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In the Know

The May 4 weekly roundup of campus kudos and press mentions.

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Campus Kudos

Physicist elected to National Academy of Sciences
Dr. Allan MacDonald, the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair in the Department of Physics, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). MacDonald was one of 72 new members chosen in recognition of his distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. The NAS is the country’s most prestigious scientific organization, and election to membership in the academy is one of the highest honors that can be accorded a scientist or engineer in the United States.

Hamilton named director of Multicultural Information Center
Choquette M. Hamilton has been named the director of the Multicultural Information Center (MIC). The MIC is part of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and provides diverse educational opportunities and support services for students underrepresented on campus. Hamilton has been the interim director of the center for the past year and a half.

Professor receives Texas Exes teaching excellence award
Dr. John Wallingford, associate professor of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology, has been selected to receive the 2010 Jean Holloway Award for Teaching Excellence. Wallingford has been teaching at the university since 2003. He describes his teaching style as “make them think,” and says although it’s often difficult he makes a concerted effort to turn even the largest classes into discussions.

Professor honored with Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation award
The Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation has honored Dr. James W. Vick, the Ashbel Smith Professor and Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Mathematics, for teaching excellence. Vick is one of 15 recipients of the 2010 Piper Professor Award given by the San Antonio-based foundation, and has been recognized on several occasions for outstanding teaching and for service to undergraduate honors programs.

Faculty named to Academy of Distinguished Teachers
Seven faculty members have been named to the prestigious Academy of Distinguished Teachers. Established in February 1995, the Academy of Distinguished Teachers was one of the first associations of its kind in the nation. New members of the academy are selected each year through a rigorous evaluation process.

Three social work faculty elected fellows of national academy
Three School of Social Work faculty members have been elected fellows of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare for their accomplishments as scholars and practitioners dedicated to advancing social welfare. Drs. Allen Rubin, King Davis and Ruth McRoy were inducted into the academy at a recent ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Dean Barbara White, who was one of six inaugural board members and fellows of the organization, also was honored.

Press Mentions

The New York Times: The search for genes leads to unexpected places
April 26

Edward M. Marcotte is looking for drugs that can kill tumors by stopping blood vessel growth, and he and his colleagues at The University of Texas at Austin recently found some good targets — five human genes that are essential for that growth. Now they’re hunting for drugs that can stop those genes from working. Strangely, though, Dr. Marcotte did not discover the new genes in the human genome, nor in lab mice or even fruit flies. He and his colleagues found the genes in yeast.

“On the face of it, it’s just crazy,” Dr. Marcotte said. After all, these single-cell fungi don’t make blood vessels. They don’t even make blood. In yeast, it turns out, these five genes work together on a completely unrelated task: fixing cell walls.

Nature: Frogs and humans are kissing cousins
April 29

What’s the difference between a frog, a chicken, a mouse and a human? Not as much as you’d think, according to an analysis of the first sequenced amphibian genome.

The genome of the western clawed frog, Xenopus tropicalis, has now been analysed by an international consortium of scientists from 24 institutions, and joins a list of sequenced model organisms including the mouse, zebrafish, nematode and fruit fly.

The Xenopus sequencing project began in 2002, before the advent of next-generation sequencing, and researchers chose to sequence X. tropicalis because at the time “it was hugely daunting to think about the X. laevis genome,” says John Wallingford, a developmental biologist at The University of Texas at Austin. But that’s starting to change. Wallingford’s lab has begun sequencing X. laevis, and Harland’s lab has plans to do the same.

BusinessWeek: Brown’s faux pas joins crowded collection of political gaffes
April 29

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s remark calling a voter a “bigoted woman” puts him in a club politicians would probably rather not join.

Brown’s comment about a voter he had just met, overheard through an open microphone, adds to a long list of stumbles that have changed the course of elections or caused politicians some short-term embarrassment.

“This is not an exclusive list that he’s joining,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a professor at Boston University’s College of Communication. “It’s a pretty robust and large group.”

Brown’s misstep rivals that of former U.S. Senator George Allen, said Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at The University of Texas in Austin.

Brown was caught “saying something disparaging about a woman among those whose votes he’s seeking,” Buchanan said. “That’s useful information for voters, but very damaging to candidates.”

The New York Times: Solution to capping wells stays elusive
April 30

As cleanup crews struggled Friday to cope with the massive oil slick from a leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico, dozens of engineers and technicians ensconced in a Houston office building were still trying to solve the mystery of how to shut down the well after a week of brainstorming and failed efforts.

They have continued to focus their attention on a 40-foot stack of heavy equipment 5,000 feet below the surface of the gulf — and several hundred miles from Houston. Known as a blowout preventer, the steel-framed stack of valves, rams, housings, tanks and hydraulic tubing, painted industrial yellow and sitting atop the well in the murky water, is at the root of the disaster.

There have been conflicting reports as to whether the blowout preventer worked partially — perhaps crimping one of the pipes rather than shearing it. This might occur, said Greg McCormack, director of the Petroleum Extension Service at The University of Texas, if the ram encountered a joint between two lengths of drill pipe. At these threaded joints the steel is thicker and harder than elsewhere along the pipe.

Mr. McCormack also raised the possibility that the leak was coming from outside the well casing, the larger pipe that is permanently installed in the well.

Read last week’s In the Know.