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UT News

Headliners: Invisibility, Immigration, Innovation

Engineering professor Andrea Alu’s work on invisibility (seriously!) appeared in Wired magazine last month. Just one of several media hits by UT faculty. Read more.

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invisible man photo by Leo Reynolds, via Flickr Creative Commons

Wired magazine discovered engineering professor Andrea Alù’s invisibility cloak. [Image by Leo Reynolds, via Flickr Creative Commons] 

Researchers, scholars and experts from The University of Texas at Austin are sought by news outlets every week for their knowledge, expertise and insights. Here’s a selection of recent media hits.

The Philosophy of Data
The New York Times

James PennebakerDepartment of PsychologyCollege of Liberal Arts

In a recent column for The New York Times, op-ed columnist David Brooks, writes about “data-ism.” Brooks says that we now gather huge amounts of data and wonders if the data revolution will “help us do remarkable things like foretell the future.” Brooks goes on to say that “we tend to get carried away in our desire to reduce everything to the quantifiable.”

But he acknowledges data can be helpful. “…Data can illuminate patterns of behavior we haven’t yet noticed. For example, I’ve always assumed that people who frequently use words like ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘mine’ are probably more egotistical than people who don’t.” Brooks cites research by James Pennebaker, professor of psychology. Here’s an excerpt:

James Pennebaker

James Pennebaker 

“[W]hen people are feeling confident, they are focused on the task at hand, not on themselves. High status, confident people use fewer ‘I’ words, not more.”Pennebaker analyzed the Nixon tapes. Nixon used few ‘I’ words early in his presidency, but used many more after the Watergate scandal ravaged his self-confidence. Rudy Giuliani used few “I” words through his mayoralty, but used many more later, during the two weeks when his cancer was diagnosed and his marriage dissolved. Barack Obama, a self-confident person, uses fewer ‘I’ words than any other modern president.”Our brains often don’t notice subtle verbal patterns, but Pennebaker’s computers can. Younger writers use more downbeat and past-tense words than older writers who use more positive and future-tense words.

“Liars use more upbeat words like ‘pal’ and ‘friend’ but fewer excluding words like ‘but,’ ‘except’ and ‘without.’ (When you are telling a false story, it’s hard to include the things you did not see or think about.)

“We think of John Lennon as the most intellectual of the Beatles, but, in fact, Paul McCartney’s lyrics had more flexible and diverse structures and George Harrison’s were more cognitively complex.

“In sum, the data revolution is giving us wonderful ways to understand the present and the past. Will it transform our ability to predict and make decisions about the future? We’ll see.”

Read the whole column.

When J-School Goes Online
Nieman Journalism Lab

Rosental Alves, School of Journalism, College of Communication

Empty classroom

[Image by David Gandy, Creative Commons License] 

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas has offered online courses since 2003. Last fall, the Knight Center offered its first massive open online course (MOOC), which attracted more than 2,000 people. The center’s experiment to push journalism education beyond its traditional audience was considered a success. The second MOOC, which started this spring, has enrolled more than 5,000.

Rosental Alves, the director of the Knight Center, told the Nieman Lab, “I’m sure that we’re onto something. To have 2,000 people in a course on one issue for journalism, and so much demand that you start another a month later and there are 5,000 people? It means there really is a demand.”

Read the whole story.

Invisibility’s Next Frontier: Scientists Cloak 3-D Objects
Wired magazine

Andrea Alù, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering
UT Austin researchers have successfully made a 3-D object disappear. Professor Andrea Alù, co-author of the study, with a group of scientists, have figured out how to “cloak at three-dimensional object standing in free space.” Put simply, the object is invisible from any angle of observation. Here’s an excerpt:

“This object’s invisibility is independent of where the observer is,” Professor Andrea Alù, the study’s co-author, tells Danger Room. “So you’d walk right around it, and never see it.”

Read the whole story.

Unprepared College Freshman Could Be The Cost of High Schools
Huffington Post

Kay McClenney, Educational Administration, Community College Leadership ProgramCollege of Education

Kay McClenney

Kay McClenney 

High school graduates who require remedial courses in community colleges may now cost their public school districts money. States like Mississippi and Maine are the latest states to question whether school districts are responsible for unprepared high school graduates. In the U.S., about 50 percent of undergraduates and as many as 70 percent of community college students are placed in remedial courses, according to a Huffington Post story. Here’s an excerpt:

Kay McClenney, the director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, says that the real issue is a lack of curriculum alignment and cooperation between high schools and community colleges. ‘Ultimately, what we need to have is not finger pointing and rock throwing across the fence of various segments of education, but really much better collaboration,’ she said. College remediation costs states nearly $4 billion annually.

“The introduction of ‘Common Core standards’ throughout the country, including in Mississippi, could make paying for remedial education an even bigger hurdle in the coming years. The standards provide a more consistent sense of what schools should be teaching and students learning across different states.

“McClenny estimates that in the short term, more students than ever will seem to need remediation as states transition to more rigorous high school tests based on the new standards. She said community colleges need to examine their curriculum and standards in light of the Common Core standards.

” ‘It is our collective responsibility as educators in both sectors to align the expectations for high school graduation and college entry,’ she said. ‘That’s the way to get the problem solved.’ “

Read the whole story.

Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto 

Analysis: Reality Check on Immigration Reform’s Obstacles
NBC Latino

Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, College of Liberal Arts, LBJ School of Public Affairs

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto writes an analysis column for NBC Latino about the legislative challenges for immigration reform. Soto says there’s good news and bad. President Obama and the Senate, she says, are active advocates that can make the push for reform. But she says there are “two big and messy inter-related obstacles the details and the time.”

Read Soto’s complete analysis.

Rules for Success: Stay Open to New Ideas
Inc. magazine

Bob Metcalfe, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering

As part of an ongoing series called Rules for Success, Adam Bluestein spoke with Bob Metcalfe, about innovation. In the QandA, Metcalfe discussed the secret to maintaining a culture of innovation, how to avoid killing innovation in business and does a business need to be innovative to succeed.

“There are all kinds of innovation,” Metcalfe said. “Doing old things well requires small, incremental innovation and we need a better vocabulary for talking about this. But if we want to have freedom and prosperity, we need innovation, because that’s what creates economic growth and jobs.”

Read the entire QandA.

Flu Shot May Not Work as Well for Seniors

Ning Jenny Jiang, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering

biomedical engineering assistant professor Ning Jenny Jiang

Ning Jenny Jiang 

While flu shots are still the best way to prevent the virus, new research confirms the conventional wisdom that seniors seem to get less benefit from the vaccinations. In a story on WebMD, lead researcher Ning Jiang explains that seniors’ B cells, which are needed to fight the flu, are less receptive to “tweaks” by the flu vaccine, causing them to be less effective immune fighters. What can be done to protect against the flu?

“…Study author Jiang said that older adults can take some extra steps to protect themselves. One is to get your flu shot early, since it takes about two weeks for the body to build up immunity. In the United States, flu season can begin as early as October.

“Older people may also want to avoid being around others who are sick, and be vigilant for potential flu symptoms, Jiang said. Those include fever, chills, sore throat, headache and body aches.

“Jiang advised calling your doctor right away if you have those symptoms: There are prescription anti-flu drugs, but they work best if you start them within two days of developing symptoms.”

Read the complete story.

Senior Obesity and Weight Gain Shouldn’t Be Ignored (Study)
Huffington Post

Daniel Powers, Department of Sociology, College of Liberal Arts

Huffington Post wrote about a new study about obesity in seniors from sociology professor Daniel Powers and co-authors Ryan Masters and Bruce Link, both of Columbia University. Their findings, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, show that overweight seniors are at a greater risk of death than younger, overweight persons. Prior studies suggested a slightly higher body mass index in people 65 and older might actually extend one’s life span.

Read the complete story.

UT Launches Financial Aid Programs to Boost Grad Rates
The Texas Tribune

Senior Vice Provost David Laude

David Laude 

David Laude, Provost’s Office

The Texas Tribune reported on new financial aid programs at the university that will provide incentives to students to complete their studies in four years. The article quoted David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management. “Anytime you can use something like financial aid to prompt students to stop and think differently about how they respond in college, you have no choice but to do so,” Laude said.

He noted that if the four new pilot programs prove successful, they could alter the institution’s entire financial aid strategy. “If in fact it turns out that these back-end incentivation projects work,” he said, “over time we will look at converting money we are using for recruiting students into money we are using to reward students.”

Read the whole story.