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Headliners: Tracking Energy in Hollywood

From “Energy at the Movies” to bombing North Korea, the research and opinions of UT faculty members captured the media’s attention this spring. Read the headlines.

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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.

When Energy Goes Hollywood: A Conversation With Michael Webber

Michael Webber, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering

Michael Webber, associate professor and deputy director of the UT Energy Institute, hosts “Energy at the Movies,” a new television show that examines energy issues of our past, present and the future. “Energy at the Movies” premiered on PBS stations around the country in late March. StateImpact Texas’ Terrence Henry sat down with Webber for a QandA about the role energy plays in American life and what role it’s played in Hollywood.

Michael Webber, professor at UT Austin, presents “Energy at the Movies.”

Read the entire QandA or listen to the radio story.

Related Links:
Energy at the Movies schedule

Smoking Gun in West, Texas, Fertilizer Blast: Lack of Government Oversight
The Christian Science Monitor

Thomas O. McGarity, School of Law

Thomas O. McGarity

Thomas O. McGarity, School of Law professor [Photo by Mark Rutkowski] 

In an op-ed for the Christian Science Monitor, School of Law Professor Thomas O. McGarity describes the tragic explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant on April 17 as a “manifestation of a badly debilitated system of regulatory problems.” McGarity notes that Texas’ occupational safety and health program does not meet federal requirements.

Therefore, he opines, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for the safety of potentially dangerous workplaces like the West facility. But because OSHA lacks the resources to take on comprehensive inspections and is spread so thin, McGarity writes, “it would take more than 90 years to conduct even cursory inceptions of all eligible work places in Texas.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lacks resources, too, he notes, writing that the EPA lacks the staff to inspect a facility more often than every decade or so. The same applies to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. McGarity suggests that without clear Congressional action, something else should be done. Here’s an excerpt:

“Given the reluctance of Congress to properly fund the regulatory agencies, it may be time to give workers and neighbors the tools to take responsibility for ensuring that companies act responsibly and are held accountable to the public when they act irresponsibly.

“Congress should empower workers and neighbors to address situations like the West fertilizer facility by allowing them to file actions on their own to enforce health and safety standards before violators kill and maim their workers and neighbors. Congress should also provide stronger protections for whistle-blowers who report unsafe working conditions in such facilities.

“Let’s not wait until the next workplace disaster to ensure that adequate safeguards for workers and residents are in place.”

Read the entire op-ed.

Sunday Spotlight: Eric Draper (Video)
ABC News: This Week with George Stephanopoulos

Eric Draper, University of Texas Press, Front Row Seat

Eric Draper

Watch the interview with Eric Draper on ABC News. 

Watch the interview with Eric Draper on ABC News.

Eric Draper, author of “Front Row Seat,” a University of Texas Press book about America’s 43rd president, George W. Bush, sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos to talk about his new book. Draper was President Bush’s official White House photographer throughout the eight years of the Bush presidency. Watch this interview about his book.

Related Links:
University of Texas Press
George W. Bush: Behind the Scenes

Donna De Cesare’s Lens on Central America, Children And Civil War
NPR’s The Picture Show

Donna De Cesare, School of Journalism, College of Communication

Donna De Cesare, an award-winning photographer, videographer and journalist, was interviewed by NPR intern Lizzie Chen, B.A. ’09, M.A. ’12, about her new bilingual book, “Unsettled: Children in a World of Gangs.” De Cesare’s book includes 145 black-and-white images and a first-person narrative from her 30 years documenting the effects of war and gang violence on youth in Central America. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“And the first-person narrative is a big part of it: One thing De Cesare explains both directly in the classroom and indirectly through her work is that the role of a journalist isn’t as simple as being an objective observer. Over the years, she has developed profound relationships with the people she photographs, often blurring the line that separates photojournalist from friend.

‘Why are we telling these stories to begin with?’ she asks. ‘We can’t really change the world but we can change the world we are in by making choices.'”

Aeriel Ellis

Three-year-old “Esperanza” named her pet pigeon after her wheelchair-bound teenage uncle in Watts, Los Angeles. He was shot by a rival gang member in a drive-by shooting, 1994. [Photo by Donna De Cesare] 

See some of the photos from De Cesare’s book.

Related Links:
Children in a World of Gangs

Can Chemistry Offer a Better Lithium Ion Battery?
Scientific American

Arumugam Manthiram, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering, Texas Materials Institute

Arumugam Manthiram

Arumugam Manthiram, director, Texas Materials Institute. 

Research presented at this year’s American Chemical Society annual meeting highlighted lithium-ion battery technology, improved components and better performance and more efficient production cycles. ClimateWire’s Umair Irfan spoke with Arumugam Manthiram, director of the Texas Materials Institute and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, about his research on battery materials for an article in Scientific American.

Manthiram says the biggest hurdle today is cost. Lithium batteries found in cellphones and laptops are cost effective because most consumer upgrade before the battery wears out. However, this is not the case with electric car batteries. He hopes to soon find the “magic material” that will store a large amount of energy, cycle for longer periods of time and charge quickly.

“One approach is to use a better anode. Current lithium-ion batteries use an anode made of graphite. When you charge the battery quickly, especially in a cold environment, the lithium ions can plate on the anode, forming tree-like projections called dendrites. If the dendrites get long enough, they can touch other battery components, creating a short circuit that will make the battery fail.

“Using an antimony-based nanocomposite anode, Manthiram said he could design a safer, more durable battery that tolerates higher voltages. Manthiram said he is also investigating other battery chemistries, like lithium-sulfur and sodium-ion, which use different materials and offer their own advantages. This way, engineers can reduce costs over the lifetime of the battery.”

Read more about the how chemistry can change the lithium ion battery.

Bomb North Korea, Before It’s Too Late
The New York Times

Jeremi Suri, Department of History, College of Liberal Arts, LBJ School of Public Affairs

Jeremi Suri

Jeremi Suri, professor of history and public affairs. 

The New York Times op-ed contributor and UT Austin professor, Jeremi Suri, writes that North Korean crisis is now a strategic threat to America’s core national interests. Suri asserts the best option is the destroy the missile on the ground, including the mobile launcher, before its launched. Read an excerpt from Suri’s column:

“President Obama should state clearly and forthrightly that this is an act of self-defense in response to explicit threats from North Korea and clear evidence of a prepared weapon. He should give the leaders of South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan advance notice before acting. And he should explain that this is a limited defensive strike on a military target an operation that poses no threat to civilians and that America does not intend to bring about regime change. The purpose is to neutralize a clear and present danger. That is all. … Since a missile on the ground is an obvious and largely undefended target, we can be reasonably sure that a strike would destroy it and preserve regional stability and the safety of our allies. An American pre-emptive strike would also re-establish necessary red lines for North Korea and other countries in similar circumstances.”

Read more about Suri’s opinion about the Chinese’s reaction, retaliating against South Korea and war on the Korean Peninsula.