SciTech Now Episode 438

In this episode of SciTech Now, we take a look at the study detecting fake ID’s; Ainissa Ramirez discusses the engineering behind the ironing board; the interplay between religious experiences and the brain; and 3D printing for space.



Coming up... Detecting fake I.D.s.

Most of the research that deals with algorithms or training a computer how to recognize faces are moving at incredible rates.

The engineering behind the ironing board.

She did this as a woman who was 60 years old and had one of the first patents in 1892.

Can religious practices impact your brain?

When people are engaged in a practice like meditation or prayer, they typically activate their frontal lobe.

This is an area of our brain that helps us to concentrate.

3-D printing for space.

We're projecting in 2020 that this becomes a $15-billion annual sales business globally for metal 3-D printing.

It's all ahead.

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.

Dr. Dawn Weatherford, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, is studying the accuracy of detecting fake I.D.s in the hope of improving employee training for the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, and the United States Border Patrol.

Take a look.

Most of the research that deals with algorithms or training a computer how to recognize faces are moving at incredible rates.

The idea that we can look at our iPhones, and it can detect our information, or they can have drones that look at surveillance and say, this is the person who they think it is, doesn't necessarily speak to all the human observers who have to perform this task on a day-to-day basis.

So cognitive psychology actually can contribute to that process by saying humans will and always probably will perform these types of tasks where they have to authenticate identities in person.

Computers are very expensive.

They'll likely never replace humans exclusively, and even more importantly than that, we have thousands and thousands of people in places of national and international security performing this task right now, and there is no real future for them to be replaced by computers altogether.

So to say that we need to have research that deals with the computer side of things is absolutely important.

We deal with faces all the time.

We, as humans, think we're really good at recognizing faces, so I think it's really important to kind of explore this topic and, you know, are we experts at recognizing faces?

If so, why are we?

What about it?

If not, what can we do to make ourselves better?

Like, who isn't, who is?

So it's really interesting.

Most of what the training entails is, actually, is this card authentic?

So, does this card have the right security strip?

Is this card -- Does it have the right ink?

So the right marks.

And, yet, one of the things that we study in this laboratory is, is that picture the same person as who presented it to you?

It's not uncommon to find that people can switch I.D.s.

So they may have gotten it from a legitimate source, and yet it does not belong to them, and so what my research focuses on is individual ability to recognize the face that's on the card, not just whether or not the I.D. is authentic.

So the typical participant actually sits in front of a computer and is first instructed on how to perform the series of tasks.

So this represents one of our sets of instructions, and just briefly, it tells them, you're going to be presented with two different pictures.

What your task is, is to determine whether or not they represent the same person.

If they do, then you're going to give a high value between 4 and 6 to indicate a high degree of confidence that the answer would be 'yes,' but if you think that they don't, and that would be a mismatch, then you're going to give a low value between 1 and 3.

In this instance, these actually are the same person, if you look closely, although she looks kind of different.

The pictures are taken at least a year apart, so that way it represents a little bit more of what the real world would see in terms of variability.

So if Jasmine makes any choice between 1 and 6.

Here she accepted an authentic I.D.

So she's being given feedback on her correct response.

And if she presses 'spacebar,' she'll be given the next task.

This is an instance of a mismatch.

So if you look closely, you would see that those are actually two different individuals.

Although, in a real-world situation, one could probably pass this I.D. to the other, and someone may or may not notice it.

So we actually compare performance on these types of trials where it's not actually a matching identity with the ones that we saw previously that were matching identities to get a sense of people's accuracy under different sets of circumstances.

I think it's good to know -- like, have science to prove that if we are good at this task, so we know border security and what they're doing is good.

It's also good to know, like, are we doing this wrong?

If so, what can we do to improve or what is -- what are we not doing that needs to be fixed?

I think everyone has something to gain when we focus our attention on the safety of whether you're talking about your city or your state or your country or international kind of considerations, and if this presents a threat, if presenting a fake I.D.

is a way that someone could gain access to a place that they're not supposed to be, and that kind of, perhaps, threatens the safety of everyone, then what I hope to do is contribute even a small piece to making us all a little safer, and here at Texas A&M-San Antonio, ultimately, what it would be great to find is ways to increase security, increase protocols, increase training, and just make everyone a little bit safer.

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Computer keys clacking ]

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

She is the creator of a podcast series called 'Science Underground.'

She joins me now to discuss a little-known African-American inventor, Sarah Boone.

Sarah Boone.

We've got an iron in front of us.

Well, she was a dressmaker.


But she was also an inventor born in 1832, and got one of the first patents in 1892 for the ironing board.


Now, the ironing board looks a little different, but the idea of having a collapsible ironing board, one with a soft pad on the top, that's her.

She also had an additional arm for the sleeve, because, as a dressmaker, she wanted to make sure that her product looked wonderful, so she had a special design to add on top of it, but she did this as a woman who was 60 years old, and has one of the first patents in 1892.

An African-American woman?

African-American woman.

In this era?

In this era.

Getting a patent?


Born in the South -- you know, escaped the Civil War, landed in New Haven -- didn't even know how to read at age 48.

By 60, she could, and had a patent.

Those little facts kind of adding up to how groundbreaking that was at the time.


I mean, what do we know about how she thought about things?

Because she seems to have kind of that inventor gene or bug.

Well, if you read her patent, she definitely had an engineer's mind because she emphasized things like it has to be cheap, it has to be simple, it has to be convenient, it has to be efficient.

Those are the words that she specifically has in her -- and if you read a NASA patent, it's going to have the same kind of thinking.

So here it is, an African-American woman in 1892, thinking the same way, and, again, she was trying to solve a problem.

Before, when you ironed, you actually had to put a plank on top of two chairs, or you used a dining-room table.

It's incredible how for granted we take something as simple as an ironing board.


It's something we find in every hotel closet.

Every home. Every home.

Every home.

That's right.

How is it that stories like this kind of get buried underground, and what do we do to surface these?

Well, that's what I'm embarking on now.

I'm writing a book, but I actually stumbled on to this story about Sarah Boone 'cause she did this in New Haven, which is the town that I live in, and there's very little about her.

So I've actually talked to the mayor, and we're actually going to put something for Black History Month for her, but it is very much buried.

I'm looking at some Caucasian men, and I can tell you what they ate on Tuesday, but I can't get the birth certificate for Sarah Boone.

So it's also the structure that all this happened in, as well.

The impact of invention on the world today is massive, and it's people like Sarah who wanted to just solve a specific problem and just kind of set their mind to it, and say, 'I can build the better mousetrap, or an ironing board that never existed.'

That's right.

How do we get young people to kind of see these stories and realize that they have that capacity and potential of someone who didn't know how to read at 48 --


Let's say most kids today do know how to read.

Right. Right.

...that, look at that.

You've got a head start on her.

Imagine what she could have done if she had your skill set today.

That's right.

She'd be working on her Nobel Prize.

I think it's about reflection.

I think if kids can see -- you know, as that hidden figure and moment that we're in, if people can see the reflection that here it is, an African-American woman who was illiterate, had to work hard in the shadow of Yale University, and was still able to carve out some space and have her name out there and have a patent, you know, a government document in the 1890s, if we show kids that, we'll say like, 'What's stopping you?

Here she did it in the worst circumstances, and you have an environment that is much more supportive for innovation.'

You have the world's supercomputer likely in your pocket.

That's right. You do.

Your computer in your pocket is more technology than the Apollo 11.


So, what's stopping you?

Ainissa Ramirez, thanks so much.

Thank you.



I'm Debra Needham, and I'm a Planetary Scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, and this is 'SLS in 60 Seconds.'

♪♪ As a Planetary Scientist, I help integrate science into exploration.

With SLS, I help load science missions, or payloads, so that we can explore deep-space destinations.

♪♪ By using the Space Launch System, or SLS to explore the moon, we get to explore the entire history of the solar system because some of the oldest rocks are preserved on the lunar surface.

♪♪ Going to the moon is a proving ground towards exploring deep space.

It's a next step towards sending humans to Mars.

♪♪ The great thing about SLS is it has a large fairing so we can launch large payloads into deep space.

The fairing is the enclosure around the payload that protects it during launch.


As humans, hydration, exercise, and clean eating are vital to our health and well-being, but what about religious practices like prayer and meditation?

Dr. Andrew Newberg, Professor at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, studies the interplay between religious experiences and the brain.


Neurotheology is a field of study that seeks to understand the relationship between the human brain and our religious and spiritual selves, and with that in mind, neurotheology is not the neuroscience of religion.

It's also not a religious and spiritual perspective on science, but it is truly seeking to understand the relationship between the two.

Dr. Andrew Newberg is the Director of Research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

He studies both the practical and the esoteric side of religion.

Part of what neurotheology is helping us to do is to look at these very complex processes, these complex tasks like meditation, where you might be thinking about things, you might have emotions, you might be moving around, and if you're doing all these different things, how does that all happen within the brain and how does that actually change the person, change their experiences, and change the way they believe?

Moving into the more esoteric side, we can understand a little bit more of what human consciousness is.

What does it mean to be able to reflect on ourselves?

What exactly is consciousness?

Modern imaging techniques of the brain have allowed scientists to explore the relationship between religious practices and their effect on the brain.

Some of the common ones we have used include things like functional magnetic resonance imaging -- FMRI -- positron emission tomography -- PET -- or single-photon emission computed tomography -- SPECT imaging.

All of these are ways of looking at the functional changes that are going on in the human brain.

We try to scan their brain when they're not doing anything in particular, and then we scan them again when they're doing a particular practice -- a medication practice, a prayer practice.

When people are engaged in a practice like meditation or prayer, they typically activate their frontal lobe.

This is an area of our brain that helps us to concentrate -- so, obviously, if you're concentrating on God, if you're concentrating on a visual image.


Dr. Newberg has also studied the power of a religious symbol's influence on our mind.

We came up with the symbols that seem to have the greatest impact on our brain, both religious and nonreligious, and we showed them to people while they were in an MRI scanner so we could see how their brain was reacting.

What we found was that the area that seemed to be particularly affected and affected differently by religious symbols compared to nonreligious symbols was in what we call the primary visual cortex.

It's in the very back of our brain.

And that, to me, really supported the notion that they have a specific impact before it ever gets up to the higher areas of our brain where we're actually thinking about the meaning of the symbol.

Longer-term events like spiritual retreats, where participants focus on prayer, meditation, and self-reflection result in profound changes in the brain.

We found that the dopamine system was working very differently in their brain after the retreat, and what that implies to me is, is that these kinds of practices wind up priming the brain or predisposing the brain for people to have very intense spiritual experiences.

Retreats themselves, even practices like meditation or prayer, by themselves, they are not the experience.

They are the practices that ultimately facilitate or bring on these very intense spiritual states, mystical experiences, enlightenment experiences.


The research being carried out here looks at the core relationship between religious experiences and the brain.

One of the aspects of the experience is a sense of unity, a sense of oneness.

The person feels that they are deeply connected with God.

Well, when we do our brain-scan studies, we find that when people have that experience of that connection with God, there's a change in their parietal lobe, the area in the back of our brain that normally helps us to create our sense of self.

So this area, as it quiets down, we begin to lose our sense of self, the boundaries between ourself and God or the universe begin to blur, and we feel this profound sense of oneness or connectedness.

Another aspect of these experiences is a sense of intensity.

Well, there's an area of our brain called the amygdala, which turns out that that lights up whenever anything of very motivational importance happens to us.

So it's not a surprise, again, that when we have studied these practices, that this particular part of our brain, the amygdala, tends to get very active when people have these very intense experiences.

♪♪ I think the important thing is, is that we can see these transformative effects not only for the person, but we can then observe more permanent changes, and we've seen this with the retreat study.

We've seen this in other studies of people who are long-term meditators, that their brains are fundamentally different compared to those people who have not had those experiences.

But not all religious experiences are positive.

There are lots of examples, especially in today's world, where religion has gone bad, so to speak -- whether that's a terrorist flying a plane into a building, whether it's a cult, whether it's somebody who gets cancer, and they feel that God is punishing them.

What's the difference in somebody's brain when they go to the ISIS website and say, 'That looks like a good idea'? You know, what's different there and can we use that information in a practical way maybe to even redirect people away from those negative behaviors and those negative beliefs?


This neurological study of religious practices has profound implications for both the devout and the atheist.

Religious traditions, spiritual practices, to me, is one of the two main forces in all of human history.

It's that and science and technology.

Whether you are a pure scientist or pure religious or spiritual person, that pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of understanding, the drive to ask the question -- to me, that's one of the most exciting parts of this field, which is to have that openness, that passion for inquiry, and the sense of trying to discover something which is unknown.

♪♪ [ Computer keys clacking ] ♪♪

3-D printing is known for creating models and smaller-scale products, but now manufacturers are using this technology to develop metal parts for aircrafts and rockets.

Join us as we dive deeper into this innovative process of additive manufacturing.

Incodema is an acronym, and it stands for INvent, COncept, DEsign, MAnufacture.

That's where the name came from.

We're a contract manufacturer using additive technology to produce parts for our clients, all for prototype all the way through production.


What is additive manufacturing?

Years ago, it was called 3-D printing.

We don't specifically deal in plastics.

What we specifically deal in is metals.

We work with titanium, cobalt-chrome, many different grades of stainless steel.

We're dealing with very good materials.

That opens up an opportunity to go into a lot of different fields.

We're very focused in the aerospace sector.

Are you building stuff for spaceships?

We are.

I mean, space and rocket launch is a very big part of our business.

A very common product here is heat-transfer parts -- so heat sinks, computer-board holders, turbine blades, things for propulsion.

This isn't your garage tool that you go out and get ahold of.

Let's go over the old ways of using metal to make something.

The three main are forgings -- so where you're using, really, a hot, malleable material.

You're putting it into a mold.


There's a couple of different ways to cast -- investment cast or sand cast -- and then subtractive machining.

It's a process where there's quite a bit of waste.

You're removing, you know, a lot of material to really come down to a smaller piece that you cut out of that, and then, of course, additive.

In our particular technology, it's with powder, and we additively layer that up where we don't have the waste, and we're much more accurate, and, in many cases, we're starting to see that the properties that we're able to produce with this technology, depending on direction, are, in some ways, better than any of those other three that we described.

Yeah, so a company like NASA, so they would have an injector they normally would build that would have been 40 different pieces all put together at the end of a 36-week timeline.

We're able to take that same part using this technology, and we're able to deliver that part in 8 to 10 weeks.

And how do they send you the redesign?

How does that process work?

Do they just e-mail you something and say, 'Can you guys do this?'

Essentially, it's as easy as that.

It's as easy as what?

Sending a 3-D file and giving us a print to match.

That's as easy as making those changes and putting the part in the machine and going forward.

This is the physical part.

What's going on over here?

So, here we're building the combustion chamber.

The machine, what it does, is it actually starts with a substrate plate, so the plate starts with no powder on it, and we smooth out a very thin, in this case, 40-micron layer of powder.

The laser then hits that first layer a couple of times at the beginning to get a really good weld to the solid plate.

After that, the machine then welds that down, goes back over.

The arm goes to the dispense platform, then picks up a pile of powder, spreads that pile of powder across the plate again, and then a fiber-optic laser in the range between 1,000-to-2,200-degree melt temperatures then welds it again, and then you repeat that process over and over and over.

So we're really welding a part layer by layer.

There are challenges, you know, that we face -- right now, in and of itself, of the technology.

So we've got companies out there used to doing things in a conventional method -- you know, characterized casting or machining.

They know how to design it.

They know how it's gonna work.

They know how the material is gonna behave.

We're working through some things now where we're having to work with clients really deeply into understanding the technology so they can actually use it in more of a broad sense in their production where they can actually put this on a print and say, 'We need a part built this way, we need it done like this, we need it done like this,' and have those tables to design to.


So, Scott, what do we have going on here?

So today we have a rocket chamber.

So the part right now is building layer by layer on a rocket chamber in Inconel.

If we were building this standing up this way, we just finished building this extension off of the chamber, and we're in this region right here.

Is this really as simple as it looks like?

I mean, you just move this up and down to see where you are on the level of the...? You can visualize where you are?

It is.

I mean, once it's on the machine, it's that simple.

The process before getting to the machine isn't quite that simple, but, yes.

Once it's on the machine, it is pretty simple to monitor what's going on in the equipment -- you know, what material, what layers, what kind of gas is being used, you know, where -- what kind of geometry we're gonna be building, what kind of problems might be coming up.

If we do see a problem that's happening in the machine, we can go back, and, in real time, look at why is it having a problem?

We can see on the screen, 'Oh, that's the geometry it's trying to build,' and based on our experience of the recoder and what happens with that, we might be able to make a change, stop it, see, advise the customer of a design change possible.

You know, things like that are what we work through.

One way to look at additive, just look at nature.

Everything in nature is what we're going to.

You know, there's so many companies that I go to to help teach them how to design for additive, and, really, what I should be doing is just coming in with, like, a book on leaves and trees and branches and how they build because that's additive.

That's how you design for additive.

Look at -- I mean, this is not how you design for additive.

If you look at everything here -- the square, the I-beam, the brackets -- all these things -- that's man.

That's not nature.

But if you go outside and you look at a tree, and you start looking at the nature and how that -- how strength comes from that, that's what we do in additive.

That's how you design for additive.

Let's talk about where this might go.

Be the visionary guy.

In 2050, what?

Well, even earlier than that.

You know, we're projecting in 2020 that this becomes a $15-billion annual sales business globally for metal 3-D printing.

I always talk specifically about metal because the plastic's a different sector.

So we're seeing doubling of growth because of the adoption of the technology, and it's taken years to get that acceptance of the technology.

So, are you sort of the next stage of the manufacturing story of central New York then?

I'd say we're the next stage of the advanced manufacturing story.

We try to talk to clients and get them to understand that it's another way to build parts.

It's another tool in the toolbox.

This doesn't solve everything.

We still need to work with all the conventional methods to create the best part for our client.

You know, so it's kind of where the future meets the past, and they come together, and we make a perfect part that they've been waiting for for years for this to happen.

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.

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