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Former Steeler partners with Pitt to launch new sports medicine company

When it comes to dealing with injuries, elite athletes have access to the best in rehabilitation technology. Now with the help of a retired football great, the University of Pittsburgh hopes to make the same grade of treatment available to the public.

Former Pittsburgh Steeler and businessman Charlie Batch, along with his three partners, joined with the University of Pittsburgh and its Innovation Institute to launch a wellness, fitness, human-performance, and rehabilitation-focused company. The Pittsburgh-based startup, called Impellia, will develop and commercialize technologies from Pitt and around the country.

To Evan Facher, director of enterprise development for the Innovation Institute, Batch's influence will help their commitment to improving public health and furthering the city's image as a hub for emerging technology and science.

"Because of the profile that he has and the good work that he's done, he can open a lot of doors for the company and the university as well," says Facher.

As part of the new relationship, Batch and the rest of the Impellia team -- which includes tech-savvy business professionals Richard Walker, Dave Morin, and Ed Kim -- completed option agreements for three distinct Pitt innovations. Physical therapists can help improve their patients' physical rehabilitation with the joint-function monitoring tool, interACTION. For knee injuries, there's PIVOT, a program that can quantitatively assess the pivot shift test, a clinical exam for diagnosing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. And the Versatile and Integrated System for Telerehabilitation (VISYTER) software platform provides a secure, integrated system that allows doctors to make diagnoses remotely with high-quality videoconferencing, access to electronic health records, and other tools.

"If you put all these things together, you have a company that can really do some novel rehabilitation and sports medicine," says Facher.

The inventions were edged toward commercialization by Pitt faculty members and the Innovation Institute, which is dedicated to promoting and fostering innovation, commercialization, and entrepreneurship. But as Facher explains, the process still requires an outsider like Impellia to come in and market the technology. To that end, he believes that Batch and his team bring a level of expertise that will help transform Pitt research into real innovations for years to come.

"In the past, they've taken university technologies and been successful at developing them," says Facher. "So it's a team that we believe in and would like to continue to do more with and build off of."

Who's hiring in PGH? Astrobotic, Qeexo and more

Each week, Pop City scours the web to bring you fulfilling career opportunities in Pittsburgh. Employers, if you have a job opening or internship you would like to promote, please email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. Hit us up on Twitter @popcitypgh if our job listings put you on the path to success.

Astrobotic, a space logistics company specializing in affordable commercial space robotics technology, is hiring multiple positions, including a director of marketing and communications, a senior software engineer, and an avionics engineer.

Astrobotic recently accepted a third Milestone Prize from the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. The $1 million victory, in addition to two previous wins, brings the secured prize money total to $1.75 million.

“These three Milestones are big for us,” says Astrobotic CEO John Thornton. “It’s acknowledgement of a lot of tough work.”

Based in the Strip District, Astrobotic formed in 2008 shortly after the XPRIZE competition was announced. Since then, the company has competed with five other teams by showing off various components of their commercial robotic lunar rover.

The recent achievement brings Astrobotic closer to its goal of sending a robotic rover to the moon in 2016.

Community-based organization Larimer Consensus Group is seeking a neighborhood improvement specialist. Requirements include a valid driver’s license, access to a vehicle, and the ability to work occasional evenings and weekends. Please send current resume and up to three professional references to the Larimer Consensus Group Hiring Committee at mmaeda@kingsleyassociation.org.

PennFuture, a statewide public interest membership organization, is hiring a full-time director of outreach. The qualified candidate will manage PennFuture's issue campaigns, organize coalition efforts, and maintain relationships with policymakers, members of the organization, and the public. PennFuture is also looking for a donor relations intern.

Qeexo, a company that specializes in touchscreen technology, is hiring multiple positions, including a project manager and a software engineer, for its Pittsburgh office.

Mobile commerce platform Branding Brand is hiring for multiple positions, including a communications and events coordinator, a project manager, and a software engineer/web developer.

Dick's Sporting Goods is hiring an assistant graphics designer to work on the development of packaging, collateral and product branding. Requires a B.A. in graphic design and four years of design experience.

Pittsburgh Bike Share, a nonprofit citywide bike sharing system, needs a director of operations and a director of marketing and community relations.  

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

To receive Pop City weekly, click here.
 

Local industry leaders needed for EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards

EY, a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services, has officially requested nominations from western Pennsylvania and West Virginia for the 29th annual EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards. The program seeks the world’s most innovative entrepreneurs and celebrates their ability to strengthen or transform successful enterprises.

"The unique award makes a difference through the way it encourages entrepreneurial activity among those with potential, and recognizes the contribution of people who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement," says Kim Gillespie, who, along with Darrel Smalley, serves as co-director of the western Pennsylvania and West Virginia awards program.

Award winners are selected in a number of industry categories, including Distribution and Manufacturing, Energy, Family Business, Financial Services, Construction, Retail and Consumer Products, Services, and Technology, by a panel of independent regional judges. Contestants are evaluated on areas such as entrepreneurial spirit, the ability to overcome obstacles, financial performance and growth, innovation and new approaches, company culture, leadership, and impact in the community.

The winners will be announced at a black-tie gala on June 19, 2015, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. They will then go on to compete at the national EY Entrepreneur Of the Year awards taking place in Palm Springs, Calif., this coming November.

In 2014, more than 25 western Pennsylvania and West Virginia leaders were selected as EY Entrepreneur Of The Year award finalists. Past local award winners include Rob Daley and Henry Thorne of the baby product company 4moms and Laura Shapira Karet of the grocery store chain Giant Eagle.

"We are inspired every year by the countless entrepreneurs in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia who are driving growth, creating jobs and making a positive impact on our communities," says Gillespie.

The deadline to apply for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards is March 6, 2015. Entrepreneurs may nominate themselves or be nominated by peers or other business leaders.  

Astrobotic and CMU work toward moon landing with Google Lunar XPRIZE

A trip to the moon isn’t cheap, but thanks to some generous prize money, one local company is another step closer to getting there.

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Astrobotic, a space logistics company specializing in affordable commercial space robotics technology, recently accepted a third Milestone Prize from the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. The $1 million victory, in addition to two previous wins, brings the secured prize money total to $1.75 million. It also makes Astrobotic and CMU the first team to win all three Milestone prizes.

“These three Milestones are big for us,” says Astrobotic CEO John Thornton. “It’s acknowledgement of a lot of tough work.”

Based in the Strip District, Astrobotic formed in 2008 shortly after the XPRIZE competition was announced. Since then, the company has competed with five other teams by showing off various components of their commercial robotic lunar rover. The third Milestone Prize came after they demonstrated their visually guided lunar landing system, which underwent numerous tests last year at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The system -- which Thornton refers to as an “astronaut in a box” -- uses imaging software to ensure safer, more precise touchdowns and dramatically reduce the risk of crashes.

Astrobotic also received recognition for the lander’s “green” propulsion system. As Thornton explains, their propellant poses far fewer risks than the traditionally used hydrazine propellant, a quality that allows for more on-the-ground testing.

“If [hydrazine propellant] is spilled into the air, it could kill you on a parts per million level,” says Thornton. “Whereas the propellant that we use is still toxic, but much less so, which makes it easier to test terrestrially.”

The recent achievement brings Astrobotic and CMU closer to their goal of sending a robotic rover to the moon in 2016. The team will also go on to compete for the $20 million grand XPRIZE, as well as bonus prizes.

If they win, Thornton hopes to reinvest the money in Astrobotic’s commercial operation, a sort of “FedEx or UPS to the moon” that delivers lunar payloads for companies, governments, universities, nonprofits and individuals. While the funds would add to millions in NASA grants and contracts that the company has already received, it still compensates for a portion of the amount required to create and run the service.

“The prize money is fairly small compared to the cost to get there, so it’s not a money-making proposition,” says Thornton. “The goal is to build the business, so if we were to win the prize, we would put that right back into the company to support the commercial operation of the business."

Pitt ensures healthier organ transplants with new preservation system

A successful organ transplant requires a delicate balance of time and preservation. But as UPMC transplant surgeon Dr. Paulo Fontes points out, 21 percent of donor livers are rendered unusable due to oxygen deprivation during storage and damage sustained during transport.

“The current utilization of livers in our country is much lower than expected, and we still face a significant mortality on the waiting list due to our inability to properly serve our patients with organs being effectively preserved,” says Fontes.

Fontes is the senior investigator on a series of animal studies at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where researchers are setting out to prove the effectiveness of a new machine-perfusion (MP) organ preservation system. The system was developed by optimizing an existing MP device with a chilled, oxygen-rich fluid. The liver is immersed in the fluid, which further oxygenates the tissue by being pumped through the organ via tubes inserted into the large blood vessels.

Tests conducted on pigs suggest that the MP system can keep donor livers in better condition than current methods. The research team transplanted six pigs with livers that had been kept for nine hours -- roughly the average time between recovering the organ and transplantation -- in the MP system, and another six pigs with organs that were treated with conventional cold static preservation (CSP). Overall, 100 percent of the pigs who received MP livers survived, compared to 33 percent with the CSP-treated organs. Researchers also noticed that the MP pigs recovered more quickly from surgery, and looked healthier than their CSP counterparts.

“Cold preservation is the current standard of care for clinical transplantation, but unfortunately has no impact in avoiding or minimizing the irreversible decay of organ quality inflicted over time when tissues are kept under hypothermic and anoxic conditions,” says Fontes. “Recovery time for livers submitted to CSP appears to be longer than the ones preserved with machine perfusion due to the significant impact of the injuries induced by CSP.”

The findings, which were published online in the American Journal of Transplantation, suggest that the MP system could potentially increase the number of healthy donor livers and save more lives. Data from the studies has been shared with federal regulators in hopes of launching a clinical trial with transplant patients at UPMC later this year.

Who's hiring in PGH? YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, Warhol Museum and more

More snow means more time indoors, which means more time to devote to your latest job search. Each week, Pop City scours the web to bring you exciting career opportunities in Pittsburgh. Employers, if you have a job opening or internship you would like to promote, please email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. Hit us up on Twitter @popcitypgh if our job listings put you on the path to success.
 
The Carnegie Museum of Art is hiring a curator of photography to serve as head of the photography department. Qualified candidate will be responsible for the presentation, loan, and development of the museum’s collection of photographs, comprising more than 4,500 works acquired since the 1970s. Requirements include an M.A. or Ph.D. in the history of photography, art history or other relevant field.

The RAND Corporation is looking for an interactive multimedia designer (Job ID: 3952). Responsibilities include recording, editing, and encoding audio and video products. Other duties include interactive web work, such as front-end development of web applications, media players, and data visualization tools.
 
The Warhol Museum is hiring a full-time director of exhibitions to oversee the management and direction of all exhibition galleries.
 
The Phipps Conservatory has multiple positions available, including openings for a volunteer coordinator and a science education research manager. They’re also seeking interns for their community-focused Homegrown program, as well as their summer Horticulture and Discovery education programs.
 
The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh is seeking a director of information technology. Interested candidates must have a B.S. or B.A. and a minimum of 15 years of related information technology experience. Please send resumes to itjobs@ymcapgh.org.
 
The Hilltop Alliance, a nonprofit community development organization committed to preserving and creating community assets in Pittsburgh’s Hilltop neighborhoods, is hiring a full-time project manager. The application deadline is Feb. 20, 2015.
 
Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

Who's hiring in PGH? Venture Outdoors, Allegheny CleanWays and more

Each week, Pop City scours the web to bring you exciting job opportunities in Pittsburgh. Employers, if you have a career opportunity you would like to promote, please email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. Hit us up on Twitter @popcitypgh if our job listings put you on the path to success.

The Allegheny County Parks Department is hiring a senior park ranger. Duties include training newly hired park rangers and providing customer service to county parks visitors. Requires current first aid and CPR certification and a valid Class C driver's license.

Community Care Behavioral Health is hiring a full-time web operations analyst to maintain and update the organization's website and secure web portal.

The Neighborhood Learning Alliance is hiring part-time high school tutors to provide instruction on a variety of subjects.

4moms, a company that develops innovative juvenile products, is hiring a full-time international marketing manager and a full-time eCommerce manager

Daedalus, an established Pittsburgh consulting firm, is looking for a software engineer to join the team. Must have experience in embedded software development for micro-controllers in C and C++, knowledge of app development for both iOS and Android, and familiarity with PC, Linux, and web development. The firm is also looking for a business development manager and sales representative.

The Innovation Works/CMU/Alpha Lab Gear robotics startup BistroBot needs a full-time entry-level mechanical engineer and a full-time senior mechanical engineer. Both positions require degrees in mechanical engineering or a related field, and experience in designing, building and testing robots or mechatronic systems. BistroBot also has an available software engineering internship. Please send all application materials to jobs@bistrobot.com.

Venture Outdoors, a nonprofit that promotes outdoor recreation, is hiring for multiple positions, including a youth program coordinator and a program administrator.

Allegheny CleanWays, a nonprofit organization committed to to eliminating illegal dumping and littering in Allegheny County, is hiring a full-time programs director. Applications materials must be received by Feb. 11, 2015.

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

Carnegie Mellon University makes robots easier to use with customizable system

With a name like Snake Monster, the latest success story from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute sounds more like an urban legend than a technological advancement. But the six-legged invention from CMU Professor Howie Choset marks a big step -- or, at least, a big spider-like crawl -- toward changing the way people build robots.

Completed in just six months, the Snake Monster, which was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), represents the kind of robot that can be created using a reconfigurable modular system. As opposed to traditional industrial robots, modular architecture allows users to easily customize the system to suit their needs, an ability Choset believes will make robots more accessible.

“We want to make it so that you don’t need a specialized industrial engineer with years of experience to go install and program this robot,” said Choset. “We want to have people who are just really good programmers installing robots.”

Previously, Choset and his lab spent years developing snake-like robots -- or snakebots -- that moved according to a careful coordination of repeated component joints. Due to their specific design, the robots were able to mimic natural movement, primarily the smooth undulation of snakes. They were agile enough to shimmy through pipes, which made them ideal for a number of applications, including urban search and rescue, archaeological exploration, and the inspection of power plants, refineries and sewers.

By taking that research and combining it with innovative new software and technology -- including a series elastic actuator, which uses sensors that help the robot feel and react to its environment -- they were able to envision the Snake Monster as a small, powerful robot that can navigate its surroundings. The system runs on Ethernet technology, making it easier to use by allowing designers to focus on modifying the robot without having to worry about using the right computer. Currently, Choset and his lab are building on the project's potential by working on modules such as force-sensing feet, wheels and tank-like treads, which could be used in the assembly of totally different robots.

Want to see more of this amazing robot? The Snake Monster will make its official debut this June at the DARPA Robotics Challenge in Pomona, Calif.
 

Phipps simplifies grocery shopping with Green Light Foods app

Obesity has become one of the country's most dire health concerns, especially among children. To help curb the epidemic throughout the region, Let’s Move Pittsburgh has launched a new mobile application to help consumers make healthier choices at the grocery store.

Developed in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University students, Red House Communications and Wahila Creative, the Green Light Foods app works to quickly identify packaged food and beverages with the best nutritional profiles. Users can determine fat, saturated fat, sodium and sugar levels in products by scanning barcodes and pulling information from a database. An easy-to-understand traffic light color system then indicates whether the amounts fall into the low (green light), moderate (yellow light) or high (red light) range.

Let’s Move Pittsburgh is a program of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens modeled after First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to curb childhood obesity.

Phipps Executive Director Richard V. Piacentini believes that, unlike many wellness aids, Green Light Foods will streamline the buying process for busy parents and other consumers unable to spend time scrutinizing nutrition facts.

"There are a lot of green apps out there, and some of them might be cumbersome to use, or they might try to give you so much information that it's overwhelming," said Piacentini. "The goal for this app was to make it very quick and simple for people to make healthy choices while they're in the store."

A major advantage of the app is its ability to make sense of confusing food labels. As Piacentini explains, if one box of cereal contains five grams of sugar per one cup serving size, and another box contains four grams of sugar per half cup serving size, shoppers may make the incorrect assumption that the latter has less sugar. The app helps prevent this common mistake by automatically converting and comparing the equal weights of different products.

The app fits into Phipps' continued commitment to both environmental and human well-being. Through Let’s Move Pittsburgh, Phipps created Homegrown, a program that installs vegetable gardens at households throughout the underserved Homewood neighborhood. Phipps also promotes healthy living by refusing to sell soda and junk food at the Conservatory's eatery, Cafe Phipps.

Smartphone users can download the Green Lights Food app for free through iTunes and Google Play.

Who's hiring in PGH? IKM, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and more

Each week, Pop City scours the web to bring you select career opportunities in Pittsburgh. Employers, if you have a job opening or internship you would like to promote, please email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. Hit us up on Twitter @popcitypgh if our job listings put you on the path to success.

IKM, an established architecture, planning and interior design firm, is looking to fill two to three architect positions to work on mid-sized to large projects. Main qualifications include a professional degree in architecture, completion of all IDP and ARE requirements, and registration in Pennsylvania. The firm is also looking for a full-time architectural intern. 

Medical Science Associates (MSA), a diversified information management company, is hiring a senior level user experience designer for the research, development and production of an innovative medical application. Requires a relevant four-year degree or equivalent experience, and a minimum of four years' related experience with user interface design, application analysis or related position. 

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has an immediate opening for a part-time community outreach coordinator. Requirements include a bachelor’s degree in a related field or equivalent experience and a minimum of two years of outreach, issue or fundraising campaign management, or similar professional organizing experience. 

The Oakland Business Improvement District (OBID), a public organization that works to strengthen and enhance the Central Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, is seeking a full-time marketing and communications coordinator. Requires a bachelor’s degree in communications, marketing, or a related field with two to four years of relevant experience. Candidates should submit a cover letter, resume, two writing samples, and three references by Feb. 4, 2015, to Executive Director Georgia Petropoulos at georgia@oaklandbid.org. 

Boyd Community Center, a nonprofit cultural, educational, and recreational space in O'Hara Township, needs a full-time marketing and development director for their Lauri Ann West Community Center, a new facility scheduled to open this year. The position requires a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of five years' leading marketing and development efforts for a nonprofit, membership-driven organization. Interested candidates should send resumes and cover letters to topmccomb@boydcommunitycenter.org. 

Direct Energy, a major energy and energy-related services provider, is seeking a full-time senior content strategist to manage content for the company website, blog, and social media channels. Qualifications include a bachelor’s degree in marketing, communication, or related field and four years of experience in a digital content role. 

Carnegie Museum of Natural History is hiring a full-time director of marketing. Candidate must have a bachelor’s degree and at least seven years of increasingly responsible marketing experience, including supervising staff and budgets. 

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.  

UPMC and Pitt make strides in robot arm study

In 1996, Jan Scheuermann was a healthy 36-year-old woman running a small business and raising two children in California. Everything changed, however, when she suddenly came down with a mysterious illness. Soon her arms and legs weakened to the point where she became confined to a wheelchair, and could no longer feed, dress or bathe herself. When she relocated to Pittsburgh in 1998, she was diagnosed with spinocerebellar degeneration, a condition that progressively deteriorates connections between the brain and muscles.

But over the past few years, Scheuermann, who now resides in Whitehall Borough, worked with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC to help develop a technology that could make a huge difference to those living with quadriplegia. In 2012, she was outfitted with a human-like robot arm that could interpret signals sent from electrodes implanted in her brain. Before long, Scheuermann was giving out high fives and feeding herself chocolate thanks to the mind-controlled appendage she nicknamed Hector.

Since then, Scheuermann has achieved a wider range of motion. At first, the arm demonstrated 3-degree control, meaning she could reach it in and out, move it left and right, and up and down. Within three months, she graduated to what scientists call 7-degree control, which includes flexing the wrist back and forth, moving it from side to side, and rotating it clockwise and counter-clockwise, as well as gripping objects. Recently, the Pitt School of Medicine published its latest findings detailing how Scheuermann used Hector to reach, grasp, and place a variety of objects, making it the first-ever instance of 10-degree brain control of a prosthetic device.

Senior investigator Jennifer Collinger credits the study’s success partly to Scheuermann’s dedication.

“We asked her to come in a couple times a week initially for a year,” said Collinger. “And she ended up coming into the lab for more than two and half years, and was extremely motivated and committed.”

The groundbreaking development means that, with the device, paralyzed individuals will not only regain an arm, but one that mimics natural movement involving more coordinated use of the individual fingers and thumb. Though Scheuermann ended her participation in the study last October, tests to improve the brain-computer interface technology will continue with other subjects, preferably outside of a lab setting.

“We’d like to be able to demonstrate this level of control with multiple individuals and have it work in a home environment,” said Collinger. “That requires not only making sure the system is more robust so that it works outside of the laboratory, but that the equipment itself is wireless and more portable.”
 

CMU soft robot inspires Disney's Big Hero 6

A new Disney movie featuring an inflatable robot hero credits Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute with inspiring the Michelin Man-style character, according to the university.

The robot, named Baymax and starring in the animated film Big Hero 6 out in theaters now, was inspired by an inflatable robotic arm developed in Robotics Professor Chris Atkeson’s lab by Siddharth Sanan during his Ph.D. thesis research.

Atkeson said the film's director, Don Hall, visited the lab and was inspired by what he saw. "When Disney animation makes a movie, like academics they do research first. They were looking for a robot that was different from all the robots that you see in the movies-- like the Terminator or the Transformer -- and at the time we were building inflatable arms. We were interested in arms with no bones what so ever, so essentially ballon-like arms," Atkeson said in a video made by Carnegie Mellon University. 

When Hall saw the balloon arm, he knew the character of Baymax would be a soft robot. "It really became apparent when we saw the soft robotics that that would be our ticket to putting a robot on the screen we had never seen before," Hall told the university.

The film is described as an action-packed, comedy-adventure in which Baymax, a gentle robot designed to care for humans, is transformed into a warrior and joins a band of high-tech heroes. 


"Most people have no idea what a soft robot is and I think in a few weeks everyone will and that's going to be a huge change for our field," Atkeson said. The film is currently showing at various area theaters.

Let Spliddit figure out your tab

Hoping to make battles over bills a thing of the past, Carnegie Mellon computer scientists have developed Spliddit, a new website that promises "provably fair" methods of dividing checks, bills and goods.

Spliddit takes into account a range of factors depending on what's being split. The site even has a section dedicated to sharing credit on intellectual property, to ensure everyone feels good about contributions and attributions in group projects.

When it comes to sharing rent, the website is able to suggest who should occupy which room based upon data provided by potential occupants. Roommates can rate each room based upon individual preferences including size of the room, closet space, number of windows, and then estimate how much each room is worth to them. The algorithm then recommends who should occupy which room and how much each person should pay.

It may sound like magic, but according to Ariel Procaccia, an assistant professor of computer science who leads the Spliddit project, people in the fields of math, economics and computer science have been using complicated algorithms to divide goods fairly for years. Now, average people without high-level math skills can have access to these tools. 

"When we say that we guarantee a fairness property, we are stating a mathematical fact," reads the site's lofty About section. "Formulating fairness in mathematical terms is the beauty of the scientific field of fair division," according to the website.

Any child with a sibling can attest to the beauty of fairness.

Spliddit is a non-profit currently in its beta phase and hopes to deliver results so fair that fighting among children might even be eliminated. But, according to the site, while envy-free splitting is the desired goal, it cannot ever be 100 percent guaranteed.

Pitt study provides a roadmap for great ideas

Innovators and creative types are often told to think outside the box. But going far afield may not exactly help with problem solving, according to a new study from University of Pittsburgh researcher Joel Chan and his mentor Christian Schunn. 

Chan and Schunn, who have backgrounds in psychology and human computer interaction, decided to explore human creativity after friends in the engineering field complained about searching the United States Patent Database.

The database contains information on American inventions dating back to the year 1790, but the information is indexed based upon user tags, Chan explained. The tags don't take into account the full text of the patents and create a type of organized chaos.

If solutions to problems could be gleaned at random, Chan hypothesized that idea organization would be somewhat irrelevant and problems would be easily solved regardless of the order in which information was presented. However, in their study, Chan and Schunn found that accessing related ideas was more likely to lead to problem solving than accessing ideas at random. "If you have lots of bits of information it could be more difficult to find useful connections between ideas," Chan said.

"Now we know these things about how people do creative things, how can we develop technology that empowers people how to be more creative?" Chan asked.

Schunn said their findings also suggest a need to go beyond keyword searches, which may confuse the bank of a river with a bank that holds money. "Google depends on word overlap but they aren’t doing this sophisticated topic modeling -- like what’s the topic really about," Schunn said.

Schunn and Chan came upon their findings after asking 350 people to solve a number of real-world problems with non-indexed information online and explain their process. Their answers were judged by experts and the researchers found that people who were able to find information related to the topic in question were able to provide answers that were rated more highly by experts. Their research was published this month in Design Studies.

Carnegie Mellon professor explores facial preference

An old adage warns against judging a book by its cover, but Carnegie Mellon University Marketing Professor Chris Olivola has found that important decisions are often swayed by facial preference, or "face-ism" as he calls it. And the implications aren't good -- unless your face is a real winner.

Various studies have found universal preferences for certain types of faces, leading to bias when it comes to being elected, getting promoted, being trusted and assuming leadership positions. In court cases, judges often instruct jurors to pay attention to the demeanor of each witness, plaintiff and defendant, and Olivola suggests justice is not blind. Face-based bias exists in the legal realm as well. 

"When it comes to making legal judgments, decisions should be based on facts, not on people’s appearances," Olivola said. 

In their research, Olivola and Alexander Todorov found people were more likely to rely on their interpretation of someone's face to determine character traits or even sexual orientation than they were likely to rely on logic. "People are better than chance at guessing things about other people, but seeing faces makes them worse off than they would have been." Olivola explains that even in situations where there is a known factor-- for example: people who are LGBT represent a minority group-- viewers would keep guessing that the people they were looking at were not heterosexual. 

"When people are given appearances they place too much weight on that and neglect other information that may serve them better," Olivola said.

So how can you use your looks to best serve you? According to Olivola, if you are a man, having a more mature and more masculine look can help win elections, "above and beyond how competent a person is and their voting practice," he said. For women, things are not so simple: Looking more masculine can be good, but if you look too masculine it can backfire, he said.

Olivola's aim isn't to game the system, but to make people aware of subconscious preferences and encourage people to judge individuals based upon merit. In a world in which we make more facial first impressions than we are aware of -- think online dating sites, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tinder profiles -- Olivola warns against dismissing people based upon facial appearances alone. After all, there's another old adage to remember: "Judge not, that ye be not judged." 
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