The Science Behind Hollywood Explosions

Nobody blows things up like Hollywood. Frequently, those jaw-dropping pyrotechnics are digitally created in post-production.

Now, with the help of a tool called Wavelet Turbulence, filmmakers can generate realistic swirling smoke and fiery explosions that are more detailed, easier to control and faster to create.

UCSB researcher Theodore Kim (along with three collaborators) developed the software, which won an Academy Award in 2012. So far, Wavelet Turbulence has been used in a number of major Hollywood films including Avatar, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and Super 8.

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What Does Sugar Actually Do To Your Body?

The effects of sugar can take your body down a vicious cycle known as metabolic syndrome. UC Davis’ Kimber Stanhope altered the diets of a group of volunteers for her study. Instead of her subjects eating food like rice, pasta or bread, she had them consume a sugary beverage. The effects on the body started in the liver and from there Stanhope explains how that set off a chain of responses in the body.

Learn more at:

FEATURING: Kimber Stanhope, UC Davis

The research highlighted in this video has been supported in part by the National Institutes of Health, University of California, Office of the President and the Tanita Healthy Weight Foundation.

Do high fives help sports teams win?

Hugs. High fives. Fist bumps. Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychology professor, examined NBA games to see if there is a relationship between a team’s success and how often they touch.

FEATURING: Dacher Keltner, Professor of Psychology, UC Berkeley
and founding faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley

The research highlighted in this video has been supported in part by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Fetzer Institute, and the John Templeton Foundation.

How Dust Is Holding Science Back

To most of us dust is just something we clean off our furniture, but to scientists dust can cause big problems in the lab. Computer chips are put together and tested in what are called clean rooms. These environments use filters to limit the amount of particles of dust in the air. UC San Diego’s Janelle Shane explains how just one of these particles can ruin microscopic components.

The research highlighted in this video has been supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

Learn more at:

FEATURING: Janelle Shane, alum to the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego

A video game that teaches you how to code

“I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think,” Steve Jobs said in a lost interview from 1995.

But for a beginner, learning to code from scratch can be intimidating.

Enter CodeSpells. UC San Diego computer scientists developed this video game to teach people how to code. The story line is simple: you’re a wizard that uses spells (i.e. code) to navigate through the world, fight off foes, and solve problems.

While experienced coders can delve deep into the programming to create some truly devastating spells, newbies can easily experiment with the simple drag-and-drop coding interface.

CodeSpells was influenced by research conducted on how successful programmers learn their trade. They surveyed 30 computer scientists and identified five characteristics that are key to learn programming outside a classroom setting: activities must be structured by the person who is trying to learn; learning must be creative and exploratory; programming is empowering; learners have difficulty stopping once they start; and learners spend countless hours on the activity.

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UCLA’s Augmented Reality Sandbox

The Augmented Reality Sandbox (orginally developed by researchers at UC Davis) lets users sculpt mountains, canyons and rivers, then fill them with water or even create erupting volcanoes. This version of the device at UCLA was built by Gary Glesener using off-the-shelf parts and good ol’ playground sand.

Any shape made in the sandbox is detected by an Xbox Kinect sensor and processed with open source software. It is then projected as a color-coded contour map onto the sand.

The Science of Folding Clothes

Getting your clothes to fit neatly inside a suitcase can sometimes be struggle, but robotics engineers at UC Berkeley can help you out.

They’ve come up with an efficient way to fold a variety of clothes into neat little rectangles. These techniques are intended to help a new generation of robots take on a monotonous household chore: folding laundry.

Using cameras and shape recognition software, the robot is able to assess the best way of folding each piece of clothing based on the shape of it.

The key to improving robots is in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Robots can only do what their programming tells them to do — and often can’t adapt to new or unique circumstances.

For example, you can program a robot to fold a shirt, but if you throw in a shirt with buttons on the opposite side, the robot may not be able to adapt to the new situation and fold it.

The UC Berkeley engineers are trying to develop robots that don’t rely on such specific programming.

Learn more about these techniques for folding clothes