David Kirkpatrick

July 12, 2010

Latest advance in nanoscience research

News like this is important because a lot of the science of nanotechnology is so new it’s essentially a high-wire act without a net. Working to set some baselines in nanoscience help to improve the entire field.

The release:

University of Toronto chemists make breakthrough in nanoscience research

TORONTO, ON – A team of scientists led by Eugenia Kumacheva of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Toronto has discovered a way to predict the organization of nanoparticles in larger forms by treating them much the same as ensembles of molecules formed from standard chemical reactions.

“Currently, no model exists describing the organization of nanoparticles,” says Kumacheva. “Our work paves the way for the prediction of the properties of nanoparticle ensembles and for the development of new design rules for such structures.”

The focus of nanoscience is gradually shifting from the synthesis of individual nanoparticles to their organization in larger structures. In order to use nanoparticle ensembles in functional devices such as memory storage devices or optical waveguides, it is important to achieve control of their structure.

According to the researchers’ observations, the self-organization of nanoparticles is an efficient strategy for producing nanostructures with complex, hierarchical architectures. “The past decade has witnessed great progress in nanoscience – particularly nanoparticle self-assembly – yet the quantitative prediction of the architecture of nanoparticle ensembles and of the kinetics of their formation remains a challenge,” she continues. “We report on the remarkable similarity between the self-assembly of metal nanoparticles and chemical reactions leading to the formation of polymer molecules. The nanoparticles act as multifunctional single units, which form reversible, noncovalent bonds at specific bond angles and organize themselves into a highly ordered polymer.”

“We developed a new approach that enables a quantitative prediction of the architecture of linear, branched, and cyclic self-assembled nanostructures, their aggregation numbers and size distribution, and the formation of structural isomers.”

Kumacheva was joined in the research by postdoctoral fellows Kun Liu, Nana Zhao and Wei Li, and former doctoral student Zhihong Nie, along with Professor Michael Rubinstein of the University of North Carolina. As polymer chemists, the team took an unconventional look at nanoparticle organization.

“We treated them as molecules, not particles, which in a process resembling a polymerization reaction, organize themselves into polymer-like assemblies,” says Kumacheva. “Using this analogy, we used the theory of polymerization and predicted the architecture of the so-called ‘molecules’ and also found other, unexpected features that can find interesting applications.”

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The findings were published in a report titled “Step-Growth Polymerization of Inorganic Nanoparticles” in the July 9 issue of Science. The research was funded with support from an NSERC Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and Canada Research Chair funding.

November 24, 2009

Bringing strategic management theory to bear on today’s economy

In surprising news, this release claims the current economy is too complex for macroeconomics. (Psst, it’s not really surprising at all.)

The release:

Strategic management theory offers fresh take on the economic crisis

New research published in Strategic Organization

Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC (November 24, 2009) – The recent financial crisis and resulting global economic downturn has been the most defining global economic event since the Great Depression. Now research which appears in the November issue of Strategic Organization, published by SAGE, illustrates new ideas and philosophies in economics from strategic management, uncovering the micro-level underpinnings of the macro-level events we witness today.

Macroeconomics experts have used traditional theories to understand the causes of the economic crisis and offer new schemes and ideas for recovery. These discussions about fiscal and monetary policy dominated much of the conversation about the crisis and what to do about it, according to one of the authors Peter Klein, from the Division of Applied Social Sciences, University of Missouri.

Klein and his co-authors argue that macroeconomics is not equipped to offer full solutions to this crisis. Its basic assumption is that factors of production, firms, and industries in the economy are homogeneous and interchangeable. Research in strategic management has consistently shown that the assumption that the economy is made up of homogeneous or interchangeable factors of production is incorrect.

Strategic management theory—with its emphasis on heterogeneously distributed and rather immobile and inelastic resources and capabilities—is ready to open the debate to new ideas for the recovery.

The idea that resources, firms, and industries are different from each other, that capital and labor are specialized for particular projects and activities, and that people (human capital), are distinct, is constantly encountered in strategic management theory and practice. That macroeconomic models assume factors of production in an economy are homogeneous is interesting, the authors point out, because this assumption creates problems for macroeconomics in both explaining the current crisis, and in deriving solutions.

The Bush Administration bailout and stimulus program in 2008 and continuing through the Obama Administration in 2009 represent a complex mixture of programs, designed to rescue failing banks, strengthen the financial sector, and appear to help homeowners. The same programs have been copied in the European Community throughout 2008.

The Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included both stimulus and infrastructure spending. The latter was designed to target particular industries, regions, technologies, and business practices for government support and to provide incentives for particular kinds of business and consumer behavior (e.g., to invest in new “green industries”. The EU plan copied this two-step approach on a smaller scale).

The article focuses on the macroeconomic stimulus itself, and—particularly in the US—the financial-sector bailout measures that followed. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told Congress in September 2008 that radical steps were needed “to avoid a continuing series of financial institution failures and frozen credit markets that threaten American families’ financial well-being, the viability of businesses both small and large, and the very health of our economy.”

The US government’s restructuring plans for the financial and automobile industries, and potentially for other sectors are likely to run into problems due to their basis in macroeconomic principles, the authors warn.

What should governments do during an economic downturn? The authors believe it is critical to avoid policies that generate poor investment in the first place. They argue strongly that basic heterogeneity of individuals, fiirms, industries, and regions cast doubt on the macroeconomic stimulus policies governments currently preach.

The authors discuss how just as strategic management theory has much to offer in understanding the crisis, the crisis has also thrown certain important weaknesses in current strategic management theory into sharp relief. Strategic management theory must extend its focus on heterogeneous capabilities to include the capabilities to handle major, anticipated shocks. Resourceful entrepreneurs and business managers urgently need us to do so, the authors state.

Adapting to external change is an important theme in strategic management research. Performance depends not only on resources and capabilities involved in production and market exchange, but also on the ability of business to influence political decision makers. In this climate, entrepreneurs may need to become skilled political lobbyists, taking advantage, and influencing the direction of the political debate.

Strategic management scholars have much to offer, and they must now engage in meaningful debate on how management theory can help resolve the current crisis, because the future, both immediate and long term, is at stake.

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Heterogeneous Resources and the Financial Crisis: Implications of Strategic Management Theory by Rajshree Agarwal, Jay B. Barney, Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein is published today in Strategic Organization, published by SAGE. The article will be free online for a limited period fromhttp://soq.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/7/4/467

SAGE is a leading international publisher of journals, books, and electronic media for academic, educational, and professional markets. Since 1965, SAGE has helped inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students spanning a wide range of subject areas including business, humanities, social sciences, and science, technology and medicine. An independent company, SAGE has principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC. www.sagepublications.com

November 22, 2009

The search engine as teacher

Who’d a thunk it?!?

The release:

Search engines are source of learning

Search engine use is not just part of our daily routines; it is also becoming part of our learning process, according to Penn State researchers.

The researchers sought to discover the cognitive processes underlying searching. They examined the search habits of 72 participants while conducting a total of 426 searching tasks. They found that search engines are primarily used for fact checking users’ own internal knowledge, meaning that they are part of the learning process rather than simply a source for information. They also found that people’s learning styles can affect how they use search engines.

“Our results suggest the view of Web searchers having simple information needs may be incorrect,” said Jim Jansen, associate professor of information sciences and technology. “Instead, we discovered that users applied simple searching expressions to support their higher-level information needs.”

Jansen said the results of this study provide useful information about how search engine use has evolved over the past decade and clues about how to design better search engines to address users’ learning needs in the future. He and Brian Smith, associate professor information sciences and technology and Danielle Booth, former Penn State student, published their findings in the November issue of Information Processing and Management.

“If we can incorporate cognitive, affective and situational aspects of a person, there is the potential to really move search performance forward,” Jansen said. “At its core, we are getting to the motivational elements of search.”

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National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research funded this research.

March 27, 2009

Humor research and pattern recognition theory

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:03 am

When teh funny meets academia, things aren’t so funny.

The (not funny) release:

Clarke clarifies pattern recognition theory

Recent commentary has suggested that the extent to which anomaly theories have become ingrained in the minds of academics and popular commentators alike has led to certain common assumptions and misconceptions about Clarke’s pattern recognition theory of humour.

“There are two major misconceptions that have arisen,” says Clarke. “First there is the assumption that this theory suggests that the deviation from a pattern is rewarded in humour; second there is the idea that the eight patterns identified correspond to categories of jokes or types of comedy in some way, as if there were eight types of humour. Both are entirely untrue.

“In all circumstances,” states Clarke, “it is the recognition of simple repetition that is being rewarded in humour, not any form of anomaly, aberration or deviation. It is the recognition of this repetition in increasingly difficult or unlikely circumstances, despite any altered context or associated problems of perception, which is valuable to the individual.

“This is a major departure from prior theories and turns the whole received wisdom about both the mechanism and function of humour on its head. When we talk of pattern recognition, this does not include the recognition of deviation from a pattern, which is not a cognitive process rewarded by the faculty of humour. While this may seem counter-intuitive it is fundamental to an understanding of humour that such aberrations and deviations are discounted from the range of humorous causality.”

The apparent simplicity of the theory and the information-processing system it suggests has also fooled many into believing Clarke’s analysis has grouped different stimuli into certain categories of humour. “The eight patterns don’t correspond to eight types of humour,” clarifies the author. “Rather, they are cognitive processes by which the brain identifies and analyses information unconsciously. Since this necessarily involves perceptual subjectivity, the same stimulus may lead to the recognition of completely different patterns by different individuals.

“What we haven’t done is to produce a literary survey of eight types of joke. This couldn’t be further from the nature of our research and I feel it requires clarification. What we’re looking at is the importance of pattern recognition to the brain and the processes by which that recognition is effected. The eight patterns, far from being categories of joke formation, are therefore flexible processes of apprehension. When those processes occur in surprising circumstances, the brain rewards the individual for their achievement. What this also means is that we aren’t just concerned here with comedic entertainment, but also situations such as when you turn up to work wearing the same tie as a colleague and find yourself laughing. Humour is therefore a faculty for the apprehension of any information, not just a social diversion.

“On an evolutionary level the recognition of patterns provides a remarkable survival advantage. The power of patterns includes the recognition of environmental and climatic trends, behavioural patterns in predators, prey and competing species or conspecifics, providing an insight into information that would produce significant survival advantages.

“Further, pattern recognition doesn’t just mean that the brain can easily recognize an entity in the same or a different context, it also means that the same quality, the same valuable property, can be recognized in a different entity. This provides the brain with a built-in capacity for adaptation to changing environments. Some researchers suggest that a contributory factor in the extinction of the Neanderthals was their inability to vary their diet. Humans, on the other hand, could recognize the same properties of ‘good to eat’ or ‘nutritious’ (or any number of other properties regarding texture, form or smell) in different foodstuffs (such as fish) not yet part of their staple diets.

“It is fundamentally the recognition of similarity that facilitates adaptability, not, as is often presumed, dissimilarity or deviation, which could lead to the adoption of entirely inappropriate new qualities or entities.”

Clarke is keen to clarify the scope and nature of the theory further. “Humour is effectively an information-processing system, and is consequently applicable to any data, whether externally perceived or internally stored. Having recognized this, and having identified the details of what it is the brain wishes to process, we finally have a system that is truly universal.”

Clarke is also keen to point out that the theory explains why other theories exist by describing the cognitive basis of the types of humour they identify, unifying all previous interpretations as it does so by the concept of pattern recognition. “Previous attempts at unification have failed since they have relied on combining smaller theories into a larger whole, quoting multiple mechanisms and functions as the basis of humour, rather than analysing their common elements and synthesizing a new interpretation with global relevance. Cutting and pasting doesn’t make a universal theory,” says Clarke. “It just makes a scrap book of other theories.”

“All major interpretations of the last hundred years are explained by the activity of pattern recognition. For example, anomaly theories have generally identified humour based on qualitative or applicative recontextualization, while mock-aggression theories have recognized opposition and interpretative recontextualization. Bergsonian roboticism was founded on the identification of positive repetition and applicative recontextualization, and broader incongruity theories on the recognition of patterns of scale or locational recontextualization, often alongside those identified in anomaly. Superiority and anti-dominance theories have tended to recognize positive repetition and patterns of scale, and even the popular theory that ‘It’s funny because it’s true’ (recently given scientific credibility by Robert Lynch of Rutgers University) exists because of the recognition of positive repetition.

“By examining humour through patterns it becomes clear why theorists and researchers have identified certain traits as humorous, although each has been restricted by attempting to identify a constituent element of that single type as the source of all humour. This has been impossible since thematic and perceptual issues relating to different media or formats of humour get in the way until humour is looked at as a whole. By removing content and culture from our analyses we have been able to achieve a distance from the material that has made this possible at last. As a consequence humour can finally be studied as a single faculty rather than a phenomenon caused by an ever-changing range of stimuli.”

Details of the patterns recognized in humour and how they relate to more than a hundred sources of laughter are published in The Eight Patterns Of Humour, which is available as a free eBook from the publisher’s website at www.pyrrhichouse.co.uk/eightpatterns until April 20th.

“Patterns are simple things constructed from any information, which has confused analysts for hundreds of years,” says Clarke. “Unfortunately that confusion shows no signs of abating.”

 

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September 30, 2008

Got a sticky problem? Get distracted

Looks like distractions may be a good thing.

The release:

Eureka! How distractions facilitate creative problem-solving

How many times have you spent hours slaving over an impossible problem, only to take a break and then easily solve the problem, sometimes within minutes of looking at it again? Although this is actually a common phenomenon, up until now the way that this occurs has been unclear. But new research in the September issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, demonstrates the answer is more complex than simply having an “Aha!” moment.

The new research, led in part by Kellogg School of Management Professor Adam Galinsky, suggests that unconscious thought results in creative problem-solving via a two-step process.

According to Galinsky and fellow psychologists Chen-Bo Zhong from the University of Toronto and Ap Dijkstererhuis of Radboud University Nijmegen, distractions may be helpful in coming up with creative solutions to a certain problem, but must be followed by a period of conscious thought to ensure that we are aware of those solutions and can apply them. Likewise, while distractions are more useful in solving difficult problems, it may be better to stay focused on finding the solution when confronted with easier problems.

The researchers conducted two experiments to test their idea. In the first experiment, 94 subjects participated in a Remote-Association Test (RAT), which tests for creativity. In this test, participants were presented with three words (a triad) and were asked to come up with a fourth word that is linked with all three words. For example, if presented with the words cheese, sky and ocean, the correct answer would be blue (blue cheese, blue sky, blue ocean). Subjects were shown nine very difficult triads (but were instructed not to solve them yet) and were then divided into groups. For five minutes following the RAT, participants were either concentrating on the triads they had just seen (the conscious thought group) or engaging in a test completely unrelated to the RAT (the unconscious thought group). Following the five-minute interval, all of the subjects participated in a lexical decision test. During this test, subjects were shown sequences of letters and had to indicate as quickly as possible if the sequences were English words or not. The sequences presented included answers to the RAT triads, random words and non-words. Finally, subjects were again shown the RAT items and had to write down their answers.

The second experiment involved 36 subjects and had a similar set up to the previous experiment, although the RAT triads presented were much easier to solve compared to those in the first experiment.

The results showed that in the first experiment, during the lexical decision test, members of the unconscious thought group had much faster responses to letter sequences which were answers to RAT items, compared to the conscious thought group. However, when it came time to solve the RAT problems, both groups had similar results. In the second experiment (using an easier set of RAT triads), the conscious thought group had more correct RAT answers compared to the unconscious thought group, but there was no difference in response time during the lexical decision test.

“Conscious thought is better at making linear, analytic decisions, but unconscious thought is especially effective at solving complex problems,” said Galinsky and his co-authors. “Unconscious activation may provide inspirational sparks underlying the ‘Aha!’ moment that eventually leads to important discoveries.”

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