Digital Imaging Correlation Helping Engineers Examine Bridge Failure in “Exquisite Detail”

It will be five years on the first of August since the Interstate 35-W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota fatally failed leaving 13 dead and dozens injured. If any cloud truly has a silver lining, the sterling behind this tragedy may be the momentum it has provided in helping to assure that hundreds of bridges across the U.S. are safe.

An investigation conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), determined that gusset plates were the “immediate culprit” behind the 2007 collapse in Minneapolis, according to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) engineer Justin Ocel. Together with the FHWA and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), engineer Mark Iadicola of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is therefore working to understand and document the failure of gusset plates with the help of digital image correlation.

The NIST digital image correlation method is a good complement to the FHWA measurement methods. Their techniques—strain gages and photoelasticity—are very good for the normal range of stress in which the plate will stretch and spring right back to its original shape. Our method can tell you a little about that, but it really shines in showing you what happens past that point, when the plate starts permanently deforming and finally rips apart.”

— Mark Iadicola, NIST

The FHWA and AASHTO are now working together to incorporate what they’ve learned into the AASHTO Bridge Design Specification and the Manual for Bridge Evaluation, which are used in bridge design and rating across the U.S.

The January 11 NIST press release is at

Also, check out the NIST video at

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Cheaper Eye-Tracking Technology Could Support New Applications

Biomedical engineering researchers at the Public University of Navarre (UPNA) are developing a more affordable, more widely usable eye tracking device.

Such devices note where people are looking, and the technology has been used primarily to help people with disabilities (to interact with a computer cursor, for example) and to perform market research (to learn what consumers find attractive).

The idea behind our project is to come up with eye tracking at a low cost, and in such a way that the user can install the software in his or her device and use a webcam for the purpose, without needing additional illuminators or very expensive optical components.”

—Arantxa Villanueva-Larre, head project researcher, UPNA

New possibilities for using eye tracking include incorporating the technology into videogames or driving. For example, drivers whose eyes were not focused forward for a specified period might be alerted by eye-tracking software to pay attention to the road.

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Interactive Website Helps Improve Parents’ Asthma Treatment Compliance

Parents of children with asthma can find it challenging to comply with medical treatment guidelines. However, the results of a new study from Seattle Children’s Research Institute show that online tools can help.

In the study, parents used an interactive web site called “My Child’s Asthma” to help them keep track of their child’s medication usage.

The vast majority of families enrolled in our study liked using ‘My Child’s Asthma,’ and wanted to continue using it. Sustainability is always an issue. But there are numerous benefits from this type of website for the child who has fewer asthma attacks and, subsequently, less hospital and emergency room visits. Parents will have fewer worries about their child’s medical care and the site provides cost savings for the insurer.”

—Dr. Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

The researchers found that with the help of the web site, parents’ compliance with asthma controller medication usage guidelines improved.

“My Child’s Asthma” web site user interface. (Photo: Seattle Children’s Research Institute.)

Goals for the site included increasing positive beliefs about asthma management, optimizing care by increasing provider-prescribed controllers for children with persistent asthma, and promoting controller compliance among children on controllers.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health.

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App May Help Improve Heart Failure Patients’ Odds of Survival

For adults in North America, heart failure is the most common cause of hospitalization. Studies have shown that while around 40% of heart failure patients with cardiac symptoms may safely return home from a visit to an emergency department, one of every 11 patients who are discharged dies the following week.

Doctors estimate the risk of heart failure patients in the emergency department based on best clinical judgment which may include different factors depending on their prior experience. However, doctors may overestimate or underestimate the risk of death because the prognosis of heart failure patients may not be clearly apparent by a clinical assessment at the bedside. For those in very poor health or reasonably good health, physicians do a good job, but it’s the middle group where the most improvement can be made. Some of these patients are dying at home or spending days in a hospital bed that they don’t need to be in.”

—Dr. Douglas Lee, cardiologist, Peter Munk Cardiac Centre

To improve patients’ odds of survival, Dr. Lee and other cardiologists at Canada’s Peter Munk Cardiac Centre are developing smartphone and web-based applications that can help emergency department physicians determine patients’ risks in real time. Their solution, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), is an algorithm, “Emergency Heart Failure Mortality Risk Grade” (EHMRG), which uses 10 simple indicators of potential heart trouble.

Ambulance in Canada
Future plans include web and smartphone applications for seamless integration in the field in Canada and beyond. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The EHMRG risk model provides a diagnostic tool that emergency physicians, consulting cardiologists, or general internists can use to help them decide if the patient’s short-term risk of death warrants continued time in hospital. Future plans include web and smartphone applications for seamless integration in the field, including in developing countries.

To view the EHMRG calculator, click

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Computer Simulation, Other Methods Could Replace Animal Testing

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Food and Drug Administration’s “Draft Guidance for Industry: Modified Risk Tobacco Product Applications,” will lead to animal studies being conducted if approved as currently written.

The group has therefore called on the FDA to change its guidance. Instead, PETA recommends FDA call for the use of “only modern, effective non-animal testing methods.” These include computer simulation, tests that use human cells, and clinical studies conducted with human smokers.

Everyone knows that tobacco products are inherently hazardous, addictive, and deadly and that decades of animal tests did not predict the link between smoking and cancer. PETA is calling on the FDA to make it clear, once and for all, that no more animals should suffer and die in tests for new tobacco products, ‘less harmful’ or not.”

Kathy Guillermo, Vice President of Laboratory Investigations, PETA

The methods PETA recommends for avoiding animal testing are currently in use in Canada and are widely available. Several countries, including Belgium, Germany, and the U.K., have banned animal testing of tobacco products.

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NASA, Art Students Working Together on Moon Robot UI

English: NASA's K10 robot "Black" un...
NASA’s K10 robot “Black” is shown undergoing testing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next summer, astronauts on the space station will attempt to operate a NASA K10 robot located on Earth. To carry out this engineering test, NASA is working with Industrial Design students at the Academy of Art University to create the robot’s user interface (UI).

At the beginning of the semester, we challenged the students to propose new user interface concepts and we are extremely pleased with what they produced. This collaboration has been a tremendous success as we’ve begun to explore the design space in new ways thanks to the creative thinking of Academy of Art University students.”

Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames

The design students regularly interacted with NASA engineers from NASA’s Ames Research Center during the last semester. In future space missions, the students’ work could help astronauts remotely control robots on the moon or other planets.

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Access to Scientific Research In Developing Areas Grows Significantly

Since 2002, four public-private partnerships have been working together under the collective name of Research4Life to help people in the developing world gain access to vital scientific research.

In May, the partners announced that the content available has increased significantly since 2011. The number of items available has reached 17,000, which includes peer reviewed scientific journals, books, and databases.

The developing world benefits enormously from the online book collections made available by our publisher partners. The new content is a significant addition, more than doubling Research4Life’s information resources previously accessible to researchers and practitioners in low- and middle-income countries.”

— Kimberly Parker, Programme Manager, HINARI (a Research4Life partner organization)

To help achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals through access to critical scientific research, Research4Life is providing researchers at over 6,000 institutions in more than 100 developing countries and territories access to peer-reviewed scientific research.

The material is provided by some of the world’s leading science publishers for free or at a low cost online.

A culture of evidence-based practice can no longer be an option but the rule. The publishers involved in the HINARI project should be praised for their commitment to improving access to information to students, researchers and practitioners in some of the poorest countries in the world. Elsevier appears to be leading the way and our hope is that other publishers will follow suit and help achieve the target of ‘Health Information For All by 2015’.”

— Dr. Patrick Kyamanywa, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, National University of Rwanda

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