Out of a Scientific Jam
every twitch and turn of 2-inch caterpillars as they shed their
skin is enough to make even the most dedicated researcher squirm. But
Assistant Professor of Biology Megumi Fuse and her students, who scrutinize
insect behavior, have been aided by colleagues in the Computer Science
Department. The collaboration is one of many already under way through
SFSU’s new Center for Computing for Life Sciences (CCLS).
her students study how the neural system of the tobacco hornworm, actually
a caterpillar, regulates itself during molts. The process, known as
neuromodulation, is important for all species and essential to memory
and perception in humans. Disruption of this process is associated with
brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
SFSU computer scientists Rahul Singh and Ilmi Yoon and their students
collaborated with the Fuse lab to create a software program and 3-D
world in which every neural nuance of this caterpillar’s molt
was tracked, measured and noted as it wriggled out of its old skin.
"Human eyes are very good at tracking," Singh says. "They
can continue to track objects moving quickly or slowly, even if there
are changes in the shape of the object or changes in lighting or even
if the object is partly obscured." But this is tedious work that
would be better served by what Singh calls "vision-based robotics."
CCLS is part of a University-wide strategy to encourage and support
interdisciplinary research and education. Dragutin Petkovic, chair of
the Computer Science Department, points out that collaboration with
industrial partners is a key component of the center. In June 2005 SFSU
computer science and oceanography researchers teamed with Sun Microsystems
and Agilent Technologies to produce the Networked Bay Environmental
Assessment Monitoring System (NetBEAMS). The sensor-based system monitors
and transmits oceanographic information such as salinity and temperature
from remote locations at sea using wireless networks. Any scientist,
commercial fisher or casual boater with a laptop or cell phone can now
get the latest on San Francisco Bay conditions at www.netbeams.org.