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UT News

In the Know

The July 19 weekly roundup of campus kudos and press mentions.

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Campus Kudos

Texas named No. 1 state for business by CNBC
CNBC has named Texas the No. 1 state for business. The network made the announcement live from the ATandT Executive Education and Conference Center. The annual survey of “America’s Top States for Business” examines economic development reports from all 50 states and then awards points based on 10 categories. The categories CNBC weighted most heavily were the cost of doing business, workforce capabilities and quality of life. Other factors included infrastructure, technology, education and access to capital.

Researchers receive Moncrief Grand Challenge awards
Four university researchers — Graeme Henkelman, Rui Huangare, Gregory Rodin and Inderjit Dhillon — are taking on grand challenges in energy and disease with Moncrief Grand Challenge Faculty awards for 2010-11. The awards enable scientists to take time from teaching to work at the university’s Institute for Computational and Engineering Sciences on challenges that affect the competitiveness and international standing of the United States.

Law professor named to U.N. human rights working group
The United Nations Human Rights Council has endorsed the nomination of Ariel Dulitzky, a clinical law professor in the School of Law, to a five-person Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. The Working Group seeks to determine the fate of “disappeared” persons, people detained against their will without proper legal process by their government and whose whereabouts remain unknown. Dulitzky will hold the Working Group’s position reserved for the Latin American and Caribbean region.

DeLoss Dodds receives Distinguished Service Award
Men’s Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds has been selected to receive the Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Exes. The Distinguished Service Award recognizes meritorious service to the university. It is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a non-alumnus of the university. During Dodds’ tenure, the Longhorns have claimed 13 national championships and 99 conference (Southwest and Big 12) titles in nine different sports.

Researchers receive $3.3 million to study cancer cells
Three researchers have received $3.3 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas to train a new generation of cancer researchers and study processes related to cancer cell growth and death. Jonathan Sessler, professor of chemistry, and John DiGiovanni, professor of pharmacy and nutritional sciences, were awarded $2.5 million to establish The University of Texas at Austin Cancer Research Training Program. Tanya Paull, professor of molecular genetics and microbiology, received $527,974 to work on a protein in human cells that she and her colleagues discovered can sense oxidative stress.

Texas Exes CEO named Distinguished Executive of the Year
Texas Exes Executive Director and CEO Jim Boon has been named the 2010 Distinguished Executive of the Year by the Texas Society of Association Executives (TSAE). The Distinguished Executive Award is a reflection of outstanding leadership and achievement in association management. Distinguished Executives serve TSAE, contribute to other voluntary membership organizations and participate in civic and community affairs.

Technology Incubator receives grant to explore feasibility of wet lab
The Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) has received a $140,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to determine the feasibility of developing wet-lab space for life-sciences companies. A wet lab is where scientists test and analyze chemicals and biological materials and it requires a special facility with running water, ventilation and specialized utility access. The ATI study will determine best practices for existing wet-lab facilities, identify costs and potential sites for the lab and evaluate the overall economic impact of the new facility.

Texas Venture Labs hires first fellow
Texas Venture Labs announced the hiring of Randall Crowder as the first Texas Venture Labs Fellow. Crowder is also an entrepreneur, active investor and executive director of the Central Texas Angel Network and a managing partner at TEXO Ventures. Crowder will work alongside Rob Adams, director of Texas Venture Labs, managing the projects and resources as well as developing the operating procedures.

Director of the ATI-Bioscience Incubator named
The Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) has appointed Dr. Cindy R. WalkerPeach director of the ATI-Bioscience Incubator. WalkerPeach will be responsible for developing and expanding ATI’s commercialization efforts in the life science, diagnostic and therapeutic sectors. She has extensive experience in startup and early stage clinical and biotechnology businesses. WalkerPeach was most recently director of corporate business development for Asuragen Inc., a molecular diagnostics firm.

Press Mentions

USA Today: Entertaining emotions: TV may be teaching us to overreact
June 29

Marcie Fenster knows the reality TV shows she watches are purely for entertainment. She doesn’t take them seriously and knows they’re not that real. She’s well aware that some of the ranting she sees is purely theatrical.

Like Fenster, most of us know the “out-there” reactions we see on reality and cable TV are largely for effect. But behavioral researchers say we may be more affected than we realize.

“People can be seduced into thinking that’s the most common way of reacting to life, when it’s not,” says Roderick Hart, a professor of communication studies and government at The University of Texas at Austin.

Because of this “tutoring” of emotions, Hart says, people are becoming culturally conditioned to think “it’s OK to be more overreactive.”

Nature: What will get sick from the slick?
June 30

Far from the tar-coated beaches and clean-up crews seen on nightly news programs, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is exacting an ongoing and largely unknown toll. In the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, floating oil slicks and subsurface plumes threaten a highly diverse ecosystem.

Studies of the Ixtoc I spill revealed that fish are particularly vulnerable to oil early in their lives, says Joan Holt, associate director for mariculture at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute.

The New York Times: The ritual of the first date, circa 2010
July 2

There are nearly four million single people in New York City. A number of them are not as original as they think.

New data from a Web site suggests that not only do many people plan similar dates, but like lemmings, they also collectively migrate from one theme to the next.

In March, scores of New Yorkers opted to have their first dates over tacos: fish tacos, dried cricket tacos, taco tours of Brooklyn, even post-surfing tacos at Rockaway Beach in Queens.

Samuel D. Gosling, a psychologist at The University of Texas at Austin, said that the cuisine trends could occur because members of the Web site value doing the latest thing — until it becomes widespread. (After all, they were early adopters of the site itself.)

“It might be that you only want to do it if 1 percent of other people are doing it,” he said. “You don’t want to miss the trend, but you don’t want to be behind the edge. That sort of decision strategy would result in that pattern.”

CNN: Latinos not flexing political muscle — yet
July 5

Each election cycle is dubbed “the year” — a time when Latinos will show up at the polls in droves and transform the political landscape.

President Obama’s renewed push last week for immigration reform has brought with it fresh expectations for the Latino vote in November’s midterm elections.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story, experts said.

“The issue is not that Latinos are disinterested in politics,” said David Leal, an associate professor of government who focuses on Latino politics at The University of Texas at Austin. “Instead, Latino turnout reflects the larger underlying factors that structure the vote for everyone.”

The New York Times: Rulings raise doubts on policy on transfer of Yemenis
July 8

Six months after President Obama halted all transfers of Guantánamo Bay detainees to Yemen, the moratorium is coming under escalating pressure from federal judges — raising doubts about its sustainability.

Robert Chesney, a national-security law specialist at The University of Texas at Austin, said the Yemeni moratorium had created a difficult policy dilemma.

If the administration lifts the moratorium to avoid losing those cases, it could be attacked by conservatives for sending detainees to Yemen whom it had not been ordered to release, he said. But if it keeps the moratorium, it could face a string of defeats that will undercut its effort to keep holding other detainees.

TIME: The only child: Debunking myths
July 8

It’s a conversation I have most weeks — if not most days. This time, it happens when my 2-year-old daughter and I are buying milk at the supermarket. The cashiers fawn over her pink cheeks, and then I endure the usual dialogue.

“Your first?”


“Another one coming soon?”

“Nope — it might be just this one.”

“You’ll have more. You’ll see.”

I offer no retort, but if I did, I’d start by asking these young minimum-wage earners to consider the following: The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the average child in the U.S. costs his or her parents about $286,050 — before college.

Toni Falbo, a professor of educational psychology and sociology at The University of Texas at Austin. Falbo began investigating the only-child experience in the 1970s, both in the U.S. and in China, drawing on the experience of tens of thousands of subjects. Twenty-five years ago, she and colleague Denise Polit conducted a meta-analysis of 115 studies of only children from 1925 onward that considered developmental outcomes of adjustment, character, sociability, achievement and intelligence.

Forbes: Oil unleashed temporarily in attempt to contain
July 10

Robotic submarines working a mile underwater removed a leaking cap from the gushing Gulf oil well Saturday, starting a painful trade-off: Millions more gallons of crude will flow freely into the sea for at least two days until a new seal can be mounted to capture all of it.

After the flange transition spool is bolted in place, the new cap — called a capping stack or “Top Hat 10” — can be lowered. The equipment, weighing some 150,000 pounds, is designed to fully seal the leak and provide connections for new vessels on the surface to collect oil. The cap has valves that can restrict the flow of oil and shut it in, if it can withstand the enormous pressure.

That will be one of the key items for officials to monitor, said Paul Bommer, a professor of petroleum engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.

“If the new cap does work and they shut the well in, it is possible that part of the well could rupture if the pressure inside builds to an unacceptable value,” Bommer wrote in an e-mail Saturday.

The New York Times: A chosen few are teaching for America
July 11

Alneada Biggers, Harvard class of 2010, was amazed this past year when she discovered that getting into the nation’s top law schools and grad programs could be easier than being accepted for a starting teaching job with Teach for America.

While Teach for America is highly regarded by undergrads it gets mixed reviews from education experts.

Research indicates that generally, the more experienced teachers are, the better their students perform, and several studies have criticized Teach for America’s turnover rate.

“I’m always shocked by the hullaboo, given Teach for America’s size” — about 0.2 percent of all teachers — “and its mixed impact,” said Julian Vasquez Heilig, a University of Texas at Austin professor. Dr. Heilig and Su Jin Jez of California State University, Sacramento, recently published a critical assessment after reviewing two dozen studies. One study cited indicated that “by the fourth year, 85 percent of TFA teachers had left” New York City schools.

Newsweek: Forget brainstorming
July 12

Brainstorming in a group became popular in 1953 with the publication of a business book, Applied Imagination. But it’s been proven not to work since 1958, when Yale researchers found that the technique actually reduced a team’s creative output: the same number of people generate more and better ideas separately than together.

In fact, according to University of Oklahoma professor Michael Mumford, half of the commonly used techniques intended to spur creativity don’t work, or even have a negative impact.

According to University of Texas at Austin professor Elizabeth Vandewater, for every hour a kid regularly watches television, his overall time in creative activities — from fantasy play to arts projects — drops as much as 11 percent. With kids spending about three hours in front of televisions each day, that could be a one-third reduction in creative time — less time to develop a sense of creative self-efficacy through play.

Nature: China faces up to groundwater crisis
July 13

A crisis is developing beneath China’s thirsty farms and cities, but no one knows its full extent. With about 20 percent of the world’s population but only about 57 percent of global freshwater resources, China draws heavily on groundwater.

Those reserves are being depleted at an alarming rate in some regions and are badly polluted in many others, warned experts last week at the International Groundwater Forum 2010 conference in Beijing.

Consequently, groundwater levels of the arid North China Plain have dropped as fast as 1 metre a year between 1974 and 2000, forcing people to dig hundreds of metres to access fresh water, according to research presented by Bridget Scanlon, a hydrogeologist at The University of Texas at Austin.

BusinessWeek: Americans blame Bush, not Obama, for deficit, jobs, Afghan war
July 15

Democrats, facing a U.S. electorate angry about the economy and other issues, still have one political asset: George W. Bush.

Because Democrats are most likely to blame Bush for the problems the country is facing, the political benefits for their party may be limited, says Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at The University of Texas at Austin.

Still, Obama and the Democrats may be helped somewhat by voters’ attitudes toward Bush, especially on the issue of unemployment, Buchanan says.

“You could blame Bush for losing your job, even if you’re a Republican,” he says.

Read last week’s In the Know.