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UT News

Jane Austen, Crazy Ants and Tricky Fish

Headliners: From a recreated 19th century museum show to crowdsourcing Maya research to camouflage fish, work by UT scholars garners national attention. Check out the clips.

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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.

‘Crazy Ants’ Spreading in Southeastern US

Edward LeBrun, Section of Integrative Biology, College of Natural Sciences

crazy ants

Image courtesy of Joe MacGown, Mississippi Entomological Museum. 

Red fire ants in Texas cost an estimated $1.2 billion each year. But new “crazy ants” (yes, that’s what they’re really called) are moving in and taking over in a big way. In some areas the crazy ants outnumber other all other ant species by 100 to 1. Ed LeBrun, research associate in the university’s Brackenridge Field Station, spoke with NPR’s Flora Lichtman about these aggressive fire ants that are invading the southeastern United States.

Listen to the interview to learn how quickly they can spread, what to do if you have a colony on your property and other facts about the new ant invader.

Related Links:
Invasive Crazy Ants are Displacing Fire Ants (Texas Science news)

The Ancient Maya Meet the Modern Internet
The Washington Post

David Stuart, Department of Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts, Department of Anthropology, College of Liberal Arts

David Stuart

David Stuart, professor and director of the Mesoamerica Center 

David Stuart, professor and director of the Mesoamerica Center, has spent more than three decades researching the ancient Maya civilization. For decades scholars relied on copiers and written letters to decipher Maya carvings and inscriptions. And thanks to the Internet, Stuart and others are advancing new discoveries through his blog.

When Stuart began his career more than 30 years ago, he communicated in handwritten letters to the few people around the world who understood what he was doing. “The big technological advance then” was the Xerox machine, he said. “Epigraphers were always wanting copies of inscriptions.”

Now Stuart posts drawings and photos of glyphs on his blog for anyone with Internet access. Comments can be posted from anywhere in the world. Scholars in remote areas, often cut out of earlier research because of logistics, are eager partners today. [Brown University archaeologist and longtime Stuart collaborator Stephen] Houston estimated that there are more than 30 colleagues currently at work studying and translating Maya script.

Read more about how Stuart’s Internet presence continues to advance understanding of the Mayans.

Report: More PE, activity programs needed in schools
USA Today

Harold Kohl, Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, College of Education

Harold Kohl

Harold Kohl, education research professor 

A new report issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), and developed by two UT Austin professors, says schools should play a key role in ensuring all students have the opportunity to engage in at least 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity each day. Harold Kohl, a research professor in the College of Education was chair of the committee that wrote the report. Highlights of the IOM report says elementary school children should spend 30 minutes a day in PE, and middle and high school students should average 45 minutes a day in PE class.

Many schools have cut or reduced physical education classes for increased demands on education time or lack of funding. The report recommends the Department of Education make PE a core subject like math or reading.

Read more about the report and recommendations for children’s physical education classes.

Related Links:
Moving for a Better Mind

Seeing Art Through Austen’s Eyes
The New York Times

Janine Barchas, Department of English, College of Liberal Arts

Last month, Janine Barchas, professor of English, and a team from the Liberal Arts Development Studio launched “What Jane Saw,” an online exhibit, on the 200th anniversary of “Pride and Prejudice.” The exhibit “will allow modern-day Janeiacs to wander through a meticulous reconstruction of the exhibition and put themselves, if not quite in Austen’s shoes, at least behind her eyes,” writes New York Times columnist Jennifer Schuessler.

Two centuries later, Barchas and her team offers the modern visitor a historical reconstruction of that long-lost Regency blockbuster.

Jane Austin photo by Marsha Miller UT Austin

A preview of the exhibition “What Jane Saw.” [Photo by Marsha Miller/UT Austin] 

Read more about the exhibit and visit the “What Jane Saw” e-gallery.

Related Links:
Virtual Gallery Reconstructs Art Exhibit Attended by Novelist Jane Austen (College of Liberal Arts press release)
What Jane Saw (E-gallery)
Jane Austen’s Characters and Celebrity Culture (Knowledge Matters, YouTube)
Jane Austen’s Book Covers (Knowledge Matters, YouTube)
Making the “What Jane Saw” Website (Knowledge Matters, YouTube)

Marine fish prove masters of camouflage by controlling light

Molly Cummings, School of Biological Sciences, College of Natural Sciences

Molly Cummings

Molly Cummings, biology professor 

New research from Molly Cummings, biology professor, discovered a new way fish hide themselves in the ocean, by manipulating how light reflects off their skin. Researchers found that lookdown fish camouflage themselves through a complex manipulation of polarized light after it strikes the skin.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was funded by the U.S. Navy, which has an interest both in developing better ocean camouflage technologies and in being able to detect such strategies if developed by others.

“The open ocean represents a challenging environment for camouflage,” Cummings said. “There are no objects to hide behind in three-dimensional space, so organisms have to find a way to blend in to the water itself.”

Learn more about the research and its implications for the future.

camouflage fish

Lookdown fish camouflage themselves through a complex manipulation of polarized light after it strikes the fish skin. In laboratory studies, researchers showed that this kind of camouflage outperforms by up to 80 percent the “mirror” strategy that was previously thought to be state-of-the-art in fish camouflage. 

Related Links:
Researchers Discover a New Way Fish Camouflage Themselves in the Ocean (Texas Science news)