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December 17, 2010

In 500 Billion Words, New Window on Culture

By Patricia Cohen
From New York Times, The

With little fanfare, Google has made a mammoth database culled from nearly 5.2 million digitized books available to the public for free downloads and online searches, opening a new landscape of possibilities for research and education in the humanities.

The digital storehouse, which comprises words and short phrases as well as a year-by-year count of how often they appear, represents the first time a data set of this magnitude and searching tools are at the disposal of Ph.D.’s, middle school students and anyone else who likes to spend time in front of a small screen. It consists of the 500 billion words contained in books published between 1500 and 2008 in English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Russian.

The intended audience is scholarly, but a simple online tool allows anyone with a computer to plug in a string of up to five words and see a graph that charts the phrase’s use over time — a diversion that can quickly become as addictive as the habit-forming game Angry Birds.

With a click you can see that “women,” in comparison with “men,” is rarely mentioned until the early 1970s, when feminism gained a foothold. The lines eventually cross paths about 1986.

You can also learn that Mickey Mouse and Marilyn Monroe don’t get nearly as much attention in print as Jimmy Carter; compare the many more references in English than in Chinese to “Tiananmen Square” after 1989; or follow the ascent of “grilling” from the late 1990s until it outpaced “roasting” and “frying” in 2004.

Read the full article.

December 14, 2010

Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading

By Steve Graham and Michael Hebert
From Alliance for Excellent Education/Carnegie Corporation of New York

One often-overlooked tool for improving students’ reading, as well as their learning from text, is writing. Writing has the theoretical potential for enhancing reading in three ways. First, reading and writing are both functional activities that can be combined to accomplish specific goals, such as learning new ideas presented in a text (Fitzgerald and Shanahan, 2000). For instance, writing about information in a science text should facilitate comprehension and learning, as it provides the reader with a means for recording, connecting, analyzing, personalizing, and manipulating key ideas from the text. Second, reading and writing are connected, as they draw upon common knowledge and cognitive processes (Shanahan, 2006). Consequently, improving students’ writing skills should result in improved reading skills. Third, reading and writing are both communication activities, and writers should gain insight about reading by creating their own texts (Tierney and Shanahan, 1991), leading to better comprehension of texts produced by others.

This report provides evidence answering the following three questions:

1. Does writing about material students read enhance their reading comprehension?

2. Does teaching writing strengthen students’ reading skills?

3. Does increasing how much students write improve how well they read?

Read the full article.

December 10, 2010

ARTstor Travel Awards 2011

From ARTstor

While the digital age is opening up new ways of using images of the world's cultural heritage in teaching and scholarship, there is no substitute for engaging with original works and sites or primary source material, or for attending conferences with colleagues. In recognition of this need, ARTstor is providing five travel awards in the amount of $1,500 each (to be used by December 31, 2012) to help support the educational and scholarly activities—such as flying to a conference—of graduate students, scholars, curators, educators, and librarians in any field.

To be considered for an award, applicants must create and submit an ARTstor image group (or a series of image groups) and a single accompanying essay that creatively and compellingly demonstrates why the image group(s) is useful for teaching, research, or scholarship. These submissions will help us better understand the uses that scholars and teachers are making of the ARTstor Digital Library's content and tools and will provide insight into how we can better serve the educational community. The five winning submissions will be determined by ARTstor staff. Please note that this award is not intended to sponsor new photography for the ARTstor Digital Library.

Visit ARTstor for Rules and application instructions.

December 9, 2010

Lasers Give Scientists Close-Up View of the Skin

By Jennifer Chu
From Technology Review

The new technique could lead to an alternative to biopsies.

Scientists at Harvard University have developed a noninvasive imaging technique that captures images at the molecular level so quickly that they can "watch" red blood cells move through the capillaries of a live mouse. The system uses two laser beams set at different frequencies to excite specific types of molecules in the skin. A custom-designed detector picks up the excited molecular signal and translates it into an image.

Sunney Xie, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard, says the technique could be a noninvasive alternative to often painful and time-consuming skin biopsies.

"To identify a solid tumor, tumor margins, and metastasis requires cutting and slicing tissue, staining it with dye, and looking at it under a microscope in a pathology lab next door—a process that could take 15 to 20 minutes," says Xie. "Here, we don't need a biopsy; we can obtain almost identical images without cutting the tissue."

Read more.

December 8, 2010

Tomorrow's Reading

By Bridget Kinsella

What's the future of publishing if screens trump pages, and 'click here to buy' supplants bookstores?

"You're not afraid of heights, are you?" John Sargent, the CEO of Macmillan publishing, asks as he steps onto the balcony.

This perch on the 19th-floor prow of New York's Flatiron Building is a striking place—in late spring 2010—for a conversation with the head of the nation's sixth largest publisher. Looking out from Sargent's office in this 1902 architectural marvel, it is hard not to notice that the vistas from this Fifth Avenue landmark were overshadowed only three decades later by an Art Deco triumph of its day: the Empire State Building. And if the new skyscraper recently approved by the New York City Council for 15 Penn Plaza actually gets built, the mighty Empire State Building will see its views usurped.

Sooner or later, every innovation or enterprise is upstaged by the next, whether it be empire, architecture or—the topic at hand—the distribution method of the written word.

In a year in which an estimated 10.3 million e-reading devices will be purchased, virtually everyone agrees that the book industry is experiencing a tectonic shift. There's far less consensus about what the shift will mean. If the traditionally high barriers to publication fall, will that produce a world of unimagined richness or one mired in dross? If the cost of reading plummets, will that mean that everybody reads more widely or that nobody bothers to? Is the printed book a technology whose time has flown or one too valuable to lose? With questions like these in mind, STANFORD talked with three alumni influential in publishing—Sargent, '79, Grove/Atlantic Press publisher Morgan Entrekin, '77, and Counterpoint publisher Charlie Winton, '74.

Read the full article.

December 7, 2010

Big Bang Poured Out "Liquid" Universe, Atom Smasher Hints

By Ker Than
From National Geographic News

Pinhead-size drop would have had same mass as Egypt's pyramids, expert says.

In the immediate aftermath of the big bang, the universe behaved like a very dense, superhot liquid, according to data from the most powerful atom-smashing experiment yet performed.

Physicists recently re-created the conditions of the big bang using the ALICE detector in the Large Hadron Collider (pictures) near Geneva, Switzerland. The scientists smashed together lead ions—atoms of lead that had been stripped of their electrons—at nearly the speed of light.

The experiment successfully created a tiny "subatomic volume" of a primordial state of matter known as a quark-gluon plasma. This exotic substance is thought to have existed only briefly in the early universe.

The plasma is made of subatomic particles called quarks and gluons. Quarks are the elementary building blocks of positively charged protons and neutral neutrons, which make up the cores of atoms. Gluons are particles that "glue" quarks together using what's called the strong force.

In normal matter, quarks and gluons exist as tightly bound bundles. (Related: "Strange Particle Created; May Rewrite How Matter's Made.")

Previous experiments had shown that at extremely high temperatures, the strong force weakens and quarks and gluons can't join. Some theories had therefore predicted that quarks and gluons would have been widely spaced in the extreme heat of the very early universe, so that the quark-gluon plasma would have behaved like a gas.

Read full article.

December 6, 2010

Mercury Serves up a Nuclear Surprise

By Eugenie Samuel Reich
From naturenews

The discovery of a new type of fission turns a tenet of nuclear theory on its head.

The observation of an unexpected nuclear reaction by an unstable isotope of the element mercury has thrown up a rare puzzle. The enigma is helping theorists to tackle one of the trickiest problems in physics: developing a more complete model of the atomic nucleus.

Nuclear fission, the process in which a nucleus heavier than that of iron breaks into pieces, is generally observed to be symmetric, with the resulting fragments being roughly equal in size. Although instances of asymmetric fission are known, they are usually attributed to the preferential formation of 'magic' nuclei, in which shells in the nuclear structure are filled to capacity.

So when researchers on the ISOLDE experiment at CERN, Europe's particle-physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, set out to study the decay of mercury-180 — containing 80 protons and 100 neutrons — they expected it to break into two nuclei of zirconium-90, each containing 40 protons and 50 neutrons. They assumed that outcome would be particularly favoured because 40 and 50 are magic numbers for which shells would be exactly filled.

But the mercury dealt a surprise, splitting instead into ruthenium-100 and krypton-80. "A symmetric split should be dominant and we show that it doesn't happen," says ISOLDE member Andrei Andreyev, presently of the University of the West of Scotland in Paisley. The result is in press at Physical Review Letters.

Read the full article.

December 1, 2010

Elusive Protein Factory Mapped at Last

By Daniel Cressey

It has long been the pot of protein gold at the end of the X-ray rainbow for researchers mapping the workings of life at the most basic level. Now, after years of work and amid fierce competition from rival teams, a structure for the eukaryotic ribosome has been unveiled.

Ribosomes — large complexes of protein and RNA — are used by every animal to turn genetic information into proteins, a process known as translation. They are of fundamental importance for the survival of a cell, and their structure is strongly conserved throughout evolution.

About a decade ago, atomic-resolution maps of ribosomes from bacteria and archaea were created by firing X-rays at ribosome crystals and analysing the resulting diffraction patterns. This work later won the biological cartographers responsible a Nobel prize. But the structure has proved harder to pin down in eukaryotes — including animals and plants — which have relatively complex cells with nuclei.

Read more.

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