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Breaking News So We Can Make it Better

April 1, 2015

Set aside your smart phone and your tablet. There’s a new technology in town.

University Daily Kansan leaders announced in February the decision to go “digital first,” putting more content into its online version and cutting back the paper’s print production to just two days a week. For many at the University of Kansas, the news came as a shock. It seemed as if KU’s award-winning printed newspaper was being tossed into the recycle bin.

But the UDK only told half the story. The reality, or maybe I should say virtual reality, is far more exciting. I’m honored that they are allowing me to share, as the late Paul Harvey said, the rest of the story.

Through a pioneering interdisciplinary project involving researchers at the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS), KU’s Information and Telecommunication Technology Center (ITTC), and the Hoglund Brain Imaging Center, the managers and editors of the UDK will soon launch a cerebrum-first publishing model.

The innovative Bio-based Radar Receiver Aggregating Information and News System (BRRAINS) uses KU-developed microchips that are implanted effortlessly into the skull. These special chips have advanced the state-of-the-art of communications, as well as subsequent comprehension and visual processing by the user.

Signal processing experts at CReSIS and ITTC have worked countless hours to take the news being reported by UDK staff and convert it into a signal that can be transmitted anywhere on the KU Lawrence and Edwards campuses. Specialists at the Hoglund Brain Imaging Center have cracked the code to reconfigure the data stream, once received inside the head, into a decodable and comprehensible message.

The BRRAINS microchip will cut through time and space to tap the optic nerve and other areas of the brain to deliver multimedia content — great stories, compelling and rich — directly into the head of “chippers.” Some of you may have seen a similar chip concept in the recent movie Kingsman: The Secret Service featuring Samuel L. Jackson as the villain Valentine. Don’t worry: KU’s efforts don’t leave a scar, and your head won’t explode.

Upcoming first-year students will have an initial opportunity during Orientation to opt-in not only into the Tuition Compact but also into BRRAINS. During the semester, it will be rolled out to the rest of the KU community. For students, the cost of the chip and the simple embedding procedure will be covered as part of the UDK readership program fee. KU faculty and staff will be able to sign up through a very affordable payroll deduction plan. The Institute for Policy & Social Research has acquired 50 free licenses for the general public; we are accepting nominations at brrains@ku.edu to determine those who most need BRRAINS.

This groundbreaking endeavor is a leap forward in virtual publishing, which is already sparking several exciting collaborations. Law School Dean Stephen Mazza has begun assembling faculty expertise to address potential changes in publishing and copyright law. Their efforts will allow us to make the KU Common Book and collected publications on KU ScholarWorks available through BRRAINS. And Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger is teaming up with Coaches Bill Self and David Beaty on some promising real-time applications.

I’m grateful to all the parties who have contributed their time and resources to conceptualizing, designing, and improving BRRAINS. With ongoing work to reduce processing times, it’s possible the Kansan staff will be able to report the news even before it happens, allowing them to scoop the competition while further elevating the reputation of this great university. It literally is unbelievable.

Bits and Bytes

  • Following the announcement of five new Foundation Professors this semester, several other innovative scholars recently visited as part of the Bold Aspirations Visitor and Lecture Series. For those unable to attend, the talks are available to watch online:
    • Barry Buchwalter, Forte distinguished professor of speech, language, and hearing at the University of Missouri, spoke on “Loudness Equals Power” in Strong Hall, room 300.
    • Prof. Peter Garcia from the Department of Philosophy at Kansas State University examined the power of multidisciplinarity along the animal health corridor in his Hall Center talk titled “Quack Quack.”
    • Picking up from Prof. Garcia’s talk, Cameron Hughes, Pugh distinguished professor of mechanical engineering and innovation at Iowa State University, presented his energizing ideas on “Compost-Fueled Cars” to a packed house in The Commons.
  • KU Innovation and Collaboration is working with Undergraduate Biology Program researcher Trevor Rivers on an exciting new venture. Rivers’ recent work with the BBC off the coast of Puerto Rico led to some amazing footage of bioluminescent sea creatures. KUIC and Rivers’ new chain of underwater discos will be opening in waves all along the eastern seaboard, through the Caribbean, and as far south as Sao Paulo, Brazil.
  • KU’s recently announced Crops to Campus program is expanding to include crops on campus. The partnership with Common Harvest CSA will bring the natural bounty found on the expansive Lawrence campus to the table. Lindley Hall pears, Eaton Hall quince, and Potter Lake cattails are just a few of the KU edibles that will put more fiber into the weekly deliveries.
  • Graduating seniors, there are only six weeks left before Commencement. I want to remind you of the sage advice of two great thinkers from many years ago. I may not get the words exactly right, but it goes something like this: Hakuna matata. It means no worries, for the rest of your days.
  • Congratulations, yet again, to David Frayer, professor emeritus of anthropology. You may remember, his recent research on eagle-talon jewelry fashioned 130,000 years ago by Neanderthals sent the Internet buzzing. Frayer and colleagues have now revealed the existence of the earliest known Neanderthal messenger bag and matching sundial wristwatch. The watch even came with interchangeable wristbands.
  • There are several administrative changes that become effective today. James Tracy joins KU as the new vice chancellor for research. Welcome! Mary Lee Hummert, who served so selflessly as interim vice chancellor, is returning to her role as vice provost for faculty development. Thank you! Professor Marta Caminero-Santangelo today rejoins the faculty in the Department of English after serving so well as acting vice provost for faculty development. I want to thank her for the great effort she brought to the role as well as promote her new initiative. She has volunteered to lead the new Hai-KU Competition. This student haiku creative writing contest will document the sights, thoughts, and sounds of KU. Although I can’t enter, I want to offer these lines for inspiration:

Serious people
get caught up in the moment.
Hey, it’s April 1!

Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

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