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November 30, 2010

Pitt Physics Professor Awarded Einstein Prize

By Sean D. Hamill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ezra 'Ted' Newman is honored for his work in relativity

Ezra "Ted" Newman recently was told that he has been selected by the American Physical Society for one of the most prestigious awards in his field -- the Einstein Prize -- for a lifetime of seminal work in the field of relativity.

While appreciative, Dr. Newman, a University of Pittsburgh physics professor emeritus, didn't throw any parties.

"Intellectually, I'm opposed to these awards," he said in an interview in his Oakland office, the one with the stylized poster of Albert Einstein on the door with the equation E=mc2 printed on the border. "I think I've gotten more than enough reward from working in physics."

Maybe so, but Jorge Pullin, a Louisiana State University physics professor who chaired the American Physical Society's selection committee, said choosing Dr. Newman was easy.

"The general feeling was that recognition of Ted was long overdue," he said. The society intends to fete Dr. Newman in April.

Read more.

November 29, 2010

Africa Portal

The Africa Portal is an online knowledge resource for policy-related issues on Africa. An undertaking by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), Makerere University (MAK), and the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), the Africa Portal offers open access to a suite of features including an online library collection; a resource for opinion and analysis; an experts directory; an international events calendar; and a mobile technology component—all aimed to equip users with research and information on Africa’s current policy issues.

A key feature to the Africa Portal is the online library collection holding over 2,500 books, journals, and digital documents related to African policy issues. The entire online repository is open access and available for free full-text download. A portion of the digital documents housed in the library have been digitized for the first time as an undertaking of the Africa Portal project. Facilitating new digitization projects is a core feature of the Africa Portal, which aims to improve access and visibility for African research.

The Africa Portal is part of the Africa Initiative project.

Africa Initiative

The Africa Initiative (AI) is a multi-year, donor-supported program, with three components: a research program, an exchange program, and an online portal. A joint undertaking by CIGI in cooperation with Makerere University (MAK), the Africa Initiative aims to contribute to the deepening of Africa’s capacity and knowledge in five thematic areas—conflict resolution, energy, food security, health, and migration, with special attention to the cross-cutting issue of climate change. By incorporating field-based research, strategic partnerships, and online collaboration, the Africa Initiative is undertaking a truly interdisciplinary and multi-institutional approach to Africa’s governance challenges. Work on the core areas of the initiative focus on supporting innovative research and researchers, and developing policy recommendations as they relate to the program’s core thematic areas.

November 24, 2010

New Satellite Pictures: "Magnificent" Views of Earth

From National Geographic Daily News

In the style of Van Gogh's "Starry Night," massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in dark water around Sweden's Gotland (see map) island in a satellite picture released this week by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The image of the Baltic Sea island is 1 of 40 in the new Earth as Art 3 collection, the latest compilation of Landsat pictures chosen for their artistic quality.

"The collected images are authentic and original in the truest sense," Matt Larsen, the USGS's associate director for Climate and Land Use Change, said in a statement. "These magnificently engaging portraits of Earth encourage us all to learn more about our complex world."

Population explosions, or blooms, of phytoplankton, like the one shown here, occur when deep currents bring nutrients up to sunlit surface waters, fueling the growth and reproduction of these tiny plants, according to the USGS.

Read the full article.

November 23, 2010

Greening Your Fall Garden Cleanup

By Janet Marinelli
From National WildLife

Before you send fallen leaves to the dump and cut down dead stalks in your yard, consider the many benefits for wildlife and the environment of leaving plant debris in place

ONCE THE AUTUMN foliage spectacle has ended, most homeowners dutifully head outdoors, brandishing rakes and clippers, to engage in the annual ritual known as garden cleanup. Clearing out the year’s worth of plant debris, we’re told, helps prevent outbreaks of pests and diseases. But perhaps the real reason many people do it is their aversion to having dead stalks and fallen leaves messing up their yards.

Overzealous cleanup has some significant environmental consequences, however. It results in an avalanche of clippings and leaves at landfills, adding to the nation’s pollution problems. And trashing leaves and trimmings is—literally—a waste because this valuable organic matter can be used in a variety of beneficial ways in the garden. What’s more, fall cleanup leaves a barren landscape for birds and other creatures at a time when food supplies and vegetative cover are becoming sparse. The solution: Think of fallen leaves and withered stalks not as waste but as an organic windfall for your garden and potential wildlife habitat.

Read more.

7 Reasons Outdoor Play Does A Body Good

By Carol Torgan
From National Wildlife

This article was reviewed by Dr. Joshua Rotenberg, a Texas pediatrician and neurologist.

We all have an innate drive to run and explore and discover our world through play. Watch the animals around you, especially the young ones, and you'll find squirrels tussling and dogs chasing and horses cavorting.

Like all animals, humans need lots of physical activity for their bodies to develop properly. Unfortunately, kids sometimes get distracted by television and computer screens, or parents worry that it's too hot or too cold outside to let kids do what they do best: run around, explore, and let their bodies move.

Read more.

November 19, 2010

Driving Self-Recognition

By S. Lawrence Zipursky
From The Scientist

A single gene with the capacity to generate more than 30,000 different proteins on the surface of a growing neuron reveals a cell-recognition mechanism that regulates the wiring of the brain in an entirely unexpected fashion.

How neural circuits form intricate patterns of synaptic connections between vast numbers of neurons is a daunting question. In the human brain it is estimated that there are some 1012 neurons, each on average making 1,000 synaptic connections. Even in the much simpler animal that we study, the fruit fly, there are some 200,000 neurons and millions upon millions of synapses. How do growing axons and dendrites end up in the right part of the brain, and once within these regions how do their highly branched processes distinguish between one another, forming synaptic connections with some neurons while avoiding others? Teasing out this story has been a goal of my lab and, over the past decade in particular, has treated us to some wonderful surprises along the way.

The most exciting finding began in the late 1990s with the work of two postdocs in my lab, Dietmar Schmucker and Jim Clemens. Dietmar was using a simple and elegant system in the Drosophila embryo to study how growing or extending axons navigate, a process commonly called axon guidance. Dietmar teamed up with Jim Clemens, another recently arrived postdoc, to explore the function of the protein product of a gene named Dock. We had recently shown through knockout experiments that the Dock protein was involved in neuronal development, but we didn’t have a clear sense of how it functioned. Dietmar quickly showed that Dock played a role at a specific step during axon guidance. To parse out its function we started looking for proteins that interacted with Dock. Luckily, as part of his graduate work in Jack Dixon’s lab at the University of Michigan, Jim had found five such proteins. Little did we know that lurking within this group of seven proteins was a fascinating story in cellular recognition, well beyond our wildest expectations.

Read more.

November 17, 2010

Dos and Don’ts in Graduate-School Essays

By Marybeth Gasman
From The Chronicle of Higher Education
November, 15, 2010

Every year during the fall semester, I receive hundreds of e-mails from eager students inquiring about graduate school at Penn’s Graduate School of Education. As I am a firm believer in responding to every student who contacts me, I answer each one (I remember what it was like to e-mail faculty and not get a response).

I usually give the same advice to all students—some get more than others, depending on their questions. Most of the questions are about the graduate student essay, including what to write and what not to write. I thought I’d make a list of my do’s and don’ts for graduate essays. Feel free to disagree or add to my list.

MB’s Dos and Don’ts:

• Don’t quote Dr. Seuss in your essay or any other children’s characters. I love Dr. Seuss but I’ve read at least a hundred essays with Dr. Seuss quotes—they’re not new.

• Don’t write a general essay. You need to write for the program and school. They all have a different flavor and a bland, generic essay is very obvious to faculty.

• Make a connection with a couple faculty members in the program of interest. Show the ways that you connect to their work and what you hope to learn from them.

• Have an idea in mind in terms of what you are interested in conducting research on but don’t be too rigid. Remember you are going to graduate school to learn and open your mind.

• Don’t say you are interested in everything that every faculty member in the program does. That’s impossible and will make you look like you’re all over the place.

• Don’t send in an essay with another school’s name in it. Proof read. Please proof read.

• Don’t talk about how your test scores don’t represent the extent of your abilities. Instead, if your test scores aren’t as high as you wish they were, make the rest of your application as stellar as possible. Don’t apologize—shine!

• Do discuss your interests and your reasons for having those interests. Be concrete and avoid countless abstract thoughts.

• Don’t gush about faculty members with whom you want to work. State your reasons and be professional. Try to avoid the use of “love.” I’m serious.

• Don’t use jargon and big words, especially when you don’t know how to properly use them. Keep your essay simple and straightforward and make your point.

• Remember that a lot of people are applying to graduate school so look for positive ways to make you stand above the crowd.

Good luck!

Link to this article:

November 16, 2010

Selected Sources for India

By Adrian Janes
From fumsi

India, like China, is another Asian giant which has shown strong economic growth in recent years, although it continues to have great disparities of wealth. Reflecting this growth, India is a member of the G20, from which site important national financial institutions can be located. Indeed, the development of the G20 is largely explained by the need to accommodate the emerging economies alongside the original G7/G8 countries.

India's National Informatics Centre (NIC) has produced an excellent Directory of Indian Government Websites. This provides links to all of the key ministries, and under the heading Institutions/Organisations it also does the same for major areas of economic and cultural life. In a country where the state sector is very important, the section Public Sector and Joint Venture is particularly worth exploring.

It should not be forgotten that, although India is spoken of as if it were a monolithic entity, it is in fact composed of 35 States and Union Territories. Complimentary to the NIC's national directory is this one which details bodies at this more local level.

Read the full article.

November 15, 2010

Zoom: Gulf Oil Crisis - An Interactive Learning Tool

Zoom: Gulf Oil Crisis is an interactive learning tool that allows users to explore in-depth the economic, political and environmental impacts of the Gulf coast oil spill.

With its relevant, media-rich content, including many Web-like features such as videos, graphs, periodicals, primary sources, statistics, podcasts, interactive maps and more, Zoom: Gulf Oil Crisis supports the differentiated learning classroom by providing multi-path tools for those who learn and engage best through a combination of visual and audio resources.

Below are some of the key topics that users can "zoom" in on for more in-depth study include:

* BP estimates of daily spill rate
* Claims processed by BP
* Controlled burns to date
* Gulf fishing area closures
* Miles of shoreline "oiled"
* Impact on mammals, sea turtles and birds

To explore Zoom: Gulf Oil Crisis in greater depth, check out the lesson plans and more than a dozen included activities related to the Gulf oil spill.

November 12, 2010

Works by Judy Cicago Now Available in ARTstor

early 400 images of works by Judy Chicago are now available in the Digital Library. Judy Chicago (b. 1939) is an artist, author, feminist, and educator whose career spans four decades. Her art has been frequently exhibited in the United States and internationally, and her ten published books are distributed worldwide. Chicago's most well-known work, The Dinner Party (1974–1979), is an icon of feminist art and was executed with the participation of hundreds of volunteers. In 2007, the Brooklyn Museum opened the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, which includes as its centerpiece a space specifically designed for the permanent installation of Chicago's landmark work. The collection in ARTstor will consist of images depicting The Dinner Party, along with individual works and other collaborative projects from throughout Chicago's career, such as the Birth Project (1980–1985), Powerplay (1982–1987), Holocaust Project (1985–1993), Resolutions: A Stitch in Time (1994–2000), and recent works in glass.

Judy Chicago's work is included in the permanent collections of numerous museums, including: The British Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Getty Trust, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Photographer Donald Woodman (b. 1945), Chicago's husband, collaborated with Chicago on the Holocaust Project and also photographed many of her works.

For more detailed information about this collection, visit the Judy Chicago collection page.

November 10, 2010

To Fight Diseases, Colleges Push Effort to Create Better Brain Maps

By Paul Basken
From The Chronicle of Higher Education

n the years after World War II, the French psychiatrist Jean Talairach was so determined to help epilepsy patients that he devised a detailed map of the brain to guide doctors during surgery.

A half-century later, Dr. Talairach's grid system, despite major shortcomings—it was based solely on the brain of a small, 60-year-old French woman—remains a standard atlas for surgery and for neurological research.

This fall, on 11 university campuses in the United States and Europe, scientists have embarked on a $40-million, five-year, federally sponsored project to redraw the map. They are using new incarnations of imaging technology to vastly improve the basic understanding of the connections that wire together the brain, in the hope that their work may help people with debilitating mental conditions like Alzheimer's disease and severe autism.

It's called the Human Connectome Project, a name chosen to invoke the groundbreaking significance of last decade's Human Genome Project, a chart of human DNA. And while that $3-billion endeavor had to map approximately 25,000 genes, the Connectome Project, with much less money, will try to bring order to a system of some 100 billion neurons in each human brain.

Read more.

November 9, 2010

World Social Science Report - Knowledge Divides

Source: International Social Science Council (UNESCO)

I welcome the publication of the 2010 World Social Science Report, the first thorough overview of this important field in more than a decade. Edited by and co-published with the International Social Science Council (ISSC), it is the product of the active engagement of hundreds of professional social scientists who have contributed their expertise to make this publication a reference.

The Report reaffirms UNESCO’s commitment to the social sciences, and our desire to set a new global agenda to promote them as an invaluable tool for the advancement of the internationally agreed development goals. UNESCO, with its emphasis on the management of social transformation, is concerned that the social sciences should be put to use to improve human well-being and to respond to global challenges. As long ago as 1974, UNESCO’s General Conference adopted a Recommendation on the Status of Scientific Researchers which emphasized ’the need to apply science and technology in a great variety of specific fields of wider than national concern: namely such vast and complex problems as the preservation of international peace and the elimination of want’.

Today, the social sciences bring greater clarity to our understanding of how human populations interact with one another, and, by extension, with the environment. The ideas and information they generate can therefore make a precious contribution to the formulation of effective policies to shape our world for the greater good.

Yet, social scientific knowledge is at risk in the parts of the world where it is most needed. The huge disparities in research capacities across countries and the fragmentation of knowledge hamper the capacity of social sciences to respond to the challenges of today and tomorrow. While we may be building a ’knowledge society‘, it is one that looks very different depending on one’s regional perspective. Social scientists produce work of outstanding quality and tremendous practical value, but, as this Report illustrates, social scientific knowledge is often the least developed in those parts of the world where it is most keenly needed – hence this publication’s title, ’Knowledge Divides’.

Read the full report.

India-U.S. Relations

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Secrecy News)

Long considered a “strategic backwater” from Washington’s perspective, South Asia emerged in the 21st century as increasingly vital to core U.S. foreign policy interests. India, the region’s dominant actor with more than one billion citizens, is often characterized as a nascent great power and “indispensible partner” of the United States, one that many analysts view as a potential counterweight to China’s growing clout. Since 2004, Washington and New Delhi have been pursuing a “strategic partnership” based on shared values and apparently convergent geopolitical interests. Numerous economic, security, and global initiatives, including plans for civilian nuclear cooperation, are underway. This latter initiative, first launched in 2005, reversed three decades of U.S. nonproliferation policy. Also in 2005, the United States and India signed a ten-year defense framework agreement to expanding bilateral security cooperation. The two countries now engage in numerous and unprecedented combined military exercises, and major U.S. arms sales to India are underway. The value of all bilateral trade tripled from 2004 to 2008 and continues to grow; significant two-way investment also flourishes. The influence of a large Indian-American community is reflected in Congress’s largest country-specific caucus. More than 100,000 Indian students are attending American universities.

Further U.S. attention on South Asia focuses on ongoing, historically-rooted tensions between IIndia and Pakistan. In the interests of regional stability, in particular as a means of facilitating U.S.-led efforts to stabilize nearby Afghanistan, the United States strongly endorses an existing, but largely moribund India-Pakistan peace initiative, and remains concerned about the potential for conflict over Kashmiri sovereignty to cause open hostilities between these two nuclear-armed countries. The United States also seeks to curtail the proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles in South Asia.

Read the full report.

November 8, 2010

The New Landscape of Chinese Ink Painting

By Barbara Pollack
From ARTnews (v.109, no.8)

With approaches ranging from reverent to subversive, artists are finding ways to put a contemporary twist on an ancient tradition

Contemporary Chinese art has attracted so much attention in recent years that it is hard to imagine any overlooked artist or movement. But while many oil painters and conceptual artists like Cai Guo-Qiang and Zhang Huan have become art stars and millionaires, practitioners of traditional ink-and-brush painting have largely been ignored. Now, with major exhibitions in the works at U.S. museums, and with strong results in the auction houses, contemporary Chinese ink painting is finally moving into the spotlight.

"It is time for people to get to know about China in a more esthetic, contemplative way," says Hao Sheng, curator of Chinese art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where his exhibition "Fresh Ink: Ten Takes on Chinese Tradition" will open on November 20. The exhibition will pair works from the museum’s renowned collection of Chinese painting with art made in response to it by contemporary Chinese artists, many of whom are trained in classical ink painting.

Read more.

November 5, 2010

Looking for Neutrinos, Nature's Ghost Particles

By Ann Finkbeiner
Smithsonian magazine, November 2010

To study some of the most elusive particles, physicists have built detectors in abandoned mines, tunnels and Antarctic ice

We’re awash in neutrinos. They’re among the lightest of the two dozen or so known subatomic particles and they come from all directions: from the Big Bang that began the universe, from exploding stars and, most of all, from the sun. They come straight through the earth at nearly the speed of light, all the time, day and night, in enormous numbers. About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through our bodies every second.

The problem for physicists is that neutrinos are impossible to see and difficult to detect. Any instrument designed to do so may feel solid to the touch, but to neutrinos, even stainless steel is mostly empty space, as wide open as a solar system is to a comet. What’s more, neutrinos, unlike most subatomic particles, have no electric charge—they’re neutral, hence the name—so scientists can’t use electric or magnetic forces to capture them. Physicists call them “ghost particles.”

To capture these elusive entities, physicists have conducted some extraordinarily ambitious experiments. So that neutrinos aren’t confused with cosmic rays (subatomic particles from outer space that do not penetrate the earth), detectors are installed deep underground. Enormous ones have been placed in gold and nickel mines, in tunnels beneath mountains, in the ocean and in Antarctic ice. These strangely beautiful devices are monuments to humankind’s resolve to learn about the universe.

Read more.

November 3, 2010

Art of the Conference Paper

By Alessandro Angelini
From Inside Higher Ed

Recently, I dedicated two weekends to that time-honored graduate-student rite of passage, the academic conference. In those intervals between the battery of panel sessions spent wandering hotel corridors with dog-eared program in hand, as well as during the last long bus ride back home, I had time to reflect on my colleagues’ performances as well as my own. Simply put, I noticed that there are some practices that contribute toward engaging presentations, and other habits that make for canned, lifeless recitation.

Graduate students especially, I observed, seem to gravitate toward one of two unfortunate oratory personas. One archetype is the perhaps well-prepared but painfully meek presenter who races through her text without pausing to take a breath. Hunched over the lectern, terrified and yet robotic, like a contestant on a game show with no reward but to avoid public humiliation. The other type is the scholar who doesn’t regard the limits -- neither of chronological time nor of the attention span of the audience. Shuffling pages of marked-up drafts, it’s all excess, aggregated thoughts without conclusion. A verbal Pollock painting, some method but mostly mess.

Read full article.

November 2, 2010

New Database: European Views of the Americas

This new bibliographic database is a valuable index for scholars and individuals interested in European works that relate to the Americas. It's a product from EBSCO Publishing in cooperation with the John Carter Brown Library. The database is created from European Americana: A Chronological Guide to Works Printed in Europe Relating to the Americas, 1493-1750, the authoritative bibliography that is well-known and respected by scholars worldwide.

The database contains more than 32,000 entries and is a comprehensive guide to printed records about the Americas written in Europe before 1750. It covers the history of European exploration as well as portrayals of Native American peoples. A wide range of subject areas are covered; from natural disasters to disease outbreaks and slavery. The original bibliography was co-developed by John Alden and Dennis Landis, Curator of European Books at The John Carter Brown Library. The John Carter Brown Library, founded in 1846 is a foremost repository of rare books and materials and is a center for advanced research in history and the humanities.

Links to this database are available on the library's alphabetical database list, the Research Tools page, and the database description page.

November 1, 2010

Analyzing their bodies by the numbers

By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

Body scanners such as the Bod Pod allow people to get more detailed data about the makeup of their bodies, and local gyms' customers are lining up for a closer look

Inside a tiny trailer outside the Fort Avenue Merritt Athletic Club, a 56-year-old chief financial officer stripped, down to a spandex swimsuit.

Out of his office uniform — tweed jacket, jeans — Sam Ulan strapped on a blue swimming cap and climbed onto what looked like an arcade space shuttle.

If he looked like a trapped polar bear inside the contraption, he was doing it for a good reason.

He was getting his body fat measured.

"I'm getting on in years and I'm trying to reach an ideal weight to avoid health problems," he said.

Ulan's been on a tear to lose weight since the beginning of the year, and he's been using this machine, called the Bod Pod, to track his progress.

It used to be your bathroom scale was the way to do this. If you wanted to get clinical about it, your doctor might have used skinfold calipers to measure excess fat.

Read full article.

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