Academy of Natural Sciences Announces Dates for Academy Explorers Camp

Photo courtesy of Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University

Photo courtesy of Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University

You’d never know it by stepping outdoors, but warmer weather is slowly inching its way toward us, which means parents better be getting on the ball when it comes to figuring out summer plans for their little ones. The Academy of Natural Sciences is getting ahead of the game by announcing dates and opening registration for its summertime Academy Explorers Camp.

The day camp is for children ages 5 to 12, offering different activities every week week throughout July and August. The itinerary runs the gamut from off-site adventures to craft time, teaching about everything from dinosaurs to preserved specimens to living animals. I can sense your kid’s eyes getting bigger and bigger as I type. Here’s what’s on the docket, from a press release sent out this week:

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Researchers Say Same-Sex Couples May Soon Be Able to Produce Biological Children Together

Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

Well this is a game-changer if I ever heard one: Scientists say that same-sex couples may soon be able to produce biological children together.

Researchers at Cambridge University and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science say they have discovered a way to “create human egg and sperm cells from the stem cells in the skin of two adults.” Which means, for instance, an egg can be created from the stem cells of two men, and sperm cells can be created from the stem cells of two women. Queerty has more:

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WATCH: Bill Nye Explain the Theory of Evolution Using Emojis

Bill Nye the Science Guy is just as cool and relevant as when you watched him on TV as a kid. Who else could explain the basics of evolution in less than two minutes—using emojis!?

That’s just what he’s done in a new Mashable-collaboration video that’s gone viral since it posted to YouTube on December 12th.

Check it out above, and perhaps he’ll show it tonight when he appears at the Kimmel Center in “An Evening With Bill Nye.” There are still tickets available. They can be purchased here.

Find out the Physics of the Perfect French Fry

The Perfect Fry

Who doesn’t love a good French fry? But what exactly makes the perfect French fry, according to science? To me, the perfect French fry is one that comes out of a freezer, but the experts are having their say, too.

Dr. Scott Paulson, french fry-enthusiast and physics and astronomy professor at James Madison University, will be speaking at Science on Tap at Old City’s National Mechanics, on December 8th, explaining the art of perfecting the French fry by using different types of potatoes and oils, cooking heats and methods, and more.

The talk begins at 6 p.m., but doors open at 5 p.m.

Hopefully there will be a supply of fries for eating, too.

Science on Tap [Facebook]

World’s Largest Snake Coming to Academy of Natural Sciences

Photo courtesy of Smithsonian

Photo courtesy of Smithsonian

Close your ears, ophidiophobiacs.

Titanoboa, also known as the largest snake that ever slithered around the planet, is coming to Philadelphia next February. The Smithsonian traveling exhibit “Titanoboa: Monster Snake” will open at the Academy of Natural Sciences on Valentine’s Day, and the centerpiece will be a life-size replica of the 48-foot-long, 2,500 pound Titanoboa cerrejonensis.

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Drexel Scientists Discover Largest Dinosaur Ever

Illustration: Jennifer  Hall

Illustration: Jennifer Hall

In a paper published Thursday in Scientific Reports, Drexel scientists announced the discovery of the largest animal ever found: Dreadnoughtus schrani, a supermassive dinosaur that lived 77 million years ago in South America. It was 85 feet long and weighed 65 tons.

Kenneth Lacovara, an associate professor at Drexel, discovered “Dread” in Argentina. “It weighed as much as a dozen African elephants or more than seven T. rex,” he said in a release. “It is by far the best example we have of any of the most giant creatures to ever walk the planet.”

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Science Finds a “Stupid” Gene. What Should We Do With That Information?

shutterstock_dunce-stupid-gene-940x540

Linguist/philosopher and Philly native son Noam Chomsky once postulated that the current era of human history might “provide an answer to the question of whether it is better to be smart than stupid.” We got closer to that answer last week, when researchers from Cardiff University in Wales announced an intriguing new find: a gene for stupidity. Specifically, they showed that kids born with two copies of the common gene known as Thr92Ala who also have low levels of thyroid hormone are four times more likely to have a low IQ than children with only one copy of the gene, or with two copies but normal hormone levels.

How low an IQ? Between 70 and 85, the researchers say. Anything below 70 is classified as an intellectual disability; the 70-to-85 range is considered “mild intellectual disability.”

So, let’s all rush out to have tests on our unborn babies, right? Read more »

Meet the Philly Start-Ups Leading the Entrepreneurship Era

Philadelphia start-up company AboutOne

Photo by Jonathan Pushnik, styling by Jessica Lawinkski

Something big is happening. It’s not obvious, and it’s nothing tactile—but it’s most definitely a shift in the way we normally do things around here. It’s spurred on by a group of people who, above all else, want to create something that is their very own. With a whole lot of passion and tireless energy, they’re dreaming up new uses for technology, coming up with problem-solving products, and sketching out websites on napkins at coffee shops. Our research turned up more than 100 start-ups (whittled down here to the 20 coolest) that are happening right now. And while those companies may be small, what they’re part of is something huge: They’re changing the way business and culture look in Philadelphia. They’re ushering in an era in which our city is suddenly smarter, hipper, younger, more communal, more energetic and more creative than ever before. And this is just the beginning.

>>Could your kid be the next Steve Jobs? Inside the push to create the next generation of entrepreneurs.

>>If you’re going to run a startup, you may as well do it right. Here, a roundtable with Philly’s entrepreneurship leaders.

AboutOne

Lifestyle | Paoli
The pitch: Creating a safe digital place for families to share information.

Joanne Lang’s lightbulb-over-the-head moment came in the wake of an unfortunate situation—as her asthmatic son was rushed to the hospital, she was asked for his medical information and couldn’t remember a thing. “I knew all the information was filed away, but I couldn’t click on anything to give the paramedic what he needed,” says Lang, 43. “It was traumatizing.” (Her son is okay.) As a developer for SAP, she had the background knowledge in secure cloud technology to be able to turn her filing cabinet into a digital platform. The result: AboutOne, a secure family-planner app that aggregates items and info like health records, education forms, important contacts, numbers and dates for parents and caretakers. Since its introduction three years ago, it’s garnered press from the New York Times, USA Today and the Today Show.

Make or Break: AboutOne has raised $4 million in venture capital, and a new user platform is in the works. An official launch in January will be Lang’s first glimpse of revenue projections—users who want more than 1GB of cloud space will have to pay for a premium subscription. Long-term, Lang hopes to repurpose the platform into a tool that’s useful for corporate executives.

 

Curalate

Business | Center City
The Pitch: Harnessing the power of pictures.

It seems like a runaway success—revenue has increased seven times compared to last year—but Curalate, the company started by Apu Gupta and Nick Shiftan, was initially something else entirely. Recognizing that it wasn’t working, Gupta, 38, and Shiftan, 32, instead came up with Curalate: a visual marketing analytics company that tracks the impact of images using sophisticated picture-scanning technology—an invaluable tool to better understand photo-driven sites like Instagram and Pinterest. Big-league clients include Gap, Neiman Marcus, Urban Outfitters, Under Armour and Swarovski.

What’s Next: Curalate has received a total of $4 million in VC money and continues to add more services, like Fanreel, a tool that allows clients to reuse user-uploaded, hashtagged images on their own e-commerce sites.

 

DuckDuckGo

Tech | Paoli
The Pitch: Online search without the creepy spying.

The search-engine world might be dominated by one untouchable, but 34-year-old Gabriel Weinberg is banking on a novel concept: privacy. In 2008 he launched DuckDuckGo, a search engine that eschews the personal data collected by sites like Google and Bing—data that can not only tarnish accurate ad results but is seen as increasingly invasive. He’s on to something: Last summer’s Snowden NSA scandal helped grow DDG to more than 100 million searches a month.

Make or Break: DDG brings in revenue through a single ad banner and an affiliate program with Amazon and eBay through which DDG gets a percentage of transactions that start from the site.

 

SEER Interactive

Business | Northern Liberties
The Pitch: The smartest SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the foundation on which Wil Reynolds, 37, built SEER. He hired his first employee in 2005 and his 70th in the fall. Crayola, Wine Enthusiast, a Fortune 50 bank and BHLDN have all hired SEER to get them more online visibility by analyzing the way they interact with search engines like Google and Bing, then implementing adjustments to their standards and websites. Finding and retaining talent is key, and to help, Reynolds has created a Silicon Valley-esque culture: His headquarters (nicknamed the “Search Church”) are in a rehabbed house of worship, and he takes the gang on field trips to Six Flags and hosts yoga classes for his crew.

What’s Next: Most of SEER’s success has been recent—the company has grown 35 to 55 percent over the past few years. Reynolds is committed to Philadelphia: Last year he relocated about 40 percent of hires to our region.

 

SnipSnap

Retail | Center City
The Pitch: Coupon-clipping goes digital.

Penny-pinchers, rejoice! SnipSnap’s technology lets users snap photos of coupons, upload them, share them with friends and scan them at checkout—entirely through an app. When the idea hit, 36-year-old Ted Mann left his job and joined local accelerator program DreamIt Ventures (a company that awards seed money and mentorship to great ideas) to work on it. Thanks to front-page placement in the iTunes App Store, SnipSnap secured 200,000 downloads in its first two weeks.

What’s Next: Mann recently scored impressive retail partnerships with Toys “R” Us and Bed Bath & Beyond, which will publish coupons directly to the app. SnipSnap will take $1 every time one of those coupons is redeemed.

West Philly’s Quest for the Automotive X Prize

Photo by Ryan Collerd.

Photo by Ryan Collerd.

The bell rang at 3 p.m. Kids burst from their second-floor classrooms at the West Philadelphia High School Academy for Automotive and Mechanical Engineering and leapt down the stairs. Most filed past the metal detector onto the street, where a trash bin spilled colorful garbage, but a few stayed behind, making their way into a drafty garage and slapping down their backpacks with purpose. A vaguely fungal smell emanated from racks of motor fluid, tools and spare parts, and a sign straight out of the ’50s read ALL SKIRTS & SHORTS MUST BE WORN KNEE LENGTH. It was February 2010. On a wall, a lime-green banner was emblazoned with a quote from Henry Ford: “Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying to do more, brings a state of mind in which nothing is impossible.”

Several students entered a small, brightly lit classroom to the side of the garage and dug into a cache of snacks. Others clustered around Simon Hauger, 40, a spindly white guy with an icy thatch of prematurely gray hair. He stood next to a black sports car. The body was removed for now, sitting off to the side, meaning that the steel frame beneath was visible, along with two separate propulsion technologies: an electric motor and battery pack in the front, and a diesel engine in the back. This was a hybrid vehicle of original design, built by Simon and the kids to travel the energy equivalent of 100 miles on a single gallon of gasoline. If they could get to 100 MPGe (the “e” stands for “equivalent”), they had a chance at winning a $10 million contest for the Automotive X Prize. They called themselves the West Philadelphia Hybrid X Team.

Simon said he wanted to work on the sports car’s turbocharger.

“What’s a turbo?” he asked Diamond Gibson, 17, a native of Liberia.

“A turbo, it uses air,” Diamond said.

“It’s like a fan or something,” said Azeem Hill, a thoughtful junior with freckles and thick glasses.

“If I took the fan that I put in the window in the summer, my box fan, and blew air in, would that push enough air?” Simon asked. “No. That only sucks so much air.”

A turbo, he continued, is basically an air compressor—a tool that converts energy into quick bursts of air. The point is to increase the engine’s efficiency by allowing it to squeeze more air into each piston.

“Now, here’s the hard part,” Simon said. “You need to pay attention. Anytime you compress anything, what happens to its temperature?”

“It rises,” Diamond said.

“Right. It gets hotter. And when things get hot, like in a hot-air balloon, what do they want to do?

“Expand,” said Azeem.

“Expand. So our goal for a turbo is to pump air in. So you’re compressing air. It’s getting hot. You’re fighting yourself, right? You need something that cools it off.”

The kids liked Simon; he had a way of relating abstract concepts to the real world. “The way he teaches,” said senior Jacques Wells, “he could teach algebra to a guinea pig.”

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