Schmitt Shoots!!

 


    Physics

Stellar Performance
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star....”
This child’s verse takes for granted the existence of the thousands of tiny flecks of light that brighten the night sky. Little understood is the fact that the birth of a single star depends on a series of random events, including the marriage of hydrogen atoms that happen to land on the same speck of microscopic interstellar dust.

Molecular hydrogen is the most abundant molecule floating around the universe. Composed of two hydrogen atoms stuck together, it is an essential component in star formation, says physics professor Gianfranco Vidali of the College of Arts and Sciences. But until five years ago, scientists relied only on a theory of how molecular hydrogen formed in interstellar space. In 1997, Vidali and his team of researchers—including professors Valerio Pirronello of the University of Catania, Sicily, and Ofer Biham of Hebrew University, Israel, and SU graduate and undergraduate students—became the first in the world to demonstrate the process using a Molecular Beam Apparatus they built in the sub-basement of the Physics Building. Their research was published in the prestigious Journal of Astrophysics. The apparatus enables the researchers to study how hydrogen atoms react with substances found on Earth that are similar to interstellar dust. The extremely cold (10 degrees Kelvin above absolute zero) and low pressure (less than a trillionth of atmospheric pressure) conditions inside the small, liquid helium-filled chamber resemble the conditions in space.

They proved the first part of the theory—that hydrogen atoms find each other on tiny dust particles. But the data they collected did not jibe with other parts of the theory that used properties of quantum mechanics to explain the mechanism by which hydrogen atoms move about on the dust grains. Since then, Vidali and his colleagues have worked on devising experiments that will measure the speed and spin of the hydrogen molecules as they are ejected from the surface of the dust particles, which are smaller than the width of a human hair. They also want to measure the amount of heat the dust particles absorb from the process. “These experiments are technically very difficult,” Vidali says.

It turns out that measuring the speed of the molecules is the simpler experiment, which incorporates the use of lasers and computers. Taking the temperature of dust particles is tough. To do that experiment, Vidali plans to use superconductor bolometers, tiny instruments (about one-tenth of an inch in size) that are used on the Hubble Telescope to detect small amounts of energy.

And, as if the technical difficulties aren’t enough to worry about, laboratories in Paris, London, and the Netherlands are also competing to be the first to either prove or disprove the original theory. “Other scientists have copied our apparatus and traveled here to look around and get ideas,” Vidali says. “It’s good to have others replicate one’s results, although it will be nice if we are the first to answer the questions that arose from our 1997 published results.”

—Judy Holmes

 

 

Schmitt Shoots!!



    Psychology

Healthy Writing Habits
Although many people consider writing in a journal to be mentally therapeutic, few are aware of the physical benefits associated with expressing thoughts and feelings on paper—a form of stress relief that psychologists call expressive writing. Psychology professor Joshua Smyth has uncovered numerous health benefits of expressive writing. He recently co-edited The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing Promotes Health and Emotional Well-Being (American Psychological Association, 2002), which explains the cognitive, emotional, and biological ways structured writing therapy influences health. Smyth and his co-editor, Professor Stephen Lepore of Brooklyn College, summarize many studies on expressive writing, providing examples of how its use can improve the immune system and lung function, diminish psychological distress, and enhance relationships and social-role functioning. “My work covers the interplay among mental, social, and psychological states and the physical or biological state,” says Smyth, who works in the Center for Health and Behavior housed in the psychology department in the College of Arts and Sciences. He studies the impact of stress and the methods used by individuals to reduce or manage it.

Smyth maintains that stress puts people at risk for the onset of disease, or the exacerbation of existing disease. To learn more, he and his colleagues embarked on the SHADE (Stress, Health, And Daily Experiences) Project, a study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute that addresses how daily experiences relate to health and well-being among individuals with such chronic physical illnesses as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. They are also examining the relationship between an expressive writing task, which supplements medical care, and dealing with the stress of illness.

The project uses a new assessment technique that Smyth hopes will be more valid than previous studies. “Instead of interviewing subjects in a laboratory environment, we are trying to learn more about people as they go about their daily activities,” Smyth says. To do this, he equipped participants with programmed handheld computers that they carry with them every day. At different times each day the computer beeps and asks them questions about what they are doing and how they are feeling. Because participants respond to questions a number of times a day for several weeks, the study provides a more comprehensive picture of their lives than is possible in clinical settings.

Smyth plans to continue studying health psychology topics in the future. “There’s a lot to learn about the way stress is involved with health and how we can intervene to promote well-being,” Smyth says. “We also need to determine how to incorporate intervention into people’s lifestyles and the medical care system throughout society.”

—Kathryn Smith

 

 

Schmitt Shoots!!




    Communications

Media Sensation
Crime, scandal, and disaster stories often make a newspaper’s front page or lead the evening news, as do positive occurrences that are sensational or unusual in some way. Are human beings by nature programmed to be fascinated by such anomalies? Pamela Shoemaker, the John Ben Snow Professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, has spent much of her 23-year career studying why news agencies give so much ink to such “deviant” stories—a term she uses because the stories break from society’s norms. “There really has not been a specific definition of what news is,” Shoemaker says. “Journalists can give you a list of things that make something newsworthy, but when you ask why these things make it newsworthy, you can’t get an answer.”

In Mediating the Message: Theories of Influence on Mass Media Content (Longman, 1996), Shoemaker and co-author Stephen Reese outline several factors that influence what newsrooms in America consider to be a newsworthy story. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly cited the book in its list of the 35 most significant journalism and communication books of the 20th century. For the past three years, Shoemaker has worked on a project that tests her theories about deviant news coverage in the United States and nine other countries. Along with her co-investigator, Akiba Cohen, a professor at Tel Aviv University in Israel, Shoemaker designed a project that analyzed the content of media reports and gathered personal opinions from focus groups in Australia, Chile, China, Germany, India, Israel, Jordan, Russia, South Africa, and the United States. Approximately 150 scholars reviewed newspaper, radio, and television coverage in one large and one small city in each country. The scholars summarized their news story analyses and findings from the focus groups, noting the extent to which the themes of deviance and social significance appeared.

Initial results indicate that media worldwide cover stories involving negative and unusual behavior more regularly than other news stories, Shoemaker says. Through the study, she hopes to educate the general public about how media outlets work. “People might begin to realize that media news does not necessarily mirror reality,” Shoemaker says. She expects to publish a trilogy, What Is News?, from the findings. The first book, authored by Shoemaker and Cohen, will explain their hypothesis and the methods used throughout the project, and then give a country-by-country breakdown of the data. The second book will feature essays from 20 international scholars who share their definitions of news. In the last book Shoemaker will present her analysis of the worldwide study and discuss how the results fit with her initial theory about deviance. “It is my hope to come to some international theoretical conclusion dealing with the definition of news,” she says.

—Kristen Swing

 
John Dowling


    Cultural Studies


Musical Notes
Art provokes critical establishments and critical establishments provoke alternative critics. English professor Steven Cohan, who is the department’s director of graduate studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, can be counted among the latter. “I’m writing a comparative history,” says Cohan, “in which I contrast the cultural valences of MGM musicals in the ’40s and ’50s with their reception by contemporary audiences who have come to know them through home video, laser disc collector’s sets, and such cable channels as Turner Classic Movies.” The work-in-progress is titled Improbable Stuff: Camp and the MGM Musical During the Studio Era and Afterward.

Cohan is unsatisfied by the predigested and often neutered interpretations of MGM musicals that are uttered by film presenters on cable television or appear in the liner notes of mass-marketed media products. Among his goals is an attempt to fully recover the “camp” qualities of such films as Bathing Beauty (1944) starring Esther Williams and The Pirate (1948) starring Gene Kelly. “I’m interested in what these musicals do in terms of the representation of gender and sexuality, and the effect they are having on the shifting status of ‘camp,’” Cohan says.

He defines “camp” as the quality generated in film (and other art forms) by exaggerated theatricality and self-consciously played gender roles and gender bending. It is an aesthetic experience that has long been appreciated by gay audiences for its implied subversive critique of “mainstream” sexual propriety. “The easy availability of films since the ’90s has created new generations of viewers who are discussing these musicals on fan web pages and listservs on the Internet,” he says. “I want to show how, where, and why they resist the standard post-studio critical accounting of the musical, and that there is richer cultural complexity to the genre.” The book contains chapters on the historical source of camp in the MGM house style; camp stardom and female labor; camp masculinity in Gene Kelly’s persona; the reputation of Singin’ in the Rain as an effacement of camp; the appeal to camp in the remarketing of the musicals by the Turner company in the ’90s; and contemporary fan debates about the status of actress Judy Garland as a gay cult figure.

Cohan, who has written books on fiction and drama as well as cinema, is co-editor, with Ina Rae Hark, of Routledge Press’s “In Focus,” a series of critical anthologies that takes on a variety of film topics, including the musical, the horror movie, screen acting, and audience reception studies. He has little use for traditional critical hierarchies that dismiss the importance of the popular arts. “It’s been said of the Hollywood musical, ‘Scratch the surface and you get more surface,’” he says. “I’m arguing that there is much greater cultural depth in what musicals are doing.”

—David Marc

 

Steve Sartori



    Law

Heartache and Hope
College of Law professor Paula C. Johnson traveled the nation the past three years researching how the criminal justice system affects the lives of incarcerated African American women. She visited prisons in such states as New York, Louisiana, and Nevada and witnessed the struggles of these women who have been removed from society. “I wanted a geographical cross-section to get a variety of criminal offenses and views,” says Johnson, whose research will be published this year in the book Inner Lives: Voices of African American Women in Prison (New York University Press).

In the book, Johnson gives voice to 84 current and former African American women inmates, shares photographs of them, and explores the history of criminal punishment with a focus on alternatives to incarceration. “My research project is unique because of its different components,” she says. “In addition to legal and data analysis, it is critical to hear from women about their experiences and lives. And the photos put faces to the women’s words.”

Johnson offers a look at the lives of these women, who share their hope for a more prosperous future while dealing with the emotional turmoil of trying to remain connected to their families. She provides firsthand accounts of what happens to young women in prison and, through interviews with former inmates, shares insights on how they make the transition back into society. In the book’s foreword, for instance, former inmate Joyce Ann Logan explains how the lessons learned in prison—those involving faith, determination, and humanity—carry the women through their lives after returning to society. “I also interviewed family members for a sense of what it means to have a loved one in prison and what it means to support that loved one as well as support themselves,” she says.

Johnson hopes her research will inspire a stronger commitment to alternatives to incarceration, as well as foster a safer environment for African American girls and women. “African American women’s criminality often is in response to harm or neglect committed against them,” she says. “I argue that alternatives to incarceration will better serve the public interest, enhance African American women’s potential, and advance the democratic ideal for all citizens.”

—Lisa Miles

 

Schmitt Shoots!!

 


    Comparative Literature

Novel Approach

Don’t ask English professor Monika Wadman of the College of Arts and Sciences if she has read any good books lately—unless you’re prepared to stay a while. “I’m a great fan of Greg Sarris’s fiction,” she says. “His first collection of stories, Grand Avenue, and his first novel, Watermelon Nights, are extraordinary.” Wadman then rattles off a long list of novels and writers that reflects a wide range of cultures. “I could go on forever,” she says. “All the books on my course reading lists are extraordinary—that’s why I love teaching them.”

Wadman, who received a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard in 1999, focuses on contemporary American and French literature with special attention on ethnic and minority literatures. With the support of a 2002 SU Vision Fund grant, she is currently working on a project titled, “Teaching Native American Literatures with the Syracuse Area Native American Communities.” Its aim is to create and implement an introductory course in American Indian literature that is sensitive to concerns expressed by Native American intellectuals about the historical exclusion of indigenous peoples from academic discourse concerning their own cultures. “I want to infuse the course with a variety of Native perspectives,” Wadman says. “I’m inviting members of local Native communities as well as Native scholars from across the country to participate in the process of developing and teaching the course. I also would like to describe the process and theorize the work undertaken during the project in hopes that my writing will fruitfully contribute to the current debates over cultural ownership and issues of authority in speaking about, and for, minority communities.” If successful, Wadman believes the project can serve as a model not just for Native American studies, but for the broader field of ethnic studies.

Wadman believes that American literature is best viewed from a double perspective: “American literatures,” a collection of different literary traditions stemming from different population groups conquered and settled in the United States; and “American literature,” a vast body of writing originating in distinct cultural traditions and yet engaged in the common, though often conflictual project of giving expression to the variety of experiences made possible in America. Her course offerings include Contemporary Asian American Literature (from the former perspective) and Hybridity in Contemporary Writing in the United States (from the latter). “What has always made American literature exciting to me is the impossibility of closure, of coming up with a single description or set of characteristics that would account fully and comprehensively for the literary production of this country,” she says.

—David Marc

 
John Dowling


    Art Media Studies


Plugged In
Art media studies professor Tom Sherman of the College of Visual and Performing Arts became obsessed with technology in his youth. His obsession turned into a lifelong passion for learning about new technologies and examining the cultural changes they produce. “I was wired early in life, and over the years I’ve become fascinated by how people adopt new technologies and assimilate them into their daily lives,” Sherman says. “I want to understand how technology changes relationships in our media-saturated world.”

Sherman notes that in recent years society has been bombarded with new technologies at an accelerated rate. In an attempt to make sense out of these technological shock waves, he recently published Before and After the I-Bomb: An Artist in the Information Environment, a collection of essays about art, culture, and nature in the Information Age. Spanning three decades of innovative thought and inquiry, his book examines the technobabble and aftershocks of the information revolution and reveals possible truths about what the future may hold. “There’s a positive and negative side to technology,” Sherman says. “We just don’t know yet what all of the implications will be.”

Sherman’s essays express his love for, and struggle with, the new technologies and the resulting cultural changes. For instance, he says at first the common belief was that e-mail messaging would bring people closer together, when in reality it amplifies the distance between them. “By its very nature, e-mail language is abbreviated and abrupt, which has forced a brutal form of communication upon us,” he says. “As a result, many people feel even more isolated and alone. Hopefully in the future, video images will soften the hard edges of digital communication.”

Sherman observes that the proliferation of cell-phone technology accompanied by a rapid loss of privacy and personal space has contributed to a sense of powerlessness and hostility. He also believes the global connectivity of the World Wide Web makes people afraid to be alone, often leading to feelings of sadness and depression. “Technologies seldom become extinct—they accumulate,” he says. “We may have to continue to morph ourselves into cyborgs so we may function effectively as part human and part machine.”

—Christine Yackel

 

Steve Sartori



   Philosophy

Life and Law
During his 40-year career as a researcher and teacher, philosophy professor Samuel Gorovitz has made significant contributions in the areas of medical ethics, the teaching of writing, and curricular development. His two most recent books—Doctors’ Dilemmas: Moral Conflict and Medical Care (Oxford, 1985) and Drawing the Line: Life, Death, and Ethical Choices in an American Hospital (Oxford, 1991; Temple, 1993)—are widely used in many college classrooms. His essay, “Improving Academic Writing,” which he co-wrote with now retired SU philosophy professor Jonathan Bennett in 1997, challenged the quality of journal and scholarly writing and created such a stir that one university department gave a copy of the article to every one of its students and faculty members. “Philosophy is a unique discipline that requires a lot of reading of other people’s work and thinking deeply about fundamental problems,” says Gorovitz, a professor of philosophy and public administration at Syracuse University and the Dearing-Daly Professor of Bioethics and Humanities at SUNY Upstate Medical University. “I tend to do research on an accumulation of odd and diverse subjects.”

For the past 14 years, he has examined public health issues as a member of the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law, a group of 24 experts appointed by the governor to study public health problems and recommend policy changes to legislators. The task force, which issues a report on a major health issue every two years, is currently investigating alternative medical treatments, of which there are more than 200 varieties, including acupuncture, herbal remedies, and chanting done by healers. The committee is trying to determine whether and how treatments should be licensed and regulated, which should be reimbursed by insurers, and which require further research. “Nationally, more than $25 billion is spent each year on such treatments, but too little is known about them,” Gorovitz says. “Some seem to be genuinely helpful, but others have not only harmed, but have even killed people.”

When not conducting research on modern medical issues, the former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences develops new courses that challenge students to engage in a higher level of thinking. For instance, in his course Making Decisions, students spend the semester answering one question: What’s the difference between a decision made well and a decision made badly? “For a philosopher,” Gorovitz says, “research is about using your mind, not to absorb information, but to wrestle successfully with a problem.”

—Margaret Costello

 

John Dowling




    Bioengineering

Face Facts
As a leading expert on craniofacial biomechanics, bioengineering professor Karen M. Hiiemae is engaged in research that is, quite literally, “in your face.” Hiiemae has made a career-long study of the oro-facial complex in mammals, including humans. This area of human anatomy, which includes the jaw, hyoid bone, tongue, palate, and throat, is pivotal for three essential human tasks: breathing, eating, and speech. “It’s one of the least studied parts of the body,” she says. “In fact only recently have we had the tools to fully observe the complex as it fulfills its various functions, sometimes simultaneously.”

On a monitor in her laboratory at SU’s Institute for Sensory Research, Hiiemae plays a recording made by a process known as videofluorography. A human head, appearing in X-ray form, is eating a piece of meat. (“Filet mignon, with a bit of barium for illumination,” she says.) The jaws, teeth, and tongue go into action, taking in the food, chewing it, and, once fully chewed, propelling it into the pharynx to be swallowed. Hiiemae and her colleagues are interested in how feeding and breathing interact, since both use the same structures, mostly at the same time.

Hiiemae earned a doctoral degree in functional anatomy from St. Thomas’s Hospital Medical School in London, and then obtained a D.D.S. degree from the Royal Dental Hospital. A growing fascination with oro-facial disorders, however, led her to a research career at Yale, Harvard, and now SU and Johns Hopkins University. As founding director of the Program in Skeletomuscular Biomechanics at the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, she designed and built SU’s biomechanics teaching laboratory with grant support from the National Science Foundation.

Her recent research—conducted in partnership with Professor Jeffrey Palmer of Johns Hopkins and supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health—focuses on the interactions among the jaws, tongue, and hyoid bone and the neural control of their rhythmic movements while eating, with special attention to how those rhythms change when we speak. “Control of these movements is of crucial value to humans,” says Hiiemae. “I know of people suffering from extreme dysphagia [i.e., complete inability to swallow] provoked to suicide, and we know what a terrible disadvantage in life dysphasia [i.e., a speech defect] can be. By studying the oro-facial characteristics of normal, healthy animals and people, I hope to contribute to the body of knowledge that enables the rehabilitation of stroke victims, Parkinson’s disease sufferers, and others who have lost sensorimotor control or experienced impairment of these functions.”

—David Marc

 

Schmitt Shoots!!




    Public Affairs

The Economics of Giving
Politicians, artists, and others interested in cultural policy often debate the merits of arts funding in the United States, yet they rarely consider the extent to which the federal government supports nonprofit arts organizations, says public administration professor Arthur Brooks of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School. He suggests that while roughly $100 million is given annually to the National Endowment for the Arts and other arts organizations, support through indirect funding via tax deductions is significantly higher—closer to $1.4 billion. Since private contributions for nonprofit organizations are fully tax deductible up to 50 percent of one’s gross income, Brooks notes that, for example, an individual in a 25 percent tax bracket who gives $1,000 to a community symphony pays $250 less in federal income tax. “The largest part of government funding to the arts in this country comes in taxes not paid,” says Brooks, who researched how U.S. citizens pay for the arts through a mix of philanthropy and government funding. “So debates about the government not giving money to the arts aren’t really accurate. It’s just that in this structure, government leaders don’t decide which arts organizations get the money, philanthropists do.”

Brooks also studied the relationship between welfare and philanthropy, and determined that people who earn money from a job tend to give more than those with an equal income from welfare. Thus, recent welfare reform measures may encourage more giving, which benefits communities for reasons other than the bottom line. “Social theorists believe giving and volunteering are important for a healthy society,” Brooks says.

In another study, Brooks compared giving patterns in post-communist Russia with those of the United States and learned that our poorest and richest give about 5 percent of their income to charitable causes, while our middle class gives the least, about 2 to 3 percent of its income. In Russia, the middle class donates the most, with the rich and poor giving smaller portions. Brooks attributes this finding to cultural differences between the two countries. In the United States, a fairly large proportion of the working poor attend rural churches with stringent tithing requirements, to which they donate generously. On the other end of the income range, wealthy people give because of the appeal of elite philanthropy. In Russia there is no culture of church attendance, no philanthropic funding by the elite, and far fewer private organizations to donate money to than in the United States. “At first I couldn’t understand how the giving patterns could be so totally opposite, but then I considered these differences,” says Brooks, who has found this strong connection between the culture, political structure, and giving patterns of different societies. “Culture matters, and the economic system changes the shape of the culture.”

—Kathryn Smith

 

Steve Sartori




   Organizational Technology


All Systems Go
Despite variations in size and complexity, the basic factors that influence the effectiveness of an organization’s computerized information systems are universal, according to School of Information Studies professor Jeffrey Stanton. “Information systems influence and are influenced by the organization’s processes,” he says. “Technology matters to the success of a company in terms of its productivity, quality of product, or sales, but only to the extent that the quality of the people and the level of teamwork they show in using that technology are high. Great technology plus bad social organization equals bad news.”

Stanton developed the Syracuse Information Systems Evaluation (SISE) project to study the impact of technological changes on organizations. It’s one of many projects he is conducting under a four-year, National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. Stanton and postdoctoral research associate Kathryn Stam are now evaluating the security, impacts, costs, and benefits of organizational information systems. “Our research suggests that new technology changes the communication dynamics and social relationships between employees,” Stanton says. “With any new technology, there appear to be advantages and disadvantages at the intersection of technology and the people who use it.”

Stanton and Stam enlisted graduate students to help them evaluate changing information systems at more than a dozen area nonprofit organizations. In exchange for research access to the organizations, the students provided such services as researching new products and setting up databases and web sites. “This is a way to establish ties between the University and the community and create a natural situation for the exchange of information,” Stanton says. “It also provides our students with the opportunity to exercise their developing talents.”

One of the project’s partner organizations is A.L. Lee Memorial Hospital in Fulton, New York, which installed a new information management system. Students interviewed hospital staff before, during, and after the implementation took place, and provided recommendations to hospital administrators about how to improve the implementation.

Thanks to a supplemental grant from NSF, undergraduates Shannon Tracy ’03 and Martha Nimon ’05 worked on the SISE project, interviewing information technology professionals at the University and in the community to learn about communication barriers between technical and non-technical employees. “The people I interviewed helped me understand what I can expect as far as communication difficulties,” Nimon says.

“One of the most rewarding things about the SISE project is bringing our students into the community organizations,” Stam says.

—Kathryn Smith

 

Steve Sartori




    Literacy

Active Learning
School of Education professor Kathleen Hinchman ’76, G’80, G’85 spends substantial time observing and interacting with local middle-school students as part of her literacy research. Through informal interviews, she gathers information about students’ reading, writing, speaking, and listening experiences in and out of school. Hinchman then uses this information to assess students’ literacy skills and make recommendations for improving these skills through practice opportunities. “In our increasingly sophisticated working world, students need strong literacy skills,” says Hinchman, chair of the Department of Reading and Language Arts.

Hinchman’s studies indicate that the same students who may struggle to read and write in class often develop sophisticated literacy competencies outside of school through such activities as songwriting and computer programming. But conventional school curricula tend to undervalue such real-world skills in the classroom, so struggling students are often viewed as incompetent, Hinchman says. She develops strategies that encourage students to bring their at-home skills to school as a means of increasing students’ engagement, confidence level, and motivation to learn. She promotes project-based or inquiry learning, in which teachers create opportunities for students to pursue personal interests and use skills in class. For example, a teacher might ask each student to write and illustrate a historical fiction book on any 20th-century phenomenon. This allows students to research topics ranging from rock ’n’ roll legend Buddy Holly to NASA to tennis star Venus Williams. “When students select study topics, they are more willing to participate and practice a variety of literacy skills,” Hinchman says.

Hinchman shares strategies through her books and articles and by working with SU teachers-in-training and local literacy teachers. For instance, she helps teachers at Shea Middle School in Syracuse incorporate reading and writing activities into various content areas, including math and science. “Students need activities to help them develop practical, applicable skills they can use in and out of school,” she says, “not activity for activity’s sake.”

—Emily Gaines

 
Schmitt Shoots!!


    Biology


Seeing Red
The childlike curiosity of College of Arts and Sciences biology professor Shozo Yokoyama launched him on a 15-year journey that led to his discovery of the molecular basis of red and green color vision in humans. “I believe researchers are like children who persistently ask ‘Why?’” Yokoyama says. “The basic nature of research is to ask questions and be happy when you get answers, although you may not always get the answers you expect.”

Yokoyama studies the visual systems of vertebrates to learn how they evolved at the molecular level. In recent years, he has investigated deep-sea fish with a unique ultraviolet vision system that allows them to see in their murky underwater world. These fascinating creatures of the deep can also switch on searchlights to help them stalk their next meal. “Dragon fish give off a fire-red light that helps them detect prey,” Yokoyama says. “Humans can’t see the light, but we can measure it. My goal is to clone the genes that control this device.”

In collaboration with researchers from Japan and the University of Maryland, Yokoyama is also studying Mexican cave-dwelling fish that lack eyes because they have no need to see. “We want to know how they evolved and if their other sensory systems have become more heightened to compensate for lack of sight,” Yokoyama says. “What we learn about the vision systems of fish could eventually help us identify the genetic causes of vision diseases in humans.”

To share their latest vision research discoveries, biologists, biophysicists, medical geneticists, and ophthalmologists from around the world gathered in Seattle last summer at the International Conference on Retinal Proteins, where Yokoyama presented his paper, “The Molecular Genetics of Ultraviolet Vision.” Yokoyama hopes that by working together, researchers will identify global molecular vision mechanisms from fish to mammals. “I have been humbled to discover the complex vision systems of lower species and the amazing ways in which they have adapted to meet the changing needs of their environment,” Yokoyama says.

—Christine Yackel

 

Steve Sartori




    Social Work

Rites of Passage
Custom, tradition, ceremony, and ritual all lie at the heart of National Rites of Passage Institute programs held across the country to help African American youth learn about their heritage and celebrate who they are. In an ongoing research project, social work professor Keith Alford of the College of Human Services and Health Professions explores the impact of such programs—particularly on a group of African American male adolescents in foster-care living situations in Ohio—and shares that information with educators. The programs consist of skill-building exercises, discussions about values, history lessons, community service, and establishing relationships with older African American males who serve as mentors. “Rites of Passage programs teach African American youths to take pride in their roots and history,” Alford says.

Working with Patrick McKenry and Stephen Gavazzi of Ohio State University, Alford interviewed more than 29 program participants to ascertain their values and evaluate the program’s worthiness. “The themes that emerged from the interviews fell into two categories,” he says, “those we expected, and those that were unexpected.” Among the predicted themes were development of a positive self-concept, an appreciation of the importance of cultural heritage, and a strong sense of racial identification. Unexpected themes included an appreciation for the importance of learning, a condemnation of violence, and a reverence for “the Creator,” Alford says. “These participants mirror cultural themes in the African American experience. Although pop culture offers a view of African American male youths that stresses such negative aspects as violence and drug use, these youths tell us, ‘That isn’t how we see ourselves. That isn’t who we want to be.’”

Alford believes this information has value for human service professionals and educators. He and his colleagues recently published a chapter in Educating Our Black Children (RoutledgeFalmer, 2001), edited by Richard Majors, discussing the value of Rites of Passage programming in American and British schools. They’re currently reconnecting with study participants to expand their research and examine other programs. “We’re moving in new directions when it comes to understanding what African American children and teens deal with on a daily basis: the effects of racial profiling, disproportionate incarceration rates, and a general sense of unworthiness,” Alford says. “This research allows us to ask: How do we focus on, honor, and encourage an awareness of and respect for the proactive, strength-oriented resilience of these young people?”

—Amy Shires

 

Steve Sartori




   Information Management


Retrieving the Right Stuff
How do we get computers to understand language? This is the focus of School of Information Studies professor Elizabeth Liddy’s research in natural language processing (NLP). Liddy G’77, G’88 has led more than 45 research projects developing software with a human-like understanding of language, which has applications for government, commercial, and consumer use. “I concentrate on getting computers to simulate language understanding for a variety of purposes,” she says. “The range of applications has increased over time, and that’s exciting.”

Director of the Center for Natural Language Processing since 1999, Liddy has developed advanced system capabilities for information retrieval and extraction, summarization, and intelligence support. “Intelligence agencies have an incredible amount of information to get through,” she says. NLP expedites the process by gathering and sorting information to discern relevant connections. That information is then translated into a model that provides a visual representation of the connections between people and events, a powerful tool when used in such efforts as tracking terrorist activities. “We’ve contributed to the field the ability to extract more entities and types of entities,” Liddy says. “We were the first to understand the notion of grouping information around a given event, rather than just separate entities.”

The center’s research has been widely funded by government agencies and commercial enterprises, including the Department of Defense and AT&T. A U.S. Senate subcommittee recently approved a $1 million grant to expand the center’s Cross-Language Information Retrieval System, which allows documents written in other languages to be searched and retrieved through questions in English. Current studies include development of technology that will provide widespread access to public health intervention materials (such as anti-smoking campaigns) for use by cities or agencies launching similar efforts; and a $3 million NASA project, conducted with researchers from the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science and Cornell University, to develop a collaborative problem-solving learning environment for engineering students through online question-answering of such resources as technical papers and class notes.

Liddy has written more than 70 research papers and received 5 patents related to the NLP field. She also has applied for funding from the National Science Foundation to support the recent establishment of the school’s new Women in Technology organization, which celebrates and encourages the presence and strength of women in the information management field. “As one of few women in the field, I’ve witnessed firsthand the need for cultural change,” Liddy says. “We want to attract more women to the program, and offer them the support of other women who have achieved success in the field.”

—Amy Shires

 

Steve Sartori




   Electrical and Computer Engineering


Foolproof Security
Electrical and computer engineering professor Shiu-Kai Chin ’75, G’78, G’86 often imagines the worst-case scenarios in his research. “How do I know that an airplane’s flight control computer won’t suddenly lock up in mid-air, that my online bank account is secure, or that only those who truly have authorization can access our weapons of mass destruction?” Chin asks. Although there are often no clear-cut answers to such questions, these kinds of information assurance problems drive his research and the work of SU’s Center for Systems Assurance and the New York State Center for Advanced Technology in Computer Applications and Software Engineering (CASE Center).

Funded by such agencies as the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation, Chin, who is director of the CASE Center, develops large-scale integrated circuits and software that are secure by design. For the past seven years, he has conducted applied research in high-confidence system design as a member of the Defensive Information Warfare Branch of the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, New York. He describes his goal as crafting the foolproof “cake mix” of computer security. Simply add the desired information to a properly designed integrated circuit, which has been tested by steadfast mathematical proofs, to get a secure system. This notion of correctness by construction has been a goal of computer engineers for decades, says Chin, a Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science. Currently, however, circuit designs are made, tested for flaws, and revised. But new higher-powered, faster circuits emerge every 18 months requiring more assurance testing. It’s no surprise then that computer-related companies report 75 percent of their development costs are for verification, or testing the designs, Chin says.

Creating a foolproof design would eliminate the need for testing the completed circuit; however, there are many obstacles to creating such designs, including not having the proper computer-aided design tools, coordinating millions of transistors on each microprocessing chip, and lacking the mathematical and logical tools needed to assure correctness. That’s not to say such model designs don’t exist. Chin and his colleagues have designed and developed a few silicon microprocessing chips, and now hope to replicate such successes in the computer security field.

Through the CASE Center, Chin helps develop technology that integrates the ability to automatically sense, analyze, interpret, and decide what to do in situations involving defense, electronic commerce, manufacturing, information management, and health care, especially when something unexpected occurs. “Academic engineering for me is taking the raw material of theoretical computer science and refining it into new engineering design procedures,” Chin says. “That’s a lifelong interest.”

—Margaret Costello

 

John Dowling




   Religion


Cultural Convergences
Religious differences are often seen only as a source of conflict—Protestants and Catholics fighting in Northern Ireland, Jews and Muslims attacking each other in the Middle East, and Muslims and Hindus clashing in India. But Tazim R. Kassam, director of the graduate program in religion and a scholar of Islam in the Department of Religion, focuses her research on areas where religions and cultures converge in positive and productive ways. For example, in her book, Songs of Wisdom and Circles of Dance (State University of New York, 1995), she discusses cultural and artistic interactions occurring centuries ago between Muslims and Hindus in South Asia that resulted in a new tradition of songs and poetry for Ismaili Muslims. “These Muslim poets used many ideas and even the languages native to India to talk about Islamic concepts,” Kassam says. “They didn’t have to give up who they were, nor destroy what they found. Instead there was a creative synthesis, a flowering, in which they accommodated the other culture without abnegating their own distinctiveness.”

Compared to the past, such collaboration can occur today at a much faster pace and on a more global level between a variety of religious groups, Kassam says. “Certain principles work regardless of race, color, or creed—helping the needy, teaching self-reliance, ensuring the sustainability of environmental resources, and fulfilling ethical obligations,” she says. “These principles aren’t tied to any specific religion, but are often adopted by people and communities that are doing good and are religiously inspired. Religion often describes to us our best selves and ascribes meaning to our lives.”

Kassam is currently working on a paper relating to the ethical underpinnings of the Aga Khan Development Network, an international non-governmental and non-denominational organization founded upon Islamic principles and dedicated to improving living conditions and opportunities for the poor, without regard to their faith, origin, or gender. “Many problems we have in society stem from inequities,” she says. “If you’re able to provide for yourself and your children, then it’s less likely you’ll volunteer to perform unethical and violent acts.”

Since the terrorist attacks on the United States last year, Kassam and other Islamic scholars have been sought by community groups, the media, and civic officials to share their expertise on such topics as the principles of Islam, the Qur’an, the role of jihad and martyrdom in Islam, and the history of the Taliban. “We were called upon to play a number of roles and to give perspective on a situation that was emotional and painful,” Kassam says. “It’s hard to communicate about these sorts of matters in a five-minute interview or a sound bite.” Kassam would rather discuss religion from a historical perspective and examine how human beings relate to, use, and reshape their religions. “More dangerous today than anything else in Islamic countries and American society are the extraordinary prejudice and ignorance that exist about each other,” she says. “If faith represents one of the most profound sources of motivation for people, it’s essential for us to understand our different histories and aspirations.”

—Margaret Costello

 
John Dowling


   Computer Modeling


Switching Gears

From rocket science to air conditioning to medical thermometers, engineering professor Thong Q. Dang strives to improve efficiency through the use of computer design modeling. For the past 10 years, Dang, a professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Manufacturing Engineering in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, has worked on the Ultra-Efficient Engine Technology project at NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland. Using computer simulation, Dang alters the geometry of jet engine blades to make them smaller and more energy efficient. He formulated a design method, the 3-D and Viscous Inverse Design Code, which substantially improved the efficiency of compressor blades for jet engines and also reduced the time needed to design the blades.

In the future, Dang hopes to help create a new propulsion system, called a Turbine-Based Combined Cycle, for NASA’s single-stage-to-orbit vehicles designed to replace the space shuttle. The system would reduce the shuttle’s oxygen fuel load, making it lighter and more energy efficient. Currently, space shuttles have rocket engines that use oxygen carried in fuel tanks. The new design would use an air-breathing engine, such as those used in airplanes, that draws oxygen from the Earth’s atmosphere from launch until it reaches a speed of Mach 5. Once the shuttle leaves the atmosphere, it could switch to a rocket engine and tap into a portable oxygen supply.

Dang has also drafted an innovative engine design for future small commuter airplanes and possibly personal aircraft that would employ transverse fan systems (currently used in air-conditioning units) with a combination of electric motors and fuel-cell technology—the so-called propulsive wing. The engine system would be small enough to fit inside the wing, so it would create more lift and less drag resistance, allow the wings to be shorter, require less take-off and landing space, and be safer than propeller airplanes.

Although his background is in aerospace, Dang says as a university researcher he must be able to switch gears and work on a variety of projects. For example, his expertise in computer modeling led him to a project with a medical supply company on designing a more accurate oral thermometer. He is identifying the geometric patterns of heat transfer in the thermometer through computer modeling. His goal is to increase the device’s accuracy through an improved manufacturing process. He also applies his knowledge of a jet engine’s rotating blades to the fan blades in air-conditioning units, personal computers, and air-filtration systems. “The basic principle is the same,” Dang says. “I’m just using the principle now to improve the technical capability of fans, but it’s still focusing on air flow through a turbomachine.”

—Margaret Costello

 

Photos courtesy of Suzanne Baldwin




   Earth Sciences


Rock of Ages
Expeditions with Earth sciences professors Suzanne Baldwin and Paul Fitzgerald of the College of Arts and Sciences are not for the fainthearted. The husband-and-wife geologists and their research team have endured isolation, extreme cold and heat, potentially life-threatening changes in weather, crevasses, disease-bearing mosquitoes, and poisonous snakes. For their research, they collect samples of rock in some of the most active geological sites in the world, including the Reedy Glacier in Antarctica and the D’Entrecasteaux Islands, a rugged, tropical area off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

Once they return to civilization, they crush their samples, separate out the minerals, and analyze the contents using a variety of thermochronologic techniques. “The data obtained are used to determine the temperature-time history of rocks as they move from some depth in the Earth’s crust toward the surface,” Baldwin says. “These methods enable us to quantify when events occurred, which, in turn, provides critical information on how the Earth has evolved with time. This leads to a better understanding of geologic processes and why the Earth changes.”

The results add valuable pieces to the puzzle of how the Earth’s crust is formed and destroyed at plate boundaries. “The Woodlark Rift of Papua New Guinea is one of the few sites in the world where the continental crust is being ripped apart, and new oceanic crust is forming at the same time,” Baldwin says. “It’s the most rapidly extending continental crust on our planet and the most exciting place to study plate boundary processes that lead to continental lithospheric rupture [the outer crust of the Earth]. Rocks collected from the D’Entrecasteaux Islands have been moved from depths of about 70 kilometers to the surface in the last 4 million years at extremely rapid rates, geologically speaking.”

Their research results help other scientists better understand the natural hazards that exist at plate boundaries, such as the orientation, distribution, and types of faults, earthquakes, and volcanoes. “A significant portion of the world’s population lives on active plate boundaries,” Baldwin says. “We need to understand how the crust deforms over time to better understand potential geologic hazards at the local level.”

—Judy Holmes

 
John Dowling




   Consumer Marketing


The Price Is Right
The next time you consider a purchase—whether it’s a box of breakfast cereal or a dishwashing machine—think about how the price affects your decision. Tridib Mazumdar, chair and professor of marketing in the School of Management, often does. He examines how consumers interpret price and product information, usually provided by retailers and manufacturers, and analyzes how consumers’ interpretations influence their buying decisions. “I want to learn in what form consumers retain price information in memory and how they retrieve the information to evaluate prices they encounter at the point of purchase,” Mazumdar says. “What strategies do consumers adopt when they don’t have a good memory for prices?”

Even if consumers can’t name a product’s exact price, by and large they are adroit at assessing what is or is not a good price, he says. Some can simply detect a price difference without being able to say by how much; others can tell the rank order of prices of different brands. There are also those who look at prices of comparable brands and form an idea at the store. Research on price comparison, often labeled as “reference price” research, has its roots in behavioral economics from the ’60s, Mazumdar says. He and his colleagues have extended this research stream by proposing a variety of competing models of the reference price concept and have empirically tested these models using scanner panel data on a variety of product categories. “The same price could be evaluated either positively or negatively, depending on what reference points you use and what you think is the appropriate market price,” Mazumdar says. “Reference price is not just memory from past purchases; it is influenced by other information available at the time of the purchase. This phenomenon gives marketers an opportunity to frame a price offer in a positive light and influence their customers.”

In a recent article in the Journal of Marketing Research, Mazumdar and a colleague proposed a method to segment consumers based on the kind of reference price they use. “Although one cannot observe what reference price consumers use, this method allows us to look at the brands they buy and infer whether they use their memory for past prices or external information available at the store,” Mazumdar says.

Deviating somewhat from this research stream, Mazumdar and his Department of Marketing colleagues are investigating how the prices of hardware products are influenced by the availability of software. Using 1984-95 data for CD player prices and features, and data on CD titles released during this time, they have found that the increased availability of CD titles had a strong positive impact on the price of CD players and some of their features, such as automatic changers. Mazumdar sees tremendous opportunities for pricing research in marketing. “The issues become especially intriguing when we bring consumer psychology into the equation,” he says. “For many consumers, price is not simply the money they part with to acquire a product; price is a source of information—about the product, about industry practice, about fairness and deception, and ultimately about an assessment of one’s own self. It is quite fascinating.”

—Kathryn Smith

 
John Dowling




   Chemistry


Protein Power
To the average person, the idea of mixing bacteria with a computer may sound like a surefire way of wiping out a hard drive or destroying programs. But two researchers at the W.M. Keck Center for Molecular Electronics at SU have discovered that a protein from a salt-marsh bacterium actually may improve a computer’s memory capabilities. Chemistry professors Robert Birge and Jeff Stuart G’98 (pictured at left) of the College of Arts and Sciences are trying to create a genetically altered version of the protein, bacteriorhodopsin (bR), that will be more efficient and reliable, and a cheaper commercial option for computer memory storage than today’s DVDs or zip disks.

The purple-pigmented protein is naturally efficient at converting light energy into chemical energy and has been found to be incredibly durable—maintaining its memory at high temperatures and when irradiated with energy that normally clears the memories of semiconductor devices. Birge and Stuart’s current research focuses on developing two kinds of memory using the protein—volumetric and holographic. Volumetric memory uses laser beams to write and store data on a three-dimensional cuvette filled with the protein in a polymer matrix. They believe the protein cuvettes are capable of storing as much as 7 to 10 gigabytes of information. “Molecular memory is the wave of the future,” says Birge, a University Professor and director of the W.M. Keck Center who holds a joint appointment at SU and the University of Connecticut. “There’s no question that’s the way people will store information 5 to 10 years from now, but it still has reliability problems.”

The team is searching for the best genetically altered form of the protein. Birge and researchers at the University of Connecticut expose the protein to such mutagens as radiation and chemicals to alter the genes in hopes of creating a “miracle mutant,” as researchers lightheartedly refer to it. This form would have such necessary characteristics as efficiency and high sensitivity to light, making the memory system more commercially viable. “With the advent of genetic engineering techniques, a full realm of possibilities has opened up to us so we can customize the protein to have the qualities we want it to have,” says Stuart, director of the Keck Center’s Advanced Materials and Prototyping Laboratory, where each new strain of the protein is tested. “We’re always building upon improvements and getting closer to our goal.” In addition to the miracle mutant protein, the researchers hope to find an affordable source of small blue lasers, which are needed to erase the pages of information stored in the cuvettes.

In the meantime, Birge is interested in expanding research into the protein’s holographic properties, which could open doors into such areas as associative memories and artificial intelligence. Molecular biologists who work with Birge at the University of Connecticut are trying to create a version of the protein that would optimize its natural ability to perform associative memory functions. This would enable a computer to function more like the human brain, says Birge. For instance, if a computer with holographic memory was asked to identify a person from a partial face image taken from a satellite picture, it would immediately match that image to a complete face from a databank and bring up any information associated with that person—just as a human brain recalls information connected to a given image. “If we can get it to work, we can achieve artificial intelligence at a much higher level than was possible before,” Birge says. “We can create a computer program that uses associative recall in much the same way as the human brain.”

—Margaret Costello

 

Schmitt Shoots!!




   Architecture


Urban Developments
Getting students involved in the community as part of their academic experience is one goal of the School of Architecture’s Community Design Center (CDC). Professor Elizabeth Kamell, director of the interdisciplinary center, also aims to develop the center’s expertise in a specialized area. She initiated a project last spring to do just that by having students research housing projects developed by the New York State Urban Development Corporation (UDC), which created innovative mixed-income housing developments in the late ’60s and ’70s. “This research initiative was designed to give students the opportunity to get firsthand knowledge of the study subjects and to learn to evaluate what they see, rather than simply accepting what others have written,” Kamell says.

Kamell designed the CDC research initiative, funded by a University Vision Fund grant, to bring continuity to the center’s activities. “This project calls for a deeper knowledge of architecture’s role in urban development than previous CDC projects, which engaged students in the design of community facilities based on the needs of clients,” Kamell says.

During the semester, the six students participating in this first installment of the project (including four majoring in architecture, one in environmental design-interiors, and one in public affairs) toured New York State housing developments in Rochester, Ithaca, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Yonkers, and other areas. They interviewed residents, spoke with developers and architects, and studied historic records, project drawings, and government bills. After assessing the UDC efforts, they offered suggestions for improvements should funding be made available again and produced a book of case studies featuring their findings.

The students offered very different opinions on urban housing issues and what their responsibilities and social goals should be concerning housing. “The students’ understanding of the housing problem grew exponentially during the semester,” Kamell says. “Their understanding of the limitations of their own disciplines also grew, underscoring the importance of collaboration.” Architecture students, for instance, learned they can’t address the urban condition from just a formal understanding of the problem. They also need a broad understanding of the social, political, economic, and urban issues involved.

CDC participant Janna Matlack ’02, who majored in public affairs at Syracuse, says she realized that government officials don’t always understand the importance of urban design. Participation in the project also led her to change her views on how public housing can be successful. “I saw that community life is prevalent in many housing projects and realized we should try to include more public space or green space in urban housing,” she says. “The places we visited that had space for people to gather seemed to be more successful.”

—Kathryn Smith

 
 
 
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