Screens Get in Shape
newspapers or magazinescomputer screens that can be rolled up
and stuffed into a pocket like a papermay soon become reality.
With the help of researchers from Kent State and Pennsylvania State
universities, New Jersey's Sarnoff Corp. has developed the first
flexible liquid crystal display (LCD) screen that's capable of
displaying video images. LCD screens currently are made of glass. Sarnoff
is using special transistors developed at Penn State that are made of
plastic, rather than silicon, and liquid crystals from Kent State that
can be sandwiched between sheets of thin plastic. It was really
a team effort, says John West, head of Kent State's Liquid
Crystal Institute. Sarnoff predicts that flexible LCD screens will be
commercially available within three to five years. A representative
says the technology also means that portable computers will become more
lightweight and durable, as well as cheaper. In addition to electronic
papers and magazines, the technology should help launch other consumer
goods, including screens that are wearable. At any rate, flexible screens
may be the biggest advance in publishing since Johann Gutenberg's
movable type put a lot of monks out of work.
Times for dolly
Scotland The Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, is home
to the world's most famous sheep. Dolly, of course, scampered onto
the global stage in 1996 as the world's first animal clone. Roslin
opened in 1947 as an agricultural research center to help boost food
productivity in war-ravenged Britain and has since become a leader in
genetic research on farm animals. But largely because of public mistrust
of genetically-modified foods, Roslin is shifting its efforts away from
agriculture to biomedical applications of cloning technology, mainly
stem cells and nuclear transfer. Indeed, the Dolly project was done
not only to prove that scientists could create exact copies of elite
farm animals but to take advantage of the technology's potential
medical uses, explains Harry Griffin, assistant director for science
at Roslin. But anti-GM sentiment in Britain and Europe makes it hard
to sell the public on animals that have been genetically altered. There
is little purpose in producing disease-resistant animals if consumers
won't eat them. Of be nefit to farmers are efforts around Britain
to make pigs leaner and meatier, to improve wool growth in sheep, and
to make intensive pig-farming more environmentally friendly by producing
pigs that excrete fewer phosphates.
also is moving away from purely agri-research for financial reasons.
Since the 1980s, Britain's farms have attained such high productivity
that Roslin is grappling with the law of diminishing returns. Because
there are fewer but more productive farms, agricultural research funds
are drying up. But people seem ready to accept high-tech drugs, so research
dollars are flocking to biomedical projects. For Roslin, biomedicine
is not such ba-a-a-ad direction to take.
on the Runway
designer Jhane Barnes uses fractal geometry to help her come up with
beautiful prints. Fractal geometry produces patterns that repeat on
a diminishing scale, resulting in abstract designs. Now, a new program
in Ohio is using Barnes and her designs to help make mathematics less
abstract to students. Ohio Math Works (www.ohiomathworks.com)
is a collaboration between public television stations and businesses
to help students in grades 7-9 realize just how useful math is in real
life. It was launched after proficiency test results showed that the
state's ninth graders were still struggling with math. The result
of the partnership is five 20-minute videos in which Barnes and her
staff of mathematicians discuss the importance of equations to her work.
also includes a teacher's guide. The kit was distributed free to
math teachers at schools in low-income neighborhoods around the state.
Other schools can purchase the video package at cost for $68. Other
video kits show how math is used in the designing of theme park rides,
the manufacturing of snack foods, and sports reporting. The feedback
we're getting has been quite positive, says Jeanne Grueter,
program development producer at WCET, a PBS station in Cincinnati. Teachers
tell us that the project has shown students how math is needed in their
careers, creates interest in math, and increases students' motivation
to learn math. Grueter, who produced the videos, says Ohio Math
Works is now working with the Agency for Instructional Technology to
distribute the videos nationally in the 2002-2003 school year under
the name Math@Work. And that sounds like a formula for success.
Cheating Down Under
Australia The newest threat to academic integrity in Western
Australia comes from a university student who was caught e-cheating.
The school called this relatively new phenomenon a growing problem.
at Murdoch University in Perth, the student created a false e-mail account
in the name of a staff member at the university's twin school in
Malaysia. He then used it to impersonate the teacher by sending a request
to a professor in Perth. The e-mail message asked for questions and
answers for an upcoming examination which the impersonator would proctor.
The request was regarded as normal because the teacher in Malaysia would
be involved in grading students' papers.
did the student keep the e-mailed information for his own use but he
also gave the answers to two classmates.
campus found out about the scam before the test was given and tipped
off its Australian partner. Murdoch administrators acted swiftly, expelling
the main offender and disciplining the two others. Safeguards have since
been put in place to reduce the risk of similar incidents. Staff have
been instructed to verify by other methods, such as telephone calls,
that any e-mailed request for examination questions comes from an authorized
World on the Move
today's developing countries may soon propel themselves into the
economic first tier, thanks to their embrace of technology and education.
A recent study by the National Alliance of Business says that countries
ranging from China to Mexico to Brazil are building a technology
infrastructure and an educated workforce that will enable them to leapfrog
ahead at unprecedented speeds, which could give them economic
parity with the United States and other developed nations. The
alliance warns that this more skilled global workforce could threaten
America's competitiveness if U.S. companies are forced to
shift more of their production overseas to satisfy their growing need
for skilled workers. Though the world's pool of workers with
high-end skills, including engineers and software developers, is growing,
American companies may find it's not as easy to draw on that resource
as it has been in the past, the report says. That's because of
competition, as these fast-growing economies also start offering good
jobs and wages. There are, however, benefits for America as well. An
economic boom among developing countries would create strong overseas
markets that should boost international trade.
that the developing world is rapidly gaining on the United States is
stark. In China, computer use on a per capita basis grew 1,000 percent
between 1992 and 2000. In India, the jump was 604 percent in the same
period, and it was 565 percent in Brazil. Usage in America grew by just
148 percent. To be sure, such huge gains are easy to attain when starting
from almost scratch. Urbanization is another good indicator that a country
is morphing from a poorly-schooled agrarian society into a better-educated
industrial economy. The urban population of Brazil grew from less than
70 percent in 1980 to 80 percent in 1999; in China it grew from 20 percent
to 32 percent, and in Indonesia from 22 percent to 40 percent. Globally,
the urban population rose from 40 percent to around 46 percent. During
that same period, the world's literacy rate climbed from just over
60 percent to nearly 80 percent. In India, literacy jumped from 42 percent
to nearly 60 percent. And between 1980 and 1997, enrollment in postsecondary
schools also posted impressive gains in Third World countries. It leaped
28.4 percent in Turkey, 19.1 percent in Indonesia, and 15.6 percent
in China. As of 1997, the numbers of postsecondary students in China
and India were nearly half the U.S. level. If those growth rates continue,
postsecondary enrollment in those countries will soon surpass U.S. totals.
For One and All
college students, the laptop has become as essential as the textbook.
Which is why the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last year
became the nation's first public university requiring students
to purchase one. The program is being phased in over four years with
each freshman class; in this academic year, half of UNC's 15,400
undergraduates now tote portable computers. It's been working
amazingly well, says Marian Moore, vice chancellor for information
and developer of the program. To help make it affordable, North Carolina
worked out a deal with IBM that cut the price of mid-range laptops by
about $800. The basic machine costs $2,400, including a four-year warranty,
insurance, upgrades, and myriad software. Each year, UNC spends $2.4
million on a grant program to give 1,000 laptops to financial-aid students.
All other students are pre-approved for a low-interest loan to cover
the cost of the computers.
says that the IBM deal ensures that all students use laptops that conform
to a minimum standard, which has been set fairly high. Students are
told that laptops, like textbooks, are mandatory, but then they are
on their own to obtain one. We treat them like adults, Moore
says. Classroom laptop uses include: allowing chemistry students to
measure and collect data from lab experiments; helping calculus students
visualize difficult concepts with state-of-the-art software graphics;
and letting music students download and hear musical masterpieces. To
help teachers make the most out of this new cybertool, the school's
Academic Technology and Networks staff gave computer training to faculty
members in the College of Arts and Sciences.
schools that have instituted mandatory laptop requirements, including
Wake Forest, hiked tuition to pay for the machines. As popular as they
are, not all laptop programs have succeeded. The Massachusetts Board
of Education recommended a three-year, $60 million program to hand laptops
to all students attending public institutions. However, the legislature
balked at the fat price tag because it would take too big a byte out
of state funds.
to the Rescue
September 11, the use of robots to help in search-and-rescue efforts
after a disaster was purely an academic exercise. Robots had only been
put to the test on obstacle courses, and the first fully functioning
prototypes were still months away from handling a real-life emergency.
That all changed when two commercial airliners were hijacked by terrorists
and slammed into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center,
collapsing the 110-story landmarks and burying thousands of victims
in tons of rubble, glass, and twisted steel. Engineers from private
and academic research labs, including the University of South Florida's
Robin Murphy, an associate professor of computer science and engineering,
descended on Manhattan with 16 robots in tow and put them to work.
first 11 days after the tragedy, the mechanical rescuers helped find
five bodies and were used to snoop through areas of the wreckage deemed
too risky for humans to enter. They also helped rescue teams determine
which parts of Ground Zero were too dangerous to enter, Murphy says.
Indeed, three robots were lost in the debris and two others were damaged
during the mission. Two of the robots were the size of a shoebox and
controlled by a tether; the others were about as big as a small suitcase
and operated remotely. Most move about on tank-like treads. Some robots
carry color video cameras, others use infrared cameras to detect heat
and sensors that can see colored clothing. All of the robots
were developed with funds from the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency of the Defense Department. DARPA got involved after the Oklahoma
City bombing when it realized that robots had the potential to help
rescue disaster victims. The New York team was organized by the National
Institute for Urban Search and Rescue's Center for Robot Assisted
Search and Rescue. Companies involved included iRobot Corp. and engineering
firm Foster-Miller, both headquartered in Massachusetts.
says the robot technology is so new that none of the WTC rescue teams
were even aware of its existence. But they were impressedwith the robots'
performance, she adds. And because this was the first real test of the
robots, it gave researchers valuable information toward making design
improvements. Future models will include sensors for atmospheric temperatures
and gases. The robots also need to become more adaptable, so that various
sensors can be added or replaced as needed on scene. We walked
away a lot smarter, Murphy says.
Fairer Shake for Postdocs?
federal appeals court ruling will make it easier for postdocs and low-ranking
faculty members to seek legal recourse if they think they've been
cheated out of their fair share of intellectual property rights. Junior
academics have long complained that when it comes to reaping the financial
rewards of scientific discoveries, they're often shortchanged.
Former University of Chicago postdoc Joany Chou insists that 11 years
ago she discovered a variant herpesvirus gene that might be used to
make a vaccine. Her lab chief Bernard Roizman, a top virologist, and
the school patented the gene four years later. Though her case was dismissed
by a federal judge, a three-member panel of the U.S. Appeals Court for
the Federal Circuit in Washington unanimously upheld Chou's right
to sue for proceeds, setting precedent, says Chou's attorney Paul
Vickery. The appellate ruling, of course, did not address the validity
of Chou's claim. We still have to prove our case, but we're
pretty confident of winning this on its merits, Vickery says.
The trial is expected early in 2002. Chou will seek millions
of dollars, but hasn't set an exact amount yet. We still
have to determine how much the defendants made, he explains.