Chris Fitch visits WHS

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Chris Fitch is a sculptor and inventor in the Boston area. Beyond his work in sculpture, his creative reach has touched upon stop motion animation, science museum exhibits, design of teaching tools for science and math education, and independent invention. Most recently he completed an electronic sculpture for the Inventions Gallery at the Hartford Science Center. He also recently appeared with a state of the art miniature puppet theater he created for a touring production of Peter and the Wolf, first performed in 2008 at Walt Disney Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. On the heels of that performance, he continued his exploration of new forms of puppetry for Stravinsky’s Petrouchka with the University of Maryland Symphony and for a production of Brecht’s Life of Galileo with MIT and the Underground Railway Theater. It is safe to say that the arc of his professional trajectory has been more like a giant squiggle than an arc. He has engineered and built automated production machines for a toy factory, run an “emergency amusement” company with his brother, building things like a giant fly that exploded through the wall of a nightclub and zoomed around the ceiling at 25 mph, or staging things like a shark attack at a fancy restaurant. He led the model and stopmotion puppet making division of a major animation company for six years, designed a physics playground, hit the streets of France with a two-man junk band with instruments made from French trash, has designed landscapes, built outdoor fountains, designed residential furniture and lighting, built architectural models, studied music in West Africa, invented fasteners, toys, and armature systems for the animation industry, done some (nonunion) screen acting, built chain-reaction Rube Goldberg installations, and conducted workshops about kinematics and foam latex stop motion puppetry. He has also eaten tarantulas and scorpions, sea centipedes, hammerhead sharks, roasted locusts, and other experimental foods, chased a solar eclipse across the Peruvian high desert, co-owned a tree house bed-and-breakfast inn in the Philippines, collected jungle orchids in southeast Asia, spelunked underground rivers with nothing but a flashlight, and can throat sing like a Tuvan cowboy.

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Winchester student’s project takes you on immersive tour of a human cell

Imagine sitting in the dark watching minuscule particles shooting over your head and amoebic objects floating by. It’s a magical and disorienting experience, and it’s soon to be a new teaching tool in biology classes at Winchester High School. Created by students themselves, this immersive cinematic experience transports the viewers inside the processes of a human cell.

The project is the brainchild of Winchester High School student Will Bicks, who found it limiting that in his biology class students had to share one virtual reality headset to watch the tour of the cell, allowing each of them to watch only a few minutes at a time. So he got thinking about fixing the problem. He decided to take the 20-foot geodesic dome that was already created by arts students last year, into something of a curved mini-IMAX theater that would fit about 20 students inside of it and would allow everyone to share a full virtual reality cell tour with narration without having to use a headset.

Going beyond biology in the future

“The biology is where we’re starting, but it’s by no means where we’re ending,” said Will Bicks, who says that any 360 video from Youtube — a tour of the pyramids of Giza or a geometry-themed video — can be projected onto the dome if processed through special software.

Bicks works at the school’s Creative Technology Center (CTC) help desk, a convenient time to work on the project.

To bring his project to life, Bicks applied for a student innovation grant from the Winchester Foundation for Educational Excellence, outlining the budget of $1,000 for technology equipment, components for a special computer to support virtual reality processing, and materials for covering the dome.

But implementing the idea was going to take more than just putting the shell on numerous poles. Projecting a VR video on the dome’s surface made of triangles and polygons required splitting the video file into channels on a special software for three projectors. To help with the challenge Andrea Zampitella, WHS library and media specialist, suggested bringing in Aurelio Ramos, Boston’s audiovisual artist and software engineer who’s created a similar dome for his art project. Ramos’s visit was part of the ongoing CTC Speaker series at the high school, now funded by the Winchester Savings Bank.

Even finding the right material for affordable price for the dome’s skinning was tougher than expected. The students had to go to six hardware stores before they found the right material for the skinning of the dome — marine shrink wrap, typically used to cover boats.

But it’s solving challenges like this that makes for a valuable learning process, said Caren Connelly, which includes everything from idea inception to writing a grant and creating a budget.

“It represents what students need to be doing — project-based learning,” said Caren Connelly, the executive director of WFEE. “This is wild stuff. That’s what challenges kids and gets them connected.”

Bringing in experts like Ramos exposes students to working with consultants and collaborative program solving, she said.

On a recent afternoon, during the first day of the new W.I.N. hour block at the high school, students were busy taping numerous triangles from the wrap to cover the dome. Ramos roamed around the room offering advice and fidgeting with the software on a projector.

This project, Instructional Technology Specialist Kathleen Grace pointed out, is an example of an innovation created by synthesizing already existing pieces.

“You have different parts and technologies, but you don’t always know how it’s going to connect,” she said. “But then you get a student who can see something different, and Will did that.”

Your scalp is the drums, your hand is the bass: making music from the body’s bacteria

 

David Kong and his team are making music. But instead of sampling beats, they’re sampling bacteria.

“Music is one of the great universal languages of our human society. We thought this would be a really, really wonderful way to engage the broader public and get them excited about science through music,” said Kong, director of a new community biotechnology initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of EMW Bookstore, a community space Cambridge, Mass.

Their project is called Biota Beats, an artistic endeavor in which they translate bacterial data into hip-hop melodies.

The idea first came about in 2016, when Kong’s team at EMW was brainstorming ideas to enter into iGEM, a synthetic biology competition in Boston. They were talking about the microbiome, the collection of bacteria living in the human body, when a turntable caught someone’s attention.

The multidisciplinary group of artists, musicians, scientists, and engineers started asking themselves how they could combine bacteria with music. The result was Biota Beats — a composition in which different bacteria came to be represented by different instruments.

Although they didn’t win, the project lived on long after they entered the competition. Kong and his team built a youth program around Biota Beats and even collaborated with hip-hop artist DJ Jazzy Jeff.

This year, Kong and his team are back at iGEM, where more than 300 teams from all over the world gathered at Hynes Convention Center to present their research and compete for prizes.

This time, they’re not competing. Instead, they’re creating a song out of the bacteria sampled from this year’s participants. Their song debuted at the closing ceremony.

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To produce it, they collected bacteria from the competitors, with the teams from each continent assigned a body part to sample and one layer of the song.

Scalp bacteria from South America provided the percussion. Hand bacteria from Africa became a deep bass. Mouth bacteria from Europe turned into a jaunty, electronic melody. Ear bacteria from Asia gave the funky harmony, and nose bacteria from North America provided the atmospherics. Rounding out the composition was an energetic drum loop made out of elbow bacteria from Australia.

Combined, these bacterial beats became “Uni-Verse,” meaning “one song.”

“To me, it’s a really a poetic thing, because I think right now the world [has] got a very, kind of, divisive fractured kind of feeling to it,” Kong said.

“iGEM is such a wonderful example of a global community coming together around a love for science and around making the world a better place through biotechnology.”

 

Podcasting in school fieldtrip with Wade Roush

e6C8xpJxAre you interested in podcasting? Wade Roush, technology journalist, audio producer and host of the podcast Soonish will be visiting the WHS library to speak with students about how to get started with podcasting.  During this half day in school field trip you will learn the art of creating and producing distinctive audio podcasts. You’ll practice hands-on recording and editing to develop your own podcast with direction from podcaster, Wade Roush.  The  day will also include a tour of WinCam’s studio and use of WinCam equipment to interview veterans for a “Living History Project”. This workshop is limited to the first 20 students and requires a permission slip signed by your classroom teachers. Please see Ms. Zampitella or Mrs. Grace in the WHS Library.

Schedule of the day:

D Block: Introduction to Wade Roush

G Block: Trip to WinCam (pizza lunch provided)

E Block: Veterans arrive at WHS, students will break into pairs to spend a 1/2 hr interviewing for the Living History Project.

After school (or at another time) you may return to WinCam to edit and complete your podcast

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