McCormick Magazine

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McCormick in the Media


Infolab's Statsmonkey Makes Some Journalists Nervous

Sportwriters have competition, thanks to new software being developed by the Intelligent Information Laboratory directed by Kris Hammond, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and Larry Birnbaum, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science. StatsMonkey takes the box score from a baseball game and generates a short news story that identifies key players and plays.

But as Hammond explained on NPR’s All Things Considered, sports journalists shouldn’t start job hunting just yet. “We’re really aiming this at a genuinely local audience,” he says. “We’re trying to write the stories no one else is writing. We could literally write a story for every single Little League game played in this country. That means every kid, every dad, every family, every grandma would see the story of what the kid is doing.”

StatsMonkey was developed as part of a unique course that paired undergraduate computer science students with graduate students from the Medill School of Journalism. Other projects included new iPhone apps and better ways to integrate Twitter into online news.

Brockmann's Research Featured on CBS Show NUMB3RS

The crime: A group of thieves has been stealing lottery tickets from locations around town. The question: Where will they strike next? The solution: Dirk Brockmann’s research.

At least that’s how things work in the CBS show NUMB3RS, which follows an FBI agent and his math genius brother as they solve crimes using, as the name suggests, numbers. In the episode that aired on January 8, investigators used fractional diffusion equations from “Dirk Brockmann’s work with human mobility networks” to determine the area where the thieves will strike next.

Brockmann, associate professor of engineering sciences and applied mathematics at the McCormick School, has employed data from, a site where users enter the serial numbers from dollar bills to track their travels, to find the patterns and regularities that govern human mobility. From that information Brockmann was able to reconstruct a comprehensive multiscale human mobility network for the United States that includes small-scale daily commuting traffic, intermediate traffic, and long-distance travel by air.

Brockmann has used this network to model how diseases spread and to create a map of large-scale community boundaries in the United States, different from those defined by administrative state-line boundaries. He hasn’t applied it to fighting crime — yet.

Scientists Use Bacteria to Power Microgears

GearsScientists at Northwestern and Argonne National Laboratory have discovered that common bacteria can turn microgears when suspended in a solution.

Researchers placed microgears with slanted spokes in a solution along with a common aerobic bacteria, Bacillus subtilis. They discovered that the bacteria (a million times smaller than the gears) appear to swim around the solution randomly but occasionally will collide with the spokes of the gears and begin turning them in a definite direction.

The work was first published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and then featured in publications such as the New York Times and Popular Science.

“This provides the first demonstration that useful energy can be harnessed from random and otherwise wasteful motions of bacteria,” said Bartosz Grzybowski, a senior coauthor of the paper and the Kenneth Burgess Professor of Physical Chemistry and Chemical Systems Engineering as well as director of the Non-equilibrium Energy Research Center at Northwestern. “If this technology is further optimized, one could envision generating some useful power from bugs swimming in contaminated waters.”

—Megan Fellman