SciTech Now Episode 610

In this episode, phone payment solutions; the role of technology in schools; the chemistry of cuisine and personal wind turbines.


[ Theme music plays ] ♪♪

Coming up... Can your phone replace the plastic cards in your wallet?

The infrastructure of the cities have to be overhauled so this can take a while, but it's moving pretty quickly.

The role of technology in schools.

For our students, they could keep everything that was school in one area.

There's no more papers lost, lockers aren't being used.

The chemistry of cuisine.

All of our food is genetically modified.

It's a matter of how you do it.

Personal wind turbines.

What I want is for the average person to be able to, in a low cost way, get a wind turbine and then to be able to make money.

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.

Ready to get rid of all those plastic cards in your wallet, even your driver's license and put them on your phone?

It's already possible in some states but there's plenty to worry about.

Wall Street Journal reporter Joanna Stern took the technology for a test run.

She's here now to tell us about what happened and what's coming next.

The idea of your driver's license in your phone.

Why would we want to do that in the first place?

Are you scared by it?

Kind of, a tiny bit.

I mean, because I don't -- I'm a little concerned about my phone as this holder of all private information.

And my phone runs out of battery sometimes.

Well look, the good news is they're not going to go -- the physical cards are not going to go away completely.

And in these pilot programs, which are happening in up to now 10 to 11 states, they are offering this as an option on the top of the actual physical card.

And so how it works is you actually need the physical card, you scan it, you go through this process on an app, a secure app, and you basically get a digital representation of your license on your phone, and it has a couple of extra tricks.

I was most concerned about how do you not fake this thing?

Like what if you just take a screenshot of this one on your app and then send it to a friend.

Luckily, I remember the days --

Now a fake I.D.

I mean, I remember the days.

I know this is TV, so I'm not going to say it but people do this, right?

So there's one security trick built in.

So when someone's checking that I.D., they would sort of swipe a finger on the digital license and it gives this kind of seal and animation to confirm that this is the real deal.

Okay. This is sort of a bouncer's dream, instead of having to sit around and do this, you can swipe it and say, 'Okay, this is a real person.'


You tried this out at a couple of liquor stores.

I did.

What happened?

I had to go to so many liquor stores.

So I couldn't actually enroll in this program because I live in New Jersey which isn't yet one of the states, so I went down to Delaware, which is one of the states that's in this pilot program.

Delaware has teamed up with a company called IDEMIA.

And they provide the technology to the state, so they're been doing this with some people in their DMVs right now.

And I met with a man named Mike who's been using this for the last couple of months, and he's been really enjoying it.

So I made Mike go to a number of liquor stores and he didn't look 21.

I would say he didn't even look anywhere in that age range.

Sorry, Mike, if you're watching this, but people did I.D. him, and I got to see the process of how that would happen.

And we actually went to one bar where they are required to I.D.

everyone, and the people of Delaware are these people at both the both the stores and the bartenders are learning to know the signs to look for, how to ask for these digital I.D.s.

Okay. And this is just one of the cards that are in wallets that are slowly being replaced.

I mean, I use my Google Pay device on lots of things now, but is that going to go all the way through the rest of my card?

I mean, are all these things going to get digitized?

Yes. What prompted me to write this story is over the last couple of months, I started not carrying my big, chunky wallet and I started to put a little piece of plastic on the back of my phone, on the back of my phone case, it's a little card holder that holds four cards, or a little bit more.

But I looked at these cards and I laid them out on the table, said, 'Okay, I've got the license, I've got the credit card for the places that don't take the Apple Pay or Google Pay, I've got my work I.D., and I've got my metro card, my transit card. Right?


How are these all gonna go away?

License, we just talked about, transit card, happening right here in New York City, right now, the subway system is being completely overhauled.

That's a big change.

It's a huge change and it's actually -- As a tech reporter, it's hard to sometimes now be wowed by technology, new screens and new cameras.

It doesn't get me anymore.


But this process of just tapping your phone to get through the subway, this antiquated swiping and sometimes the card doesn't work.

It's bent.

It's bent and then somebody in front of you, and you're ramming into that thing.

Swipe again and they're already coming into you.


This is seconds.

I mean, you will be blown away when you try this.

They're trying it right now in about 14 subway stations.

They're going to roll that out by the end of the year.

They're going to take over the whole MTA with this.

Other cities are doing this as well.

And they've teamed up with the tech companies, but really the infrastructure of the cities have to be overhauled.

So this can take a while, but it's moving pretty quickly.

Now, is this -- is there still gonna be cash available or possible in the system?

Because let's say you're a tourist, you come in from out of town and you don't know all the stuff or -- Hey, there's still people that don't have smartphones.

Yes, they've thought of that.

They're going to have -- still have some kiosks and still have places where you can buy another card.

The Metro card will go away by 2020, but they will offer a different card.

I mean, that's as big a shift as from tokens to cards.


And that's a lot of turnstiles all over the city.

Yeah, and you'll start to see them, and you'll start to see them when you travel too.

I think this is a really nice thing for travelers, you mentioned travelers that come, they have to buy a new card, but you've already got that phone and you've got Apple Pay set up, you don't need to worry about that.

Okay, so you've got license, transit cards, and then your other two cards that you had in there.

Work I.D.

I did not find much in my reporting.

Mostly I just went to my company, said, 'Where is it?

Come on. Where is it, Wall Street Journal security people?'

And they've said they are exploring options all the time.

But even when I went to go look at these big companies that do provide the corporate infrastructure for keys and identification, it's a little bit slower.

Some companies are looking at biometrics or fingerprints or facial recognition.

I'm a little bit creeped out by that.

I think I'd rather have it on my phone or maybe I'll just keep the card there for a while.

And then the last one was the credit card, and I very much often use Apple Pay or Google Pay when I'm using my phone.

But there are lots of places that don't take it.

And so you've got to have that extra card, as signified by Apple, which rolled out its own credit card, the Apple Card, this month.

And they also, because of this, I mean, they're primarily focused on the iPhone.

They do have a physical card that they will send you.

And what happens to all the data that is sitting on that phone now?

Because so many people are concerned about where's the information going?

Who owns it ultimately even if it's my face?

Is it the tech company that owns it?

Is it the vendor that owns it?

Is it being transacted all over the place?

I mean, these are all really important questions and questions we all have to ask as consumers when we're signing up for these programs.

With a digital license, I asked this over and over again, if the company IDEMIA, who's making this technology, who's teaming up with the DMV.

Turns out that company actually already helps provide the licenses for most DMVs in the country.

So they team up already to provide the physical license and do the identification technology.

So they already have a lot of the information about you.

On the credit card front, there's actually sometimes more security in the payment system because you're not relying on that magnetic strip, but it can collect more data about you.

Google can collect all the information about where you're shopping and how much you've spent.

The companies will say, 'We don't sell that data.

We'll keep it private.

You have control over it.'

But we all have to ask those questions when we sign up.

But it's a pattern, and it knows whether I go to this place for lunch or whether I go to this pharmacy at this time of the week, et cetera, et cetera.

And over time it builds a picture of who I am, right?

And though sometimes those physical cards have been doing that too.

Work I.D.s, they know when you come into the building, when you're not in the building.

It's not as smart as the phone, right?

It doesn't have the constant G.P.S. location and and other types of information.

But these cards have been doing that already.

All right, Joanna Stern, Wall Street Journal.

Thanks so much.

Thanks for having me.

♪♪ [ Computer keys clacking ] ♪♪

Nearly a decade after the first iPad hit stores, this device can be found in classrooms across America.

In this next segment, we go inside one school in Austin, Texas, to understand the role technology can play in education.

This is part one of an ongoing series on the impact of technology in education.


So that's your username, right?

It's sixth grade orientation day at Hill Country Middle School in Westlake, a suburb of Austin in the Eanes Independent School District.

The middle tables.

These sixth graders are picking up their personal iPads.

Each student in the district, yes, even kindergartners, are given their very own iPad.

It's part of Eanes's one-to-one initiative.

One student, one device.

So each kid has a unique login and password.

So that's how they access all of their apps and e-mail.

And so they're coming in, they're getting that on a sticker so that they have access to it, once they have that, they'll go get their iPad and then we have stations set up for them to go through the setup process within the iPad, set up their e-mail, set up passcodes, and once they're done there, they get to go back to class.

We want to kick off 2010 by introducing a truly magical and revolutionary product today.

And we call it the iPad.

Nearly 10 years ago, the first iPads hit stores, and about a year after that, EISD implemented a pilot program to test the devices in their high school.

The program quickly expanded, and soon the tablets trickled down to middle and elementary schools, until eventually every child in Eanes was given an iPod.

For our students, they could keep everything that was school in one area.

There was no more papers lost, lockers weren't being used.

And it was pretty amazing to see some of our kids who had executive functioning skills, they suddenly had the ability to keep everything together, they knew where everything was.

Schools in Eanes are technology havens.

Classrooms are equipped with smart boards and Apple TVs.

Teachers use Google Classroom to distribute lesson plans, and kindergartners start the school year by getting their own e-mail accounts.

Kids could have it all right there so they didn't have to keep up with four or five different notebooks per subject.

It was all right there.

That's a biggie.

Or is it very small?


Cathy Yenca is a math teacher at Hill Country Middle School.

She's been teaching at Eanes for eight years.

I'm one of those who loves middle school students.

They keep me laughing.

They keep me current.

Yenca uses the iPad in her classroom almost daily.

The iPad has really been a game changer.

The high impact way we use it almost on a daily basis is with formative assessment.

So in layman's terms, formative assessment just means that minute by minute assessment of what's going on.

I know sometimes the screen gets a little cluttered.

Today, Yenca is teaching her students how to use their graphing calculators.

She says the iPad has helped her change what used to be straightforward instruction into a more fun and engaging lesson.

Using an app called Nearpod, Yenca's able to control every iPad in the classroom.

When she switches the slide in her presentation all the iPads switch as well.

Here we go, let's take a little lap through here.

She can also have her students take polls and quizzes on their devices and get the results in real time.

All right, nicely done.

85% Percent for our first go at it, that's not too shabby.

That's not too shabby.

Ten years ago, a student might have used a pen and paper to work out simple math problems.

Now students can use their iPads, and Yenca has the ability to not only see what every student is working on from her device, she can share every student's work on the smart board at the front of the class.

The beauty of the iPad and the technology we have here in Eanes is that that student work can be anonymized, it can be showcased, and it can promote conversation about mathematics in the classroom.

What I love about using the iPad to capture student thinking is that their thinking becomes the focus and the conversations we have are about them.

And what they're doing.

In some ways schools look the same as they did 10 years ago.

But the iPod has definitely changed things.

Take, for example, Kim Fromberg's third grade class.

Here, students are scanning QR codes to access a lesson about braille.

The iPod is sort of like the ultimate reference material.

In this lesson, students can translate words into braille with the touch of a finger and then they practice what they've learned with paper and pencil.

And Fromberg says the iPod makes lessons accessible to all types of students.

Eanes, we are inclusioned, so we have your gifted and talented students, students with special needs and everything in between in one classroom.

So when you have the iPad, it's really, really easy to differentiate all those different levels in one setting with one topic.

So if you're reading a story, students who struggle with reading can listen to the story.

You can make text bigger or smaller for students with vision needs.

The iPad has allowed the district to embrace a certain philosophy.

Kids here don't conform to the lessons of a teacher.

The lessons conform to them.

It gives Fromberg the freedom to explore what she calls 'a-ha' moments.

It's a really great tool to have when you know you're talking about natural disasters and kids are like, 'Oh, I heard about this hurricane.'

You can pull out the iPads, you can look it up.

Kids can see real life videos of what happened and water levels, and it really kind of extends that.

But it's not just a typical school curriculum.

Teachers here are trying to create what they call digital citizens.

You know, the first time I had a student reply to an e-mail all in caps with lots of exclamation marks, I was like, 'Okay, we need to have a little lesson on what that means in an e-mail.

And they were like, 'I was not trying to yell, I was not mad, and I was... So those digital citizenship opportunities are huge.

Hey, that's what's gonna make it lock up if you rapid fire, okay?

Give it some time to think, right? So...

E-mail etiquette, basic coding, it's this type of preparation at the elementary and middle school level that leads to more advanced use of technology once these students enter high school.

If you just look at our computer science program, whether it's Advanced Placement, whether it's our coding classes that we've introduced, classes like the incubator, our kids are just exposed to some real world opportunities.

I mean, we've had, you know, one of our basketball captains last year, he was coding full time, what he could do full-time for him, where he would actually code on basketball trips and receive funds from some major corporation.

And the district says you can see the results in their test scores too.

85% of our students who take an AP test got a three or above.

And this is our second year of a new app that allows kids, along with our teachers, have access to a whole lot of advanced placement preparation materials and also just to enhance the everyday curriculum.

The iPads have opened up a world of possibilities for the educators at Eanes, but it's not just teachers that make this program work.

There's a whole staff behind the scenes making tech successful.

[ Theme music plays ]

So you want to visit a black hole.

You've packed your bags, you've updated your passport, and you're basically ready to jump on a spaceship and blast off.

However, before you do that, I have just one piece of advice.



If you really must go, I suppose you should at least know a few things about black holes before you leave.

First, you should know exactly what a black hole is.

A black hole is a physical object in space, just like everything else it's made up of a tiny but massive point where gravity and density are infinite, a line beyond which everything, including light, can only fall into that tiny point, and sometimes some glowing stuff orbiting around it, and maybe some radiation.

So basically, here is kind of bad.

Here is really bad.

And here is safe.

Also black holes mostly come in two sizes.

Don't ask me why, we still aren't sure.

However, a black hole is also not a lot of things.

It is not a hole, a cosmic vacuum cleaner, a portal to another dimension populated by unicorns and space potatoes, and absolutely not a good place to vacation.

Okay, fine, I guess next you'll need to know how to find a black hole.

Though technically black holes could just sneak up behind you, they likely won't.

The nearest known one is 3,000 light-years away anyway.

However, if you were to go looking for one, there are a couple of good ways to find them.

First, black holes tend to mess with their environment, so you can sometimes use interesting clues such as a bunch of stuff orbiting what appears to be nothing.

And second, as we mentioned before there's often glowing stuff orbiting around them caused by, well, when things get too close.

So now that you've found a black hole and clearly aren't listening to me saying not to go, it's time for a few important safety considerations.

First of all, the good news is that as long as you stay far away, black holes aren't all that bad.

However, as you get closer you need to keep a few things in mind.

The radiation near the black hole can be extremely deadly.

The chances of escape get slimmer the closer you get.

And if you get close enough, you now have to worry about being stretched into a giant noodle and time getting really weird.

So unless we have great radiation shields, a faster-than-light spaceship, or you're completely indestructible, you should probably just stay away.

Well, that pretty much sums up black holes, at least before things start getting really complicated.

But before you go for real, please refer to the handy brochure in your spacesuit pocket, since there's quite a bit to remember.

Now then, remember your tickets, enjoy your trip, and please be careful.

At William Paterson University in New Jersey, one chemistry professor is discussing the chemistry behind the foods that we eat.

Here's a look.

They paid $10 a person and came with comments and concerns for this chemistry of cuisine workshop at William Paterson University.

The first topic -- 'What is organic food?'

Food produced processed and packaged without chemicals.

More nutritious than conventional food?

The USDA answer -- no.

Seconded by an organic chemistry professor here.

Even though they grow in a different way, it doesn't mean they are more nutritious.

That led to a debate about corn.

At 60, I became allergic to corn products.


And I'm thinking that maybe it was because they have changed over the years.

The chair of the Chemistry Department blamed a giant in the agribusiness for a process to make corn unsuitable to eat.

In the U.S., about 99% of corn is contaminated.

Please do not eat corn anymore.

This is my advice, I'm not saying --

I'll beg to differ.

Remember, all corn is genetically modified because -- The term genetically modified from the biochemical point of view is kind of meaningless.

Because all of our food is genetically modified, it's a matter of how you do it.

Professor Xing urged consumers to stop paying extra for some organic produce.

Because those fruits listed here, they are shielded from the pesticides or herbicide.

But what if they too were grown with something inorganic, something potentially cancer-causing to humans?

I'm just saying, you can skip if you, financially, you know, you have to make choices.

Bananas, the shielded ones, can be skipped.

Another professor warned chemicals in diet sodas actually make consumers crave more to eat and they contain one chemical the body doesn't recognize.

Chlorine is something you want to keep it away from your body.

If it starts to accumulate, it will lead to serious liver problems.

The chemistry department chair saved the best for last, citing numerous benefits of dark chocolate.

It gives you bliss.

You'll get happy as soon as you eat it.

So it has a variety of antioxidants, which are very good polyphenols which will clean your body.

Why do you think something like this is important?

It is because there are very many myths about the food, such as people say don't eat chocolate, inorganic food, or that kind of stuff.

Scientifically, here, this kind of event we organize to really tell the truth about what the science is and what the myth is.

The chairman says this event shows there's no myth in wanting to know more about the chemistry of cuisine.

[ Computer keys clacking ] ♪♪

They're energy savers and money savers.

Small wind turbines can be used by individual homeowners to generate their own electricity.

We take you inside a lab in San Antonio, Texas, for more.

Texas has one of the largest wind resources in the entire United States, and only the big companies with the big wind turbines are actually getting that gold out of the air per se.

So what I want is for the average person to be able to, in a low cost way, get a wind turbine and then to be able to make money.

The ultimate goal is to have these small wind turbines in your home.

That way you can cut down your electricity bill, may be eliminated altogether, and then you can collect energy and sell it back to the grid for a profit.

Instead of your land just being there or tearing it down and putting solar panels.

You could just not affect the environment and put up wind turbines and make energy for maybe your neighbor.

Ultimately, I want people to just have more energy independence and not have to rely so much on an antiquated technology like the grid.

There is a lot involved in creating these hand-held turbines, and part of that has to do with the actual angle and resulting efficiency of the rotor blades.

These rotor which are that we are looking right now, has an aerodynamic to mechanical efficiency of 47%.

In theory, the best force that can be produced by a wind turbine is 59%

So we still have room for improvement and this is where we are allocating our efforts to try to achieve that target of converting the maximum wind power.

What are some of the difficulties you have in creating a smaller wind turbine compared to the big ones we see out in the countryside?

What is more difficult about creating a smaller one?

The way small wind turbines operate is very different to the ways large-scale turbines operate.

First of all, small wind turbines need to have larger rotation speeds.

For instance, these small wind turbine should operate between 2,000 revolutions per minute to 5,000 revolutions per minute.

Just for comparison's sake, the large wind turbines operate at about 20 revolutions per minute.

The producer and students are even building their own 3D base to hold the small, rapidly rotating wind turbines.

When setting up a wind turbine, it's actually not just a wind turbine, but it's the tower itself and the concrete and supporting structures like wires and all these other components that come with towers.

And so, in order to reduce the cost of these tower systems, we've designed these type of towers that cost less than traditional towers and they're stronger and are more modular and can be accessible to more people.

So tell me what is the ultimate goal here?

What is your vision?

Where do you think all of this research and technology could lead?

Of course, our improvements in both the aerodynamic part and the electromechanical part of wind turbines, the ultimate goal is to lower the cost of wind energy, so that it's affordable for everyone.

We want to bring these complexities down so that everyone can actually go and get a wind turbine.

The professor says with a careful design and available wind source, you can lower your energy bills and maybe start receiving money for the extra energy you'd be able to sell.

It's not on the market yet, but at least researchers are examining what it will take to make renewable energy available to everyone.

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.

Funding for this program is made possible by... [ Theme music plays ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪