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UT News

In the Know

The March 23 weekly roundup of campus kudos and press mentions.

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Campus Kudos

Texas Language Center announces award recipients
The Texas Language Center has announced the 2010 Professional Development Award recipients. These awards are given to instructors of languages other than English at the university who are developing new materials, courses or methods for teaching their languages, or who may need to attend a conference or purchase materials in order to improve their teaching. The awards, ranging in value from $500 to $1,500, will supplement instructor salaries, purchase materials and/or support travel to professional conferences. Read the complete list of this year’s winners, including graduate students, lecturers and tenured or tenure-track faculty.

Circle K International student group named outstanding chapter
The university’s student chapter of Circle K International (CKI) has been recognized for the third year in a row as a Stan D. Soderstrom Outstanding chapter. The student group is sponsored by the School of Social Work. The recognition was announced at the 56th annual Texas-Oklahoma District Convention of CKI in San Marcos.

Ransom Center receives collection of filmmaker Paul Schrader
Screenwriter and director Paul Schrader has donated his collection to the Harry Ransom Center. Schrader wrote screenplays for such iconic films as “Taxi Driver” (1976), “Blue Collar” (1978), “Raging Bull” (1980), “American Gigolo” (1980), “The Mosquito Coast” (1986) and “Affliction” (1997). “I first heard about the Ransom Center through Robert De Niro, when his collection came here,” Schrader said. “He told me that this was the place to be, and I am excited about giving my papers to the Center, where they will be used by students and scholars.”

Press Mentions

Nature: Bizarre models for human diseases
March 22

The search for models of human diseases might just have become easier, thanks to a data-mining technique that screens genetic databases to find subtle links to organisms as distant from humans as plants. The new tool integrates information from existing databases that associate gene mutations with observable traits in a range of species, including humans, mice, yeast, worms and plants.

Mutations in the same gene can cause dramatically different effects in humans from those seen in other species.

Although such genes remain conserved across species, they evolve different functions, says Edward Marcotte, a systems biologist at The University of Texas at Austin. On the basis of this principle, Marcotte and his colleagues set out to identify obscure gene candidates for human diseases.

The New York Times: How privacy vanishes online
March 16

If a stranger came up to you on the street, would you give him your name, Social Security number and e-mail address? Probably not.

Yet people often dole out all kinds of personal information on the Internet that allows such identifying data to be deduced.

The power of computers to identify people from social patterns alone was demonstrated last year in a study by the same pair of researchers that cracked Netflix’s anonymous database: Vitaly Shmatikov, an associate professor of computer science at The University of Texas, and Arvind Narayanan, now a researcher at Stanford University.

By examining correlations between various online accounts, the scientists showed that they could identify more than 30 percent of the users of both Twitter, the microblogging service, and Flickr, an online photo-sharing service, even though the accounts had been stripped of identifying information like account names and e-mail addresses.

USA Today: Why are college students so hard to count in the Census?
March 18

Until he took a statistics class on it this spring, Christian Reyes barely knew what the U.S. Census was, much less that he has a legal obligation to return a completed form in Pittsburgh, where he is a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University.

Some regional Census offices also are engaging students through Facebook, podcasts and videos. And that points to one more challenge: snail mail is hardly the communications mode of choice for students, but it’s how forms arrive at most households and how they must be returned. That may change.

But for now, the most effective ways to reach students appear to be both modern and, in some cases, older than the Pony Express. “They’re so mobile and electronic … but they still use fliers, placards and bulletin boards,” says University of Texas at Austin Professor Keri Stephens, who has a Census Bureau grant to research students’ use of communications technology.

TIME: The workforce: Where will the new jobs come from?
March 19

Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the U.S. has shed 8.4 million more jobs than it has gained. The good news is the perception as well as the reality is improving in some areas of the country.

Over the past six months (through January), 72 cities gained jobs, according to a Moody’s Economy.com analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Austin lands on that list, too.

Over at the University of Texas, the nonprofit Austin Technology Incubator houses fledgling firms, plying them with business-plan advice, contact with financiers and lots of coffee over which to share ideas and solve problems. The Incubator’s 20-year record: more than 200 companies and thousands of jobs created. “Companies don’t start unless they’re resourced,” says Rob Neville, who launched one company with the help of the incubator and is now scaling up another, Savara Pharmaceuticals, in anticipation of support from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund.

The Wall Street Journal: Can you alter your bad memories?
March 17

Is it possible to permanently change your memories? A group of scientists thinks so. And their new techniques for altering memories are raising possibilities of one day treating people who suffer from phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety-related conditions.

Elizabeth Phelps, a psychology professor at New York University, worked with colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin, to use a laboratory experiment to induce fear in 65 study participants.

Each person was hooked up to a machine that would administer a mild but unpleasant electrical shock at certain times. Participants sat in front of computer screens where they looked at shapes of various colors. Whenever the blue square popped up, the machine shocked the participant. Soon the participants learned to “fear” that image; when they saw it on the screen, they would sweat more.

Read last week’s In the Know.