SCI/TECH: Augmented reality makes its way into daily lives

by Christina Dougherty, Brenda Nguyen—

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Augmented reality is merging its way into everyday technology, providing more accessibility and convenience to users.

Augmented reality is when technology can produce computer-generated images on a user’s view of the real world. Though seemingly advanced, this technology is now available on most smartphones.

The world was introduced to an app in 2016 called “Pokémon Go”, an interactive game that allows players to “catch” the creatures in their area. This app gained great success, and really introduced augmented reality to a wide range of people.

Augmented reality is not only good for entertainment purposes, but for convenience as well. These apps are downloaded with a simple click on your smartphone. Augmented Reality is making its way into medicine as well, changing the way surgeons perform medical procedures.

Join us in this podcast as we discuss how augmented reality became well-known and to where the technology is expanding into our lives now.

A powerful marketing tool

Blacksburg, Va., April 22 – Apps: Popularity of social media applications continues to grow. Along with their rise, small businesses owners must learn how to market their businesses appropriately on different platforms. Photo: Molly Bryant


by Molly Bryant–

The rise of social media has made it essential for small businesses to consider using platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as powerful marketing tools for their success. According to research done on Statista, the United States has the largest social media advertising market in the world and Sprout Social says 94 percent of small businesses are now using social media.

While it is a step in the right direction for small businesses to create platforms to keep consumers informed, it is also essential to now use those same pages to promote their businesses. Posts with promotional pieces, giveaways and current deals are just a few ways to use social media for marketing. By posting incentives for customers, businesses can see a rise in sales and customer traffic both in stores and online.

Dr. Doris Kincade, a professor at Virginia Tech, teaches a course called “Small Business Apparel” in which she teaches students what it takes to start-up a small business of their own. One of the topics she covers in the course deals with the most beneficial marketing tools for small businesses, and how to make the most of what is available while still remaining conscious of the tight budget that comes along with starting a small business.

According to Kincade, the popularity of social media and the number of users it has today influenced her to incorporate a social media marketing lecture into her class syllabus.

“Social media can be an inexpensive way to reach lots of potential customers. Be sure to know your customer and tailor your marketing to the customer,” Kincade says.

As Kincade emphasizes to her students, social media has become so powerful because of the number of people it has the ability to reach. According to a recent study, there are 2.46 billion active social media users and the average internet user has eight social media accounts.

Virginia Tech student Steven Nguyen says social media has become an integral part of promoting his family’s business.

“My family owns a nail salon in the Northern Virginia area. Since nail salons are so popular, it can be really hard to work up a reputation good enough for people to choose your business over another that offers the same services in the same area,” Nguyen says.

Nguyen created and now runs the social media accounts for the family’s nail salon. Between Facebook and Instagram alone, he truly believes the salon has seen a steady increase in business since the pages have been up and running.

By creating posts about promotions and weekly specials, Nguyen has learned the do’s and don’ts of advertising on social media.

“I have really figured out the best ways to draw attention to our nail salon to make it the most appealing it can be to customers,” he says. Nguyen emphasizes the great impact social media has had on the family business and recommends that others learn the best ways to promote their businesses as well.

As social media continues to grow, it is vital that small business owners educate themselves on its benefits. It not only allows the business to promote itself but also reaches more people than any other form of marketing. Social media is becoming essential to a business’s success and survival.

Social Media Marketing Tool

SCI/TECH: SpaceX’s next steps

by Amber Miller, Stephen Newman, Ryan Dye–

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Space exploration leader SpaceX recently used a rocket to send a supply capsule to the International Space Station…for the second time.

The Block 4 Falcon 9 rocket was first launched into space in April of 2017. After detaching from the cargo it was carrying, it was guided down and landed on an un-manned SpaceX drone ship off the coast of Florida.

The rocket was then recovered, refurbished and sent into space again earlier this week. And just as the first time, it landed bullseye on the ship.

These rockets were only designed to be launched up to two times, but SpaceX will next launch the Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket, which according to Elon Musk can potentially be relaunched up to 100 times.

This breakthrough could dramatically cut the cost of space exploration and could lead to Musk’s ultimate goal of putting one million people on Mars in the next 40-100 years.

SCI/TECH: Does privacy exist in the digital age?

by Josh Henry, Cathrine Irvin, Miguel Pineda–

Young hipster worker typing on laptop keyboard in office
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On March 17 the world learned, again, that your private information online isn’t always kept that way. The New York Times and UK’s The Guardian reported that the voter profiling company Cambridge Analytica had hijacked information from over 50 million facebook users to create tactics used to benefit political campaigns in 2014 and 2016. Psychological profiles were amassed and passed around to the campaigns Cambridge Analytica was paid to support.

We now live in an era where breaches of privacy are becoming more and more common as technology advances and companies seek to find new ways to make money. Your smartphone can hear you, Amazon Alexa can laugh at you, and if you search hard enough for something it will eventually pop up in an add.

In this new age of technology people value their privacy more and more. In this week’s science and technology podcast Josh, Catherine, and Miguel go over the idea of modern privacy and if what is happening with technology is changing the definition of it.

SCI/TECH: iPhone X redefines technology

by Harvey Creasy, Mary Desmond, Alexis Johnson–

Photo credit: MarkGregory007 via / CC BY-NC-SA


Every fall, Silicon Valley tech giant Apple, Inc., unveils new products. This fall, the iPhone X [read: iPhone 10] was released — in addition to several other products. While the other new phones and computers were more customary updates to old devices, the iPhone X is entirely new. A larger screen, a glass back, and for the first time ever, no home button.

Many customers were just getting used to Apple’s 2013 home button, which integrated a fingerprint scanner. This allowed the phone’s owner to unlock it without entering a pass code. Without a button to scan fingerprints, how will iPhone X owners unlock their phones securely and with ease? Now, they’ll use their face.

The newest iPhone uses an infrared camera sensor to detect the owner’s unique facial features. This change will take more getting used to by Apple users, but the company is confident people will adjust.

A new iPhone X starts at $999 and comes in two colors — white and space gray.


It’s the end of the library as we know it

by Humberto Zarco–

Blacksburg, Va., Oct. 22 – Design the Future: The 3-D Design Studio at Newman Library offers patrons free access to 3-D printers and 3-D printing workshops. It is one of seven cutting-edge studios meant to give patrons a space to collaborate and create.

BLACKSBURG, Va. – For many, the perception is that in the digital age, the library is still just a place with bookshelves. Virginia Tech librarian Craig Arthur is working to change that at his alma mater.

Arthur, a first-year experience and community engagement librarian, believes Newman Library is becoming a place where students not only receive information but also create it. “We’re trying to position ourselves as not only the place that has the resources you need for your research,” Arthur said. “But also the place for collaboration and creation.”

Newman Library is home to an impressive collection of traditional resources like books, newspapers, magazines and DVDs. But it has also made a concerted effort going forward to provide access to non-traditional resources like museum-caliber exhibits, sound booths and seven specialized, cutting-edge studios that are accessible to all library patrons.

For example, the 3-D Design Studio provides free access to 3-D printers and 3-D printing workshops. Another studio provides various virtual reality and augmented reality experiences. Patrons can even design and test out their own VR and AR prototype projects. The fact that Silicon Valley-based Oculus, a company specializing in VR has made 100 of their Rift headsets and compatible PCs in 90 libraries throughout California to increase exposure to VR is a testament to its potential in the near future.

Newman Library also offers patrons amenities like a cafe, group study rooms and a nap pod located on the second floor. The nap pod was added earlier this year, and is especially useful for busy, sleep-deprived college students looking for a boost. According to the National Sleep Foundation, college students need seven to nine hours of sleep to function properly, but most only get about six.

Library graphic design specialist Trevor Finney believes this blend of the old and the new is the future of libraries and allows students to discover, envision and invent all under one roof. “The reimagining of that for the digital age is not so much a reimagining as it just a small shift,” Finney said. Ideally, patrons can use the traditional resources to discover, the cafe or nap pod to envision, and the studios to invent. “The library is the place where possibility lives,” Finney said.

However, libraries across the country are in trouble financially. The fact that so many books and articles are accessible via smartphone has disrupted their business. President Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate virtually all federal library funding, according to a 2017 Publishers Weekly article.

Craig Arthur believes the key to making libraries destinations again is becoming all-in-one spaces for learning, creating and sharing, and responding to student feedback. “I can think I know what students want,” Arthur said. “But unless I really ask them, I won’t know.”


Hokies versus Hurricanes

by Harvey Creasey–

Richmond, Va., Oct. 12 — Accepting Awards     Undergraduate researchers Hisyam Mohsin and Sophia Lee accept an award on behalf of the Flint Water Study Team. Photo courtesy of Sophia Lee.


Virginia Tech’s commitment to research and aid throughout the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, brought national attention to the university and its research team. With civil engineering professor Dr. Marc Edwards at the helm, the Flint study team is expanding its reach to areas affected by recent natural disasters.

In the last two months, the United States has seen Hurricane Harvey rip through Texas, Hurricane Irma ravage Florida, and Hurricane Maria topple much of Puerto Rico. In fact, according to CNN, Puerto Ricans have resorted to knowingly consuming potentially dangerous water in the storm’s aftermath.

But the Hokie team, which helped to blow the whistle on hazardous levels of lead in Flint’s tap water, is now taking samples from wells in Houston and parts of Florida. Already, samples from Houston wells have tested positive for E. coli, as well as fecal indicator bacteria.

“The immediate reaction is to send tons of bottled water so people don’t have to deal with this,” said Sophia Lee, one of the undergraduates on the research team. “At the end of the day, we need a solution.”

The E. coli and other bacteria infiltrating Texas drinking water is a direct result of flooding and runoff, and likely damage and breaking of pipes and wells. According to Texas A&M University, Virginia Tech’s partner in the Hurricane Harvey research, more than one million Texas cattle have died as a result of affected water. While humans have not been affected to the same degree, the chemical change in the water is significant.

In addition to working with Texas A&M, the research team has also partnered with the University of Florida to gather and analyze water samples. Members also still make frequent trips to Flint, which, according to Dr. Edwards, is improving.

“It is difficult to be working on so many places at one time,” said Hisyam Mohsin, another of the undergraduate researchers. Mohsin and Lee received the Community Engagement Award at the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) conference this month.

As was true for residents of Flint, residents of the hurricane-affected areas in Texas and Florida have received national support and resources. Tech’s research team will require another grant to work on Puerto Rico, however. According to Lee and Mohsin, the desire to help is no weaker for the US territory.


UPDATE: As of Tuesday, October 24, the Research Team will start testing samples from Puerto Rico. More details to come.


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Innovation comes to new spaces at Virginia Tech

Blacksburg, Va., Sept. 20 — Changes to Innovation Space: Innovation Space gets completely revamped over the summer to become a faculty-focused workspace. The room once full of stationary desks and large monitors is now collaborative pieces that can move around the space. Photo: Ashley Wills

by Ashley Wills–

For more than 20 years, Innovation Space was known as the go-to place for students to check out the latest equipment and use the latest digital technology, but now it has a new mission. Over the summer, Virginia Tech faculty at the Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies worked to completely revamp the space to become a collaborative learning area for faculty.

“As we support the faculty, the faculty get better at using teaching and learning in their technology and that ultimately impacts the student experience,” said Quinn Warnick, TLOS senior director of academic innovation.

Now, the site that once housed the latest technology will become a place where new technologies can be explored. According to Innovation Space’s website, it’s known as the Sandbox Project.

Warnick says the change better aligns with the TLOS mission.

“The Innovation Space was always the exception to TLOS’s primary mission,” Warnick said. “So the rest of TLOS was focused primarily on faculty and the Innovation Space was kind of our student-facing part of TLOS.”

The equipment once housed in Innovation Space can now be checked out at the Newman Library Circulation Desk, but the equipment is just a small part of the library’s bigger plan for the Digital Media Studio.

Patrick Tomlin, University Libraries director of learning environments,  says the space will operate much like Innovation Space but with several updates to the technology.

“Currently, there is no space on campus dedicated to digital media production that’s just for students, so we want it to answer that immediate need,” Tomlin said.

The new studio will join the library’s other studios including the 3D Design Studio, Virtual Environments Studio, Data Visualization Studio and Fusion Studio.

“Each of these studios has their own focus and services, but they are all predicated on a similar service model — we want to lower the barrier for students to embrace creative, inspiring enterprises, hands-on research and emerging technologies,” Tomlin said.

According to the Digital Media Studio website, the new studio will be located on the fourth floor of Newman Library. Tomlin expects it to open January 2018.

Local lab aims to improve water quality

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Blacksburg, Va., May 3-Rippling River: Strouble’s Creek, which runs through Virginia Tech’s campus, has been listed as an impaired waterway since 2000. Photo: Stephen Dixon

by Stephen Dixon, Sidney Cook–

Stroubles Creek is a waterway that runs underneath the town of Blacksburg and flows into the Duck Pond. It is also an important tributary to the New River and provides water for a variety of plant and animal life in the region. However, in 2000 the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality registered the creek as an impaired waterway.

In order to constantly collect data on Stroubles Creek to know the full extent of its impairment, Virginia Tech formed the LEWAS Lab. The LEWAS, or Learning Enhanced Watershed Assessment System, uses instruments to measure the flow rate, pH level, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, depth and temperature. According to their website, it also has WiFi capability so that the live data updates in real time.

Dr. Daniel Brogan, a postdoctoral associate for the LEWAS Lab, developed the user interface for the data and works on how to best educate the public. He has been presenting the interface in classes at Virginia Tech and seven other institutions. He believes that “having access to this interactive, live data increases students’ motivation and learning about environmental monitoring issues.”

While college students make up a large part of the program, having access to this data is important for all members of the New River Valley. Brogan has also attended science fairs around the area to help educate the youth in the community. He noted that educating people when they are young is a key component to ensuring that they are environmentally conscious through their adult lives.

While the LEWAS Lab mostly focuses on measuring data of Stroubles Creek, the StREAM Lab does more in terms of reducing the sediment and bacteria loadings in the stream. According to StREAM’s website, their goal is to “remove Stroubles Creek from the Clean Water Act list of impaired waters.”

Dr. Cully Hession, the lab director, noted that since 2009 the lab has excluded livestock from stream access, planted riparian zones and installed bioretention cells at the Blacksburg Community Center and Foxridge Apartments. However, there is still much to be done in order to accomplish the goal of removing Stroubles Creek from the list of impaired waters.  Starting this summer, Hession will partner with the Stroubles Creek Restoration Initiative and work with a $6,000 grant from the VT Green RFP program.

While not necessarily working together, Dr. Brogan and Dr. Hession both share a common passion for educating the public about this issue.

“The more people that know about the problems in this creek and know that it’s there, the more that people will care,” Dr. Hession said.

In the end, that is exactly what Dr. Brogan is doing as well, communicating the data effectively in order to educate the public.

Tap and go

by Erik Van Pelt, Rachel Hale–

Virginia Tech recently launched a new mobile food ordering application. Students now have the ability to order food from specific shops in Turner Place dining hall using their smartphones. Dining Services at Virginia Tech have partnered with Tapingo, a smartphone app designed to offer mobile payment at college style dining halls.

The innovative new systems have been adopted at Turner Place as a small-scale launch for the service, which will have widespread availability on the majority of on-campus dining halls in Fall of 2017.

Launching the app early allows both Dining Services and students a grace period to become familiar with the process and ensure that it will run smoothly in the future.

“There was definitely a learning curve when we first started using it,” said Olivia Jansce, an employee at Bruegger’s Bagels. Jansce was part of the first group of employees who had to learn the process of using a phone application for payment rather than a card. She explained they had to learn not only the technicalities of using the app but also the demands of it in terms of labor.

Employees have to service their in-store customers while also keeping up with orders coming in digitally. This process involves adapting new methods of prioritization and efficiency, for employees.

The purpose of the new program is to streamline dining services, offering patrons the same high-quality product with a much shorter waiting time.

“I’ve used it a few times to order from Bruegger’s and it’s saved me a lot of time,” said Virginia Tech senior Josh Wallis.

Students at Virginia Tech frequent the dining halls in large crowds during the time windows in between classes. These rushes can overwhelm dining facilities causing backups and delays; the institution of mobile ordering is aimed at mitigating these backups and providing a more convenient experience for diners.

The introduction of the app is not designed to generate a larger customer base, just a more efficient experience for current customers.

According to the Princeton Review, an independent college ranking service, Virginia Tech ranks fourth in the nation for best dining services. The ranking system is based on comprehensive criteria that include things like quality of food, service, range of choice and health standards.

Virginia Tech is ahead of the curve with the introduction of the app. Only a handful of other schools afford the same luxury to their students.

Students at Virginia Tech can download the app online or in any major smartphone app store. Dining Services expects a seamless transition in the Fall when the service goes full-scale, and hope to continue their high standards of service to students.