innovation trail

Daniel Robison / WBFO

Educators across the country agree schools need more students to excel in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Yet hooking students on these subjects remains a challenge, especially for generally low performing schools with few resources.

But this year, administrators in Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) tried to tackle the problem in a new way – by sending some of its teachers to summer school.

“I haven’t been in a lab in 43 years,” says Susan Wade, a BPS science teacher.

Courtesy photo / Park School

One hundred years ago, a group of parents in Buffalo gathered to form a new school that would adopt the ideals of a progressive educational reformer and teach students in new ways.  A century later, the Park School still educates its pupils much the same way.

In 1912, Buffalo was one of the largest cities in the country with a bustling economy and booming population.

Also one hundred years ago, a group of parents in Buffalo gathered to form a new school that would adopt the ideals of a progressive educational reformer and teach students in new ways.

Daniel Robison / WBFO

This story is part of the Innovation Trail's partnership with FRONTLINE's Dropout Nation. You can read the other reports here.

Daniel Robison / WBFO

Western New York is home to more than 200 growing startup companies catering to specific medical and life science needs.

While these small businesses offer unique products and services, they don’t always have a market for their goods or the personnel to aggressively seek out buyers.

A new initiative will try to give at least 40 of these companies the extra sales muscle to move $25 million worth of local products in the next three years.

'Hand in glove'

Along the shore of Lake Erie, the rusting relics of Buffalo, N.Y.'s industrial days have long blocked access to the water and posed risks to residents. Now, after decades of inaction, the city is finally clearing a path for the public to return to the waterfront.

Buffalo's approach has been dubbed "lighter, faster, cheaper." Tom Dee has led this effort as president of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., a special state agency in charge of city waterfront property. He says years were wasted chasing grand redevelopment projects, but now the strategy is more homegrown.

Matt Richmond / WSKG

Shortly after opening its doors at this spring, the Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) ignited a controversy that persists several months later.

The newly-founded SUNY Buffalo institute issued a study which found a decline in accidents and environmental damage caused by hydrofracking – a drilling technique using high volumes of water, sand and chemicals to extract natural gas from shale far below the Earth’s surface.

Opponents call the study flawed and biased in favor of the oil and gas industry.

The dispute attracted national attention, especially in the higher education community

Innovation Trail to feature “Dropout Nation”

Aug 24, 2012
WBFO News file photo

According to statistics, every nine seconds in the U.S. a student drops out of school.  It leads to lifelong difficulties. 

WBFO & AM 970 will be airing a special five-part series produced by The Innovation Trail about education and the dropout crisis. 

Listen for those special reports beginning the week of September 17.   

Daniel Robison / WBFO

In the late 1960’s, the Buffalo River was so polluted it caught fire.

“But it didn’t really get much national attention because that was just the way things were back in the day,” says Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy group.

“People expected polluted rivers. It was just the cost of doing business at the time.”

Daniel Robison / WBFO

Humans have always been vulnerable to airborne illnesses – especially given the developments in chemical and biological warfare. That vulnerability led two professors in upstate to pioneer a solution for sterilizing air.

But success in business has so far proven elusive.

Daniel Robison / WBFO

Working from home can be lonely or full of distractions.  And taking a laptop or tablet to the coffee shop has drawbacks, too. Ever try finding an electrical outlet amongst all the tables and chairs?

Now, CoworkBuffalo is offering a solution by inviting telecommuters to gather together in one office space.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Public domain

It all started with a fossil.

“We have this polar bear jawbone from the Svalbard archipelago in the North Atlantic,” says Charlotte Lindqvist, a professor at SUNY Buffalo and lead author of a landmark new study into the history of polar bears.

An ancient species

G.G. Italy / via Flickr

Buffalo’s latest business incubator is on the hunt for small tech companies who are long on ideas, but perhaps short on cash, office space and personnel. 

Calling itself Buffalo’s first Internet-focused incubator, Z80 Labs launched Monday with a well-orchestrated launch party featuring the region’s tech elite, as well as Forbes CEO Mike Perlis, and prominent venture capitalist Fred Wilson.

Daniel Robison / WBFO

With China largely cornering the market for rare earth metals, domestic researchers are trying to create synthetic replacements.

SUNY Buffalo (UB) wants to corner that effort – and is asking the federal government for $120 million to help.

"A four letter word"

Daniel Robison / WBFO

Until now, scientists could only guess at the amount of plastic waste in the Great Lakes.

This week, a team of researchers sets sail to conduct the first-ever survey of plastic pollution in the world’s largest fresh water system.

“You really have to start with, ‘Is this even an issue in the Great Lakes?  [With] 35 million people living around the Great Lakes, all the plastic you see blowing around, common sense is that it’s out there,” says Sherri “Sam” Mason, professor within SUNY Fredonia’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Courtesy photo / Sensorcon

Are we on the verge of a “sensor revolution?”

Sensorcon hopes so. The Buffalo-based tech startup envisions a world where the average person is empowered with a small device that reads temperature, carbon monoxide levels, dew point and more.

"A sixth sense"

publicenergy / Creative Commons

New York State is home to more than 600,000 dairy cows, which generate millions of pounds of manure.

Now, a new energy project in rural Wyoming County aims to be a model for using cow waste and by-products from food processing to generate electricity.

“Perfect recycling project”

The eastern shore of Lake Erie is known as the "Sponge Candy Crescent." During the region's long winter months, this crunchy, chocolatey candy is a mainstay — especially for large gatherings and holidays. But come hot weather, you can't get the temperamental treat.

Ko-Ed Candies sells a lot of chocolate Easter bunnies, candy bars and other sweets, but co-owner Sandy Whitt says her customers mostly crave sponge candy.

New York Council for the Humanities / via Flickr

Niagara Falls, New York is testing a novel approach to attract new residents. City leaders are offering to pay the student debt of 20 recent graduates in exchange for two years of residency.

According to a recent New York Times study, 94 percent of recent graduates have student debt, adding up to more than a $1 trillion nationwide.

Daniel Robison / WBFO

Although New York's legislative session wrapped up last week, angling for new public policy hasn't ceased.

Tuesday, the Business Council of New York State (BCNYS) tried to regain traction for its agenda by re-releasing a report from May.

clevercupcakes / via Flickr

Reading Rainbow is back - but not on TV.

Host LeVar Burton has revived the popular franchise, which ran for 26 years on PBS, as an app for tablets.

The medium may be different, but the mission is the same: promoting children's literature.

"Television is a one-way medium," Burton says. "You are presenting your finished product to an audience and they absorb it.

"The great thing about an app is that it is designed to be an interactive experience."

Daniel Robison / WBFO

Niagara Falls, N.Y. sees Nik Wallenda’s Friday night wirewalk as its best chance in decades to revive tourism and spark economic development.

But measuring Wallenda’s long-term impact may be tough - assuming there’s an impact at all.

“Part of our mystique”

The Daredevil Museum in Niagara Falls, N.Y. is a shrine to those who have tried to conquer the natural wonder.

Abdi Hussein sits in a cramped classroom full of old metal chairs that clank and scrape the faded tile floor.

Here he learns English idioms like “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

It’s a long way from Somalia, where Hussein struggled to find food and lived in constant fear of being dragged into the country’s ongoing civil war.

“There’s horrible things,” Hussein says. “People kill each other. That’s why we get help to get in here. People call us the refugee.”

Hussein lives in a growing Somali community in Buffalo - where inexpensive housing has proven fertile ground for ethnic neighborhoods made up largely of refugees.

Daniel Robison / WBFO

The newest addition to Buffalo’s skyline has opened its doors.

The 10-story, $300 million Gates Vascular Institute/Clinical and Translational Research Center houses a state-of-the-art surgery center, research labs and a business incubator.

“This is a magnet for the region,” says Jim Kaskie, CEO of Kaleida Health. “If you’ve got issues with your heart, your brain, your arteries or veins, you want to be here.”

Kaleida Health collaborated with the University at Buffalo on the project.

A week ago, Buffalo hosted a pack of investors from out of town for an event known as the Venture Forum. Dozens of promising local start-up companies aimed to make the best impression on these investors to secure funding and leapfrog their competition.

Reporter Daniel Robison followed one of those small businesses through the process and filed this report.

 

Daniel Robison / WBFO

Tightrope walker Nik Wallenda concludes his public practices Tuesday in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Over the last week, Wallenda has invited spectators to watch him prepare for his June 15 wirewalk over Horseshoe Falls.

But almost a month before the main event, Wallenda's presence is already inspiring an eclectic atmosphere in this hard scrabble city of 50,000.

"Great for the city"

WBFO News photos by Daniel Robison

Thousands of spectators have flocked to Niagara Falls in recent days to watch wirewalker Nik Wallenda. 

As WBFO & AM-970's Daniel Robison reports, he's practicing in public to draw tourists and help the local economy. 

Daniel Robison / WBFO

In recent years, donut shopscar dealerships and doctor’s offices have received tax breaks from industrial development agencies in western New York.

Greyhawk68 / via Flickr

Research into multiple sclerosis has accelerated rapidly in the last few years - and doctors in Buffalo are at the forefront.

Information about how MS progresses in patients has long been out there, but it wasn’t being synthesized or analyzed effectively.

Now, SUNY Buffalo is using a new supercomputer from IBM that can help researchers make connections between environmental and hereditary factors and how MS affects its victims.

Daniel Robison / WBFO

SUNY has stepped up its self-promotional efforts.

In an attempt to paint the university system in a better light - and perhaps to justify its $10.8 billion budget in tight economic times - SUNY staged a regional “showcase” in Buffalo Tuesday. It was one of ten similar events thrown over the past year.

Daniel Robison / WBFO

New solar panels at the University at Buffalo double as an art installation. 

The $7.5 million project, funded by the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and SUNY, will power student apartments while sprucing up the landscape.

When viewed from the sky, the strand of solar panels resembles DNA - a tip of the hat to UB's strengths in research and science.

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