Monday, September 22, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;68.0;;2014-09-22 00:13:25

A VGo 'telemedicine' robot (featured in Science Cafe in April) will be on Dartmouth football sidelines


Courtesy photo

A "telepresence" robot from Nashua-based VGo will be on teh sidelines at home games for the Dartmouth College football team in 2014.

Nashua-based VGo will provide a “telemedicine” robot on the sidelines of Dartmouth College’s home football games, as part of a remote concussion assessment pilot project. The program started at the first home game on Saturday, Sept. 20.

This pilot is part of a Dartmouth Athletics initiative in which the Dartmouth-Hitchcok Center for Telehealth will provide real-time, emergency clinical support via virtual technologies to a variety of Dartmouth sports, said Drew Galbraith, senior associate athletics director for Dartmouth Peak Performance.

VGo was founded in 2007 by former executives of the company iRobot, including Tim Root, a Nashua native and 1984 graduate of Bishop Guertin High School. Ned Semonite, head of product development, brought one of them to the April Science Cafe in Nashua.

It is one of a number of companies making telepresence robots, which might be thought of as a wireless Skype connection atop a remote-controlled Roomba. This allows people to not only have real-time video connections but to roll around within an environment, creating a kind of “tele-presence.”

VGo has focused on the medical market, deploying the robots with visiting nurses and in hospital settings, to allow doctors better long-distance care. Several other companies, including Roomba-maker iRobot itself, offer similar devices.

Dr. Sarah Pletcher, director of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Center for Telehealth, said Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s section of neurosurgery will be providing remote assessments of Dartmouth players with suspected concussions. “In addition to a telemedicine robot, we will also integrate tablet and smartphone solutions that will offer reliability and flexibility as we expand the program to other Dartmouth sports in the very near future,” said Pletcher.

Physicians from the D-H emergency department will be participating in future clinical service offerings.

“Dartmouth College is an early adopter of this telemedicine robot technology, which was validated by the Mayo Clinic and Northern Arizona University’s football program in 2013,” said Dr. Robert J. Singer, one of the DHMC neurosurgeons who will be participating in the pilot program. “Our participation in the Big Ten-Ivy League collaboration studying the effects of head injuries in sports integrates nicely into this effort.”

More on the interesting (but illegal) phenomenon of Instagramming your own ballot


This poster was supposed to have been displayed in all polling places on Tuesday.

I've reported several rtimes on "ballot selfies" - my term for taking a picture of your completed ballot and posting it online, which is illegal. Now the attorney general's office is looking into it, as I report in today's Telegraph.

Depending on your point of view, this is a silly waste of taxpayer money, an outrageous governmental overreach against personal freedom, an intriguing move to protect the sanctity of the polling booth, or an example of how technology interacts in unexpected ways with laws and mores. (You can choose more than one.)

By the way, the wording of the state law RSA 659:35, has not been updated in the online listing of state laws (here). It still shows the ambiguous wording that was changed by the Legislature as of Sept. 1.

Ig Nobels are tonight


The Ig Nobel awards get handed out tonight at Harvard's stately Sanders Theatre. I didn't get a ticket before they sold out, so this will be only about the fifth one I've missed in more than two decades - but maybe I'll watch it online!

If so, I'll have to throw paper airplanes around the living room. Hope the cat doesn't mind.

Tech-Out finalists are from Manchester, Manchester, Manchester, Manchester and Hampton

Tech-Out, a three-year-old $100,000 contest for tech start-ups in New Hampshire, has announced the five finalists this year. There's a definite Queen City theme among them:

Attic Gem/gemr of Hampton, an online buying and selling platform where users post photos of collectibles to gain knowledge of their history and value from a community of experts and enthusiasts;

Apply Kit of Manchester, which helps students discover, apply to and get into their college while helping colleges attract applicants;

SwitchNote of Manchester, collaborative study platform that rewards students for uploading and sharing their notes with classmates;

UConnect of Manchester, a service for higher education career services to help college students transition to careers;

VidFall of Manchester, a competitive auction website where prices fall as users watch sponsored videos.

The competition is open to startups that have been in business for fewer than three years, raised less than $250,000 in funding and have less than $250,000 in revenue. First place receives $50,000, second place $30,000 and third place $20,000. At the public event on October 2, a panel of judges will select the first and second place winners, while the third place winner will be decided by the audience the night of the event.

TechOut is a partnership between the NH High Tech Counci and Alpha Loft (formerly abiHUB). The partnership represents a cohesive effort to grow the state’s tech ecosystem. The third annual finalist event will be held at 5:30 pm on Thursday, October 2 at Dyn, 200 Bedford Street in Manchester and includes live pitches from finalists, an announcement of the three winners, networking, food and beverages.

Does the government have a patent on medical marijuana research? No. But sort of yes


An interesting assertion was made by an audience member at last night's Science Cafe NH in Nashua, which had two hours of absolutely superb discussion about the biology and chemistry and pharmacology of marijuana: He asserted that the U.S. government had a patent on medical marijuana. This, he said (as do several websites) reflects hypocrisy on the part of a government that battles against therapeutic use of marijuana, and might also get in the way of real research.

Neither of our panelists, both of whom have been doing marijuana-related research for many years, knew what he was talking about, so I assumed that he was mistaken. But that's not true: Not entirely, anyway.

Turns out, the patent in question is 6,630,507, taken out in 2003 by three scientists in the name of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. It's titled "Cannabinoids as antioxidats and neuroprotectants". It claims a patent on the use of certain chemicals in marijuana for "the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases."

As I said, neither of our panelists - Dr. Alan Budney of Dartmouth and Dr. Staci Gruber of Harvard - had heard of the patent, so it doesn't seem to be an obstacle in current research. On the other hand, they both said they knew of no research on marijuana compounds for treatment of Alzheimer's or similar diseases, so maybe this surprising patent has squelched some work.

On another matter - for those of you who were present last night, note that catnip is not the male marijuana plant as alleged by another audience member: It's actually part of the mint family. However, catnip is pharmacalogically similar to marijuana. But don't give marijuana to your cat - it could cause medical issues.

UNH mathematician Yitang Zhang wins yet another award - a MacArthur "genius" grant


Photo courtesy Nature magazine. "Tom" Zhang, shown May 13, 2013, in Boston, after news of his proof came out. There were no official pictures of him at the time, not even on his UNH page.

UNH mathematician Yitang "Tom" Zhang has an irresistible story. He worked in a Subway shop and as an accountant after getting a Ph.D. in math, before being hired by UNH as a math teacher and researcher; then in 2013 he published perhaps the greatest mathematics paper ever written by a New Hampshire-based mathematician*, proving a weak version of the twin-prime conjectiure.

Slate magazine had the best explainer of his work for laymen: read it here.

Since then the awards have piled up, including the prestigious Cole and Ostrowski prizes, to the slight perplexity of Zhang, who is a quiet and retiring fellow (although his students say he's a great teacher). I had trouble interviewing him for this column in May 2013 after he first came to public attention; it seems that talking about himself wasn't his favorite activity. In fact, he didn't even have an official photo on the UNH website.

Now he's going to get more unwanted attention: He is one of 21 peopoe to receive a MacArthur Fellowship "genius" grant today.

Here's the MacArthur writeup about his work - which even includes a video of him!

One of the most basic unanswered questions has been the spacing between two consecutive prime numbers, or the twin prime conjecture, which states that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by two. Despite many efforts at proving this conjecture, mathematicians were not able to rule out the possibility that the gaps between primes continue to expand, eventually exceeding any particular bound. Zhang’s work shows that there are infinitely many consecutive primes, or pairs of primes, closer than 70 million. In other words, as you go to larger and larger numbers, the primes will not become further and further apart - you will keep finding prime pairs that differ by less than 70 million.

According to the MarArthur Foundation, Zhang is the 7th person associated with New Hampshire in some way to receive a “genius grant.” Two other UNH professors have won: Laurel Ulrich, author of the history “A Midwife’s Tale,” who won in 1992, and poet Charles Simic, who won in 1984.Other state winners include naturalist David Carroll of Warner; environmental writer Donella Meadows and computer scientist Daniela Rus, both of Dartmouth College; and poet Jay Wright.

* Fans of Dartmouth's John Kemeny, who until now held the undisputed king-of-NH-mathematics crown, may balk at this statement. And Ken Appel of 4-color proof fame did his work before coming to NH.

one of the most basic unanswered questions has been the spacing between two consecutive prime numbers, or the twin prime conjecture, which states that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by two. Despite many efforts at proving this conjecture, mathematicians were not able to rule out the possibility that the gaps between primes continue to expand, eventually exceeding any particular bound. Zhang’s work shows that there are infinitely many consecutive primes, or pairs of primes, closer than 70 million. In other words, as you go to larger and larger numbers, the primes will not become further and further apart—you will keep finding prime pairs that differ by less than 70 million. - See more at:</</</</</</

Tomorrow (Wednesday): Science Cafe in Nashua about marijuana


Design by Matt Demers. This isn't our official logo, but I really really like it.

Science Cafe New Hampshire returns to Nashua tomorrow after our summer hiatus. We're tanned, rested and ready, so let's eat, drink and be knowledgeable.

The topic will be the science of marijuana: What do we know, and not know, about what it does to our health, our bodies, and our minds. As always, it will be free and open to all, starting at 6 p.m. at Killarney's Irish Pub which seems to have allowed its website URL to lapse, so I can't link. We'll be at 9 Northeastern Blvd., Nashua, in the Holiday Inn.

As moderator, I have added a rule. Along with the usual "no politics and no PowerPoint," I will strictly enforce this one: No Cheech & Chong jokes.

We have an impressive panel, positively oozing knowledge:

Dr. Alan Budney, professor of psychiatry at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, and an investigator at the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health at the school. He and his lab have done extensive research on cannabis addiction, use and treatment.

Dr. Staci Gruber, director of the Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core at McLean Hospital’s Brain Imaging Center and an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Her clinical and research focus is the application of neurocognitive models and multimodal brain imaging to better characterize neurobiological risk factors for substance abuse. Her lab has examined the etiologic bases of neural models of dysfunction in patients with bipolar disorder as well as marijuana-abusing adults.

My old iPod is cooler than your old iPod - because it's from H-P


1000 songs in your pocket!

The fact that Apple is no longer producing the iPod classic - the last clickwheel version of the music player - has led to much historical thumb-sucking about the impact the iPod had on us all. (I like this Washington Post piece, despite its hackneyed "... that changed everything" headline.)

My contribution concerns my second-generation iPod mini, with its vast 4GB of storage. (1,000 songs in your pocket!) My wife won it in a company raffle and gave it to me for my birthday almost nine years ago. It lead me to digitize my hundreds of record albums, and as a result I have listened to far more of their songs in the past nine years than I had in the previous 29.

It is still my daily companion, presenting music or podcasts for my commute.

But here's what's cool about it: It's a Hewlett-Packard iPod! I bet you didnt' even know those existed.

Of course, this doesn't mean much. H-P stuck its logo on the back and sold iPods in a marketing deal back when Apple didn't have its own stores. The project didn't last too long - although it did last long enough to have its own Wikipedia article.

I wonder if I could find some completist iPod collector and sell it to him (you know it would be a male) for big bucks?

Any excuse to climb an old tower is a good excuse


Don't you want to go up that tower? Yes, you do.

One of the area's more interesting buildings, Western Tower in Manchester (aka Weston Observatory, not to be confused with Boston University's Weston Observatory, which is in Weston, Mass.), will be open Oct. 4, 5, 11 and 12 for a different type of leaf-peeping.

This is more historical than geeky, but it's always fun to look inside weird structures from the past, so here are details:

Weston Observatory, near Derryfield Park, will be open on Oct. 4, 5, 11 & 12 from 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. each day according to Jeffrey R. Barraclough, acting director of the Manchester Historic Association. Admission will be $10 per person and $25 for families. Parks and Recreation will provide picnic tables and trash cans and MHA will sell soft drinks. A series of short talks and walking tours of the nearby Amoskeag Ledge, McIntyre Ski Area, and Manchester Water Works reservoirs is planned.

James Adams Weston (1827-1895) was the youngest of five children. He was a civil engineer by trade and designed much of Manchester's street and sewer infrastructure. A former Mayor (1861, 1867, 1869, 1874) and Governor (1871, 1874), Weston left $5,000 in his will to provide a monument atop Oak Hill "for the use, enjoyment, benefit and mental improvement of the inhabitants of the City of Manchester." The cornerstone was laid on Sept. 27, 1896.

Once a popular tourist destination, during World War II air raid wardens used the tower to scan the skies for enemy aircraft. After the war it fell into disrepair. City officials were about to demolish it in the 1970s when a group of citizens led by the late Louis Israel Martel led a fundraising effort and the stone tower was rebuilt. Weston Observatory was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Woody Guthrie never sang about our flood-control dams


Staff photo by David Brooks

The dam known as "Souhegan Site 15" holds back King Brook near the Wilton-Temple town line, creating Heald Pond. Sept. 5, 2014.

New Hampshire has a couple dozen flood control dams, built in the 1960s and 1970s, that virtually nobody knows about. These aren't Grand Coulee-type flashy dams (hence the lack of Woody Guthrie songs) - they're passive dams, consisting of earthen berms with an overflow pipe.

Most of the time, water flows through the pipe as it enters the pond, but during very heavy rains it backs up: the pond fills up faster than the outflow pipe can handle. As a result, flash flooding in the river below is reduced, with inflow spread out over many hours or days instead of minutes.

In Greater Nashua, there are about a dozen of these dams scattered in the hills around the upper Souhegan River, holding back up to 270 acres of water. They're so simple they require litte maintenace or oversight: No doors to open, no valves to shut, no moving parts. A classic example of simple technology being best.

The only concern for the state is the earth dam itself, making sure that trees don't grow on it, animals don't burrow on it, ATV morons don't cause erosion. As I note in today's Telegraph (story here) a $369,000 federal grant is going to help the state keep them in shape.

Pretty decent return for our money, I'd say.

Blog search


About this blog

David Brooks has written a science column for the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph since 1991 - yes, that long - and has overseen this blog since 2006.

He chats weekly with New Hampshire Public Radio about GraniteGeek topics, around 5:50 p.m. on Tuesdays. You can listen to old sessions here.

Contact:   E-mail or call 603-594-6531.


Free, informal get-togethers at a bar that feature discussion among the audience (everybody is welcome) and experts in various fields. Check the website here.

NEXT CAFE: Wednesday, September 17 (we take the summer off)

TOPIC: Marijuana, the biology of what it does and doesn't do to us.

Location: Killarney's Irish Pub, 9 Northeastern Boulevard (Holiday Inn, just west of Exit 4 on the turnpike).


Fluoridation in public water. May: Organic gardening. April: Tele-medicine, or doctoring from afar. March: Bitcoin - what is it? February: The science of allergies. January: Electric cars.

Multiple sclerosis. October: Genetically modified organisms. September: Aquaponics. June: Flying robots (drones!) May: PTSD and brain tauma in veterans. April: Cats vs. wildlife in NH. March: Mosquito-borne disease. February: The science of brewing. January: 3-D printing, with MakeIt Labs.

"Dark skies and light pollution" with Discovery Center. October: "The science of concussion." September: "The science of pain management." June: "Arsenic in our environment." May: "Invasive species in New Hampshire" April: "Nanotechnology in business and the lab". March: "Lyme disease in NH". Feb: "Seasonal Affective Disorder." Jan: "Biomass energy"

Nov.: "Science of Polling." Oct.: "Digital Privacy." Sept: "Vaccinations." June: "Future of Food." May 2011: "Climate Change"


Alternative power map

Click here to see my alternative-power Google map showing large-scale solar, wind, hydro and nuclear plants in N.H., plus intriguing alternative-power items.

More archives