SciTech Now Episode 311

In this episode of SciTech Now, Hari learns to play Pokemon Go in Central Park with Visual Reality expert Mark Swarek; Ainissa Ramirez reveals some mysteries of magnetism; Sims Municipal Recycling facility in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, processes 800 tons of recyclables; and scientists are researching how the brain stores and recalls information at the first annual “Tampa Bay Memory Tournament.”


Coming up, we take you into the world of Pokémon and augmented reality...

Point at the top would be to level this creature up so I can make him more powerful.

The second set was at your actual user level.

So, right now, you're starting off at a level 1.


I'm at a level 19 right now.

So, you've just begun the game.

[ Laughs ]

...creating magnets with lightning...

Electricity and magnets is -- are always in a dance with each other.

So, whenever there's lightning, there's magnetism.

...inside one of the country's largest recycling plants...

We introduce everything that's left now on the belt to ballistic separators.

Two-dimensional material will lie flat on these paddles, walk up an incline, whereas three-dimensional material will bounce back.

...and finally, mastering memory.

I feel like this whole B.E.S.T. program has really helped me with being more confident in my memorization skills and understanding that I do have a great memory.

It's all ahead.

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.

After its launch, Pokémon GO swept the nation in popularity as millions of people broke their everyday routine to go outside in search of these mythical, digital Pokémon creatures.

The game also put the spotlight on augmented reality -- technology that adds virtual elements into our physical realm.

I recently went in the field, via Facebook Live, with Mark Skwarek, director of New York University's Mobile Augmented Reality Lab to try this game firsthand.

Here's a look.

Right now, we're in Central Park, and we're going to sort of discover the world of Pokémon.

I am a total novice.

Mark Skwarek, you work at the Augmented Reality Lab at N.Y.U.

I do.

They have a whole lab just to study augmented reality, and even in the mobile space, so he's been thinking about this for a long time.

Mark, why did Pokémon stick?

Um, so first would be the branding.

Pokémon brand, the millenials coming in, they have a little bit of extra cash, and smartphone devices are capable of doing it.


So, that would be probably the biggest reason.

Second reason it would be really great would be the game play that Niantic developed.

They actually have a fun game to play.

Here's this little blue thing, so I'm supposed to just, what, toss it over?

I missed.

That's not good.

Little to the left.

How about that?

Direct hit. Success.

What do these things mean?

The Pokémon caught 100XP, new Pokémon 500XP total.

What does that mean?

What are the points?

Point at the top would be to level this creature up so I can make him more powerful.

The second set was your actual user level.

So, right now, you're starting off at a level 1.


Like, I'm at a level 19 right now, so, you've just begun the game.

[ Laughs ]

We're actually right next to a PokéStop.

Right there.

Somewhere over here.

So, you have -- basically, you're looking at a Google Map, and Hari sees himself on the Google Map.

This is his avatar.

And this would be an example of a mixed reality.

I can see a representation of myself overlaying, uh, basically, a real world location.

So, this is -- this map is actually quite accurate.

Now, you're going to flick it from side to side --

Oh, look, that -- now I can see.

In about five minutes, you can come back to it and it'll collect more resources.

Just a reminder.

If you're just joining us, it's about 11:40 Eastern Time.

I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

And this is Mark Skwarek.

We are going on my first-ever PokéWalk in Central Park, and we're doing this live on Facebook, so we're also taking your questions.

I was just handed a phone with a couple of these.

'If you were a Pokémon creature, what would you be?'

[ Laughter ] I have no idea what that would be?




That's a name, that's a word?

Pound for pound, they're pretty -- they're pretty strong, I guess.


'What happened with the crazy crowds hunting Pokémon in Central Park a few weeks ago?'

Um, there's still some crowds around here, so if people are actually interested in that, you come out on like a Saturday or Saturday night, and you can find larger groups of people.

The -- What they're talking about, if anybody in the audience wants to Google 'Central Park Pokémon.'


Do a Google image search, you'll have about 500 people are running -- literally about 500 people start running in that direction.

People are getting out of their cars --

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I saw that. That was crazy.

And it's -- That was a moment in history.

[ Laughs ]

It's really a -- 'cause they're chasing after something that technically isn't --

Like, there.

Some people might not see it as being there.

It is located there by G-- So, information located at a very specific location.

'Can you actually catch 'em all?

In other words, can you find every type of Pokémon here in New York City?'

Technically speaking, you can if you were sort of cheating.

They do -- They locate different Pokémon at different geographic locations.

There are certain Pokémon you can only get in the U.S.

There are certain Pokémon you can only get in other different countries.

What people can do is you can sort of fake your GPS location, and it would think that I'm actually in Japan and then the Pokémon could appear.

But somebody has caught them all.

More than one person has already caught all the Pokémon.


Hey. How's it going?

My name's Hari.

John. Nice to meet you.

This is Mark Skwarek.

Hey, Mark.

Nice to meet you.

So, you are playing Central Park Pokémon right now?

I am playing Central Park Pokémon right now, yes.


I'm from North Carolina, so I'm here on vacation.

I heard Central Park's kind of a hotspot for Pokémon, and it's just a beautiful day to walk around so...

Okay, good.

So, what level are you on this thing?

I am level 25.


Mark is impressed.

[ Laughs ]

How many hours a day or week are you playing this game?

My roommates and I, we'll go out downtown like after work and maybe play for like an hour-and-a-half or so.

What I'm more concerned about is the people that just do this by themselves, and I'm like, are they going into this augmented world more so than being immersed in this real one?

Sure, I think that's a super-valid concern.

My experience playing it hadn't been like that so much, but it's -- you know, I've interacted with other people playing when I go out.

It's been more of a social thing than, you know, just me by myself on my phone thing.


Thank you very much for spending some of your day with us.

Yeah. Sure thing.

All right.

Great meeting you.


Hey, uh, we've got another young man.


Hi, how are you?

I'm Hari. What's your name?


Matthew, where are you from?

I'm from Dallas, Texas.

Have you heard about these Pokémon things that are inside Central Park?

Yes, sir.

My God, I feel so old when you call me 'sir.'

So, were you collecting any of these things?

Uh, no, I wasn't playing the game right now.

We were just looking for the softball fields.

But I was thinking about it, considering that there's so many PokéStops around.

I'm totally the old guy here, but is this cool for people your age to be playing this right now?

Oh, yeah, totally.

What's so interesting about it for you?

Well, it's just that Pokémon, when it first came out, it was very exciting and it -- it just kind of died down.

And now that they're able to bring it back in a new fashion and with new technology, so you don't have to keep up with the cards and stuff like that.

And I still have cards and I still have the total playing deck and...

You do? Okay.

Thank you.

Have a great time at the softball fields.

You, too. Thank you.

Who knew?

All right, so I'm going to tap this.

This is a PokéStop.

Going to spin this wheel of fortune, and one, two, three.

I've just racked up three more of these little red Poké balls.

All right, I got to find one of things.

Let's -- let's find a --

A creature.

Let's find a creature, whatever that means.

And let's -- Is it really, really far?

There should be one right in front of us.

Um, they've got one...


I've got one right here.

You're going to try to --

You've got a bunch of --

Whoa, whoa, whoa!

What is that? Wow. Okay.

There's a whole bunch of 'em around here.

All right, so we were standing next to a little, whatever that was, Paras.

Are you guys seeing what we were seeing?

Was there a Pokémon right there?

There was?

And you caught it?

Hi. What's your name?


Carlton. Nice to --



Nice to meet you guys.

So, are you playing Pokémon right now?


[ Laughter ]

Is that how he usually sounds when he's playing this game?



Are you ever concerned about Dalton kind of walking off, maybe farther than what you would be comfortable with in your neighborhood, chasing these things?

Actually, we do this as a family.

Do you like it?

It's fun.

What do you like about it?

I like the fact that families can do it together.

They're out now, instead of sitting at home playing video games, or parents on their phones on Facebook.

Now, it's a family event, where you can all playing with your children, walk around, get exercise, as well as interact with your kids.

Hey, what about the data?

I'm fine with his parents knowing where Dalton's going, but technology, that information sits on a server somewhere that's owned by a company that can sell it to a third party, et cetera, et cetera.

Yeah, the way that I would play Pokémon GO would be, if you're not going to go there in real life, or you wouldn't be comfortable with like your friends or other people in real life knowing that you're going to this place, you probably shouldn't do it with Pokémon GO.

Real world, how you would approach the real world to your game play.

And it seems that what these guys are doing is a smart move.

Play with your kid.

I think this is one of the best ways to kind of do it.

This is really great.

Well, thank you, and enjoy the rest of your afternoon.

Yes. Thank you very much.

It was good to meet you guys.

Thank you.

Take care.

Have fun.

Good luck hunting.

This is just the first game that's kind of made a splash.


You're expecting bigger things.


One of the best things about Pokémon GO, and we're sort of -- we're kind of touching on it, in my grad class, one of the assignments was, we had to augment the bus between Pratt University and N.Y.U.

And the assignment -- one of the assignments was to try to bring people together.

Like, to get someone on the bus who I've never met before, strike up a conversation, or just get people kind of communicating.

It really could foster this kind of this community, taking people out of the houses.

We're hearing it on a number of these different comments.

Like, it's getting them to come out the houses, um, and if it could actually start bringing people together, I think this could be really amazing.

Mark Skwarek from N.Y.U., thank you very much for your time today.

My name's Hari Hari Sreenivasan and I work for PBS on 'SciTech Now' and 'NewsHour' 'NewsHour Weekend.'

Thanks so much for watching.

Ainissa Ramirez is a scientist, author, and self-proclaimed science evangelist.

She is calling for big changes in science education and is the creator of a podcast series called 'Science Underground.'

Here to discuss one of her latest podcast episodes, called 'Creating Magnets with Lightning,' is Ainissa Ramirez.

I think of Ben Franklin with the key and the lightning.

Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

That probably didn't happen, but it's still embedded somewhere.

It did happen.

It did happen.

He wrote a letter.

It's true. He did it.

[ Laughter ]


So, how -- you've got this --

What's all this?

Yeah, exactly.

So, here's a mineral.

It's called a lodestone.

It is magnetic.

I can put paper clips on it and it attaches to it.

Oh, that's cool.

And there are elements in the periodic table that are magnetic -- iron, cobalt, nickel.

But lodestones are really strong magnets, and scientists were like, 'Well, why are they so strong?'

And the evidence that they had that something was weird is that they're only found on the surface.

If you dig in the ground, you won't find a lodestone, and they're usually high up, too.

So, they're like, 'Something must be going on.'

Well, what's happening to the lodestone is that it has some iron in it, but it's being enhanced.

The magnetism is being enhanced when it's zapped with lightning.

A lightning strike.

A lightning strike.

So, if it was up high as you say, maybe up on top of a mountain, where there aren't any trees, or any sort of light comp-- tall height competitions.

That's right.

So, the lodestone gets the brunt of the lightning.

And what is the lightning doing to the iron that's in that rock already?

Well, the lightning has a magnetic field around it.

You can see, lightning and -- and -- electricity and magnetism are always in a dance with each other.

So, whenever there's lightning, there's magnetism.

I'll give you an example.

Here, I have -- you can do this at home.

Here's a sewing needle, and this sewing needle isn't particularly magnetic.


But if I rub it with this -- this magnet here, then it's able to pick up paper clips.

So what are -- what are you doing?

What are you doing to that --?

Well, what I'm doing is I'm making the iron that's already in this material, the iron that's already in the lodestone, I'm aligning them so that they become a stronger magnet.

And by rubbing it on this side, what's happening to it?

What it's doing is it's -- it's aligning the magnetic materials inside the needle.

The needle is made out of iron and carbon, and the iron is magnetic, but they're randomly arranged.

But when I have this magnetic field applied to it, what they do is they align those things --

And then the opposites from that to the -- attract.

That's right.

That's right.


So, I know it's a lot.

But the bottom line is that lightning has a magnetic field around it.

Got it.

And what it's doing is it's boosting the magnetic field that's already in this rock by aligning the magnetic particles inside of it, so that they can be enhanced.

Well, I mean, lightning's incredibly powerful.

That's right.

And how much, and from a random lightning bolt, or one of those beautiful photos that you see of the city of New York or something, getting a lightning bolt, how much power is in there when it actually zaps in --?

That's a good question.

And the thing is that it doesn't have to be struck by the lightning, it could be nearby.

The magnetic field is around the magnetic -- is around it.

But let me share with you that there's some guys at NASA -- guys and girls at NASA.

What they did is they actually tested this.

I talked to this gentleman, his name is Peter Wesolowski.

He's a retired NASA scientist.

He plays with lightning.

So, he got a stone that had iron it in, didn't -- wasn't particularly strong in terms of its magnetic abilities.

He put it in a box, he tied the box to a wire, shot the wire with a rocket into storm clouds...

'Cause, hey, you're NASA and you have rockets.

That's right. That's right.

You know, Ben Franklin has a kite, NASA has rockets.

And within like a couple of seconds, lightning went down the line, melted everything, and the rock was magnetic.

So, that was -- that was his evidence.

That's pretty good proof.

Ainissa Ramirez, thanks for joining us.

Thank you.

New York City produces around 800 tons of recyclable materials every day.

How is it sorted and transformed?

Up next, 'Science Friday' takes us behind the scenes at New York City's largest recycling plant.

You know, I think people think of recycling, that it's people bundling their newspaper, and Boy Scouts moving things, and people are kind of fascinated and I guess they're surprised at sort of the large, industrial, highly mechanized nature of the process.

My name is Thomas Outerbridge, and I'm the general manager for Sims Municipal Recycling.

Well, so we're in the business of receiving, processing, and marketing mixed recyclables that are collected by municipalities from their residence.

We service the five boroughs of the city.

It includes all rigid plastic, so everything from a laundry hamper to a toy to a plastic bottle, all glass, and all metal products from tin cans to bed frames.

You know, we have to basically take this mix and -- and sort it to a fairly extensive degree to turn it into a commodity.

If you didn't know what you were looking at, you'd think it's just garbage.

The materials accumulate on the tipping floor, right?

It's dumped there by sanitation or we unload our barges there.

We then have a front-end loader, big front-end loader that feeds a conveyer, and that will transport the material to the liberator.

The liberator is a slow-speed shredder.

Call it the liberator because the idea is really not to cut things up, but to really open bags and disentangle stuff.

People who live in high-rise buildings accumulate these bags in the basement.

Some people think plastic bags just because they're plastic they should be recycled, so they stuff bags full of bags, and then stick those in bags.

And so the liberator rips everything apart so that when we introduce it to the sorting equipment, the sorting equipment can do its job.

Disk screen are these disks, and they spin and they throw the material forwards, and there's gaps between those disks.

So anything that's less than 2 1/2 inches goes through the disk screen, and that is really targeting glass.

So it's removing 95% of our glass.

We send that to our glass plant in Jersey, where then it goes through a whole nother set of sorting steps, and then crush the remaining colored glass into an aggregate.

After removing the glass, the material passes underneath large drum magnets, which are big drums that turn and pick up all the ferrous metals.

Those ferrous metals then go to another trommel screen, where we separate the smaller ferrous metals, like tin cans, from the bigger metal furniture and things we get.

Then after we've removed the glass and the ferrous metal, we introduce everything that's left now on the belt to ballistic separators.

Two-dimensional material will lie flat on these paddles, walk up an incline, whereas three-dimensional material will bounce back.

So, now our three-dimensional material goes into a whole sequence of optical sorters.

Different materials have a different spectrum in near-infrared light that we can distinguish plastics by resin type.

So, it is looking for anything on that conveyor belt that is PET plastic, it's telling the air jets, here comes a PET water bottle.

We use air effectively to blow it off of the conveyor belt and separate it from the balance of the material.

Whatever is not ejected as PET, then travels on to the next optical sorter.

They go very, very fast.

They go much faster than a human being could possibly pick.

They're looking at 7 tons of material an hour.

Each step along the way, you're going after one more item until you're left with ideally nothing, but, of course, odds and ends that shouldn't be in there that end up as residue at the end of the process.

Most products are put into balers that make bales that -- similar to people might think of hay bales.

I mean, basically we compress the material for shipping.

And then as sorted commodities, we then ship out of here to customers.

People are absolutely buying this stuff.

It does go up and down with the market.

Yeah, we can do probably 800 tons a day.

The participation rate, I think, has gone up pretty significantly, so we're seeing more and more material.

We still know there's a huge amount still going to landfill, probably maybe 40% now of the recyclables that are meant to go in the recycling bin are still going into the trash.

So, please recycle.

Scientists are learning about how the brain stores and recalls information, finding new techniques for those who struggle with remembering names, grocery lists, phone numbers, and more.

Up next, we take you to the first-annual Tampa Bay Memory Tournament, where students compete in both the verbal and numerical categories.

Let's take a look.

This is Dr. Dexter Frederick, the C.E.O. of the Brain Expansion and Scholastic Program, or B.E.S.T., a medical-based educational program in the Tampa Bay area.

The mission of our program really is to help our students gain access, gain information, be nurtured in their pursuit of becoming health professionals.

Today, Dr. Frederick is teaching his students memory techniques to help them in their studies and for an upcoming memory tournament.

I thought it would be very important to include a session where students can -- can be open and understand how their brain works so that they can learn faster, more efficiently, and -- and learning at a pace where it's -- It's just tremendous where their confidence level is at a high level.










It's important for them to use as many as -- their faculties, mental faculties to keep them engaged.

So, whether or not we use music, whether or not you use acting, whether or not you use the movement of the hands, that is, you know, amazingly an important tool where learning can occur.

So, when I ask a student to come forward, that immediately keeps the adrenaline, pushes the adrenaline a little higher, and all of a sudden, the nerve fibers are excited and learning can occur faster.

Oh, eyes.



Very good.

All right! [ Laughs ]

After all the training, the students are ready for tournament day.

They gather to compete at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.

The Memory Tournament is an environment where students can show in their long-term memory and how quickly they can remember.

The tournament begins with much anticipation and excitement.

And we have divided it into three main categories, where they have to remember words, they'll also be given a list of numbers, and they will also be given some medical trivia.

♪♪ You'll have two students, they're facing each other or next to each other.

And there'll be a judge.

They'll be shown a list of words, and they will have about two minutes to look at those words and using the memory techniques that they have been trained with to use, they will then try to retain that information.

Player number one will say what the first word is.

Player number two will then say what the second word is.

Player number one will say what the third word is, alternating back and forth, until one actually misses one of the -- the words.

Then we do that with numbers.

They'll have a list of 20 numbers or 30 numbers.

The final contest is medical trivia.

Here, the students work in teams.

Next question.

Many lives were changed today.

The winner of the word competition was Desu Imudia.

Honestly, I feel like this whole B.E.S.T. program has really helped me with being more confident in my memorization skills and understanding that I do have a great memory.

And so does everybody else, it's just the different ways in which we use it and how we figure out how we best can be able to memorize.

And this competition has definitely brought a lot to the table and -- and showed me that I am capable of a lot more things than I had thought.

And Tylyn Thomas used her training to win the numbers competition.

It was easy to make a story out of them.

And some of the numbers had patterns, too.

Some of them would be 43, 44, then 33.

Or I would have to make up on 38th Street, then it would go to 19th Street, like I'm driving, so making a story out of what I've had.

I felt accomplished at the end.

I was very surprised at myself, that my brain functioned to go this long with the numbers.

Luke Detlor led the winning team in the Brain Bowl.

He found the B.E.S.T. Program of great significance.

Not only does it teach you facts about anatomy and how to be ethical in the medical field, but it also gives you skills for memory and note-taking, and these skills can be applied to anything that you set your mind to.

We also had something that really stood out to me, and that was that we affirmed ourselves every time that we began a memory exercise.

'I have a great memory.

I have a powerful memory.

I have a consistent memory.'

Very good.

Go, B.E.S.T. Tampa!


And I think that that taught us confidence, and that confidence, I think, is the key to having a great memory and to be able to expand it as far as we can.

This is something anyone can do, no matter what their background.

If we can allow students in the world and in the United States, in Florida, to -- to be, number one, excited about learning and -- and feel very confident in whatever their field of study is, that's exciting.

The benefits of expanding your memory skills are vast.

Did you make a story?

Yeah, I made a story.

Okay, tell me about your story about the gift.

My life philosophy is to use my influence to make the world a better place.

And if I could do that and help some students and help, maybe one day, a doctor or a nurse that I trained, that will take care of me and save my life, that would be just a joy and to raise a new generation of healthcare providers that are compassionate, kind, loving, and have a great memory.

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...