgers University.

I'm curious.

How would a squiggly password even work?

So a squiggly password is basically that you draw whatever you want on the mobile device like a smartphone or tablet touchscreen, so the idea is actually very simple, so it's not surprising that you can do that on a smartphone screen, but then it ends up being a surprisingly powerful technique compared to other alternatives.

Okay, right now, most smartphones, the lock is either some sort of a combination of dots that you have to connect or it's a four-digit, a six-digit code, or in my phone, it's my fingerprint.

You know, put this on the spectrum of security, the squiggly password.

Well, unfortunately, we can't directly compare the security, so we are working on that right now.

However, I can tell you that... So, for example, PINs and patterns, people typically choose very predictable numbers or patterns.

So for example, it has been shown by other researchers that people use their birth dates, so you can find it in their wallets, what is their PIN.

Got to change mine.

[ Laughs ] Yeah.

And then for patterns, people want to do easy patterns as well, and it turns out that what people choose are actually less secure than three-digit PINs, or what people typically choose.


So it's like if you're right-handed, you start on the left top corner, and then you're likely to go for an L.

Oh, my...

And so on.

So what we call the secure gestures, or squiggly lines, we allow much more variation on the touch screen.

Now you also ask about fingerprints, so that is a very secure method.

However, it has issues as well.

It doesn't always work.

You might have smudgy fingers, and it actually... You need to have a backup method if it doesn't happen to work, and one way to get through fingerprint-secured phones would be, well, try the three times fingerprint work, and then just start guessing the PIN, which is typically the backup method.

Right, right.

So how would... Let's say you and I had kind of a free gesture method.

What's the likelihood that you can look over my shoulder and copy that just like you could a signature?

It's very hard, actually.

So we have developed these recognition methods that takes how you do it and records that, and even if you see it from behind your shoulder, it's very hard to repeat how I did it.

Now of course the caveat is here if you just do a really simple circle and so on, yes, it's likely that you're able to repeat the circle, what I did.

And also it turns out that... So we mentioned signature.

So if I do my signature quickly like this, it's very hard for you to repeat it correctly, even if you know it, how it looks.

Is that because... Are you measuring how fast I do it or how much pressure I'm putting or exactly where I'm starting?

Yeah, exactly.

What are the factors that I'm...


So there's multiple factors you can use, and we have been studying what is a good combination with exactly how fast you're doing it, where you started, how big are you doing, all these things.

And also, we could include pressure as well.


So now let's say I'm in the free gesture world and I, you know, have something that happens.

I jam my finger.

It's hurting.

I'm just a little slower that next day.

Would I be locked out of my own device?

Yes, you could be locked out of your own device.

So what we do allow is that there is this kind of optimization process or finding out a trade-off that nobody can even perfectly repeat what they're doing all the time.


So we allow some variation, but if you are, like, super slow next day, yeah, it's not going to work unless we decide that, well, speed is not a factor we want to include.

So how long, how far away are we from phone companies or websites giving us an option to say, 'Enter free gesture as you wish.'

Well, they could start using it nowadays already, so there is no additional technology beyond that you have a touchscreen, and you can have a touchscreen nowadays on your desktop computer as well, and the algorithms we have developed don't require a lot of processing power, but then there's always the adaptation that, 'Well, why do you want to move to a new technology?'

Companies don't necessarily embrace new things if they didn't develop it themselves and so on, so we'll have to see.

All right.

Janne Lindqvist from Rutgers University, thanks so much.

Thanks a lot.


A balloon mission from NASA observed rare electric-blue clouds.

These are polar mesopheric clouds, or PMCs.

They are only visible during twilight and form above Earth's polar regions at the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

As Earth's uppermost clouds at around 50 miles high, PMCs are composed of ice crystals that glow a bright blue or white when reflecting sunlight.

They are extremely sensitive to environmental factors like water vapor and temperature.

Atmospheric motions like air flow over mountains or thunderstorms can disturb the atmosphere and cause waves that can propagate to very high altitudes.

These waves are known as gravity waves, and although they are invisible, they can be seen as they move through PMCs.

Gravity waves lead to turbulence, chaotic movement in the atmosphere that can influence weather and climate and their predictions, but the exact causes and effects of turbulence are not well understood.

To better understand this complex process, scientists sent a giant balloon to observe gravity waves in PMCs.

1,200 feet per minute.

See you in Canada.

The crewless balloon traveled to 50 miles high and floated from Sweden to Canada over 5 days in July 2018.

A laser radar on the balloon measured the PMC altitudes and the atmospheric temperature that affects their formation and brightness, and from 6 million camera images captures from the balloon, scientists could see both large and small ripples caused by gravity waves.

A better understanding of turbulence can help improve weather forecast models and our understanding of processes around Earth which affect our satellites and assets in space.


Fifth-grade teacher Tiffany Randall knows how hard it is to get her entire classroom of children excited about learning.

To encourage enthusiasm for science, Randall has teamed up with the STEM Mobile Aviation Lab that utilizes drones, VR goggles, and flight simulators to teach students about physics, aerospace and programming.

We go inside the lab to learn more.


I came up with the concept of having this Aviation Mobile Lab so that all kids in Pasco County could get an opportunity to engage, explore and get them exposed to these concepts of aviation and aerospace.

In our county, we had currently nine elementary schools that are in the feeder pattern that have the aviation equipment, but I saw such an impact on the student achievement with that that we thought maybe it would be great if we could get it to all of the students in Pasco County.

Four stations were created where small groups of six students would receive hands-on experiential learning.

It starts with flight simulation.

We have fabricated the bus to have six flight simulators on it running Lockheed Martin's prepared 3D software.

The students get an opportunity to fly real live flight simulators where they get a chance to operate the yoke, and they really get a feel for flight and what flight is all about.

The students also program drones to navigate a Martian landscape.

We also have unmanned systems, so we have them operating drones, but with the drones, we're tying in coding, so I really believe that coding is important and that it's a skill that students need to survive, and our country needs students that are very involved with computer science.

Virtual reality is used to teach students about flight.

The students are going into a virtual world and learning about lift and drag and thrust and really the physics of flight and learning how these monstrosity of air vehicles get into the air, so they're learning the physics of flight through virtual reality.

And then the fourth activity we have is tied to 3D printing, so we take a little plane that we've 3D printed in-house.

They're constructing the plane, and then they are testing different wing shapes to see how that plane goes through the air, measuring distance, and then they're doing averaging of which wing.

Was it the elliptical?

Was it the swept wing that flew the furthest after they do trials with that?

Want to go through here, primitives?

The lessons were taught by the fifth-graders' own teachers.

Ms. Randall was our first classroom that came in when we came to Pine View Elementary School here, and she was really excited.

She got the kids excited, and they were all engaged, and Ms. Randall was really good about encouraging them and just listening and giving a lot of feedback and some really great critical thinking strategies with the questioning that she gave to them.

The way that they were talking and connecting, learning, lots of aha moments.

But this is almost like something you would see, like a parachute, right?

Or one of those, like, gliders?

You have all types of kiddos in every class and all types of personalities and all different ways of learning, and they all, like, latched on.

Some of them, their favorite was the flight simulator.

Some of them was the jumping sumos.

Some of them absolutely liked putting those planes together, and they were fixated on that 3D printer.

Many really, truly enjoyed the virtual reality goggles, and some of them have had experience with virtual reality goggles, so to actually have something that they see as fun, but placed in a learning mode, was awesome.

Computer-aided design, or CAD, software helped the students design planes that would actually fly.

All of our iPads were preloaded with an app, so they were able to design a plane, so they went to Glider here, and then you double tap there, and then they were able to pick out a stabilizer and the type of wings that they would have put on there.

The students connected with this hands-on approach to aviation.

They all just 100 percent engaged, and they knew that there was a goal, and I think that made all the difference.

Students like Corina, who is absolutely determined to find a solution and so proud of herself, comments that she made along the way were, 'Oh, I got it.

Oh, I'm so smart.

I know what I did wrong now,' and the modifying and fixing that.

You got to connect the drones to your iPad and kind of, like, code your drone to go through a obstacle course.

The first thing you have to do is, like, be able to go around a volcano and, like, jump through this hoop.

You kind of have to, like, make sure the angles are right because if you get the angle wrong, you can, like, have it be turning in, like, a different direction than you want it to turn.

I think my favorite station was the 3D printer planes because you printed your plane and you tested different wingspans and aerodynamics.

There's a rubber band and a binder, and you would pull the plane back and slingshot it and see how far it went based on a tape measurer.

These aviators of the future came away wanting to share what they'd learned with others.

I'd tell them, 'You've got to do it soon.'

It's probably my most fun day at school.

It's very fun, like, learning about all the different kind of academics and stuff while doing hands-on activities.

The students of Ms. Randall's class have earned their wings.

They've proven their abilities in the STEM Aviation Lab.

And I'm going to present each of you with your wings, so thank you.


I know that this week, I had four kids take out books on how to fly and planes and pilots after this, so it just lit a fire in some of them.

I think it's a great seed to plant at this age.

Just the ability for them to really stick with something and feel confident in fixing those things and modifying things until they get it exactly right, and then seeing the pride that they have when they accomplish that goal is just huge.

You know, you're exposing them and opening up their minds and letting them know the possibilities that are out there, and we've kind of lit a fire under these kids, and that's what it's about.

We're just getting them thinking about what their future could hold.

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The next generation of health care professionals will be under more pressure than ever to keep up with the latest technology in health sciences.

At the same time, continued innovation in health care is also in demand.

One organization in Tampa, Florida, is meeting these challenges.

Here's the story.

So what the PerSim does is it takes a computer-generated virtual person, your virtual patient, and it puts it over your mannequin.

So then it sort of brings the whole mannequin to life.

The guy can move.

He can have seizures.

He can have trouble breathing.

He can turn a different color, all these things that a mannequin can't really do.

And so we really wanted to focus on how do we make high-definition medical simulation accessible to all people in health care, including and especially at the front lines of health care, which helped us develop PerSim specifically for first responders.

So we're hoping to improve first responder training at a lower cost.

Augmented reality is where most of what you're seeing and interacting with... most of your surrounding world is your real surrounding world.

You're just taking a few... like, a person... You're taking a virtual person and you put them into the environment, sort of like a virtual patient.

The only thing that you see in our environment that is virtual is the virtual human.

Everything else you see is real, so it's in your real environment, so if you wanted to do this in the back of an ambulance, you can do it in the back of an ambulance.

So what we have is the PerSim patient simulator, and we're using augmented reality technology to help us develop these high-fidelity, very realistic, computer-animated patients in this space.

So what we have in front of us is a mannequin, and the reason we use a mannequin body is to give people a visual and tactile center for the simulation, so if the patient goes into cardiac arrest, we can actually do CPR on the mannequin.

That's difficult to do when there's not something physically present.

The other component of this is the Microsoft HoloLens, and this is the HoloLens, and it is essentially a computer, a projection screen and glasses all in one, and what we have here are two small screens right in the front that project our animation in space, and there are a variety of sensors across the front of the HoloLens that detect the shape of the space, like the shape of this room and where everything is in relationship to the wearer.

So you actually wear this like a pair of glasses, and the HoloLens does the rest of the work.

So what we have here is just our patient kind of at rest.

He's just breathing normally.

He's right here in front of you.


The head up here and the feet trailing off in this direction.


What we can do is we can take this normal-looking person and make him look like he's having a lot of trouble breathing just by tapping a button on the controller.

Yes, I see him breathing heavier.

He's having trouble breathing, and I see beads of sweat all over his face and body beginning.

So we can do other things like make him act like perhaps he's having a heart attack.

My goodness.

One of the things we do that's very impressive is it's difficult to teach people what dramatic medical presentations look like, such as a seizure.

We've actually built a seizure module for our simulator.

That is amazing.

And so now, instead of telling a student that their plastic mannequin laying out on a table is having a seizure, I just press a button and they have to interpret what the animation, what the simulator are doing to correctly arrive at the proper treatment and what to do with the patient.


So it just allows that higher level of thinking without the need for the instructor to prompt or prime the students' thinking process.

One of the big ideas is democratizing medical knowledge to the forefront of medicine, not just for doctors and nurses.

The other big idea is making high-definition medical simulation accessible all along the chain of health care, even to the front lines, and really, the people at the front lines of health care even include firefighters and police.

The health care goes way beyond the front door of a hospital or clinic these days, so training people and making them... and building competencies in that, I think is important.

Anything that strengthens the overall health care system and people that work in it at all levels is just better for everyone involved, for society in general.

Well, we're very excited that the system is portable, and it gives that really higher level of realism that we think is so important to allow providers to practice their craft in, really, a no-risk environment, at least as far as the patient is concerned, but we're also really focused on making this affordable.

A lot of systems out there today simply cannot afford high-quality patient simulation because it's simply too expensive, and we're focused on keeping our prices down and making this an affordable solution that yields that portable, realistic patient simulation that really we think is going to help a lot of medical providers and systems provide better care for their sick patients.

And that wraps it up for this time.

For more on science, technology and innovation, visit our website, check us out on Facebook and Instagram and join the conversation on Twitter.

You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Until next time, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Thanks for watching.

Funding for this program is made possible by...