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Byline: Bonnie Russell


Val is putting away groceries for her employer and asks if color matters in stacking cans.

Coming from a person this question wouldn't be odd, but Val is a robot and machines don't usually ask for input.

The above scenario is fictitious, but thanks to a recent award, a Worcester Polytechnic Institute professor plans to conduct research with robots capable of active learning, which means that they will be able to ask questions.

Sonia Chernova is one of two faculty members from WPI to receive the National Science Foundation's CAREER Award.

Ms. Chernova, assistant professor of computer science, has been given a five-year, $500,000 CAREER Award for research that will help pave the way for general purpose robots that can work effectively and productively alongside people in everyday settings.

"My vision is that in the future we will be able to purchase robots at a store, similar to how we currently purchase appliances. Cleaning robots for example. These robots will come pre-programmed with basic functionalities, such as the ability to pick up objects, track their location and perform simple tasks like vacuuming. But unlike appliances, such robots would need to be customized to a user's home to be effective. For example, if the robot needs to put away the dishes, it needs to know how you organize your kitchen and where items are stored. This customization will need to happen at each home, and the technique for it has to be intuitive enough that users with no technical training are able to do it," Ms. Chernova said.

She will attempt to determine what robots need to know to perform various tasks and how everyday people, with no understanding of programming or even how robots work, can help them gain that knowledge.

Since her aim is to develop robots that operate in proximity with people, it makes sense, she says, for the robots to ask people for help.

The other award was made to Diana Lados, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Her five-year, $525,000 CAREER Award is for a study aimed at increasing the use of lightweight metals like aluminum, titanium, and magnesium in cars, trucks, airplanes, boats, and other transportation applications. Increasing the use of light metal alloys in cars will cause a reduction in weight, resulting in an increase in fuel economy.

Replacing steel and cast iron with lighter metals may be essential if auto makers are to meet the EPA's target of increasing the corporate average fuel economy standard for all new cars and light-duty trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, Ms. Lados said.

Anna Maria College students participated in service learning and global studies activities over spring break. A team of students, as part of the College's HABACATS club, worked in food pantries and other Habitat restoration projects in Trenton, N.J. Another group, under the auspices of AMC's office of multicultural affairs, went to the Dominican Republic to work with children in orphanages and a third group of students traveled to India with Jude Gonsalvez, director of the social work program at the college.

The Becker College student organization, Mission2Go, has chosen to aid Becker alumnus Leonard F. Gengel in his goal of building an orphanage in Haiti in memory of his daughter, Britney Gengel, who perished in a devastating earthquake in that country.

The group of 10 students, under the direction of the Rev. Debra Pallatto-Fontaine, professor of education, is planning a service trip in May to the Be Like Brit Orphanage (currently under construction) in Grand Goave, Haiti.

To raise awareness for the orphanage, and funds for their service trip, the students will host a tapas dinner, entertainment, and silent auction at 7 p.m. March 30, on the Worcester campus at 80 William St. Becker College President Robert E. Johnson will greet the assembled guests, and the Gengels will make a presentation.

Tickets are $25 per person and $40 per couple. Call (508) 373-9531 to RSVP. All proceeds will support the Mission2Go expenses to Haiti and Be Like Brit.

Leading up to the fundraiser, Sarah Rohrer, regional organizer of Bread for the World, will speak about poverty in Haiti at 2 p.m. March 29 in room 214 of the Weller Academic Center, 61 Sever St., on the Worcester campus. The lecture is free and open to the public.

The Clark University Model UN team, of 28 students, placed 11th out of 210 competing colleges at the annual Harvard National Model United Nations Conference, held in Boston recently. The Clark students also won an outstanding delegate award and three honorable mentions.

The Clark delegates represented India.

Yohan Senarath earned the outstanding delegate award in the Historical Security Council. Three delegations were awarded honorable mentions: Samer Said and Nicholas Hyman in the Security Council; Jessica Chung and Tamar Gzirishvili in the World Health Organization and Justin Raphaelson of Northboro and Shahrya Alamgir Khan in the Disarmament and Security Committee.

College of the Holy Cross 1996 alumna Donna Winn, a veteran of the financial industry, will deliver the Thomas More Lecture on Faith, Work and Civic Life at 7:30 p.m. March 20 in the Rehm Library, Smith Hall at Holy Cross. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Ms. Winn, who studied economics at Holy Cross, served as president and CEO of OFI Private Investments, Inc., a subsidiary of OppenheimerFunds, Inc., from 2001 until her retirement in 2010.

In 2001, Ms. Winn was working in the South Tower of the World Trade Center when it was attacked by terrorists on 9-11. OppenheimerFunds occupied five floors of the building - all 600 employees escaped and survived the attack.

Ten years later, Ms. Winn's perseverance was tested again when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She says persistence and a positive attitude keep her focusing forward.

Quinsigamond Community College Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society students Alex Osei Bonsu and Taniel Washington, both of Worcester, earned special recognition as members of the All-Massachusetts Academic Team.

Nominations are based on outstanding academic performance and service to the college and community.

Mr. Bonsu, a business administration student in the transfer program, and Ms. Washington, a human services major, will be honored at a recognition ceremony at the Statehouse in May.

As team members of the All-MA Academic Team, Mr. Bonsu and Ms. Washington are both eligible for nomination to the All-USA Academic Team, an international competition co-sponsored by Phi Theta Kappa, USA TODAY, and the American Association of Community Colleges.

During the second Fire Service Professional Development Summit held recently in Stow, Superintendent of the National Fire Academy Denis Onieal presented certificates of recognition to the representatives of four Massachusetts colleges for their adoption of the nationally recognized Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education model curriculum for fire science majors. The honorees are: Anna Maria College, Bunker Hill Community College, Mount Wachusett Community College and Quinsigamond Community College.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 18, 2012
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