SciTech Now Episode 535

In this episode of SciTech Now, preserving the past with modern virtual reality technology, police worn body camera technology in the classroom, the remodeling of pharmaceuticals and biometrics to battle sports injuries



Coming up...

Preserving the past with modern virtual reality technology.

I got to be honest, it was like I was really there.

If this is available, this is the best.

Police-worn body-camera technology in the classroom.

At least 3/4 of all police officers who are mandated to wear these are in favor of them.

The remodeling of pharmaceuticals.

And our main focus is looking on how those biomolecules do their job, how proteins do chemistry.

Biometrics to battle sports injuries.

The rate of ACL injuries in female athletes is huge.

It's anywhere from two to eight times more in female athletes than in male athletes.

It's all ahead.

Funding for this program is made possible by...


I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

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

Let's get started.

At its peak, nearly 500 people a day visit the HOPE Outdoor Gallery, a three-story graffiti art park in Austin, Texas.

Earlier this year, the park was closed, but not before a tech company stepped in to preserve the iconic landmark using virtual reality.

Take a look.

VR, you know, to put it very simply, takes experiences that we used to have on a TV through video games and puts them into a headset, so, that way, what you see is attached to your head, so it makes you feel like you're inside this virtual world.

There's two kinds of projects that we do here at this company.

I'll start with the first kind, which is film-based.

We'll send out a camera crew that has an array of cameras that take 360 video, so, in other words, rather than it being a single eye point, we have an array of cameras that form in a ring.

They record video, and then you can view that video in a headset, so that way, you can look around and look at the content that you've recorded.

...some tips and tricks to get you started.

We happened to be working on a couple of projects that were using environment scanning.

The technical term for that is photogrammetry.

Around that time, we actually heard through the grapevine that the graffiti park was closing or being relocated to a location outside of the city.

We reached out to their team and asked if they'd be interested in doing a preservation project to take a snapshot of the way that the park exists today in its original location, and they were very excited to do that.

So, to start the process of capturing Graffiti Park, we had to go out to the location and take thousands of photographs of every square foot of the park.

So once we've taken thousands of photographs of the location, we can bring it into the software and re-create it in 3-D.

Once we've photogrammetried every section of the park, we can bring it into another 3-D software to clean it up and texture everything to make it ready for the game engine.

And once we've cleaned up every section for the game engine, we can bring it in and look at it live.

And this is very close to the end result that you would see when you're in the experience.

You know, it really creates the sensation of actually being there.

A still screenshot or a photo, you see, you know, this large, or perhaps you see it on a wall or in a museum somewhere.

When you put on a headset, we can really drive home the impression that you're actually at this location.

I think it's part of building community around Austin.

The HOPE Gallery was such a huge part of the art community that people loved, and people came from all over the city and the state to visit, and we're hoping we can capture some of that, and what Subvrsive has done has really captured it, and now we can give the technology an audience.

I've never used a VR tech in a simulated real world, so I've been to the gallery before, and I'm back visiting Austin, and I was really bummed out that I couldn't visit because they had it all fenced off, but I got to use this, and, I got to be honest, it was like I was really there.

If this is available, this is the best.

VR right now has been primarily an entertainment medium.

You can purchase a PlayStation VR, download games on there.

As an educational tool, the medium isn't as widely explored, so we think this is a great opportunity to kind of play that up and give people access that wouldn't normally have access to content that they wouldn't get to see on an everyday basis.

What was most fascinating to me and I think anybody with a 3- or a 4-year-old, a toddler, keeping a child engaged in something like this for more than 10 seconds is pretty impressive.

The graffiti park was just so loved by everyone.

Kids loved to draw things.

Professional artists were out there.

I just loved how it was very Austin, and that's what we hope to bring here and that people can see it, maybe people that didn't get to see it before, or, when the new one opens, they can see what the old one was like.

And I think that it lets people visit places that they can't visit, maybe, one, because they don't exist anymore, two, because it's too expensive or prohibitive to get there.

I don't know many people that could visit outer space if they wanted to, but, with this technology, we can create opportunities like that for everybody out there.

♪♪ ♪♪

Police-worn body cameras play a major role in analyzing crimes.

Students at Farmingdale State College in New York are among the first in the country working with this technology as part of their classroom studies.

Brian Kelly, assistant professor at Department of Social Systems and Law Enforcement Technology, joins us now.

You've been both on the law-enforcement side, and now you're an educator.

Why are body cameras important to study?

Yes, sir.

First of all, good morning.

Thanks for having me.

I believe it's one facet of criminal justice that actually spawns so far outside where... I use the word societal a lot.

Aside from what we're doing at Farmingdale with them in the classroom from an applied learning standpoint, think of it -- Everywhere we go, we're kind of under surveillance, and there's privacy issues.

Regardless, when it comes to the police-worn body camera, now you have one population with the training and authority to now man themselves with the responsibility to have a computer, essentially a third eye, whether they like it or not, per department mandates.

The flip side of that is, a lot of communities throughout the nation, throughout the world, have called for that, and there's a lot who are against it, too, and you see both sides of the spectrum, you know, with those who are wearing them and those who may come under view of them.

So it affects everybody, and one good thing is that there's ample opportunity to understand what it's like to be on both sides.

What do students need to keep in mind?

Because a lot of the students that might be coming through your courses are going to become police officers in the future.

Yeah, a decent portion of them, I find, right now in this day and age, at least 60% of all students in criminal justice, just based on my training and experience, still do go into law enforcement, desire to be a law-enforcement officer, police officer.

The nice thing about that is that you have that other percentage that does not want to, but they're a part of society.

So, here we have everybody in the conglomerate.

We're all, you know, responsible for ourselves and how we conduct ourselves, and those who may actually be tasked with wearing one and those, you know, who essentially need the knowledge to know why they're being used, how they're being used, and unfortunately at times, no matter who you are, you know, you could be being interviewed one day while this camera is filming you as a private citizen, so I just believe that it's a universal concept that isn't just relegated to one capacity or population.

Is it more than likely that these are going to be standard issue in, I don't know, 5 years, 10 years, that this is going to be similar to picking up your handcuffs, your sidearm, and putting this on?

Yeah, I mean, 70% of law-enforcement agencies at the local, county, and state level right now in the United States, it's standard issue.

5 to 10 years -- I would say within 5 years, it's almost going to be a mandate.

Right now, most regions of the United States, most departments are having that option to decide whether they want to increase accountability -- right? -- by way of using and implementing this technology.

You know, even --

Because the thing is it helps both sides make their case, in a way, because the police officer says, 'Listen, I have another witness here that will give you a perspective that perhaps the police report filed by this individual doesn't,' and then the person that might feel victimized, they'll say, 'Look at the footage.'

That's right.


And in my own personal research, let alone all the other research out there, I'm finding just that.

Many, at least 3/4 of all police officers who are mandated to wear these are in favor of them, and then a lot of people of various communities are in favor of them, too, but you still have fractions of both sides that feel that it is still a privacy issue, but I concur wholeheartedly.

How do you deal with, you know, perspective shifts, meaning what happened 30 seconds before or what happened 2 minutes before to perhaps inflame a situation, right?

How do you make sure that someone starts recording?

Because they were in the heat of the moment.

There's lots of stressful things.

They're concerned about other things...


... than pressing the button, right?

We've started to learn that there is usually more to it than just the clip that goes viral on social media.


And I think what police departments are realizing, and have for quite some time now, to bridge that gap, to eliminate issues, human error, is to essentially have a two-prong component that, when combined, does, in fact, eliminate, you know, a situation where now you're going to court, or now you're all over the TV and newspaper, and those two components would be training way beyond a police academy, training with the technology and consistent in the service training in the use of them, because they are manually operated and, coupled with that, strict and very thorough, thought-out and authored policy where I know human error is going to occur regardless and, like you said, when adrenaline is going and different things are happening, you do have to remember to turn it on.


That's just how it goes.

Have you found that there's also a discrepancy between our memory and reality and whoever, whatever part of the argument, whatever part of the situation, of how people perceive something, how they will almost -- They'll swear to you that this is how it happened, but this camera kind of shows something else?


So I think that's the strong component in why police departments and communities, including private organizations, activist groups, you know, citizens that attend town-hall-type meetings with police departments, and once again, like I said, police organizations led by, you know, very veteran and qualified executives, the outcry took place.

You know, bottom line, everybody wants to decrease liability and increase the accountability.

It's both sides, and I think, if everybody can kind of just adhere to that consistently, I think everybody will keep more of an open mind.

All right.

Brian Kelly of Farmingdale State College, thanks so much.

Thank you.


Future deep-space exploration missions will demand even more robust and fuel-efficient spacecrafts than used in the past.

To meet this challenge, the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, has developed an advanced ion-propulsion system known as NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster or NEXT.

The NEXT ion-propulsion system is exciting because it provides an unparalleled fuel-efficient propulsion-system capability.

What this means is, for the same amount of delta-v or change in velocity for a spacecraft, a chemical system would have required 10 times the amount of fuel.

This allows for expanded reach for NASA robotic-science missions and a higher return of scientific value for those missions deep within the solar system.

Operated in one of NASA's high-vacuum chambers for more than 48,000 hours, NEXT has been tested longer than any space-propulsion system in history.

The system uses electrically charged xenon gas atoms or ions and electrical power.

This makes it more fuel-efficient and cost-effective than traditional chemical-propulsion systems.

The reason why it's important the NEXT ion engine has lasted as long as it has is because electric propulsion inherently produces a low amount of thrust, which means you accelerate very slowly in space.

So in order to speed up and get where you're going, it needs to push for a very long period of time, so the longer it lasts, the farther you can go out in space.

More advanced than the ion thruster technology that propelled the Deep Space I and Dawn missions, NEXT offers greater power and higher efficiency for even more complex and distant missions.

Over the past few decades, we've done a lot of planetary science missions, right?

And we've kind of picked the low-hanging fruit in terms of those missions that are relatively easy to achieve, but now, having done most of those missions, there's remaining missions that are critically important from a science perspective that require a lot of energy, and the NEXT ion-propulsion system delivers that capability and does so very efficiently.

Helping to fuel new discoveries in space, the NEXT ion-propulsion system will allow us to take the next step in planetary exploration missions deep within our solar system.

Major discoveries at a research lab at the University of Texas at San Antonio has created potential to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry.

Researchers and scientists are focusing on how to reform medicines.

Here's the story.

So we're a mechanistic enzymology lab, so what we do is we study enzymes.

So, enzymes are the biomolecules that do chemistry in our bodies, and our main focus is looking on how those biomolecules do their job, how proteins do chemistry, and for us, fluorine is a tool.

So, fluorine is a very special element.

So if you look at the periodic table, you can find it at the right top, so it's very electronegative, and it's, like, a very small size, and if it forms a bond, covalent bond, it will be, like, really strong.

So, people use fluorine in lots of our daily lives.

So maybe, like, in our toothpaste, and maybe, like, in our drug discovery and drug design.

So what we do is we can use what's called unnatural amino acid incorporation.

So we'll put in decorations on our protein that have carbon-fluorine bonds so that we can study the protein and how it does its job.

When we research design, fluorine, normally, they will put one of several fluorine as a carbon, right?

That should be stable, but, in our case, it shows that this bond may not be as stable as they expect.

What we found in doing the research is that if you let this reaction go on its own, that the protein is actually able to break that carbon fluorine bond and install a new carbon sulfur bond.

So this has not been seen before from this kind of enzyme, so this is the new part of the discovery.

Our discovery is still very fresh, and how we're going to utilize this knowledge is still open to the entire field for people to think, to make use of that.

But I think the most important concept is still from chemistry perspective.

We have to think that such a strong bond that can be breaking by a human protein.

Our main focus is mechanistic enzymology, so we want to know how enzymes do their jobs, but in, like, this case, we have seen something that was unexpected.

So we didn't expect the enzyme to break the carbon-fluorine bond.

We actually put the carbon-fluorine bond there on purpose to prevent it being broken.

So, in this case, we stumbled upon a new exciting discovery, that you can break the bond in a protein this way.

Dr. Liu's research team does its work here.

Researcher Ian Davis walks us through the process.

So, Jason is looking through the microscope here to see protein crystals.

You will then see him picking one up on a nylon loop.

So now you'll see him moving the crystal over to liquid nitrogen so it can be frozen down for data collection so we can determine its 3-D structure.

There's many potential applications, industry or pharmaceutical applications.

Once you discover this, there are always very intelligent people who will make use of that knowledge.

The work that we're doing is on a fundamental level of how proteins, enzymes in the bodies do what they do, and the fact that one of our tools that we were using to study ended up showing us a whole new kind of chemistry is really transformative in how we think about the way to design and make sure that pharmaceuticals are safe to use and they work well.

♪♪ ♪♪

ACL knee injuries are increasing among all athletes, but the rate is highest in females, especially teen girls.

Now, the biometrics lab at High Point University in North Carolina is studying new training methods and teaching new movement patterns to help athletes protect their ACLs.

Here's the story.

[ Speaking indistinctly ]

You're in a game, right?

You're playing in a game?


And I, like, tried to step with the ball, but then my knee gave out.

But what did you hear?

I heard a pop.

And you fell?


And it hurt like crazy?



Just went down, and you could just tell it was a lot of force that she put on, and her dad had to be called onto the field to take her off, and we just knew it was serious from that time.

This is your step length, so I want you to try and keep them relatively even.

Try not to let one get higher than the other.

That looks good.

Have you focus on your knees now, so try not to let them come in, right?

Keeping them neutral.

The rate of ACL injuries in female athletes is huge.

It's anywhere from two to eight times more in female athletes than in male athletes.

See what you can do.

And 13-year-old Kylie Peters is part of that painful statistic.

Kylie, come on.

She's number 15.

Kylie played forward and center with the Piedmont Triad Football Club until she tore her ACL, the anterior cruciate ligament, in her left leg.

I just wanted it to be, like, a dislocated knee cap, and that's what I was really hoping for, but it was just... It was really sad because I wanted to play soccer.

Get to juggle.

See if you can get to 15.

Now, 6 months after surgery to repair the ligament, she's part of a study at High Point University's biomechanics lab.

So, our main goal is to identify these risky movement patterns like you see there, and then train them to change the way they move.

So, some of it might be just making certain muscles stronger, but probably it's more than that.

Probably, it's actually cueing the girls in to their faulty movement patterns and teaching them the right way to move.

So our training program actually has three different parts to it.

One of them is just building strength.

Good job. Stay low.

Another part of it is building the strength of their core.

So even though we're talking about legs right here, a lot of the strength that is needed for proper movement for optimal biomechanics comes from the core.

It comes from the abdominal muscles, lower-back muscles, hip muscles.

Potentially, our most important part of our training program is our technique training.

So we do a lot of jumping and a lot of cutting, make sure you keep your knees over your toes, bend your knees more, softer landings.

She's going to jump up in the air, land, and then you're going to throw the ball one direction or another.

She's going to catch it.

You don't like the way I do it now.

And that's where we think most of the benefit is going to come from, is the teaching them how to move.

It really is thinking about, when you get down to the bottom, really think about squeezing and pushing up as you come up, okay?

Watch that line, and go ahead and go.

It's called innovative biofeedback.

Knees coming up. Good.

Let's go left leg, okay?

Single-leg squat, you're going to do the same thing.

Go down.

Wearable sensors, combined with computer programs, turn athletes into skeletons.

There you go. Good.

Get that line up.

Squeeze up.

That allows researchers and the athletes themselves to analyze their movement patterns...

Go. real time.


This was her normal movement pattern.

She would come down.

As soon as she hit the ground, you can see something major with her movement pattern there, which is one of the things that really, really jump out at us.

Both knees, as soon as she starts to absorb force through her lower extremities, you can see those knees almost coming and touch, they're so close together.

So it's that valgus angle that we really look at.

That produces a lot of force at the ACL.

Is it kind of weird to watch that as you're doing it?


It's really weird.

But it's cool at the same time.

Well, before this, I didn't even think about it.

I didn't think it was, like, an issue, and now I know that I need to do this to prevent it to keep playing.

Really soften up the landings to get high.

Ready and go.

Risky patterns can be identified and evaluated.

Safer movements can be taught and practiced.

Really, what we want to try to train is appropriate movement patterns or effective movement patterns because they might have the strength to be able to do it, but they need to be able to use it during dynamic activities.

Right leg.

It's not just strength.

It's not just muscle memory.

It's really kind of combining all those so that they can actually be efficient and move in more safe positions out there on the field or the court.


Okay, and then back left leg.

Last one.

Researchers are studying how different training regimens impact ACL injury risk.

All right.

Use those hamstrings as much as you can.

Slowly lower yourself down.

The study is also looking at more effective and efficient rehabilitation methods for ACLs that have been repaired.

Slower, slower, slower.

Left to right, ready?

And go.

If we can identify those at greatest risk of ACL injuries and really try to intervene and reduce that risk...

Right to left.

...that is really the overall goal.

Create something that these athletes will use, something that keeps them interested so that it's beneficial to them because if you have an intervention program, but no one uses it, it really doesn't work.

And go.


And back.

Good, and that again.

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 then, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Thanks for watching.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪