Imagine a place where people are searching for the key to cure autism, developing clean energy technologies, training students for a new era in journalism, tackling the nation’s biggest social problems and using supercomputing power to explore the universe.
That place is The University of Texas at Austin, and it’s all in a day’s work for the university’s students, faculty and staff, who are changing the world through research and education.
With new feature stories on the university’s home page almost every Monday of the year, we shine the spotlight on the people, ideas, activities and programs that make the university such a distinctive place.
We’ve chosen 10 stories from 2009 to offer to our readers again. If you like these, check out our features archives and read more. And watch most every Monday for new stories in 2010. After more than 360 stories, we’ve just scratched the surface in revealing the range of what makes the university a center of excitement, impact and discovery.
Anatomy of an Investor: Traditional finance theory holds that investors are motivated solely by the desire to maximize wealth. But research by Finance Professor Alok Kumar shows our age, background and personality influence our investment decisions more than we may realize. Kumar continues to explore relationships between background and financial behavior. His latest study shows that people’s height can predict financial decisions and that tall people pick riskier securities and mutual funds and are more likely to be entrepreneurs. Kumar hopes behavioral economics research can help people become aware of their biases and eventually lead to a better understanding of how markets work.
Autism on the Mind: There’s no dearth of news about the autism epidemic, but precious little of it’s good or accurate. College of Education neuroscientist Greg Allen’s research on the causes of autism is set to turn the tide and give scientists a key to a cure and more refined, effective treatments. Using MRI brain scans, Allen is looking at connections within the cerebellum and between the cerebellum and the rest of the brain to see how abnormalities affect symptoms and behavior in people with autism.
Backpack Journalists: Thanks to economic pressures and rapidly evolving technology, the journalism industry is ushering in a new era. Backpack journalists are multitasking reporters who can interview a subject, shoot video, take still photos, compile a photo gallery, grab an audio clip and write a script or a Web story out in the field. The School of Journalism at The University of Texas at Austin is training the next generation of backpack journalists to master multiple communication channels while maintaining the level of journalism that gives citizens the information they need to make informed choices.
Can’t Help Falling in Love with You: For Dr. Tim Loving, Valentine’s Day is more than just chocolates, flowers, a nice dinner, smooches and long, loving gazes at your partner. It’s also a kind of laboratory of hormones, chemicals, cultural expectations and interpersonal dynamics. When things go as planned, says Loving, all the factors combine to our benefit. We’re producing elevated levels of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, which induce a state of physiological excitement, as well as oxytocin, which promotes trust and bonding. And we’re associating this rush of good feeling and arousal with our partner. When things go wrong, the same brew of hormones that boosts the positive orientation of a good Valentine’s Day dinner can amplify the negative feelings.
Critical Conditions: Periodically, the Office of Public Affairs asks university faculty members to answer a “big question” in their field. Here, seven members of the School of Social Work take on the issue of the nation’s biggest social problems and discuss possible solutions. Whether it be health care, poverty, high school dropout rates, immigration, mental illness, child welfare or support systems for the elderly, all believe there is much to be done if the country is going to meet these challenges.
Green, Texas: Can Texas, the U.S. state that emits the most pollution, also become the country’s leader in clean energy? Yes, says Michael Webber, a professor and energy researcher at The University of Texas at Austin. And pioneering energy research at the university in wind, solar, biofuels, carbon capture and traditional fossil fuels is leading the way. Already one of the leading universities working on carbon capture, this fall The University of Texas at Austin received an influx of federal stimulus funds to advance carbon capture research, principally through the Bureau of Economic Geology.
Power of Protest: Since this feature story ran in July 2009, Iranian protests have continued sporadically. Tensions have heightened within the last weeks, as student protestors were accused of defiling photos of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and thousands of government supporters protested in response. On Dec. 14, the Iranian foreign minister announced that three Americans would be tried for espionage. If they are found guilty, they could be sentenced to death, further aggravating U.S.-Iranian relations. Iran’s continued development of nuclear facilities is also adding to the tensions between the two countries. While it’s impossible to predict what will happen next, the commentary provided by University of Texas at Austin faculty continues to shed light on the complexities of the people and politics involved.
A Star Is Reborn: The University of Texas at Austin partnered with the American Museum of Natural History to produce “Journey to the Stars,” the most advanced planetarium show ever made. The film takes viewers on a fast-paced tour of the universe, zooming through the churning interior of our Sun, and touring the first stars, whose explosion 13 billion years ago created the materials that make life possible. Learn how scientists used the supercomputers of the Texas Advanced Computing Center to reveal aspects of the universe that have never been seen before, delivering a new view of the stars to 10 million visitors a year.
Tapping Potential: There are many programs to help students at low-performing schools, but few rely on the students themselves to set the agenda and plan activities. That is what happens within the COBRA and VOICES projects developed by staff in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. The two programs target middle school and high school students, helping them overcome difficult backgrounds to thrive in school by tapping into their innate leadership potential.
Where Does It Hurt?: University of Texas at Austin researchers believe that pain management should be a priority for the nation’s health care system. Too many times, pain is erroneously assessed and subsequently undertreated or mistreated. Two faculty members from the College of Pharmacy and the School of Nursing discuss their research and reasons why pain is so difficult to treat. They worry about those who think pain relievers are a necessary evil at best, and at worst, habit-inducing substances to be avoided at all costs.