The Millennium Café

Exchanging ideas and challenges

~ every Tuesday at 10 a.m. in the Millennium Science Complex, 3rd Floor Commons ~

Mar 31 2020
“A New Platform to Enrich, Detect, and Replicate Viruses: Past and Current Work with COVID-19”

We will show that it is possible to build a portable platform capable of capturing viruses according to their size and thus enabling direct genomic sequencing in the field. I will discuss how aligned carbon nanotubes (A-CNT) on different substrates can be used as novel three-dimensional (3D) filters that are able to effectively trap viruses by size without labels (antibodies). We are able to tune the inter-tubular spacing from 20 to 500nm. This range covers more than 90% of known viral pathogens. A new technology using this CNT-device in conjunction with Raman spectroscopy and machine learning will be discussed. This platform in now able to identify human viruses with 90% accuracy.

-Join the Millennium Café at 10:00 am on 3/31 @

Mar 24 2020
“Manufacturing and Sterilization for COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-2 (MASC)”

The Penn State Manufacturing and Sterilization initiative came together in March 2020 in response to needs and shortages caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak. I will give a brief overview of the current working groups that are being organized as well as list of the most immediate priorities as of March 23rd. Beyond priorities under MASC activities there is a critical need to inventory PPE which may be useful for our front line healthcare workers – more information on that can be found here:

Mar 17 2020
The Millennium Cafe is canceled until further notice.
Mar 10 2020
No Millennium Cafe on March 10.

The Millennium Cafe will return on March 17.

Mar 3 2020
“Embracing Data Imperfections in Visual Task Learning”

Humans and machines alike are often engaged in visual tasks that involve analyzing, interacting with, forming or improving image data. The application landscape of automating visual tasks is rich and diverse and spans consumer and medical imaging, robotics and vision, remote sensing and space sciences, smart systems such as those for traffic analysis and process control. In the past decade, machine learning algorithms have greatly accelerated advances in automating visual tasks -- yet they are overly dependent on the quantity and quality of training image data available.  This talk will survey research topics pursued in the Information Processing and Algorithms (iPAL) lab at Penn State (, which is focused on developing innovations for visual tasks such as image quality enhancement, segmentation and classification when available data is severely limited, noisy or non-ideal.

“The novel Coronavirus: What We Know, and What We Don’t”

In the words of the WHO Director General, the recent emergence of SARS-CoV-2 has led to both an epidemic and an infodemic. The state of scientific knowledge about the new virus, the threats it poses, and the strategies to mitigate its spread has been evolving on an hour-by-hour basis. I will present a situation report on the current state of the outbreak and discuss our role, as scientists, in communication to the broader community. 

Feb 25 2020
“Hidden Innovation in Local Economies”

Conventional measures of innovation such as patents, R&D spending and science and engineering workforce are narrow and may miss economically important new goods and services, as well as new ways of producing them. In this talk I will discuss where new ideas and innovation can come from and the conditions under which they may arise. This information is then used to construct a measure of innovation that is likely to be occurring in different counties but that is not measured in official statistics. This latent innovation measure explains regional income and job growth beyond other typical explanatory factors.

“Who We Are – University Police”

What should you do if you see something suspicious? How should you respond if you are the victim of a crime? What if you have a friend that is behaving in a way that concerns you? We are here to help. I will discuss “Who We Are” and the services the Pennsylvania State University Police can provide, not only in a crisis, but in our everyday lives. From a theft, to harassment, to a dead car battery, know how to get help, and what to expect.

Feb 18 2020
“Taking a Bite Out of Foodborne Illness”

What do breath strips have to do with preventing foodborne illness? Pullulan, the polysaccharide used to make these strips shows promise as an edible delivery system for antimicrobials on food surfaces. I will discuss how a novel composite antimicrobial film, made from pullulan, antimicrobials, and polyethylene can inhibit pathogens associated with muscle foods.

“Heavy Metal as the Sound of Global Risk”

What does a global threat sound like? The Pentagon, the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists all diagnose risks to global society including pandemics, weapons of mass destruction, failed states, and the failure to address anthropogenic climate change. In the this talk/performance I will show how heavy metal musicians have brought attention to these global threats through their music and art. Future Café talks this semester will highlight other approaches for communicating important messages beyond the standard approaches employed by researchers.

Feb 11 2020
“Bridges Go Both Ways: Learning from Refugees in East Africa”

I am a rural sociologist and gender specialist working in refugee settlements and camps in Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia. My pecific research focuses on biomass energy use by households for home cooking and sometimes heating. Frequently I am asked by scientists and engineers here in the US how cutting edge research can be brought to communities in remote locations like the ones in which I work. Today I will share a snapshot of the research I do, outline some critical insights about how to work across cultural and technological divides, and demonstrate the arenas in which Penn State faculty can learn from communities that enjoy fewer material resources.  

“Beyond Yoda Heads: A Materials Approach to Functional 3D Printed Plastics”

3D printing can enable new form factors, on demand inventory, and facile distributed manufacturing to provide a new additive manufacturing paradigm. However, low cost printing with polymers has tended to lead to brittle materials that offer limited use in engineering applications. Here we describe several routes to select polymeric materials to provide enhanced mechanical properties from 3D printing as well as provide new functionality to 3D printed parts.  

Feb 4 2020
“Funding for Big Team Science: Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI)”

The Multidisciplinary University Initiative (MURI) program is considered as one of the top opportunities for conducting team-based fundamental science investigations. MURI projects involve teams of researchers investigating high priority topics and opportunities that intersect more than one traditional technical discipline. A typical team consists of 4 – 6 researchers. Projects are funded for 5 years with total funding ranging from $5 – 7.5M. Each year 20 – 30 projects are funded under this program. This presentation will provide an overview of the MURI program and discuss strategies for Penn State researchers to develop stronger efforts. Team formation, past track record and innovation is key for proposing these projects.

“A Nanocontrol Freak’s Guide to Making Any* Nanoparticle You Want”

We all like to dream about “what could be.” As chemists who make materials, this often takes the form of drawing pictures of what we want, based on our predictions of what the material might do. The challenge then becomes actually making what we designed. We can now design, and then actually make, a large megalibrary of nanoparticles with previously unimaginable complexity, all using simple benchtop chemistry and standard laboratory glassware. This begins to shift the narrative from “what is possible to make” to “what do we want to make.”

Jan 28 2020
“Designing Biomedical Membranes to Remove Unwanted Toxins in the Body”

With longer life expectancies, the prevalence of age-related diseases has been increasing, and as such there is a need to develop biomedical devices to address these emerging issues. Inspired by absorption columns, which are routinely used in industry to remove pollutants from chemical streams, my research focuses on the design of biomedical membranes for capturing unwanted toxins in the body. One significant benefit of using polymer membranes is their tunable binding affinity to target molecules using specific chemical, physical, or biological features. One example is using properly designed polymers to remove cancer chemotherapy drugs that are not taken up by the target tumor during chemotherapy to reduce the drugs’ toxic side effects.

“Collaborative Plasma Science at Penn State: Interdisciplinary Opportunities”

Since its inception in 2015, the Low-Temperature Plasma Science and Engineering Research group has forged cross-disciplinary collaborations to investigate a myriad of opportunities in medicine, energy, environment, and materials science. We will provide an update on the results of some collaborations, as well as advancements in experimental capabilities. Finally, we invite members of the Penn State community to engage with us in an emerging broader plasma science and engineering initiative to maximize the potential of this transformational technology.

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