The Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation launched a campaign, “End Deathtraps Vote,” this week to stop USC from contracting with sweatshops that make college apparel.Activism · Junior Matthew Shoemaker (right), a member of SCALE, talks with Leanne Tracy (left), a missionary, as she signs the petition. – Ralf Cheung | Daily Trojan The campaign is working toward acquiring student signatures for a petition requesting that USC only work with companies whose factories in Bangladesh adhere to a recently written safety accord, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.The agreement calls for “safety inspections, remediation, and fire safety training” in company factories.The accord was created by a coalition of international trade unions, Bangladesh trade unions and international brands and retailers. Currently more than 100 apparel corporations from 19 countries have signed the accord.The independent agreement was written after several factory fires and collapses. One of the largest collapses, the Rana Plaza factory fire, resulted in the deaths of more than 1,100 factory workers.SCALE has previously worked to promote the inspection of Bangladeshi factories affiliated with USC.“[SCALE’s] campaign last year was for the Workers’ Rights Consortium, which is essentially a watchdog that enables monitors to come into these factories and actually check if these working conditions are what they are reported to be,” said SCALE member Aidan Blant, a sophomore majoring in computer engineering and computer science.In March of last year, USC agreed to sign onto the Worker Rights Consortium.Blant explained that SCALE hopes to keep advancing its campaign with this week’s vote.“What we’re doing in this campaign is the next step,” he said. “Now that we can go into these factories and know these injustices are happening, we can push the university to take these steps to actually improve that.”Universities that have endorsed this measure with their licensing brands include Duke University and New York University.Students from SCALE hope to address their concerns directly with school administration.Julia Wang, a SCALE member and senior majoring in neuroscience, spoke of the organization’s past involvement with administration.“We’ve been delivering letters and addressing President Nikias throughout our entire campaign so far,” she said. “We’ve had a pretty positive relationship with him over our last campaign. We were able to talk to him about having USC sign onto this independent monitor. About two weeks after the meeting, he agreed to sign USC onto the Worker Rights Consortium.”The organization hopes to continue working closely with Nikias’ administration.“We’re hoping to sit down to talk to President Nikias about moving this university forward and ending USC-affiliated deathtraps, like the factories that don’t follow safety standards,” Wang said.Sarah Newell, a SCALE member and junior majoring in business administration, explained that she learned about factory safety issues after coming to USC.“I knew nothing [about factory safety issues] when I came to USC, but I really got educated about the sorts of conditions and the sorts of troubles that extended members of the Trojan Family face as they’re trying to make our apparel,” she said. “The Rana Plaza collapse -— the pictures and stories — is something that I couldn’t in good conscience walk away from, especially knowing that USC has the power to make such a real, tangible impact.”SCALE hopes to encourage students to learn about the issue through a campus-wide vote. Members have promoted the vote both online as well as in person around campus.“We want to show our administration that the USC student body supports this cause and that there is a broad base of people behind it,” Newell said. “We’re trying to demonstrate to USC that this is the right thing for them to do. We just don’t think USC should be doing business with brands that have blood on their hands. It’s not the sort of thing that we want to see associated with the Trojan name.”Lorelei Christie, a SCALE member and freshman majoring in philosophy, politics and law, added that the week-long campaign was part of what has been a year-long effort.“We’ve been running this campaign for the majority of the year, and this week is the vote,” she said. “It’s a power week, and the goal is to show USC that within a couple of days, we have a huge body of people who are interested.”Students on campus seemed to have mixed reactions toward SCALE’s efforts.Sarah French, a freshman majoring in biophysics, said she believes that USC should address the issue.“Considering how much money USC has, it’s silly that we aren’t willing to pay a little more for apparel that isn’t made in terrible working conditions,” she said.Linda Xu, a freshman majoring in biomedical engineering, worried that the shutdown could cause the loss of jobs.“It’s important to know that your products come from a good area. You want to know that the place it’s being made is being regulated and safe,” she said. “But on the other hand, you think of the workers in Bangladesh who might be out of a job if demand at the factories decreased.”The administration could not be reached for comment.
Eklutna, Inc. and the Greatland Trust have partnered on a land conservation project that will preserve over 1,000 acres of Eklunta, Inc. owned land for subsistence use. Download AudioThe land is a prime area for hunting, berry picking and fishing and contains high quality salmon and migratory bird habitat. Eklutna CEO Curtis McQueen says the deal helps balance growth and development in the Valley with land conservation and cultural values. He says the land is “conserved for future generations of Eklutna people.” The lands will remain under Eklutna Inc. ownership for use by shareholders, but public recreation access through permits will continue. Phil Shepherd is executive director of the Greatland Trust.“We’ve been working with Eklutna four years now on a number of projects throughout their holdings, and they are voluntary agreements that place their lands in conservation status,” Shepherd said.Shepherd says the conservation agreement, although voluntary, is a legal agreement between a landowner and the land trust that permanently restricts future development and subdivision on the lands. “The funding comes from a variety of sources, grant funding, and we also get funding from wetland mitigation,” Shepherd said. “We pool all those funds together and use the funds to purchase the conservation easement and then put together a land management fund.”Shepherd says the land management fund is accessible to both Eklutna and the Trust.
Today, their proof-of-concept prosthetic lives outside a patient’s head and connects to the brain via wires. But in the future, Hampson hopes, surgeons could implant a similar apparatus entirely within a person’s skull, like a neural pacemaker. It could augment all manner of brain functions—not just in victims of dementia and brain injury, but healthy individuals, as well. Stimulating the patients’ hippocampi had a similar effect on longer-term memory retention—like your ability to remember where you parked when you leave the grocery store. In a second test, Hampson’s team introduced a 30- to 60-minute delay between displaying an image and asking the subjects to pull it out of a lineup. On average, test subjects performed 35 percent better in the stimulated trials.The effect came as a shock to the researchers. “We weren’t surprised to see improvement, because we’d had success in our preliminary animal studies. We were surprised by the amount of improvement,” Hampson says. “We could tell, as we were running the patients, that they were performing better. But we didn’t appreciate how much better until we went back and analyzed the results.”The results have impressed other researchers, as well. “The loss of one’s memories and the ability to encode new memories is devastating—we are who we are because of the memories we have formed throughout our lifetimes,” Rob Malenka, a psychiatrist and neurologist at Stanford University who was unaffiliated with the study, said via email. In that light, he says, “this very exciting neural prosthetic approach, which borders on science fiction, has great potential value. (Malenka has expressed cautious optimism about neuroprosthetic research in the past, noting as recently as 2015 that the translation of the technology from animal to human subjects would constitute “a huge leap.”) However, he says, it’s important to be remain clear-headed. “This kind of approach is certainly worth pursuing with vigor but I think it will still be decades before this kind of approach will ever be used routinely in large numbers of patient populations.”Then again, with enough support, it could happen sooner than that. Facebook is working on brain computer interfaces; so is Elon Musk. Berger himself briefly served as the chief science officer of Kernel, an ambitious neurotechnology startup led by entrepreneur Bryan Johnson. “Initially, I was very hopeful about working with Bryan,” Berger says now. “We were both excited about the possibility of the work, and he was willing to put in the kind of money that would be required to see it thrive.” The shape on the screen appears only briefly—just long enough for the test subject to commit it to memory. At the same time, an electrical signal snakes past the bony perimeter of her skull, down through a warm layer of grey matter toward a batch of electrodes near the center of her brain. Zap zap zap they go, in a carefully orchestrated pattern of pulses. The picture disappears from the screen. A minute later, it reappears, this time beside a handful of other abstract images. The patient pauses, recognizes the shape, then points to it with her finger.What she’s doing is remarkable, not for what she remembers, but for how well she remembers. On average, she and seven other test subjects perform 37 percent better at the memory game with the brain pulses than they do without—making them the first humans on Earth to experience the memory-boosting benefits of a tailored neural prosthesis.If you want to get technical, the brain-booster in question is a “closed-loop hippocampal neural prosthesis.” Closed loop because the signals passing between each patient’s brain and the computer to which it’s attached are zipping back and forth in near-real-time. Hippocampal because those signals start and end inside the test subject’s hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped region of the brain critical to the formation of memories. “We’re looking at how the neurons in this region fire when memories are encoded and prepared for storage,” says Robert Hampson, a neuroscientist at Case Western Reserve University and lead author of the paper describing the experiment in the latest issue of the Journal of Neural Engineering.By distinguishing the patterns associated with successfully encoded memories from unsuccessful ones, he and his colleagues have developed a system that improves test subjects’ performance on visual memory tasks. “What we’ve been able to do is identify what makes a correct pattern, what makes an error pattern, and use microvolt level electrical stimulations to strengthen the correct patterns. What that has resulted in is an improvement of memory recall in tests of episodic memory.” Translation: They’ve improved short-term memory by zapping patients’ brains with individualized patterns of electricity. If the possibility of a neuroprosthetic future strikes you as far-fetched, consider how far Hampson has come already. He’s been studying the formation of memories in the hippocampus since the 1980s. Then, about two decades ago, he connected with University of Southern California neural engineer Theodore Berger, who had been working on ways to model hippocampal activity mathematically. The two have been collaborating ever since. In the early aughts, they demonstrated the potential of a neuroprosthesis in slices of brain tissue. In 2011 they did it in live rats. A couple years later, they pulled it off in live monkeys. Now, at long last, they’ve done it in people.“In one sense, that makes this prosthesis a culmination,” Hampson says. “But in another sense, it’s just the beginning. Human memory is such a complex process, and there is so much left to learn. We’re only at the edge of understanding it.” To test their system in human subjects, the researchers recruited people with epilepsy; those patients already had electrodes implanted in their hippocampi to monitor for seizure-related electrical activity. By piggybacking on the diagnostic hardware, Hampson and his colleagues were able to record, and later deliver, electrical activity.You see, the researchers weren’t just zapping their subjects’ brains willy nilly. They determined where and when to deliver stimulation by first recording activity in the hippocampus as each test subject performed the visual memory test described above. It’s an assessment of working memory—the short-term mental storage bin you use to stash, say, a two-factor authentication code, only to retrieve it seconds later.All the while, electrodes were recording the brain’s activity, tracking the firing patterns in the hippocampus when the patient guessed right and wrong. From those patterns, Berger, together with USC biomedical engineer Dong Song, created a mathematical model that could predict how neurons in each subject’s hippocampus would fire during successful memory-formation. And if you can predict that activity, that means you can stimulate the brain to mimic that memory formation. But the partnership crumbled, right in the middle of Kernel’s first human trial. Berger declines to go into details, except to say that Johnson—either out of hubris or ignorance—wanted to move too fast. (Johnson declined to comment for this story.) One thing Berger does give Johnson credit for is his willingness to commit the funds necessary to accelerate neuroprosthetics research. To perform the studies he and Hampson want to do, they’ll need smaller, higher-resolution sensors; new experimental methods; unprecedented human subject protocols—all of which will take time and money to make happen. But funds can be hard to come by—even from agencies like Darpa, which has long supported his work and that of other leaders in the field. (Like University of Pennsylvania psychologist Michael Kahana, who recently used a closed-loop neuroprosthesis to deliver more generalized stimulation to improve test subjects’ word recall, Berger and Hampson’s work is largely supported by Darpa’s Restoring Active Memory program.)But you know who has money? Tech. So when I ask him whether he’d ever consider collaborating with a Silicon Valley entrepreneur in the future, Berger doesn’t hesitate.“Absolutely,” he says. “I look forward to it.”