Scientific Chicago with Rabiah Mayas

Rabiah Mayas of the Museum of Science and Industry is back with a review of some of the latest local and national science stories that have caught her eye, including the future of commercial space travel and identifying food poisoning via Twitter. 

The Future of Space Exploration

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An unmanned rocket filled with supplies for the International Space Station exploded shortly after liftoff on Oct. 28. The Antares rocket, built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, exploded seconds after launching from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, according to The Antares rocket was carrying Orbital’s unmanned Cygnus spacecraft, which was filled with 5,000 pounds of food, scientific experiments and other supplies. The combined value of the Antares and Cygnus lost during the explosion is estimated at about $200 million. Orbital Sciences launched its first official cargo mission to the space station in January and a second cargo mission in July—both of which were successful. Officials with NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and Orbital, are investigating the Oct. 28 incident.

Watch a video of the Antares launch and explosion.



Three days after the Antares explosion, the VSS Enterprise, a rocket-powered space plane owned by Virgin Galactic, crashed during a test flight over Mojave, Calif. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident and is focusing on why the co-pilot unlocked the ship’s movable tail section early, according to Reuters. Shortly after the tail was unlocked, the spacecraft began to swivel outward, which likely caused the spacecraft to break up. 

On Friday, the movie Interstellar starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain hits theaters. In the film, a group of astronauts must find a new planet hospitable to humankind after governments and economies collapse on Earth and food is scarce.

Watch a trailer for the movie.



New ALS Research from Northwestern University

This summer’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge brought heightened awareness and interest in the disease, including the need to expand research and funding. Northwestern Medicine scientists have developed the first animal model for ALS dementia, which affects 5 percent or more of ALS cases. This model will allow researchers to see the brains of living mice, under anesthesia, at the microscopic level, giving researchers the ability to monitor test drugs and determine whether they work. The scientists have reproduced the behavioral, neurophysiological and pathological changes in a mouse that mimic the form of dementia associated with ALS. 

Identifying Food Poisoning via Twitter

Foodborne Chicago is searching Twitter for tweets about people getting food poisoning. It was developed by Smart Chicago Collaborative, and since March 23, 2013, the Foodborne Chicago app has classified 3,588 “food poison” tweets.

“The idea for Foodborne Chicago began in two ways, in two threads. One was a technical thread that began when former Chief Data Officer Brett Goldstein convened a group of technologists called the Twitter classification page,” said Dan O’Neil, executive director of Smart Chicago Collaborative. “The second thread of how Foodborne Chicago came about—I did some work with Dr. Bechara Choucair, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health. He monitored in an unofficial way tweets in Chicago that use the phrase 'food poisoning,' and he did a relatively ingenious method using a simple tool called Hootsuite. I said, wow that’s pretty cool. Let’s formalize this and make it more effective in generating legitimate structured service requests with the City of Chicago of possible cases of foodborne illnesses.”

Foodborne Chicago uses Twitter’s API to search for tweets originating in Chicago that contained the phrase “food poisoning.” If a tweet meets certain criteria, a project staff member will reply to the tweet and provide a link to a web form to report the food poisoning. That web form is sent directly to the City’s Open311 system that handles non-emergency city services.

Watch a video about food poisoning and how Foodborne Chicago works.


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