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UT News

In the Know

The April 26 weekly roundup of campus kudos and press mentions.

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Campus Kudos

Researcher elected fellow of national association
Dr. Mary Wheeler, a noted computational researcher, has been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Wheeler is director of the Center for Subsurface Modeling at the university’s Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences. She also is the Ernest and Virginia Cockrell Chair in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. She has appointments in the departments of Mathematics and Petroleum Engineering.

ConocoPhillips donates $1 million
ConocoPhillips has contributed $1 million to support academic programs at the university. The grant benefits undergraduates and graduate students in the university’s McCombs School of Business, Cockrell School of Engineering, Jackson School of Geosciences and College of Natural Sciences. The largest component of the donation is $275,000 for the SPIRIT Scholars program. Now in its eighth year, the SPIRIT Scholars program provides scholarships, mentorship programs, enrichment activities and internship opportunities for students pursuing a career in the energy industry.

Longhorns reclaim Lone Star Showdown trophy
The 2009-10 academic calendar year marks the sixth season of the State Farm Lone Star Showdown, the official moniker for all varsity men’s and women’s athletics competition between The University of Texas at Austin and Texas AandM University. For the fourth time in the first six years of this event, the Longhorns have captured the Showdown title outright.

Warfield Center names Faculty Teaching Award recipient
Dr. Julian Heilig, assistant professor in educational administration, has received the first Warfield Center for African and African American Studies (WCAAS) Faculty Teaching Award. The award was created by the center to recognize faculty members who are outstanding and innovative instructors, have a long-term impact on students and demonstrate the principles and mission of the WCAAS.

Doctoral students receive Hogg Foundation award
Three doctoral students have received an award from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health to assist in their academic research. Monica Faulkner (School of Social Work), Adryon Burton Denmark (College of Education) and Johnathan Fowler (Department of Educational Psychology) each received the $1,500 Francis Fowler Wallace Memorial Dissertation Award, which is given to students conducting research related to mental health.

Press Mentions

The New York Times: In Venezuela’s savanna, clash of science and fire
April 22

The mist-shrouded mountains rising out of the forest here form one of the world’s most beguiling frontiers of exploration and research, inspiring Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 fantasy novel “The Lost World” and teams of biologists who still mount expeditions to remote escarpments in hopes of finding species new to science.

But in the savannas below, the tendrils of smoke hanging over the landscape attest to a custom that has set off a fierce debate among scientists in Venezuela and beyond: the Pemón Indian tradition of repeatedly burning grassland and forest to hunt for animals and grow food.

Bjørn Sletto, a planning expert at the University of Texas who studied Pemón fire customs, saw them burn to clear grasses of snakes and scorpions; to communicate with smoke signals; and to fish, with fire causing insects to leap into water and attract fish.

But foremost among the Pemón’s reasons for burning the savanna, Sletto said, may be to create a mosaic landscape divided by natural fire breaks that prevent larger fires from spreading. “There are ecologically sound reasons for the Pemón to keep fuel levels on the savanna low,” he said.

TIME: Just how dangerous are oil rigs, anyway?
April 24

By any measure, drilling for oil and gas offshore is one of America’s most dangerous professions. The risks are unavoidable: workers are on shift for an average of 12-hours a day dealing with highly combustible materials on a platform where cranes swing heavy equipment constantly overhead.

Incidents aboard oil rigs are kind of like plane crashes: they occur rarely but when they do happen they have the potential to kill quickly, cost companies millions of dollars and raise calls for increased safety and preparation measures. “These events are low probability with a high consequence,” said Greg McCormack, director of the Petroleum Extension Service at the University of Texas, which works with the oil and gas industry to safety train workers. “It is a hazardous business and that is what the industry has to deal with on a daily basis.”

ABC News: ‘Cushy’ job or ‘isolated’ hell? Life as a Supreme Court justice
April 23

When President Obama picks his nominee to become the nation’s 112th Supreme Court justice, he’ll bestow one of the highest honors a U.S. lawyer or judge can receive. But appointment to a seat on the country’s highest court can be both a blessing and a curse, court insiders say.

In many ways, “it’s the cushiest job in the world,” said Supreme Court historian and University of Texas law professor Lucas “Scot” Powe.

Read last week’s In the Know.