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NYU Researchers Find Answer to How Fish & Birds Hang Together without Colliding

Fish and birds are able to move in groups, without separating or colliding, due to a newly discovered dynamic: the followers interact with the wake left behind by the leaders. 

The findings, by a team of researchers including NYU Shanghai Professor of Physics and Mathematics Jun Zhang, offer new insights into animal locomotion and point to potential ways to harness energy from natural resources, such as rivers or wind.  

“Air or water flows naturally generated during flight or swimming can prevent collisions and separations, allowing even individuals with different flapping motions to travel together,” explains Joel Newbolt, a doctoral candidate in New York University’s Department of Physics and the lead author of the research, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Notably, this phenomenon allows slower followers to keep up with faster-flapping leaders by surfing on their wake.”

More broadly, the study opens possibilities for better capturing natural resources to generate energy from wind and water.

“While we currently use wind and water to help meet our energy needs, our work offers new ways to more efficiently leverage them as we seek new methods for enhancing sustainable practices,” observes Leif Ristroph, one of the paper’s co-authors and an assistant professor in NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

It’s well known that animals such as fish and birds often travel in groups, but the details of these interactions in schools and flocks are not fully understood.

In order to study the effects of flapping motions and flow interactions on the movement of members in a group, the researchers conducted a series of experiments in the Courant Institute’s Applied Math Lab. Here, they designed a robotic “school” of two hydrofoils, which simulate wings and fins, that flap up and down and swim forward. The flapping motion of each foil was driven by a motor, while the forward swimming motions were free and result from the pressure of the water on the foils as they flap.

The researchers varied the speed of the flapping motions to represent faster and slower swimmers and fliers.

The process may be viewed here. (credit: video courtesy of Joel Newbolt, NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences).

Their results showed that a pair of foils with different flapping motions, which would swim or fly at different speeds when alone, can, in fact, move together without separating or colliding due to the interaction of the follower with the wake left behind by the leader.

Specifically, the follower “surfs” in distinct ways on the wake left by the leader. If trailing behind, the follower experiences a “push” forward by this wake; if moving too fast, however, a follower is “repelled” by the leader’s wake.

“These mechanisms create a few ‘sweet spots’ for a follower when sitting behind a leader,” observes Zhang.

Original article first appeared as an NYU news release: How Do Fish & Birds Hang Together without Colliding? Researchers Find the Answer is a Wake with Purpose

Read additional coverage of the research by PBS/NOVA here.

NYU Shanghai Professor and Colleagues Create a New Type of Quasicrystal

Pilkyung Moon, an assistant professor of physics and a member of the NYU-ECNU Institute of Physics at NYU Shanghai, working in collaboration with a research group from Sungkyunkwan University, have succeeded in creating a new kind of  quasicrystal.  In research featured on the cover of Science, Moon and his colleagues reported that a new kind of quasicrystal can be designed by the overlay of two periodic layers at a specific configuration.

Solid-state materials are composed of atoms. For a long time, it had been believed that periodicity is essential to arrange atoms in an ordered fashion, and such arrangement was named a crystal. In a two-dimensional space, for example, only a few arrangement patterns, i.e., triangular, rectangular, or hexagonal arrangement, can tile space without vacancy in a periodic manner.

In 1970s and ’80s, however, researchers discovered very rare patterns which can tile space in an ordered but not periodic fashion. Such novel arrangement was newly named a quasicrystal, and has greatly expanded our understanding of the atomic order. However, quasicrystals are quite rare in nature.

Professor Joung Real Ahn’s group in Sungkyunkwan University developed an innovative idea to grow two hexagonal (graphene) layers at exactly 30°, and measured various physical properties.

Professor Moon’s theoretical calculation proved that the scattering pattern observed in the experiment can appear only at exactly 30°, and even a slight deviation of the angle (e.g., 29.958°) cannot reproduce the observed pattern. This result provides solid evidence of the fact that the research team’s system is at quasicrystalline configuration. In addition, the theoretical investigation also revealed many exotic features of quasicrystals such as the emergence of infinitely many Dirac cone replicas as well as the unusually strong scattering.

The discovery of this new kind of designer quasicrystal will expand knowledge about atomic order by enabling the systematic studies on the structures lying between periodic systems and non-periodic systems. Research findings in this study will enable scientists to build a theoretical model that can describe the physical properties of this novel structure without relying on the approximations used in the conventional quasicrystal research.

Journal Reference:

Sung Joon Ahn, Pilkyung Moon, Tae-Hoon Kim, Hyun-Woo Kim, Ha-Chul Shin, Eun Hye Kim, Hyun Woo Cha, Se-Jong Kahng, Philip Kim, Mikito Koshino, Young-Woo Son, Cheol-Woong Yang, Joung Real Ahn, “Dirac Electrons in a Dodecagonal Graphene Quasicrystal”, Science, doi: 10.1126/science.aar8412 (2018)

This post comes to us from NYU Shanghai. You can read the original here.

Groundbreaking Research on Drug Delivery to Cancer Cells at NYU Abu Dhabi

A new nanoparticle developed by scientists of the Trabolsi Research Group at NYU Abu Dhabi could change the future of how drug delivery systems are used in the treatment of cancer.

Nanoparticles are tiny microscopic particles that have diverse applications in various fields such as physics, chemistry, optics, and medical science while drug delivery systems are a breakthrough approach in biomedical engineering that enables doctors to direct highly potent drugs to specific disease-infected sites in the human body.

Research scientist Farah Benyettou collaborated with Ali Trabolsi, assistant professor of chemistry at NYU Abu Dhabi and head of the Trabolsi Research Group, to create a magnetic nanoparticle that can carry the chemotherapy drug Doxorubicin and can be guided straight to tumour sites.

“What we are trying to do is to use existing therapies like chemotherapy and thermal therapy but in a new way. The idea is to fight cancer at the same level that it develops in,” said Trabolsi.

Anticancer drugs have to be administered in high doses to make sure that the required dose reaches the tumour but these drugs also attack healthy cells because they can’t differentiate between them. This causes severe side effects. Drug delivery systems are safer alternatives. They even provide the option of controlling the amount of drug released at any given time while enhancing its absorption. This results in administration of lower doses.

Benyettou’s magnetic iron-oxide nanoparticles act like special vehicles that ferry the drug straight to the tumour and can be directed using magnets. When exposed to alternating magnetic fields, they absorb the energy and increase the temperature of the tumour thereby killing them using a combination of chemotherapy and thermal therapy. They can even be observed using an MRI.

These nanoparticles are also designed to release the drugs only in a particular environment — the more acidic environment of tumour cells — which means that they are harmless to healthy cells and are also eliminated naturally from the body once their job is done. The Trabolsi group has also employed a structure where several nanoparticles cluster together to create a porous ‘super’ nanoparticle that can ferry more medicine.

Cancer cells evolve to resist the very drugs that treat it. When these drugs try to diffuse into the drug-resistant cell one by one, which is how they usually gain entry, it triggers an ‘alarm’ and is denied entry. In vitro tests have shown that these magnetic nanoparticles are effective against doxorubicin-resistant cancer cell lines because they use a different method to enter these cells thereby cheating them into thinking that they are harmless.

“This is how these nanoparticles work so effectively against cancer cells. Almost like a Trojan horse,” explained Benyettou.

For Trabolsi, all of these properties combined with its affordability and “how relatively easy they are to prepare under 30 minutes” is evidence that they could change the way cancer treatment is approached.

This research was made possible by two grants awarded by the Al Jalila Foundation to the Trabolsi Research Group. Papers detailing the properties of this class of nanoparticles were recently published by Chemistry – A European Journal, and RSC Advances.

This post comes to us from NYU Abu Dhabi and was originally posted here.

NYU Abu Dhabi Scientists Develop a New Water Purification Method

1484831621273Efficient removal of contaminants like oil and toxic dyes from water sources is an issue of global importance. Oil spills can be devastating to both the environment and the economy because cleanup is costly and damage to the ecosystem is sometimes irreparable.

Marine oil spills are typically contained and removed using booms and skimmers, or chemicals are dumped into the water to break down the oil and speed up natural biodegradation — processes that can be expensive, time consuming, and not always 100 percent effective.

Toxic dyes — common water pollutants in the textile industry — tend to escape conventional wastewater treatment because of their chemical properties.

To address these problems, NYU Abu Dhabi scientists have come up with a new way to remove toxic contaminants from water they believe could be more efficient and less costly than current methods.

Dinesh Shetty, lead researcher and chemist at NYUAD, said CalP — a light brown powder — “offers a new way to remove toxins from water sources and can absorb up to seven times its weight of oil from an oil and water mixture.”

The basic material has been around for decades, he explained, but this is the first porous organic calix[4]arene-based polymer synthesized in the lab for the purpose of purifying water.

Inside the the Trabolsi Research Group chemistry lab in the Experimental Research Building at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Inside the the Trabolsi Research Group chemistry lab in the Experimental Research Building at NYU Abu Dhabi.

CalP Explained

Ali Trabolsi, NYUAD assistant professor of chemistry, said CalP is able to remove “oil from water so efficiently, in just minutes, because it has several distinct properties:

  • it floats, has high surface area, and low density;
  • it has pores both from calix[4]arene cavity and hypercrosslinked 3D structure that collect toxins inside;
  • the material is superhydrophobic which means it repels water and it has an excellent ability to absorb a range of pollutants.”

Lab experiments were conducted using two types of oil: used engine oil and commercial grade crude oil.

Its ability to absorb oil so quickly leads the researchers to believe that this process of removing contaminants from water is potentially more efficient than other similar methods because the results are “significantly higher than most absorbent materials reported to date, including commercial activated carbon.”

Further experiments using different types of dyes — anionic and cationic — had the same impressive results and are especially promising because dyes are chemically designed to withstand degradation.

In one test, about 80 percent of toxic dye poured into a glass of water was absorbed within five minutes and the rest was completely gone after just 15 minutes.

They have developed the first calix[4]arene based superhydrophobic, porous material that repels water and attracts oil and dye kind of like a sponge. They call it CalP.

1484831031526It’s Reuseable

Another distinct quality of CalP is that it can be washed and reused to absorb oil products over and over again with the same efficiency, potentially reducing the cost of cleaning large oil spills.

“It’s an important part of our discovery,” said Ilma Jahovic, NYUAD chemistry major and student researcher, “because we found it was very easy to regenerate the material” even after it was soaked in oil or dye. “We did multiple cycles and its efficiency was maintained.”

“Other similar materials can be reused but require cleaning at high temperatures and it’s expensive,” she explained, whereas this material requires only mild washing with diethyl ether, ethanol, or a light acidic solution.

What’s Next?

The next step in the research is to improve the absorption efficiency of oil products even further, and find ways to make production cheaper. CalP could also be used to further other areas of petroleum research such as gas separation to make cleaner fuel, added Jahovic.

The material is not yet practical for cleaning large oil spills, she stressed, because “we are only at gram scale” in the lab environment.

This post is by Andy Gregory, NYUAD Public Affairs, and originally appeared here.

NYU Abu Dhabi Political Science Instructor Jonathan Rogers Is Finding Culturally Sensitive Ways to Study Social Behavior in the Middle East

Designing meaningful experiments is a familiar challenge for scientists. In the fast-growing field of experimental social science, however, researchers may encounter difficulties quite different from those facing white-coated laboratory investigators.

rogersAs a member of NYU Abu Dhabi’s Social Science Experimental Laboratory (SSEL), Jonathan Rogers has been seeking a way around one such constraint. His approach may prove useful for scholars throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and beyond.

Rogers, political science instructor, explained that in social science, “experiments let us study human behavior by stripping interactions down to their basic components.”

For example, classic economic theory suggests that if you have $100 and are free to give some of it away, you’ll give nothing. But when experimental economists ask test subjects to play this “dictator game”, many do donate some money. This suggests that there can be a self-serving reason to donate; in the jargon, generosity gives you a “warm glow”.

Often these games involve risk and reward. In the Bomb Risk Elicitation Task (BRET) you face a grid of 100 boxes; each one you open pays $1, but one contains a “bomb” – if you open that one, you lose everything and the game ends. How many boxes would you open before you quit?

Other experiments are less simple. “If we want to study cooperation,” Rogers said, “we can put subjects in a situation where they only have the choice to either cooperate or not. Then we can change one aspect of the game and if we see different behavior, we can infer that the change caused that difference.”

Many games test risk tolerance: are people more likely to enter a lottery if the chance of winning is high but the prize is small, or vice versa?

Jonathan Rogers is working in Abu Dhabi to come up with ways to study social behaviors that are respectful of religious beliefs. Phillip Cheung / NYUAD

Jonathan Rogers is working in Abu Dhabi to come up with ways to study social behaviors that are respectful of religious beliefs. Phillip Cheung / NYUAD

Such “risk elicitation mechanisms” are often “incentivized” – that is, test subjects can keep the small sums they may win. In other words, some games often involve gambling; others involve interest payments. This creates a problem for researchers in the MENA region: gambling and interest are both prohibited for Muslims.

In a paper now under review for publication Rogers tests a potential way around this difficulty: What if the reward goes to charity?

In 2014-15, 40 NYUAD student volunteers played the BRET game twice each, while 69 others played BRET and another game once each. Each student kept the winnings from one game; proceeds of the other were given by pre-arrangement to Operation Smile, a charity subsidizing surgery for children with facial deformities. Winnings averaged about AED 57, or $15.50 USD.

The results were clear: “Subject behavior under the two conditions is almost identical” Rogers’s paper reports. That’s good news, because it appears to mean that research done on this basis, among Islamic populations, can give useful results. “We still need to repeat this experiment with other subject pools, in different countries, and with different types of charities,” Rogers said. But this is a first step.

SSEL members, Rogers said, hope to “attract researchers who want to conduct studies in MENA countries … Academics want to study refugees, revolutionaries, people in developing countries, and attitudes toward extremist groups, but some of the tools that are considered standard in the West can come into conflict with cultures and norms in the places where these people live. If researchers break local customs, people may refuse to participate.”

“(But) If charitable incentives become accepted as an alternative for payments in risk experiments, maybe we can find a similar workaround for experiments about things like interest on investments.”

By Brian Kappler for NYUAD Public Affairs

This post originally appeared on the NYU Abu Dhabi Salaam blog and is available here.

NYU Abu Dhabi Professor Shafer Smith Discusses How Oceans Are Helping Us Predict Future Weather

1473236060970Shafer Smith and other scientists at NYU Abu Dhabi’s Center for Prototype Climate Modeling are developing sophisticated computer models to help improve climate prediction and bring more certainty to what the Earth’s weather will look like in the future. Smith, associate professor of mathematics, focuses on variables in our oceans and the significant role that oceans play in global climate change.

You study the ocean. But what is it about the ocean that you study?

My current work is focused on eddies and vortices in the ocean. These are a lot like storms in the atmosphere. A storm in the atmosphere may be 1000 kilometers across, while a vortex in the ocean may be 100 kilometers across. So they’re about 10 times smaller.

Vortices that can be seen from space are one part of a wide spectrum of turbulent structures that make the ocean a much more dynamic, exotic place than the common conception of the ocean as a dark, still abyss.

What do these vortices in the ocean do?

Vortices play a key role in communicating between the atmosphere and the ocean and in transporting properties like nutrients and oxygen throughout the ocean.

I’ve also started working on something similar to vortices called filaments, which are finer scale. Like vortices, filaments transport heat, salt, and plankton. A recent paper in Science makes an analogy between filaments in the ocean and the alveoli in your lungs, which transport oxygen from inhaled air to your blood.

In terms of location, I’m interested in the transport of oxygen in the Arabian Sea. The Arabian Sea is a fascinating environment for this because it’s the site of the ocean’s largest oxygen minimum zone.

There is a region between 400 meters depth and 1200 meters depth where the level of oxygen is so low that it can’t support life.

Sorry. So there is oxygen in the ocean? How does that happen?

Of course. At the surface of the ocean, light penetrates the ocean to about 100 meters. And every spring in the northern and southern hemispheres when the light gets a bit deeper, and turbulence from winter mixing gets lower, the upper layer of the ocean gets shallower and there’s lots of nutrients from mixing over the winter.

All of a sudden the light and nutrients bring about a phytoplankton bloom that grows cataclysmically all over.

These phytoplankton photosynthesize, converting light and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugars and releasing them into the ocean. In fact, the oxygen that’s produced by the ocean’s phytoplankton gives us 50 to 80 percent of the oxygen on Earth.

All that organic matter in the upper 100 meters grows for a while and zooplankton eat the phytoplankton. But the zooplankton die and fall into the dark ocean and get consumed by bacteria.

Bacteria require oxygen for that consumption, so the more stuff that falls down from the upper layers, the more bacterial activity, and more bacterial activity, the less oxygen at depth.

The only way oxygen can get back into the lower levels of the ocean is a counterbalancing effect. In the upper layer of the ocean, oxygen in the atmosphere mixes with the ocean. And the parts of the ocean that communicate easily with the deep ocean are able to take that oxygen from the surface layers and replenish the oxygen at depth.

In the North Atlantic for example, if you think of the ocean as a series of stacked layers, there’s very dense water at depth, and warm layers at the top, but these layers aren’t flat — they’re curved. Towards the poles these curved surfaces intersect with the surfaces of the ocean, which helps them mix.

But the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea are special because they are blocked by the Asian continent in the north, so these lower levels of water can’t get back up to the surface. Only the upper few hundred meters have their oxygen replenished.

The average age of water below 400 meters in the Indian ocean is about 30 years. It’s only fine scale eddies and long distance transport from the southern ocean that can replenish the oxygen taken up by a huge amount of productivity in the Arabian Sea.

How is climate change affecting the ocean? And how does the ocean play a role in climate change?

About one third of the carbon that’s been put into the atmosphere by fossil fuel burning since the beginning of the industrial age has gone into the ocean. So the ocean has played a huge role in tempering the amount of climate change we would have experienced had it not been there.

Through complicated process, you always have to pay the piper, so the carbon that goes into the ocean is related to the level of ocean acidity, and overall ocean acidity is growing.

The ocean is like an old man workhorse being abused and taking the punishment to help us out on the surface, but it’s paying a price, because oxygen in the ocean is decreasing faster than we expected and the acidity is rising, meaning that it’s becoming a more hostile environment for sea life.

One hundred twenty-five million people on the Indian subcontinent and in Africa rely on fish from the Arabian Sea. And the amount of sea life is related to how much oxygen there is at depth and also to the acidity.

What do you hope to accomplish with your work at NYUAD?

We’ve got the opportunity to make a big impact. We’ve been offered a great resource and opportunity that bridges the gap between smaller-scale academic work and large-scale climate modeling centers. Most of our work is on the development of highly theoretical algorithms that go into climate models.

In between that small scale academic activity and the large scale operational activity of building and running climate models is a whole spectrum of opportunity where we can contribute.

For example, one thing we’d like to come up with is a model for how clouds form and to make an algorithm that’s fast and can work in a big climate model.

And what we’re doing here is trying to bridge that gap between theoretical developments and operational models.

The long term goal is to make these models work a little bit better, and that’s something that would be very difficult to do without the kind of research that’s been offered here.


This post originally appeared on NYU Abu Dhabi’s Salaam blog and is available here.

NYU Shanghai Computer Science Students to Present at Major Conferences

cs-9401Five NYU Shanghai undergraduate students have had their Computer Science research papers accepted by prestigious international conferences.

Class of ‘17 students Che (Watcher) Wang, Yanqiu (Autumn) Wu, Carson Nemelka, Cameron Ballard and Kelvin Liu have been invited to present their papers at the highly competitive Annual AAAI Conference in San Francisco, the ACM Internet Measurement Conference in Santa Monica, and the International World Wide Web Conference in Florence, Italy, which have acceptance rates between 14% and 25%.

The research, co-authored with academics at New York University and NYU Shanghai, investigates novice AI planning algorithms in real-time strategy games, the vulnerability of anonymous social media platforms, and risks to children’s privacy online.

Che (Watcher) Wang’s article “Portfolio Online Evolution in Starcraft,” which was co-authored with NYU’s Pan Chen, Yuanda Li, Christoffer Holmgard, and Julian Togelius, details a new method for playing real-time strategy games through “evolutionary search in the space of assignments of scripts to individual game units.”

The evolutionary algorithm, Wang says, is “based on and inspired by natural selection” and was test-proven to outperform previous methods in a combat simulator for Blizzard Entertainment’s StarCraft game.

“I was inspired by my advanced course called AI in Games. I only had a little over one year’s experience in programming before I got AI, but now I plan on taking on a DURF project this summer with a focus on reinforcement learning,” said Wang.

img_20160831_330The paper has been accepted for oral presentation in The Twelfth Annual AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment (AIIDE-16) this October.

Popular on college campuses, Yik Yak is an app that lets users post anonymous short messages — a “yak”– which can be seen by other users in the vicinity. However, anonymous social network services like Yik Yak 4chan and Whisper, are likely to come under scrutiny after the publication of You Can Yak but You Can’t Hide: Localizing Anonymous Social Network Users [pdf] by seniors Ballard, Liu, Nemelka, and Wu.

Co-authored by NYU Shanghai Dean of Computer Science and Engineering Keith Ross and Minhui Xue and Haifeng Qian from East China Normal University (ECNU),  this paper investigates whether the app is “susceptible to localization attacks, thereby putting user anonymity at risk.”

Ballard worked with Nemelka on collecting data for the project. One of their experiments was able to determine the correct dorm out of nine UC Santa Cruz dorms from where a ‘yak’ message was generated — proven with 100% accuracy each time.

Reflecting on the collaboration, Ballard said it had taught him how to better communicate his work: “When collaborating you have to make sure another person can pick up your work wherever you left off. For Carson [Nemelka] and I, that meant making our programs easily usable by the other members of the team who weren’t necessarily as versed in computer programming,” he said.

poe6vsiuct_270The group’s paper has been accepted by the 2016 ACM Internet Measurement Conference (IMC), which takes place in Santa Monica, California, in November.

“It’s not often that you get the opportunity to generate knowledge, and the “Information Age” we live in is the perfect time to delve into any aspect of life that draws you,” said Ballard. “This research solidified my interest in academia. Having this experience under my belt made me confident enough to apply for the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Fund (DURF) grant this summer, and I’ve been researching Twitter and the 2016 election as a result.”

How Posting Baby Photos Could Endanger Your Child

The vulnerability of online privacy was also the subject of research published by Liu and Ross, along with NYU Tandon’s Tehila Minkus, in February 2015.

Children Seen But Not Heard: When Parents Compromise Children’s Online Privacy exposed the risks of adults sharing children’s personally identifiable information on platforms like Facebook and Instagram and was accepted by the 24th World Wide Web Consortium 2015 (WWW’2015) in Florence, Italy. Read more here.

Professor Keith Ross said he was proud of the students’ achievements.

“To have their research accepted as undergraduates at these conferences is an accomplishment of which they should be very proud,” he said. “It shows that they are already thinking and asking questions at an advanced level and will help them secure places in top postgraduate research programs. The NYU Shanghai CS faculty also have high hopes for the class of 2018 students.”

This post appeared in the NYU Shanghai Gazette, available here.

Engineering with a Human Impact at NYU Abu Dhabi

This post originally appeared on NYU Abu Dhabi’s Salaam blog.

By Matthew Corcoran

Innovation & Technology

NYU Abu Dhabi is a liberal arts college nested within a research university. At the same time it is a hub of innovation and technology that has produced developments ranging from drones to potential cancer treatments.

After visiting Wadi Wurayah National Park in Fujairah and meeting the rangers who work there, a team of undergraduates came up with an idea to make the rangers’ jobs easier — and potentially to save their lives. The innovation won the 2015 UAE Drones for Good Award, which came with an AED 1 million prize.

Wadi Drone was built to improve safety for rangers in Wadi Wurayah National Park.

Wadi Drone was built to improve safety for rangers in Wadi Wurayah National Park.

The wadi rangers maintain camera traps that are used to monitor the movement of wildlife throughout the park. The traps snap photos when they sense movement. But in order to retrieve images from the devices, rangers must navigate treacherous terrain in oppressive heat to the over 100 traps throughout the park. “It’s a very dangerous job for a tiny SD card,” said Martin Slosarik, NYUAD Class of 2017.

So the team developed a fixed-wing drone that can circle over the camera traps and download the images wirelessly, making the rangers’ work safer and faster. “We approached this project in terms of the human costs, and that’s why we’ve become so emotionally invested in it,” Slosarik said.

Health Innovations

Farah Benyettou is a research scientist in the Trabolsi Research Group at NYUAD. The group uses chemistry to create molecules that can be used for a variety of different purposes. But Benyettou focuses on engineering nanoparticles that can be deployed to treat cancer.

Trabolsi chemistry lab at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Trabolsi chemistry lab at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Nanoparticles are — as their name suggests — tiny, much too small to be seen with the naked eye. In the lab at NYUAD, Benyettou has created magnetic nanoparticles that absorb a cancer-fighting drug commonly used in chemotherapy.

“The problem with chemotherapy is that the anti-cancer drugs don’t go just to the tumor,” Benyettou said. “They travel throughout the body and harm healthy cells as well as cancer cells.”

The hope is that the drug-carrying nanoparticles could be directed to the tumor with a magnet and release of the drug, limiting damage to healthy cells. She hopes to test the treatment in animals soon.

“I’m not saying that I am going to cure cancer,” Benyettou said. “But if I do one small thing, and other researchers in China, France, and the US do something, then all together we are going to fight this disease.”

For more about Research at NYU ABU Dhabi, watch this:

NYU Abu Dhabi Researchers Build Secure System for Encrypted Cloud Computing

1462779738646This post originally appeared on NYU Abu Dhabi’s Salaam blog.

By Brian Kappler

The “cloud computing” we hear so much about is cheap and efficient, but it’s not completely secure. Encrypted data — payroll information, for example, or hospital records — can easily be stored on servers run by Google, Amazon, Oracle, or another company. But only non-encrypted data can be processed “in the cloud” and that creates an obvious security risk in our era of hacks, exploits, and cybercrime.

Now, however, NYU Abu Dhabi researchers have taken a long step toward solving this problem, in HEROIC fashion. The acronym stands for Homomorphically EncRypted One Instruction Computation. In simpler terms, it’s computer architecture that permits the processing of encrypted data.

1462773606014Nektarios Tsoutsos, Ph.D. candidate in computer science, has published a paper on HEROIC, along with his advisor Michail Maniatakos, the director of NYUAD’s Modern Microprocessor Architecture Lab and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. Their research is connected with TwinLab, a $2.57 million project on trustworthy computer hardware supported by GlobalFoundries and the NYUAD Institute.

More recently Tsoutsos, Maniatakos, and postdoctoral associate Oleg Mazonka have developed a newer version of HEROIC, known (non-acronymically) as Cryptoleq.

Tsoutsos explained the purpose of both systems this way: “Let’s say I have a proprietary algorithm, and I want to apply it to a large database. The job is much too big for my computer, so I’ve got to outsource this to somebody in the cloud, Amazon for example. But I don’t want that company to have access to the data — let’s say it’s a fingerprint or DNA database, or medical records, something that has to be confidential. I’ve got to be able to outsource to the cloud, but not let the cloud service provider figure out what I’m doing.”

Enter homomorphic (“same-shape”) encryption. “If I want to use an application it is possible to first encrypt the data, and then apply an algorithm as a sequence of mathematical operations, and then reverse the encryption process — and I can get the correct result and the remote service can’t read the data,” Tsoutsos explained. None of this is simple – it’s based on algebra involving “nested abstractions”, he said — but it can be done, so that attackers can be thwarted.

One form of this process, partial homomorphic encryption (PHE), has been known for about 35 years, Tsoutsos said, while fully homomorphic encryption (FHE) became possible as recently as 2009. A key difference is that PHE works only for addition or multiplication, while FHE is versatile and “because of computer science tricks we can use sequences of additions and multiplications to execute computer programs,” Tsoutsos added.

But there’s a drawback. FHE remains painfully, impractically slow. It’s a little faster now but when it was first discovered, a simple Google search with FHE would have needed fully one thousand years, Tsoutsos said. “So, we don’t have computers today to take advantage of FHE. Fully homomorphic encryption is the most powerful tool cryptography can give us, it solves all the problems, but it’s too slow.”

Here, HEROIC and Cryptoleq come to the rescue. “We’re trying to simulate FHE, using PHE,” Tsoutsos said. “On its own it cannot do as much as FHE, so we gave HEROIC a little help: additional memory, look-up tables, and in Cryptoleq an ‘obfuscated module’ that users can’t look inside. With these tricks that we play, it’s much faster than FHE, so it is practical.”

Of the two systems, HEROIC is faster, but demands more memory; Cryptoleq is slower but needs less memory. Tsoutsos and Maniatakos have patented HEROIC in the US, with the patent assigned to NYU, and Cryptoleq – computer language, compiler, and execution engine — is available as open source software. Once this work is complete, Tsoutsos added, he will have the “foundation for my Ph.D. thesis.”