SciTech Now Episode 37

In this episode of SciTech Now, we take a look at a robotics competition that is jumpstarting a lasting interest in STEM for children of all ages; we sit down with the American Museum of Natural History’s “Coolest Dude Alive,” we meet a researcher examining how people fall in an effort to develop programs that can prevent or minimize serious falls for senior citizens; Microbial Ecologist Jack Gilbert answers the question, “What is the human microbiome?” and we get an up-close look at a new species of frog with a very distinct sound.

TRANSCRIPT

COMING UP, FROM KINDERGARTEN TO THE SCIENCE LAB...

WHEN YOU KIND OF DO THIS, IT GIVES YOU A CHANCE TO APPLY WHAT YOU LEARN, AND IT KIND OF MAKES YOU MORE INTERESTED IN SCHOOL.

WE INTRODUCE YOU TO SCIENCE'S COOLEST DUDE ALIVE.

IT'S KIND OF STRANGE THAT -- YOU KNOW, I'M A PALEONTOLOGIST, BUT MY MAJOR THING IS NOT TO LEARN EVERYTHING ABOUT DINOSAURS.

I'M MORE INTERESTED IN THE CREATIVE SORT OF PROCESS OF SCIENCE.

THE SCIENCE BEHIND TAKING A TUMBLE.

THE HEALTHCARE COSTS RELATED TO A HIP FRACTURE ARE ABOUT $10 BILLION.

SO, IT'S A BIG ISSUE.

SO WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING.

A NEW SPECIES OF FROG LEAPS FORWARD.

YOU DON'T GET A LOT OF SITUATIONS WHERE YOU HAVE NEW SPECIES ANYMORE BECAUSE THIS HAS BEEN SUCH A WELL-STUDIED AREA.

IT'S ALL AHEAD.

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM IS MADE POSSIBLE BY THE CORPORATION FOR PUBLIC BROADCAST AND CONTRIBUTIONS TO THIS STATION.

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.

ACROSS THE COUNTRY, KIDS AS YOUNG AS 6 YEARS OLD ARE DESIGNING, BUILDING, AND BATTLING THEIR VERY OWN ROBOTS.

THROUGH THE NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION FIRST, EACH YEAR, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF ELEMENTARY-, MIDDLE-, AND HIGH-SCHOOL STUDENTS TAKE PART IN ROBOTICS COMPETITIONS, JUMP-STARTING A LASTING INTEREST IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, AND MATH.

REPORTER ANDREA VASQUEZ HAS THE STORY.

CROWDED BLEACHERS, CHANTING FANS.

IT'S NOT A SPORTS GAME.

THEY'RE ROOTING FOR ROBOTS.

HIGH-SCHOOL STUDENTS FROM AROUND THE REGION ARE HERE BATTLING IN A ROBOTICS COMPETITION HOSTED BY THE ORGANIZATION FOR INSPIRATION AND RECOGNITION OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, ALSO KNOWN AS 'FIRST.'

FOUNDED BY SERIAL INVENTOR AND ENTREPRENEUR DEAN KAMEN, FIRST OFFERS PROGRAMS TO SPARK STUDENTS' INTEREST IN S.T.E.M., HAVING THEM ENGINEER WITH LEGOS IN ELEMENTARY AND MIDDLE SCHOOL AND BUILDING FULL-FUNCTIONING ROBOTS BY HIGH SCHOOL.

IT'S NOT JUST, 'LET'S TALK ABOUT TECHNOLOGY.

LET'S TALK ABOUT ENGINEERING.

LET'S LEARN THE VERY BASICS OF CODING.'

IT'S, 'LET'S BUILD A PRODUCT.'

HIGH-SCHOOL SENIOR COLIN MEMI CO-FOUNDED HIS SCHOOL'S ROBOTICS TEAM DURING HIS FRESHMAN YEAR.

OUR FIRST ROBOT WAS MADE OUT OF WOOD, COMPLETELY UNSTABLE, TOP-HEAVY.

EVERYTHING THAT AN ENGINEER COULD FIND WRONG WITH IT WAS WRONG WITH IT.

AND, YOU KNOW, WE DEVELOP.

WE LEARN THROUGH THE YEARS.

NOW THE CLUB'S PRESIDENT, MEMI'S TEAM, THE BAD NEWS BOTS, LOST ITS LAST MATCH.

BUT HE SAYS THE BOTS FOUGHT THE GOOD FIGHT.

THIS EXPLAINS THIS COMPETITION.

WE GOT HERE.

OUR ROBOT DIDN'T WORK.

WE SPENT THE LAST THREE DAYS.

WE GOT IT TO WORK, AND TODAY, FOR OUR LAST MATCH, IT WORKED PERFECTLY, EXACTLY HOW WE WANTED IT TO.

SO, IT KIND OF SHOWS HOW YOU CAN CHANGE THINGS AT THE LAST MINUTE, AND THEY CAN ALL COME TOGETHER HOW YOU WANT THEM TO.

TEAMS IN TODAY'S COMPETITION MUST TAKE THE RECYCLE RUSH CHALLENGE, WHERE ROBOTS HAVE 2 1/2 MINUTES TO STACK AND MOVE RECYCLING BINS TO THE LANDFILL PORTION OF THE FIELD, WITH EXTRA POINTS FOR PUTTING POOL NOODLES, WHICH REPRESENT LITTER, INTO THE CONTAINERS.

ROBOTICS TEAMS GET SIX WEEKS TO DESIGN AND BUILD THEIR ROBOTS BEFORE THEY BATTLE IT OUT.

THEY'RE TRYING TO IMPRESS JUDGES LIKE MARTIN VOLERICH, A SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT MANAGER AT BLOOMBERG AND ONE OF MANY INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS AT THE COMPETITION.

BUT I NEVER WOULD HAVE, AT SCHOOL, HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO WORK WITH METAL AND TO WORK WITH PNEUMATIC SYSTEMS.

AND IT WOULD HAVE OPENED UP WHOLE NEW POTENTIALS AND ALLOWED ME TO TRY.

BUT IN ADDITION, IT WOULD HAVE EXPOSED ME TO WHOLE NEW TEAMWORK SITUATIONS.

SO, THE IDEA OF WORKING TOGETHER AT HIGH-SCHOOL AGE, COLLABORATIVELY, TO SOLVE PROBLEMS AND UNDERSTAND EARLIER WHAT TEAMWORK REALLY MEANS AND THE BENEFITS OF IT AND HOW TO PLAY YOUR ROLE IN A TEAM WOULD HAVE BEEN IMMENSELY USEFUL.

TEAMS SPLIT INTO SUB TEAMS FOR ELECTRONICS, CONSTRUCTION, MARKETING, AND EVERY OTHER PART OF THE PROCESS.

THIS HELPS ATTRACT STUDENTS WITH A CROSS SECTION OF SKILLS AND INTERESTS.

WHEN I WAS IN MIDDLE SCHOOL, I WAS ALREADY SET ON DOING, LIKE, ART AND, LIKE, MORE CREATIVE THINGS.

I KNEW I LIKED MATH AND PHYSICS, BUT I DIDN'T REALLY SEE MYSELF WORKING IN A LAB FOR, LIKE -- WHEN I VISUALIZE ENGINEERING, I VISUALIZE, LIKE, ME WORKING IN A LAB, TAPPING SOMETHING FOR, LIKE, HOURS, AND I WAS LIKE, 'THAT'S NOT ME.'

BUT AFTER TRYING IT, LEE WAS HOOKED.

SHE BECAME THE HEAD OF CONSTRUCTION FOR HER TEAM, THE IRON MAIDENS, AN ALL-GIRLS GROUP THAT BROKE OFF FROM THE SCHOOL'S CO-ED TEAM A FEW YEARS AGO.

WE REALIZED THAT ALL THE GIRLS WERE JUST LETTING THE GUYS DO ALL THE PROGRAMMING, AND THEY JUST FELT LIKE -- THEY DID A LOT OF THE PAPERWORK.

THEY WERE JUST LIKE, 'OKAY.

IT'S OKAY.

WE DON'T DO THE PROGRAMMING, WE DON'T DO THE DESIGNING, AND WE'RE JUST GONNA DO PAPERWORK.'

BUT WE WERE LIKE, 'NO, WE WANT TO TRY IT.'

SO, WE WANT TO ENCOURAGE GIRLS AND INSPIRE GIRLS TO START GETTING INTO, LIKE, THE TECHNICAL THINGS, TOO.

THE IRON MAIDENS ARE ON A CRUSADE, REACHING OUT TO MIDDLE-SCHOOL GIRLS TO SPREAD THE GOSPEL OF S.T.E.M.

BECAUSE OF WHAT'S AROUND NOW, LIKE, PEOPLE JUST -- GIRLS ARE JUST UNCONFIDENT, I THINK.

THEY JUST THINK THAT TECHNICAL STUFF ARE NOT FOR THEM.

BECAUSE THEY HAVEN'T TRIED IT OUT, THEY JUST FOLLOW WHAT EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING.

IT'S KIND OF LIKE THIS THING WHERE THEY THINK THAT GIRLS WILL DO THE PAPERWORK, GIRLS WILL DO THE SPEAKING, GIRLS DON'T DO ENGINEERING, BUT THAT'S NOT RIGHT.

IT'S NOT JUST THE GIRLS.

YEARS BEFORE SAM ALEXANDER WORKED FOR FIRST, HE WAS A HIGH-SCHOOL STUDENT WHO DIDN'T FEEL CONFIDENT IN SCIENCE AND MATH UNTIL HE GAVE THIS ROBOTS THING A TRY.

WHAT I PARTICULARLY LOVED ABOUT IT WAS THAT IT WASN'T JUST, YOU KNOW, I NEEDED TO FEEL LIKE I WAS DESIGNING THE ROBOT MYSELF TO FEEL SUCCESSFUL IN THIS ENVIRONMENT.

SO, I FELT LIKE I COULD JOIN THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY CONVERSATION AND I COULD BE PART OF THIS COMMUNITY AND I COULD THINK ABOUT GOING TO COLLEGE AND STUDYING ENGINEERING.

WHEN YOU KIND OF DO THIS, IT GIVES YOU A CHANCE TO APPLY WHAT YOU LEARN, AND IT KIND OF MAKES YOU MORE INTERESTED IN SCHOOL 'CAUSE NOW -- IT USED TO BE YOU'D GO TO SCHOOL -- 'OKAY, I GOT TO SIT THROUGH THIS CLASS, GOT TO DO THIS WORK.'

AND NOW YOU GET TO DO THIS, AND YOU GET TO ACTUALLY USE WHAT YOU LEARN, WHICH IS SOMETHING THAT YOU DON'T ALWAYS GET TO DO.

IT'S USUALLY JUST, 'LEARN THIS, KNOW IT FOR THE TEST, AND THEN DUMP IT.'

STUDENTS ALSO HAVE TO TAKE A DIFFERENT APPROACH WITH THEIR ROBOTS THAN WITH THEIR HOMEWORK.

THERE'S NOT ALWAYS ONE RIGHT ANSWER, AND THE WORK ISN'T ALWAYS OVER ONCE YOU TURN IN THE ASSIGNMENT.

AFTER OUR LAST MATCH, WE FIGURED OUT THAT OUR CHASSIS'S WORKING, LIKE, SPOT-ON.

BEFORE WE COULDN'T EVEN MOVE, LIKE STRAFE A LITTLE BIT FROM LEFT OR RIGHT 'CAUSE WE USE MECANUM WHEELS, AND IF NOT ALL FOUR WHEELS ARE TOUCHING THE GROUND, IT WON'T MOVE PROPERLY.

AND THERE WAS ALWAYS THREE WHEELS ON THE GROUND.

AND WE THOUGHT THE HOLES ON THE INNER PLATES HOLDING THE SHAFT WERE MISALIGNED, BUT IT WAS ACTUALLY THE OUTER PLATES.

WE TOOK IT OFF, AND IT'S FINE NOW.

SO, I'M REALLY EXCITED FOR THE NEXT REGIONAL.

WE JUST OPTIMIZED OUR...AND OUR CHASSIS IS WORKING PERFECTLY, SO I'M REALLY EXCITED.

AND YOU'RE NOT FRUSTRATED THAT YOU --

NO, I'M NOT.

I'M REALLY HAPPY.

IT'S NOT LIKE A GRADE WHERE YOU GET THE GRADE AND THAT'S IT.

YOU'RE NOT GETTING A GRADE ON THE DRAFT AND THEN YOU'RE CONTINUING TO WORK UNTIL YOU GET THE 'A.'

THAT'S NOT HOW MOST CLASSES WORK IN SCHOOL, WHEREAS HERE IT'S -- EVEN IF YOU DON'T WIN THE COMPETITION IN ADVANCE, YOU'RE STILL DOING SOMETHING THAT WE ALL RECOGNIZE AS VERY CHALLENGING.

AND THEN A LOT OF THESE TEAMS RECOGNIZE THAT CONTINUING TO WORK, TO IMPROVE, TO WORK ON THE PRODUCT, TO MAKE THE PRODUCT BETTER HAS A LOT OF REWARD IN ITSELF.

THAT'S WHY, AS MEMI LEAVES THE LAST ROBOTICS COMPETITION OF HIS HIGH-SCHOOL CAREER, EVEN AFTER LOSING HIS LAST MATCH, HE HAS THIS TO SAY TO THE BAD NEWS BOTS.

JUST WANT TO GIVE A QUICK SHOUT-OUT TO EVERYBODY THAT WAS ON MY TEAM.

YOU GUYS DID A GREAT JOB THIS YEAR.

WE DIDN'T COME OUT THAT GOOD IN THE RANKINGS, BUT THE FACT THAT WE WERE ABLE TO, IN TWO HOURS, FIX A HUGE PROBLEM AND MAKE IT WORK, WAS PHENOMENAL.

MARK NORELL, NAMED 'COOLEST DUDE ALIVE' BY IS THE CHAIRMAN OF THE DIVISION OF PALEONTOLOGY AT THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY.

UP NEXT, NORELL GIVES US AN INSIDE LOOK AT WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE THE MUSEUM'S CHIEF REPTILE DINOSAUR EXPERT.

PEOPLE LOVE DINOSAURS EVERYWHERE AROUND THE WORLD.

[ LAUGHS ] BY LIKING DINOSAURS AND HAVING AN INTEREST IN DINOSAURS, THEY SUBLIMINALLY LEARN SOMETHING ABOUT SCIENCE.

YOU KNOW, BY THE COLOR OF DINOSAURS, THEY LEARN HOW MASS SPECTROMETRY WORKS, HOW IMMUNOLOGICAL STUDIES WORK.

THEY LEARN SOMETHING ABOUT EVOLUTION.

THEY LEARN SOME FUNDAMENTAL THINGS ABOUT GROWTH.

DINOSAURS ARE KIND OF THE ENTRY DRUG FOR SCIENCE, YOU KNOW, BECAUSE IT ACTUALLY -- YOU KNOW, STUFF THAT PEOPLE WOULD NOT BE INTERESTED IN BEFORE THEY LEARN ABOUT JUST BECAUSE THEY HAVE AN UNDERLYING INTEREST IN DINOSAURS.

IT'S KIND OF STRANGE THAT -- YOU KNOW, I'M A PALEONTOLOGIST, BUT MY MAJOR THING IS NOT TO LEARN EVERYTHING ABOUT DINOSAURS.

I'M MORE INTERESTED IN THE CREATIVE SORT OF PROCESS OF SCIENCE.

AND THAT'S JUST HAVING AN IDEA, TRYING TO FIGURE IT OUT.

THAT'S WHAT MOTIVATES ME.

WHAT'S WHAT GETS ME UP EVERY MORNING.

WE'VE SPENT THE LAST 26 YEARS WORKING IN MONGOLIA AND OTHER PARTS OF CENTRAL ASIA EXCAVATING DINOSAURS.

AND THERE'S REALLY ABOUT FIVE PLACES IN THE WORLD THAT HAVE REALLY GREAT DINOSAUR DEPOSITS.

MONGOLIA'S ALWAYS BEEN A VERY RICH PLACE FOR PALEONTOLOGISTS.

THE FIRST FOSSILS WERE FOUND ACTUALLY BY, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE FROM THIS MUSEUM IN THE 1920s.

WHEN WE WERE ALLOWED TO GO BACK, WE TOOK A BUNCH OF DIFFERENT TACKS AND WENT FURTHER OUT INTO THE DESERT THAN A LOT OF THE OTHER EXPEDITIONS HAD GONE AND COLLECTED IN A FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT WAY.

I MEAN, WE WERE MORE LOOKING FOR THINGS LIKE VERY, VERY PRIMITIVE MAMMALS THAT LIVED DURING THE TIME OF DINOSAURS, AS WELL AS LOOKING FOR ANIMALS WHICH HAD DIRECT BEARING ON THE ORIGIN OF BIRDS.

WE HAVEN'T REALLY FIGURED OUT WHAT COLOR DINOSAURS ARE, BUT WE ARE WORKING ON IT.

AND WE'VE BEEN ABLE TO DETERMINE AT LEAST SOME OF THE COLORS OF THINGS LIKE SOME OF THE FEATHERS ON FEATHERED DINOSAURS, AS WELL AS WE'RE GETTING REALLY, REALLY, CLOSE, I THINK, TO DETERMINING WHAT'S THE COLOR OF SOME SKIN ON DINOSAURS.

WE'RE LOOKING AT THESE MICROCELLULAR BODIES THAT EXIST INSIDE OF CELLS OF LIVING BIRDS.

THESE THINGS ARE CALLED MELANOSOMES.

THE DIFFERENT SHAPED MELANOSOMES IMPART DIFFERENT SORTS OF COLOR ON THE FEATHERS.

SO, ANOTHER TECHNIQUE THAT WE'RE USING IS WE'RE USING A KIND OF SPECTROSCOPY.

SO, BASICALLY WHAT THAT IS, IS WE SHOOT A VERY HIGH-ENERGY BEAM FROM A SYNCHROTRON AT MATERIAL.

AND THEN WHAT REFLECTS OFF OF IT THEN IS AN ELEMENTAL ANALYSIS OF MINUTE AMOUNTS OF THE ELEMENTS THAT WERE PART OF THE ORIGINAL COLORATION PATTERN AND THE ORIGINAL SKIN OR FEATHERS OF THOSE ANIMALS WHEN THEY WERE ALIVE, EVEN UP TO 150 MILLION YEARS AGO.

JUST LIKE HUMANS ARE PRIMATES, BIRDS ARE A KIND OF DINOSAUR.

AND FOR A LONG TIME, PEOPLE PREDICTED THAT LOTS OF THE NON-BIRD DINOSAURS -- WHAT WE CALL THE NON-AVIAN DINOSAURS -- WOULD HAVE HAD FEATHERS.

BUT IT WASN'T UNTIL THE MID-1990s THAT THE FIRST TRULY FEATHERED DINOSAURS WERE FOUND.

AND THEY CAME FROM NORTHEASTERN CHINA, AND THEY HAD THESE FILAMENTS ALL OVER THEIR BODY.

SINCE THEN, WE'VE FOUND LOTS OF NON-AVIAN DINOSAURS THAT HAVE FEATHERS.

THEIR FEATHERS WERE MORE LIKE HAIR -- SMALL, TINY FILAMENTS THAT WOULD HAVE COVERED THEIR WHOLE BODY.

AND THEY PROBABLY EVOLVED AS AN INSULATION BARRIER BECAUSE WE HAVE A LOT OF EVIDENCE NOW THAT THESE ANIMALS WERE WARM-BLOODED.

SO, JUST LIKE MAMMALS HAVE HAIR TO KEEP WARM, DINOSAURS WOULD HAVE HAD FEATHER COVERING TO KEEP WARM.

WE'VE BEEN TRYING TO UNDERSTAND GROWTH IN DINOSAURS, AND IT SOUNDS LIKE A PRETTY ONEROUS KIND OF THING, TO TRY TO STUDY GROWTH IN DINOSAURS, BUT WE'VE BEEN ABLE TO USE SOME TOOLS TO BE ABLE TO DETERMINE IT.

AND ONE OBSERVATION THAT WAS MADE EARLY ON WAS THAT THE BONES OF DINOSAURS LAY DOWN RINGS.

AT FIRST, NO ONE KNEW WHAT THOSE RINGS WERE, BUT IT WAS LATER, BY EXPERIMENTATION, DETERMINED THAT THEY WERE ANNUAL RINGS.

AND ON REALLY WELL-PRESERVED SPECIMENS, YOU CAN SEE THE ANNUAL RINGS, YOU CAN SEE A 28-DAY TIDAL SET OF RINGS, AND THEN YOU CAN ALSO DETERMINE IN THE BEST ONES, A DAILY RING.

SO, IN THE BEST CASES, WE CAN FIND OUT EXACTLY HOW MANY DAYS A DINOSAUR LIVED.

FOR MOST DINOSAURS, WE ONLY HAVE ADULTS, AND YOU DON'T REALLY HAVE, YOU KNOW, EVERYTHING FROM, YOU KNOW, JUVENILES TO ADULTS.

SO, YOU CAN'T UNDERSTAND THE PATTERN THAT THEY ADDED FEATURES OR THAT THEY DEVELOPED AND CHANGED DURING GROWTH.

SO, THIS IS AN ANIMAL CALLED A PROTOCERATOPS, AND THIS IS A SMALL ONE, BUT WE EVEN HAVE EMBRYOS OF THIS.

THIS ANIMAL WAS PROBABLY ABOUT EIGHT MONTHS OLD WHEN IT PERISHED, AND THIS ONE WAS ABOUT A YEAR AND A HALF.

WE'VE FOUND A LOT IN THE GOBI DESERT OVER THE LAST 26 YEARS -- THE FIRST EMBRYOS OF CARNIVOROUS DINOSAURS.

WE FOUND ANIMALS SITTING ON TOP OF THEIR NESTS, BROODING THEM JUST LIKE MODERN BIRDS DO.

WE FOUND ABOUT 20 NEW DIFFERENT SPECIES OF DINOSAURS.

WELL, TECHNOLOGY REALLY HASN'T CHANGED AS FAR AS HOW WE EXCAVATE OR WHERE WE EXCAVATE SINCE 1990, WHEN WE FIRST WENT.

THE ONLY THING THAT WE HAVE NOW IS WE HAVE BETTER SATELLITE PHONES, BASICALLY.

[ CHUCKLES ] AND WE'RE ABLE TO DOWNLOAD A LOT OF, YOU KNOW, MAPS AND OTHER KINDS OF THINGS FROM, YOU KNOW, GOOGLE EARTH AND A VARIETY OF SOURCES.

IT'S PRETTY MUCH NOT ONLY THE SAME WAS IN 1990.

IT'S PRETTY MUCH AS IT WAS IN 1923, WHEN PEOPLE FROM THIS MUSEUM FIRST WENT OUT THERE.

PALEONTOLOGY'S A REALLY INTERESTING FIELD.

IT'S A TRULY INTERNATIONAL FIELD.

IT'S REALLY NOT DOMINATED BY ANY ONE COUNTRY OR ONE PLACE.

WE HAVE A GREAT COLLECTION.

WE HAVE A MUSEUM INFRASTRUCTURE THAT ALLOWS US TO DO OUR WORK AT A VERY HIGH LEVEL, AND IT'S REALLY GOOD.

NOT EVERYBODY HAS IT SO GOOD.

WE NEED TO HAVE A GENERAL PUBLIC WHICH KNOWS 10 TIMES MORE ABOUT SCIENCE THAN THEY KNOW NOW.

WE'VE BEEN, OVER THE LAST DECADE AND A HALF, IN A REAL TIME OF EXPLORATION FOR DINOSAURS.

I MEAN, THERE'S BEEN -- ALMOST HALF THE SPECIES OF NON-AVIAN DINOSAURS THAT WE KNOW ABOUT HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED IN THAT TIME PERIOD.

I OPEN UP MY COMPUTER IN THE MORNING, AND I FIND SOMETHING REALLY COOL OUT AND SOMETHING BRAND-NEW OUT.

SO, IT'S A GOOD TIME.

OF THE MORE THAN 300,000 OLDER AMERICANS WHO FALL EACH YEAR, 40% END UP IN A NURSING HOME, AND 20% ARE NEVER ABLE TO WALK AGAIN.

DR. JOSEPH CHOI OF CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY STUDIES THE SCIENCE OF TAKING A TUMBLE IN HOPES OF SAVING SENIORS FROM THESE LIFE-THREATENING FALLS.

HERE'S A CLOSER LOOK.

GO.

PERFECT.

MICHAEL OLIVAREZ IS HAVING A ROUGH DAY.

THE CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY STUDENT HAS FALLEN FORWARD, BACKWARD, SIDEWAYS, EVERY WAY YOU CAN IMAGINE, ALL IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE.

GOOD.

AN ARRAY OF SENSORS, MOTION-CAPTURE DEVICES, AND CAMERAS ARE FIXED ON EVERY TUMBLE.

YOU KNOW, I FEEL LIKE A MOVIE STAR RIGHT NOW.

IT WAS FUN JUST FALLING OVER.

RESEARCHER DR. JOSEPH CHOI HAD HIS FALL GUY TAKE THE PLUNGE MORE THAN 50 TIMES AS PART OF A STUDY TO MEASURE MUSCLE-ACTIVATION PATTERNS DURING A FALL.

WHY?

TO HELP PEOPLE LIKE THIS -- SENIORS WHO ARE SUSCEPTIBLE TO SPILLS THAT TURN INTO LIFE-THREATENING INJURIES.

GET THIS -- 20% OF THE SENIORS WHO SUFFER A HIP FRACTURE DIE WITHIN A YEAR.

AND ANOTHER 50% WILL BE PERMANENTLY DISABLED.

THE HEALTHCARE COSTS RELATED TO A HIP FRACTURE ARE ABOUT $10 BILLION.

SO, IT'S A BIG ISSUE.

SO WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING FOR THIS.

ONE THING DR. CHOI HAD TO FIGURE OUT WAS HOW OLDER ADULTS WERE ACTUALLY FALLING.

SOME SENIOR LIVING FACILITIES JOINED IN THE RESEARCH BY ALLOWING HIM TO VIEW VIDEO FROM SECURITY CAMERAS.

HE GUESSED THE PRIMARY CAUSE FOR FALLING AS TRIPPING WHILE WALKING, BUT HE WAS WRONG.

POPULATION IN THE LONG-TERM CARE -- THE PRIMARY CAUSE OF FALL IS ACTUALLY DURING TRANSFERRING, TRANSFERRING FROM THE BED TO THE CHAIR OR A CHAIR TO THE FLOOR.

DR. CHOI IS RECREATING THOSE TYPES OF FALLS IN HIS RESEARCH, AND ONCE HE LEARNS WHAT MUSCLES IN THE HIP AND OTHER PARTS OF THE BODY ARE ACTIVATED WHEN A FALL OCCURS, HE'LL DEVELOP A SIMPLE EXERCISE PROGRAM FOR SENIORS TO STRENGTHEN THOSE MUSCLES.

THANK YOU.

ANOTHER POSSIBILITY IS TO CREATE WEARABLE PADDING BASED ON THE RESEARCH RESULTS.

THAT COULD PROTECT IMPACT POINTS DURING A TUMBLE AND REDUCE INJURY.

THANK YOU.

OLIVAREZ STUDIES GERIATRICS AND IS EXCITED ABOUT THE RESEARCH POTENTIAL.

THE DIFFERENT MUSCLE ACTIVATIONS THAT YOU'RE SEEING ON THE EMG -- I HOPE THAT'S GOING TO EVENTUALLY DEVELOP INTO SOME EITHER FALL-RISK PROGRAMS FOR SENIORS -- OR EVEN A LITTLE BIG YOUNGER, IN THE ADULT POPULATION -- OR ESPECIALLY DIFFERENT EXERCISES YOU CAN DO TO STRENGTHEN SPECIFIC MUSCLES THAT MAY BE INJURED DURING A FALL.

FOR NOW, OLIVAREZ WILL TAKE HIS LUMPS SO THAT, IN THE FUTURE, DR. CHOI CAN FIND A WAY TO PREVENT THOSE LUMPS.

THE HUMAN MICROBIOME IS THE BACTERIA, THE FUNGI, AND THE VIRUSES THAT WE FIND INSIDE OUR BODY.

AND THERE'S AROUND 100 TRILLION CELLS OF BACTERIA AND VIRUSES INSIDE OUR BODY.

AND THEY OUTNUMBER OUR OWN HUMAN CELLS BY AROUND TWO TO THREE TIMES.

THEY WEIGH AROUND TWO TO THREE POUNDS, WHICH IS ABOUT THE SAME WEIGHT AS YOUR BRAIN.

SO, IF YOU THINK YOUR BRAIN'S IMPORTANT, YOUR MICROBIOME IS PROBABLY EQUALLY SO.

THE HUMAN IMMUNE SYSTEM EVOLVED OVER FIVE MILLION YEARS OF OUR APE LINEAGE TO ACTUALLY ACQUIRE, RETAIN, AND INTERACT WITH THE MICROBES THAT WE FIND INSIDE OUR BODY.

IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT, THERE'S NO POSSIBLE WAY THAT ANY ORGANISM OUT THERE -- A PLANT, AN ANIMAL, EVEN AN ANT -- COULD PROTECT ITSELF FROM BACTERIA.

THEY'RE JUST TOO EVER-PRESENT.

SO, THE IMMUNE SYSTEM EVOLVED TO ACTUALLY INTERACT WITH THAT MICROBIAL UNIVERSE, TO PROVIDE THE BODY WITH A WAY OF KEEPING THE GOOD KINDS OF BACTERIA CLOSE TO US AND KEEPING THE BAD KINDS OF BACTERIA AT BAY.

THE 100-TRILLION-OR-SO CELLS THAT CONSTITUTE OUR HUMAN MICROBIOME ARE UNIQUE TO EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US.

AND THIS OCCURS FOR A VERY PARTICULAR REASON.

YOU'RE BORN STERILE.

AND THEN EVERY EXPERIENCE THAT YOU HAVE THROUGHOUT YOUR ENTIRE LIFE SHAPES THE BACTERIAL COMMUNITY THAT YOU ACQUIRE FROM YOUR ENVIRONMENT.

WHETHER YOU GREW UP WITH A DOG OR WHETHER YOU GREW UP ON A FARM, THOSE ACTIVITIES THAT YOU HAVE, THOSE INTERACTIONS WITH THE WORLD SHAPE THE BACTERIAL COMMUNITY INSIDE OF YOU.

AND THERE'S NO TWO PEOPLE CAN HAVE THE SAME MICROBIAL EXPERIENCE.

WE ALL GET A UNIQUE SIGNATURE, A UNIQUE MICROBIAL FINGERPRINT IN OUR BODY.

EVEN IDENTICAL TWINS HAVE A UNIQUE MICROBIAL FINGERPRINT, AND WE CAN USE THAT FINGERPRINT TO IDENTIFY PEOPLE.

SCIENTISTS ESTIMATE THAT THERE ARE 8.7 MILLION SPECIES ON EARTH, BUT EXPERTS ARE ONLY FAMILIAR WITH 2% OR 3% OF THOSE CREATURES.

RESEARCHERS IN NEW JERSEY HAVE ADDED ONE MORE ANIMAL TO THE LIST -- A FROG WITH A PARTICULAR CALLING CARD THAT MAKES IT STAND OUT FROM THE PACK.

REPORTER LAUREN WANKO HAS THE STORY.

[ FROG CHATTERING ]

IT'S NOT THE FROG CALL MOST PEOPLE ARE USED TO HEARING.

IT'S THIS SOUND THAT LED A TEAM OF RESEARCHERS AND SCIENTISTS TO DISCOVER A NEW FROG SPECIES IN NEW JERSEY CALLED THE ATLANTIC COAST LEOPARD.

IT'S KIND OF LIKE, YOU KNOW, SOME GROANING-TYPE SOUNDS, WITH SOME KIND OF LITTLE CHUCKLES, YOU KNOW, HERE AND THERE, SNORES SOMETIMES.

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF FISH AND WILDLIFE'S BRIAN ZARATE FIRST HEARD THE SOUND IN MORRIS COUNTY WETLANDS MORE THAN A DECADE AGO.

SO, WE WENT OUT THERE WITH SOME NETS AND SOME HEADLIGHTS AND WE FOUND THIS FROG AND WE BROUGHT IT BACK IN.

AND IT LOOKED LIKE A LEOPARD FROG.

AND WE KNEW THAT WE HAD LEOPARD FROGS HERE IN NEW JERSEY -- THE SOUTHERN LEOPARD FROG -- BUT THIS ONE DIDN'T QUITE SOUND OR LOOK LIKE THAT ONE.

[ FROG CHATTERING ]

ZARATE BEGAN WORKING WITH A RUTGERS UNIVERSITY RESEARCHER, WHO DISCOVERED THIS SAME FROG IN NEW YORK.

HE SAYS THE FROG'S LOCATION MAKES THE FINDING ESPECIALLY SIGNIFICANT.

I THINK IN A PLACE LIKE THIS METROPOLITAN, KIND OF MID-ATLANTIC, TRI-STATE AREA, YOU DON'T GET A LOT OF SITUATIONS WHERE YOU HAVE NEW SPECIES ANYMORE BECAUSE THIS HAS BEEN SUCH A WELL-STUDIED AREA.

IT'S THE GENETIC SAMPLE THAT BECAME THE KEY PIECE OF EVIDENCE THE SCIENTISTS NEEDED TO MAKE THE DETERMINATION.

RESEARCHERS TOOK TOE CLIPS FROM THE AMPHIBIAN AND SENT VERY SMALL TISSUE SAMPLES TO THE LAB FOR GENETIC TESTING, WHICH WERE COMPARED TO MANY OTHER FROG SAMPLES.

AS FOR THE TOE, THAT RE-GROWS.

WHEN YOU COMPARED IT TO THE TWO SPECIES THAT WE THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE RELATED TO -- THE NORTHERN LEOPARD FROG AND THE SOUTHERN LEOPARD FROG, IT TURNED OUT THAT IT WAS MORE CLOSELY RELATED TO A DIFFERENT FROG.

AND THAT'S REALLY EXCITING BECAUSE IT LOOKS LIKE A LEOPARD FROG.

RUTGERS UNIVERSITY LED THE TEAM, WHICH INCLUDED RESEARCHERS FROM OTHER UNIVERSITIES AND THE STATE.

THE ATLANTIC COAST LEOPARD FROG NEEDS LARGE, OPEN MARSHES, SAYS RUTGERS UNIVERSITY'S JOANNA BURGER, WHO INSISTS THE DISCOVERY HIGHLIGHTS THE IMPORTANCE OF PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT.

I THINK THE REALLY IMPORTANT LESSON THAT WE CAN LEARN HERE IS, ONE, IT'S STILL POSSIBLE TO FIND NEW SPECIES EVEN IN A REALLY DENSE AREA LIKE THE NEW YORK CITY AREA.

AND THE SECOND THING IT TELLS US IS, IT'S VERY DIFFICULT TO KNOW WHICH PART OF THE ENVIRONMENT IS REALLY CRITICAL FOR SOME SPECIES.

THE ATLANTIC COAST LEOPARD FROG'S BEEN FOUND IN SCATTERED AREAS ACROSS THE STATE'S WETLANDS, SAYS ZARATE.

AND SO THAT'S A GREAT THING.

THERE'S A LOT OF OTHER SPECIES IN NEW JERSEY THAT HAVE A MUCH MORE LIMITED DISTRIBUTION.

SO, THIS FROG ALREADY HAS A BIT OF A FROG LEG UP OVER OTHER RARE SPECIES.

SCIENTISTS HERE HAVE A LOT MORE WORK AHEAD, INCLUDING UNDERSTANDING THE CONDITIONS THE AMPHIBIAN NEEDS TO THRIVE LONG-TERM.

RIGHT NOW THE FROG IS HIBERNATING, BUT IT WILL WAKE UP LATE WINTER OR EARLY SPRING.

ZARATE AND HIS TEAM WILL THEN HEAD BACK INTO THE WETLANDS, SURVEY, COLLECT ADDITIONAL DATA, AND LISTEN FOR THE FROG'S CALL.

[ FROG CHATTERING ]

AND THAT WRAPS IT UP FOR THIS TIME.

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UNTIL NEXT TIME, I'M HARI SREENIVASAN.

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