Grace Hopper, Margaret Hamilton, Richard Garwin Named for Medal of Freedom

Somewhat hidden among athletes, actors, and musicians, three giants of technology have been aptly named as 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients. Grace Hopper, Margaret Hamilton, and Richard Garwin all made significant contributions to the technology that envelops our lives and embody the quest for knowledge and life-long self learning that we’d like to see in everyone.

Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USN (covered).

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper’s legacy lies with the origins of computer science. She wrote the first compiler. In a time when computers were seen more as calculating machines than easily adaptable frameworks she looked to the future and made it happen. She continued to make huge contributions with lasting effect in developing COBOL, unit testing methods for programmers, and in education. We have long loved her explanation of a nanosecond (and why software engineers shouldn’t waste cycles) and was one of the first to program on the Harvard Mark I which can still be seen in the lobby of the school’s engineering building.

margaret_hamilton_1995As Director of Apollo Flight Computer Programming, Margaret Hamilton is the driving force behind the software of Apollo. When the program started, she was Director of Software Engineering at MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. Originally there wasn’t a plan or budget for software in the space program. Hamilton built the program and led the team who wrote the software and turned it into punch cards to be fed into the computer. We enjoyed reading about some of her adventures during the Apollo project, her drive to develop pristine code is palpable. Over the past year we’ve marveled at the rope memory of the Apollo Guidance Computer and delighted when a hardcopy of AGC software showed up at a party. Her legacy at having written the code for the first portable computer — one that happened to land on the moon and return home safely — is incredible.

richardgarwin1980Physicist Richard Garwin’s name is most associated with the first hydrogen bomb design. But another part of his work is more likely to have directly touched your life: his research into spin-echo magnetic resonance helped lead to the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging. MRIs have of course become a fundamental tool in medicine. Garwin studied under Fermi during his doctoral work — you may remember Fermi from our look at the Fermiac analog computer last year.

Congratulations to these three recipients, their recognition is incredibly well deserved. We’d love to hear about some of your own technology heroes. Let us know on the tips line so that we may help celebrate their accomplishment and inspire the next generation of giants.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: An MRI Machine

Magnetic resonance imaging devices are one of the most fantastically incredible machines humans have ever built. They’re capable of producing three-dimensional images of living tissue by flipping protons around with a magnetic field. Ninety percent of the population doesn’t know what that sentence means, yet you can find an MRI machine inside nearly any reasonably equipped hospital in America.

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Peter Jansen] is building a magnetic resonance imager, capable of producing the same type of images you’d get from the radiology department at a hospital. It’s going to be a desktop unit, capable of scanning fruit and other similarly sized objects, and can be built using tools no more advanced than a hot air gun and a laser cutter.

This project is a continuation of what should have been [Peter]’s Hackaday Prize entry last year. Things got busy for him last summer, he dropped out of the Hackaday Prize, which means he’s welcome to continue his build this year.

Last year, [Peter] developed the plywood mechanism that would rotate a magnetic sensor across the diameter of the scanning volume, rotate the object to be scanned, and lift the object through the volume. It’s a weird 3-axis CNC machine, basically, but the parts near the magnetic sensor can’t be made out of metal. Dental floss worked okay, but we have a few hundred feet of Spectra fishing line if we ever bump into [Peter]. Magnetic resonance imaging means big coils of wire, too, which means the tedious task of winding coils around a cylinder is part of the build. [Peter] built a machine to do the work for him.

This is not [Peter]’s first attempt at building an imaging device. He built a desktop CT scanner that is exceptionally slow, but does shoot radiation through fruit to produce an image. His first project on Hackaday.io was the Open Source Science Tricorder, one of the top five finalists in the first year of the Hackaday Prize.

Already, [Peter] has some amazing work under his belt that produces real data that could not be otherwise obtained. An Open Source MRI is the perfect project for the Hackaday Prize’s Citizen Science phase, and we’re very happy to see him enter this project.

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This is My 3D Printed Brain!

This hack is a strange mixture of awesome and ghoulish. [Andrew Sink] created a 3D printed version of his brain. He received a CD from an MRI session that contained the data obtained by the scan. Not knowing what to do with it he created a model of his brain.


Out of a number of images, some missing various parts of his head, he selected the one that was most complete. This image he brought into OisriX, a Mac program for handling DICOM files. He worked on the image for an hour dissecting away his own eyes, skull, and skin. An STL file containing his brain was brought over to NetFabb to see how it looked. There was still more dissection needed so [Andrew] turned to Blender. More bits and pieces of his skull’s anatomy were dissected to pare it down to just the brain. But there were some lesions at the base of the brain that needed to be filled. With the help of [Cindy Raggio] these were filled in to complete the 3D image.

The usual steps sent it to the 3D printer to be produced at 0.2 mm resolution. It only took 49 hours to print at full-size. This brain was printed for fun, but we’ve seen other 3D printed brain hacks which were used to save lives. How many people do you know that have a spare brain sitting around?

You Own Your MRI Brainscan; Do Something Interesting With It

The most complicated and fascinating gadget you will ever own is your brain. Why not pay tribute to this wonder by creating a 3D scale model that you can print yourself? If you have had a full-head MRI scan, it is simple to take this data and create a 3D model that you can print out on any 3D printer. Here’s how to print your brain.

To begin, you are going to need an MRI scan. Unfortunately, the low-field MRI that [Peter Jansen] is working on won’t quite cut it (yet): you’ll have to get the pros to do it. The type of scan also matters, because we want a scan that focusses in on the brain itself, not the bits around it. What type you get depends on what your doctor wants to know, as the radiologist can run a lot of different scans and analysis of the data to show different types of tissue. After looking through the scans that I got, I settled on one that was labelled eB1000i(BRAIN) With and Without Contrast. To a radiologist, that information means a lot, telling you what type of scan it is, and that it was done with a contrast agent, a metal dye that is injected to make water-rich tissues (like my brain) more visible. The number refers to something called the diffusion weighting, which helps the doctor look for swelling that can indicate things like strokes, tumors, etc. There’s a good guide to some of the jargon here.

Continue reading “You Own Your MRI Brainscan; Do Something Interesting With It”

We Should 3D Scan People

In a perfect futuristic world you have pre-emptive 3D scans of your specific anatomy. They’d be useful to compare changes in your body over time, and to have a pristine blueprint to aid in the event of a catastrophe. As with all futuristic worlds there are some problems with actually getting there. The risks may outweigh the rewards, and cost is an issue, but having 3D imaging of a sick body’s anatomy does have some real benefits. Take a journey with me down the rabbit hole of 3D technology and Gray’s Anatomy.

Continue reading “We Should 3D Scan People”

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Better DIY CT Scanner

If you’re entering something in The Hackaday Prize this year, [Peter Jansen] is a guy you need to watch out for. Last year, he won 4th place with the Open Source Science Tricorder, and this year he’s entering a homebrew MRI machine. Both are incredible examples of what can be built with just enough tools to fit on a workbench, but even these builds don’t cover everything [Peter] has built. A few years ago, [Peter] built a desktop CT scanner. The CT scanner worked, but not very well; the machine takes nine hours to acquire a single slice of a bell pepper. At that rate, any vegetable or fruit would begin to decompose before a full scan could be completed.

This didn’t stop a deluge of emails from radiology professors and biomedical folk from hitting [Peter]’s inbox. There are a lot of people who are waiting for back alley CT scans, but the CT scanner, right now, just isn’t up to the task. The solution is iteration, and in the radiology department of hackaday.io, [Peter] is starting a new project: an improved desktop CT scanner.

The previous version of this CT scanner used a barium check source – the hottest radioisotope source that’s available without a license – and a photodiode detector found in the Radiation Watch to scan small objects. This source is not matched to the detector, there’s surely data buried below the noise floor, but somehow it works.

For this revision of a desktop CT scanner, [Peter] is looking at his options to improve scanning speed. He’s come up with three techniques that should allow him to take faster, higher resolution scans. The first is decreasing the scanning volume: the closer a detector is to the source, the higher the number of counts. The second is multiple detectors, followed up by better detectors than what’s found in the Radiation Watch.

The solution [Peter] came up with still uses the barium check source, but replaces the large photodiode with multiple PIN photodiodes. There will be a dozen or so sensors in the CT scanner, all based on a Maxim app note, and the mechanical design of this CT scanner greatly simplifies the build.

Compared to the Stargate-like confabulation of [Peter]’s first CT scanner, the new one is dead simple, and should be much faster, too. Whether those radiology professors and biomed folk will be heading out to [Dr. Jansen]’s back alley CT scan shop is another question entirely, but it’s still an amazing example of what can be done with a laser cutter and an order from Mouser.


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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Low Cost, Open Source MRI

This low cost magnetic resonance imager isn’t [Peter]’s first attempt at medical imaging, and it isn’t his first project for the Hackaday Prize, either. He’s already built a CT scanner using a barium check source and a CCD marketed as a high-energy particle detector. His Hackaday Prize entry last year, an Open Source Science Tricorder with enough sensors to make [Spock] jealous, ended up winning fourth place.

[Peter]’s MRI scanner addresses some of the shortcomings of his Open Source CT scanner. While the CT scanner worked, it was exceptionally slow, taking hours to image a bell pepper. This was mostly due to the sensitivity of his particle detector and how hot a check source he could obtain. Unlike highly radioactive elements, you can just make high strength magnetic fields, making this MRI scanner potentially much more useful than a CT scanner.

There are a few things that make a low-cost MRI machine possible, the first being a way to visualize magnetic fields. For this, [Peter] is using an array of Honeywell HMC5883L 3-axis magnetometers, the smallest sensors he could find with the largest range. These magnetometers are I2C devices, so with a few multiplexers it’s actually a relatively simple build.

Imaging with these magnetometers is not simple, and it’s going to take a lot of work to make a signal from all the noise this magnetic camera will see. The technique [Peter] will use isn’t that much different from another 2014 Hackaday Prize entry, A Proton Precession Magnetometer. When a proton in your body is exposed to a high strength magnetic field, it will orient towards the high strength field. When the large field is turned off, the proton will orient itself towards the next strongest magnetic field, in this case, the Earth. As a proton orients itself to the Earth’s magnetic field, it oscillates very slightly, and this decaying oscillation is what the magnetic camera actually detects.

With some techniques from one of [Peter]’s publication, these oscillations can be turned into images. It won’t have the same resolution as an MRI machine that fills an entire room, but it will work. Imagine, an MRI device that will sit on a desktop, made out of laser-cut plywood. You can’t have a cooler project than that.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: