Stewart, Storm surge past Mystics 98-82 for WNBA title
By BENJAMIN STANDIG
Thursday, September 13
FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart fretted following the regular-season opener after the Seattle Storm lost at home to the Phoenix Mercury.
“We thought, ‘Oh, crap, what kind of year is this going to be?’” Bird reminisced.
The answer came nearly four months later with a championship.
Stewart led the Storm to their third WNBA title Wednesday night, scoring 30 points in a 98-82 victory over the Washington Mystics in Game 3 of the best-of-five series.
Natasha Howard added career-high 29 points and 14 rebounds for the Storm. Seattle won 26 games during the regular season — 11 more than the 2017 campaign — entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, and swept the finals.
Stewart was the league MVP and was selected the Finals MVP after averaging 25.6 points in the three games. She scored 17 points in the first half as the Storm raced to a 47-30 lead.
“Stewie was just amazing,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “She truly was the MVP of this league. She truly was the MVP of these Finals. God blessed me with an opportunity to coach her and I will be forever grateful.”
Bird, also a member of a Seattle’s championship teams in 2004 and 2010, was certainly appreciative of the title — and the growth of the Storm’s younger players. Seattle landed Jewell Loyd and Stewart, both All-Stars in 2018 with Bird, with the No. 1 overall picks in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
“Each (championship) is special in its own way, but this one is probably going to have a different meaning for me,” said the 37-year-old point guard who had 10 points and 10 assists. “There is probably no comparison to be honest. I didn’t know if I’d be playing at this point. Our team went through a rebuild and yes, I decided to stay. Once we got Stewie and Jewell, we knew we’d get to the other side, but how do you know you’re going to get to the other side this fast?”
The coach sensed something brewing early in his first year with the franchise. Following the Phoenix loss, Seattle won five in a row.
“I think this was our year,” Hughes said. “All year you could just see the escalation.”
Elena Delle Donne scored 23 points for the Mystics. Kristi Toliver had 22 points.
“Obviously, this finals didn’t go the way we wanted it. The great thing is we can still improve. We don’t feel like we peaked and this is it for us,” Delle Donne said.
Washington reached the Finals for the first time in franchise history.
“There’s been a huge transformation with the culture of this team,” said Delle Donne, who was acquired by Washington before the 2017 season. “Last year we were brand new. I didn’t know (Toliver’s’ favorite) beer. That’s a pretty important thing to know about Panda. Now I can go to the bar and order her everything she needs.
Toliver, seated next to the first-team All-WNBA player, chimed in. “I’m going to need a lot tonight.”
Alysha Clark had 15 points for Seattle.
Washington battled Seattle and history. Since the league went to a best-of-five format in 2005, four teams trailed 0-2. Each lost Game 3. The Mystics joined that unwanted club. Poor perimeter shooting contributed. Washington finished 8 of 23 on 3-pointers in Game 3 and 11 for 60 (18.3) in the series.
Despite the misfires, Washington rallied from down 18 points to trailing 72-67 with 6:49 remaining. Starting with a Stewart 3-point play, Seattle countered with eight consecutive points and pulled away.
“We were up at halftime, but we knew D.C. was going to come back,” Stewart said. “It was how we countered that when things got close. That’s what really separated us again.”
This is likely just the beginning for the dynamic 24-year-old forward, who won the NCAA Championship during each of her four seasons at the University of Connecticut.
“It didn’t feel like my first WNBA finals closeout game,” the poised Stewart said.
Bird understands her career is nearing the end, even though she remains among the league’s best. One of the league’s most decorated players also grasps the impact of her latest triumph.
“This is probably going to be one of the most defining moments of my career,” Bird said.
The location, George Mason University, marked the third arena Washington has called home this season and the second in the playoffs. … Washington starting center LaToya Sanders sprained her left ankle diving for a loose ball in the third quarter. She was carried to the locker room and did not return. … Among those in attendance were Washington Wizards guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, University of Maryland coach Brenda Frese and Washington Redskins running back Derrius Guice.
Why we love robotic dogs, puppets and dolls
September 13, 2018
S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate
Visiting Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Hamilton College
S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
There’s a lot of hype around the release of Sony’s latest robotic dog. It’s called “aibo,” and is promoted as using artificial intelligence to respond to people looking at it, talking to it and touching it.
Japanese customers have already bought over 20,000 units, and it is expected to come to the U.S. before the holiday gift-buying season – at a price nearing US$3,000.
Why would anyone pay so much for a robotic dog?
My ongoing research suggests part of the attraction might be explained through humanity’s longstanding connection with various forms of puppets, religious icons, and other figurines, that I collectively call “dolls.”
These dolls, I argue, are embedded deep in our social and religious lives.
Spiritual and social dolls
As part of the process of writing a “spiritual history of dolls,” I’ve returned to that ancient mythology of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions where God formed the first human from the dirt of the earth, and then breathed life into the mud-creature.
Since that time, humans have attempted to do the same – metaphorically, mystically and scientifically – by fashioning raw materials into forms and figures that look like people.
As folklorist Adrienne Mayor explains in a recent study, “Gods and Robots,” such artificial creatures find their ways into the myths of several ancient cultures, in various ways.
Beyond the stories, people have made these figures part of their religious lives in the form of icons of the Virgin Mary and human-shaped votive objects.
In the late 19th century, dolls with a gramophone disc that could recite the Lord’s Prayer were produced on a mass scale. That was considered a playful way of teaching a child to be pious. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, certain spirits are believed to reside in figurines created by humans.
Across time and place, dolls have played a role in human affairs. In South Asia, dolls of various forms become ritually important during the great goddess festival Navaratri. Katsina dolls of the Hopi people allow them to create their own self-identity. And in the famed Javanese and Balinese Wayang – shadow puppet performances – mass audiences learn about a mythical past and its bearing on the present.
Making us human
In the modern Western context, Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes have come to play an important role in children’s development. Barbie has been shown to have a negative impact on girls’ body images, while G.I. Joe has made many boys believe that they are important, powerful and that they can do great things.
What is at the root of our connection with dolls?
As I have argued in my earlier research, humans share a deep and ancient relationship with ordinary objects. When people create forms, they are participating in the ancient hominid practice of toolmaking. Tools have agricultural, domestic and communication uses, but they also help people think, feel, act and pray.
Dolls are a primary tool that humans have used for the spiritual and social dimensions of their lives.
They come to have a profound influence on humans. They help build religious connections, such as teaching children to pray, serving as a medium for answering prayers, providing protection and prompting healing.
They also model gender roles and teach people how to behave in society.
Tech toys and messages
Aibo and other such technologies, I argue, play a similar role.
Part of aibo’s enchantment is that he appears to see, hear and respond to touch. In other words, the mechanical dog has an embodied intelligence, not unlike humans. One can quickly find videos of people being emotionally captivated by aibo because he has big eyes that “look” back at people, he cocks his head, seeming to hear, and he wags his tail when “petted” the right way.
Another such robot, PARO, a furry, seal-shaped machine that purrs and vibrates as it is stroked, has been shown to have a number of positive effects on elderly people, such as reducing anxiety, increasing social behaviors and counteracting loneliness.
Dolls can have a deep and lasting psychological impact on young people. Psychotherapist Laurel Wider, for example, became concerned about the gendered messages that her son was receiving in social settings about how boys were not supposed to cry or really show many feelings at all.
She then founded a new toy company to create dolls that could help nurture empathy in boys. As Wider says, these dolls are “like a peer, an equal, but also small enough, vulnerable enough, to where a child could also want to take care of him.”
Outsourcing social life?
Not everyone welcomes the influence these dolls have come to have on our lives. Critics of these dolls argue they outsource some of humanity’s most basic social skills. Humans, they argue, need other humans to teach them about gender norms, and provide companionship – not dolls and robots.
MIT’s Sherry Turkle, for example, somewhat famously dissents from the praise given to these mechanical imitations. Turkle has long been working at the human-machine interface. Over the years, she has become more skeptical about the roles we assign these mechanical tools.
When confronted with patients using PARO, she found herself “profoundly depressed” at society’s resort to machines as companions, when humans should be spending more time with other humans.
Teaching us to be humans?
It’s hard to disagree with Turkle’s concerns, but that’s not the point. What I argue is that as humans, we share a deep connection with such dolls. The new wave of dolls and robots are instrumental in motivating further questions about who we are as humans.
Given the technological advances, people are asking whether robots “can have feelings,” “be Jewish” or “make art.”
When people attempt to answer these questions, they must first reflect on what it means for humans to have feelings, be Jewish and make art.
Some academics go so far as to argue that humans have always been cyborgs, always a mixture of human biological bodies and technological parts.
As philosophers like Andy Clark have argued, “our tools are not just external props and aids, but they are deep and integral parts of the problem-solving systems we now identify as human intelligence.”
Technologies are not in competition with humans. In fact, technology is the divine breath, the animating, ensouling force of Homo sapiens. And, in my view, dolls are vital technological tools that find their way into devotional lives, workplaces and social spaces.
As we create, we are simultaneously being created.
Magnetic bacteria and their unique superpower attract researchers
September 13, 2018
Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Materials Science and Engineering, Stanford University
Andy Tay does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
As a graduate student in the 1970s, microbiologist Richard Blakemore probably wasn’t expecting to discover a new bacterial species with a never-before-seen ability. While studying bacteria that live in muddy swamps, he observed that some tended to swim reliably toward the same geographical direction. Even when he rotated the microscope, they persisted in wiggling toward one direction. After confirming that their swimming behaviors were unaffected by light, Blakemore suspected they might be responding to the weak magnetic fields naturally present on Earth.
After further tests and observations, Blakemore confirmed the bacteria were reacting to magnetism. He published a landmark paper in the journal Science in 1975 introducing magnetotactic bacteria to the wider world. Later, researchers realized that another scientist, Salvatore Bellini, had previously discovered magnetotactic bacteria, but his work received scant attention because it hadn’t been archived.
In the decades since, scientists have continued to study how these tiny magnetic creatures behave. Of course it’s just cool to learn more about these unique single-celled organisms. But researchers like me are also figuring out ways to harness their magnetic properties in medical and other engineering applications.
Watch magnetotactic bacteria dance as the magnetic field around them changes direction.
What makes them living magnets?
You’ve probably stuck a magnet to the metal door of a refrigerator before. This unique group of prokaryotes basically contain super tiny versions of those fridge magnets. They pack either iron-oxide or iron-sulfide molecules into highly dense structures known as magnetic nanoparticles.
Each nanoparticle is about 100,000 times smaller than a grain of rice. Magnetotactic bacteria produce them in different shapes: bullet, rectangular and spherical. Researchers aren’t sure of a reason for this variation, but a possible explanation is that differently shaped particles can interact differently with magnetic fields.
By clustering and aligning in chains, these magnetic nanoparticles enable magnetotactic bacteria to respond even to the weak magnetic fields of the Earth – a strength of about 0.5 Gauss, as opposed to the 100 Gauss of a refrigerator magnet.
Where did magnetotactic bacteria come from?
There are two main proposals for how magnetotactic bacteria emerged on Earth.
The first hypothesis suggests that this group of bacteria evolved a couple billion years ago, in a time of increasingly abundant oxygen. As the oxygen reacted with iron, the amount of iron dissolved in the oceans decreased.
Living things need iron for metabolic activities such as respiration, so bacteria started storing it to prevent coming up short in times of scarcity. But high concentrations of freely diffusing iron are toxic for cells.
The idea is that evolution favored bacteria that wound up crystallizing iron into nanoparticles and wrapped a lipid membrane around them to form magnetosomes.
An alternative explanation is more widely accepted by biologists. It’s based on the observation that magnetotactic bacteria grow best in environments like the swamps where they were first discovered – places with very limited oxygen, at concentrations as low as 1 to 2 percent.
As a magnetotactic bacterium moves through a swampy bog, it’s likely to encounter sand or soil particles that could obstruct its path. A bacterium can actively use its flagellum – a whip-like appendage that propels it while swimming – to move past these sediments to reach its preferred growth environment.
But in some cases, the flagellum might not be powerful enough. Magnetic particles can provide some additional force for these bacteria, allowing them to make use of Earth’s magnetic field for navigation and a little extra thrust forward. Magnetosomes allow for more effective navigation.
Isolating and using magnetic genes in the lab
For many years, scientists have been trying to determine whether animals including bees, sea turtles, sharks and pigeons are magneto-sensitive. Could this possible sense – called magnetoreception – help them with amazing feats of navigation? So far studies have been mostly inconclusive.
Studying simpler organisms like the magnetotactic bacteria might be one way to better understand how genes regulate biomagnetism.
By creating mutations in the lab, microbiologists [have identified genes] that enable magnetotactic bacteria to produce magnetic nanoparticles. They’ve also found genes that control the nanoparticles’ size, shape and alignment in these bacteria.
One possible application is to use these magnetic genes as a tool to manipulate cells in a non-invasive way. They could allow a researcher to wirelessly control a cell.
Magnetogenetics could build on the technique of optogenetics, a method that uses light to precisely manipulate cell activities. For instance, a researcher can trigger a genetically engineered neuron to fire by exposing it to light. Light cannot penetrate very far through tissue, though, so it can’t get into deep brain regions or the gut, for instance.
Magnetic fields, on the other hand, easily penetrate bodily tissues. By engineering magnetic cells and manipulating them, scientists hope to learn more about the functions of specific cell types. Ultimately this knowledge could help treat diseases.
Scientists haven’t yet had any success in creating magnetic cells, except in one strain of photosynthetic bacterium. Reports of creating magnetic mammalian cells are controversial. So far they only contain super-tiny magnetic nanoparticles that are randomly distributed in the cells.
My colleagues and I worked on a way to help figure out which magnetism-related mutations might be useful. First, we used chemicals to randomly generate mutant bacteria with different numbers of magnetic nanoparticles. Then, using a magnetic device we developed that has unprecedented sensitivity, we were able to sort and separate mutants with no nanoparticles and those with up to three times more than the normal number.
We hope to use our mutation-selection protocol to generate a library of mutants that we can then genetically sequence. Ultimately we want to identify the minimum number of genes we’d need to introduce into a mammalian cell to make it magnetic. Then we could manipulate its activity in deep tissues non-invasively using magnetic fields.
Harnessing their magnetic powers
Magnetotactic bacteria have useful applications even without genetic tweaking.
Researchers have used these bacteria as microrobots for delivering drugs and for removing toxic metals from water. The magnetic nanoparticles they synthesize have also been used in biomedical applications, including targeted drug delivery and killing cancer cells via generated heat, called hyperthermia.
It could be helpful to produce magnetotactic bacteria and magnetosomes on a large scale, particularly the mutants that overproduce magnetic nanoparticles. But scaling up has been difficult so far.
When cultured in large bioreactors, individuals at the top and bottom of the tank experience different amounts of hydrostatic pressure. This can cause them to grow slower and produce fewer nanoparticles. To overcome this problem, I designed a magnetic microfluidic system that can continually sort the bacteria based on their magnetic contents.
The device consists of a few superfine channels. When magnetotactic bacteria flow in, they experience upward magnetic forces. Only individuals with a user-determined cutoff number of magnetic nanoparticles are collected, while bacteria that failed to reach the mark are disposed of.
This high-throughput cell separation platform allows me to continue culturing only the healthy bacteria which are producing a large number of magnetic nanoparticles. It’s an important step that will help scientists conduct further research in the lab with these intriguing organisms.
How meteorologists predict the next big hurricane
September 12, 2018
Professor of Meteorology, Florida State University
Associate Professor of Meteorology, Florida State University
Mark Bourassa has received support from NASA and NOAA.
Vasu Misra receives funding from NOAA, NSF, NASA
Florida State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Hurricane Florence is heading toward the U.S. coast, right at the height of hurricane season.
Hurricanes can cause immense damage due to the winds, waves and rain, not to mention the chaos as the general population prepares for severe weather.
The latter is getting more relevant, as the monetary damage from disasters is trending up. The growing coastal population and infrastructure, as well as rising sea level, likely contribute to this increase in costs of damage.
This makes it all the more imperative to get early and accurate forecasts out to the public, something researchers like us are actively contributing to.
Hurricane forecasts have traditionally focused on predicting a storm’s track and intensity. The track and size of the storm determine which areas may be hit. To do so, forecasters use models – essentially software programs, often run on large computers.
Unfortunately, no single forecast model is consistently better than other models at making these predictions. Sometimes these forecasts show dramatically different paths, diverging by hundreds of miles. Other times, the models are in close agreement. In some cases, even when models are in close agreement, the small differences in track have very large differences in storm surge, winds and other factors that impact damage and evacuations.
What’s more, several empirical factors in the forecast models are either determined under laboratory conditions or in isolated field experiments. That means that they may not necessarily fully represent the current weather event.
So, forecasters use a collection of models to determine a likely range of tracks and intensities. Such models include the NOAA’s Global Forecast System and European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts global models.
The FSU Superensemble was developed by a group at our university, led by meteorologist T.N. Krishnamurti, in the early 2000s. The Superensemble combines output from a collection of models, giving more weight to the models that showed better predicted past weather events, such as Atlantic tropical cyclone events.
A forecaster’s collection of models can be made larger by tweaking the models and slightly changing the starting conditions. These perturbations attempt to account for uncertainty. Meteorologists cannot know the exact state of the atmosphere and the ocean at the time of the start of the model. For example, tropical cyclones are not observed well enough to have sufficient detail about winds and rain. For another example, the sea surface temperature is cooled by the passage of a storm, and if the area remains cloud-covered these cooler waters are much less likely to be observed by satellite.
Over the past decade, track forecasts have steadily improved. A plethora of observations – from satellites, buoys and aircraft flown into the developing storm – allow scientists to better understand the environment around a storm, and in turn improve their models. Some models have improved by as much as 40 percent for some storms.
However, forecasts of intensity have improved little over the last several decades.
That’s partly because of the metric chosen to describe the intensity of a tropical cyclone. Intensity is often described in terms of peak wind speed at a height of 10 meters above the surface. To measure it, operational forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami look at the maximum, one-minute average wind speed observed at any given point in the tropical cyclone.
However, it’s extremely difficult for a model to estimate the maximum wind speed of a tropical cyclone at any given future time. Models are inexact in their descriptions of the entire state of the atmosphere and ocean at the start time of the model. Small-scale features of tropical cyclones – like sharp gradients in rainfall, surface winds and wave heights within and outside of the tropical cyclones – are not as reliably captured in the forecast models.
Both atmospheric and ocean characteristics can influence storm intensity. Scientists now think that better information about the ocean could offer the the greatest gains in forecast accuracy. Of specific interest is the energy stored in the upper ocean and how this varies with ocean features such as eddies. Current observations are not sufficiently effective at placing ocean eddies in the correct location, nor are they effective in capturing the size of these eddies. For conditions where the atmosphere doesn’t severely limit hurricane growth, this oceanic information should be very valuable.
Meanwhile, forecasters are pursuing alternative and complementary metrics, like the size of tropical cyclones.