Education & Training : Children


Modified Newton’s Cradle Demonstrating Mechanical Impedance

A Physics professor and inventor at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater has developed a modified Newton’s Cradle that allows the user to visualize and test the concept of mechanical impedance in addition to momentum and energy conservation. The traditional version of Newton’s cradle has a cradle of identical metal spheres. In this modified and improved device, the user is able to interchange these spheres with ones of varying mass and material composition. By allowing the user to strategically align and create a unique cradle, they have the opportunity to visualize mechanical impedance. For example, a sphere with a small mass would have the ability to strike the cradle and lift a sphere of greater mass on the opposite side if the spheres in-between had a gradient of increasing mass themselves. The possibility of changing a sphere at any position in the cradle allows for an exceptionally large number of possible experiments and would overall lead to an enhanced understanding of the aforementioned physics concepts, something a traditional cradle device does not provide for.

Method and System for Rapid and Reliable Testing of Speech Intelligibility in Children

A UW-Madison researcher has developed an improved system for testing the speech intelligibility of a child in a simulated noisy environment. A set of spoken target words is presented to a child in the presence and absence of competing sounds of different types and at varied locations. The child responds to the target word by selecting a picture representation of the word from among several choices. Optionally, positive or negative reinforcement may be provided. The sound level at which the target words are presented may vary adaptively according to the child’s responses. The test is repeated using several spoken target words under many types and locations of competing sounds, and the child’s responses are recorded in a database. This system should predict a child’s ability to function in a complex environment, such as a classroom.

New Tools for Student Training and Gene Discovery/Trait Improvement in Plants

UW–Madison researchers used a selective breeding program to create a self-compatible (can propagate via self-pollination) analog of a self-incompatible variety of B. rapa.

Seeds of the self-incompatible variety are used by educators in 88 countries around the world (estimated sales ~15 million seeds/year) to provide students with a hands-on, inquiry-based approach to enhance their understanding of plant biology and general biological principles. However, the obligatory outcrossing reproductive habit of existing plants essentially precludes extension of the biology curriculum to the realms of molecular biology and genomics.

The new self-compatible and highly inbred (hence true-breeding) variety circumvents those limitations while providing a familiar classroom model system whose growth habits—compact stature, rapid progression from seed to progeny seeds, vigorous growth with minimal material inputs—are of high value to educators and plant breeders alike.

With the reference strain in hand, UW researchers have developed a suite of derivative lines and genetic/genomic resources that include:
  1. A diverse collection of mutant derivatives whose phenotypes are provocative and clearly distinct from the parental strain, and whose transmission from parental to progeny generations epitomizes fundamental Mendelian genetic principles of inheritance;
  2. PCR-based molecular genetic markers that enable localization and molecular characterization of mutant/variant alleles;
  3. A DNA sequence assembly that describes the nucleotide sequences of the ~40,000 genes encoded by the B. rapa genome;
  4. Several RNA-Seq data sets useful to understand genome-wide patterns of gene expression; and
  5. Advance Intercross Recombinant Inbred Lines with demonstrated utility for identification of B. rapa genes that modify the expression of quantitative genetic traits.

As an integrated collection of resources, this plant model system will be of considerable use to both educators and agricultural biotechnology firms interested in identifying lead gene candidates for enhancement of agronomically important traits.