The University of Texas at Austin is a vast place, with more than 40 acres of campus containing untold collections, artifacts and treasures. From secret nooks (the lovely Goldsmith Hall courtyard) to unexpected resources (did you know RLM has a telescope on the roof?), surprises can be found all over campus. Our #HiddenUT series shines a spotlight onto UT’s unheralded gems.
This week, small bits of nature come to the fore, with a beehive atop Patterson Hall, a butterfly garden in the Brackenridge Field Laboratory and botanical specimens gathered by none other than James Cook and Charles Darwin.Bees on a Building
When Professor Nancy Moran moved from Yale to UT Austin last August, she had to figure out a way to bring a colony of 100,000 bees along with her. The integrative biology researcher studies the diversity and function of bacteria in the guts of bees, which share “a number of parallels with the gut microbiota of humans and other mammals, because it is a long co-evolved and specialized bacterial community, and because it impacts the health of the hosts,” she said in an article about her work on LiveScience.com.
So, she recruited a couple of grad students and took a road trip, driving the nearly 2,000 miles in a minivan packed full of bees. To keep the bees from overheating, they kept the AC cranked to the max during the day and left the windows down at night. “It seemed unlikely that anyone would try to steal something from a van full of bees,” said Moran. The bees arrived in Austin with no problems, and now live on the roof of Patterson Hall.
“I have to admit I am afraid of stings,” she said. “In working directly with the colonies, it is usual to occasionally be stung.” But, there is an upside to working with bees: ”We get honey, which is very helpful as gifts to make people worry less about being stung,” she said.Butterflies in the Field
In some classes, students are assigned readings from a big textbook; others are assigned computer problems or chemistry formulas. But there’s probably only one course at the university in which students are assigned an entire acre of land filled with trees, wildflowers, buzzing insects and birds: Professor Larry Gilbert’s field ecology class at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory (BFL).
The BFL property is comprised of areas of rich natural vegetation, including a native bluestem prairie, old pasture land, former quarry, Firefly Meadow, Pecan Bottoms, Colorado River and juniper woodlands. This diversity has produced records of thousands of species, including at least 163 species of birds, 20 mammals, 373 species of plants, 68 species of ants, 200 species of native bees and a whopping 1,200 species of moths and butterflies.
For the first part of every semester, that acre at BFL becomes a personal laboratory in which students practice methods of field ecology, including learning how to perceive ecological patterns, frame hypotheses, collect data in the field, analyze the data and write professional-quality lab reports.
“I designed the course in 1999, just as life science at the university was being reorganized,” says Gilbert. “When I took ecology at UT in 1964, lecture and lab were combined for three hours of course credit. It was still like that in 1999. I wanted to make the lab a stand-alone course based in the field, and BFL was a perfect venue. In a real sense, I designed a course that I would have wanted to take when I was an undergraduate in the days before BFL.”
A version of this story originally appeared on the College of Natural Sciences website.Botany Specimens from Days of Yore
Tucked in a corner of the Main Building is the largest collection of Texas plants in the world.
The Plant Resources Center (PRC), with more than 1 million specimens, is the largest herbarium in the Southwest and ranks fifth among U.S. university facilities. And it’s still growing, with some 16,400 new specimens being added each year.
Botanists study variability, explains Lindsay Woodruff, associate curator of the PRC, so they need a large collection of specimens like the one at UT, which is one of the largest in the U.S. “It’s the very basic knowledge of plants, and we wouldn’t be breathing otherwise,” she says.
“The core of everything is understanding variation, so the more specimens you have the better you can understand that variation,” says Tom Wendt, curator of the PRC, in a video about the herbarium. ”They are an enormous treasure trove of data that can be used for studying plant classification especially, which is the core of what we work on here.”
The collection started back in the 1890s, before the first botanist joined the university. But some parts of the collection are even older. The Darwin — yes, that Darwin — and Captain James Cook specimens are from scientifically crucial voyages of exploration to the Pacific in the 18th and 19th centuries. “One can almost feel the presence of these giants in the history of science by seeing their specimens,” Woodruff says.
Admiral William McRaven, a University of Texas at Austin alumnus, is the sole finalist to become chancellor of the University of Texas System.
He started as a Longhorn and then became a SEAL.
Now, Admiral William McRaven, a University of Texas at Austin alumnus responsible for the raid that claimed Osama Bin Laden’s life, has been named the sole finalist to become chancellor of the University of Texas System.
As the state’s flagship university, The University of Texas at Austin is part of the University of Texas System.
While a president helms UT Austin, a Board of Regents and a chancellor together govern the overarching UT System, composed of nine academic institutions and six health-care institutions.
Today the Board of Regents unanimously selected McRaven (B.J. ’77) the sole finalist to replace outgoing UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. Under state law, the board must wait 21 days after naming the sole finalist before making an appointment.
“We were aware that getting Admiral McRaven to consider the UT System position might have presented a challenge, given high demand nationally for his leadership,” Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster said in a statement from the UT System on Tuesday. “We were honored that he chose the UT System as the most important place where he could continue to serve his nation upon his pending retirement from a most distinguished military career.”
Before McRaven, a Navy SEAL who will turn over leadership of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and retire from active duty in August, is officially installed as chancellor, here’s a quick look at the leader not every university system could handle.1) McRaven spearheaded the military raid that led to the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama Bin Laden …
Time magazine speculated, “if the Pulitzer Prize board establishes a new category — for killing the world’s most wanted terrorist — it’s a safe bet Bill McRaven will win it.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates praised McRaven’s leadership, saying he’s “effectively [taken] the fight to America’s most dangerous and vicious enemies.” Politico published a lengthy profile on McRaven, dubbing him “The Last American Hero.”2) … and he sometimes still goes into the field with his special-ops teams on raids
In 2011 the Washington Post reported that although McRaven is “a three-star* admiral, the muscular 55-year-old still sometimes accompanies his teams on snatch-and-grab missions.” The Post called McRaven “one of the most experienced terrorist hunters in the U.S. government,” but noted the leader “demands high standards” in every endeavor.
(*Editor’s note: McRaven is now a four-star admiral.)3) McRaven is a powerhouse speaker who doles out unforgettable life advice
In May, McRaven delivered one of the year’s most popular commencement speeches (2 million YouTube views and counting) to The University of Texas at Austin’s Class of 2014. His 10 life lessons to change the world have been praised not only as spot-on advice for recent graduates to follow but also as words by which everyone should live.4) He answers fan mail (and he can hold his breath for a long time)
Last year, six-year-old Walker Greentree wrote McRaven a letter asking the admiral not only how long he can hold his breath but also who’s quieter, a Navy SEAL or a ninja?
McRaven penned the boy a reply, settling the back-and-forth debate: “Ninjas are probably quieter than SEALs,” he responded. “But we are better swimmers and also better with guns and blowing things up.”
McRaven then answered the second question, “I can hold my breath for a long time, but I try not to unless I really have to.”
McRaven ended his letter to Greentree with two pieces of advice to help the boy achieve his goal of becoming a SEAL someday: “Listen to your parents, and be nice to the other kids. If you do that, then you can probably be a SEAL too.”5) McRaven served in numerous overseas conflicts
McRaven’s 37-year military career took him overseas and onto the front lines. According to a USSOCOM news release, McRaven is a veteran of Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom as well as other missions.6) He commanded from every level within special operations
McRaven commanded at every level in special operations during his military service. He also served as director for strategic planning on the National Security Council Staff.7) He has higher education and curriculum-creation experience
As a student in the Naval Postgraduate School, McRaven helped create and launch the Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict curriculum, a program still in existence today.
The curriculum, according to USSOCOM, is “specifically built around operational art and strategy with an emphasis on the use of special operations.” After overseeing the program’s inception, McRaven became its first graduate.8) He wrote the book on that
In 1996 McRaven published a book based on the thesis he authored while a student at the Naval Postgraduate School. “Spec Ops” highlights eight special operations from WWII through conflicts in the 1970s, showcasing the principles needed for successful military operations. (The book has a 4.5 star rating out of a possible five on Amazon.)9) McRaven is a UT Distinguished Alumnus
In 2012 the Texas Exes honored McRaven with a Distinguished Alumnus Award, which is given each year to alumni who embody the spirit of The University of Texas at Austin.
His fellow honorees that year: Laura Bush, former first lady of the United States; Julius Glickman, philanthropist and attorney; Charles Matthews, former vice president and general counsel of Exxon Mobil Corp.; Melinda Perrin, civic leader and former chair of the Hermann Hospital board of trustees; and Dr. Hector Ruiz, partner and managing director of Bull Ventures and ANSI Capital.10) He started here, and he changed the world
McRaven graduated from UT in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in Middle Eastern studies. He ran track and was a member of ROTC.
Looking at a career like his, it’s easy to see why we say What starts here changes the world.
AUSTIN, Texas — The microbes living in the guts of males and females react differently to diet, even when the diets are identical, according to a study by scientists from The University of Texas at Austin and six other institutions published this week in the journal Nature Communications. These results suggest that therapies designed to improve human health and treat diseases through nutrition might need to be tailored for each sex.
The researchers studied the gut microbes in two species of fish and in mice, and also conducted an in-depth analysis of data that other researchers collected on humans. They found that in fish and humans diet affected the microbiota of males and females differently. In some cases, different species of microbes would dominate, while in others, the diversity of bacteria would be higher in one sex than the other.
These results suggest that any therapies designed to improve human health through diet should take into account whether the patient is male or female.
Only in recent years has science begun to completely appreciate the importance of the human microbiome, which consists of all the bacteria that live in and on people’s bodies. There are hundreds or even thousands of species of microbes in the human digestive system alone, each varying in abundance.
Genetics and diet can affect the variety and number of these microbes in the human gut, which can in turn have a profound influence on human health. Obesity, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease have all been linked to low diversity of bacteria in the human gut.
One concept for treating such diseases is to manipulate the microbes within a person’s gut through diet. The idea is gaining in popularity because dietary changes would make for a relatively cheap and simple treatment.
Much has to be learned about which species, or combination of microbial species, is best for human health. In order to accomplish this, research has to illuminate how these microbes react to various combinations of diet, genetics and environment. Unfortunately, to date most such studies only examine one factor at a time and do not take into account how these variables interact.
“Our study asks not just how diet influences the microbiome, but it splits the hosts into males and females and asks, do males show the same diet effects as females?” said Daniel Bolnick, professor in The University of Texas at Austin's College of Natural Sciences and lead author of the study.
While Bolnick’s results identify that there is a significant difference in the gut microbiota for males and females, the dietary data used in the analysis are organized in complex clusters of disparate factors and do not easily translate into specific diet tips, such as eating more vegetables or less meat.
“To guide people’s behavior, we need to know what microbes are desirable for people,” said Bolnick. “Diet and sex do interact to influence the microbes, but we don’t yet know what a desirable target for microbes is. Now we can go in with eyes open when we work on therapies for gut microbe problems, as many involve dietary changes. We can walk into those studies looking for something we weren’t aware of before. All along we treated diet as if it works the same for men and women. Now we’ll be approaching studies of therapies in a different way.”
Why men and women would react differently to changes in diet is unclear, but there are a couple of possibilities. The hormones associated with each sex could potentially influence gut microbes, favoring one strain over another. Also, the sexes often differ in how their immune systems function, which could affect which microbes live and die in the microbiome.
One notable exception in Bolnick’s results was in the mice. Although there was a tiny difference between male and female mice, for the most part the microbiota of each sex reacted to diet in the same manner. Because most dietary studies are conducted on mice, this result could have a huge effect on such research, and it raises questions about how well studies of gut microbes in lab mice can be generalized to other species, particularly humans.
“This means that most of the research that's being done on lab mice — we need to treat that with kid gloves,” said Bolnick.
Bolnick’s co-authors are Lisa Snowberg (UT Austin); Philipp Hirsch (University of Basel and Uppsala University); Christian Lauber and Rob Knight (University of Colorado, Boulder); Elin Org, Brian Parks and Aldons Lusis (University of California, Los Angeles); J. Gregory Caporaso (Northern Arizona University and Argonne National Laboratory); and Richard Svanbäck (Uppsala University).
This research was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Swedish Research Council.
On July 28 in Washington D.C., President Barack Obama kicked off a three-day summit for Africa’s most promising young leaders. To introduce him, the White House recruited a Longhorn: 27-year-old Faith Mangope, a South African businesswoman who recently completed the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders on the Forty Acres.
For the past six weeks, Mangope and 24 of her colleagues have been on the University of Texas at Austin campus learning the ins and outs of business and entrepreneurship as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the White House’s signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders. They join fellows at 19 other top U.S. universities, including Yale, Northwestern, Dartmouth, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Virginia.
Culled from more than 50,000 applicants, the 25 UT fellows came to Austin from 18 different Sub-Saharan countries, all with the goal of fleshing out ideas for businesses that would benefit their communities back home — from one fellow’s dream of creating sustainable furniture out of bamboo in Malawi, to another woman’s vision of providing sanitary pads to African schoolgirls to curb absenteeism in Kenya.
After completing a rigorous program that included academic coursework, community service, networking and site visits to Austin-area businesses, the Washington Fellows are now in D.C., where they will rub shoulders with the likes of President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry before returning home to Africa.
Below, hear from these young leaders who — with the help of The University of Texas at Austin — are working to instigate global, social change in one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
Learn more about the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders here.
“…We are not here because we are better than the others We are here because we are the first, the pioneers…”
— An excerpt from a poem written by Anissa Issufo Arune, a Washington Fellow who is working to prevent domestic violence and abuse in Mozambique, where it’s still considered taboo for women to pursue educations or dream of running businesses. Arune hopes to leverage education, health resources and financial sustainability to encourage more women to join the workforce.UT Austin’s Washington Fellows pose in front of the Tower on their first day in Texas. Photo: JT Walford
***“A lot of solutions to Africa’s problems are residing in Africa, sort of buried, much like the natural resources below the ground. People don’t feel there’s enough freedom or democracy to activate their ideas. What each one of us being here can help do is be a little beacon of hope for how that can be done.”
—Creesen Naicker, a Washington Fellow who is working to empower villages in South Africa by partnering with them to create tourist attractions. Approximately 60 percent of Africa’s population is younger than 35 years of age — a statistic that spurred the White House to pilot the Washington Fellowship and select UT as one of 20 host universities for its inaugural year. The program, part of Obama’s broader Young African Leaders Initiative, aims to spur growth and prosperity across Africa.Fellows Jean-Patrick Ehouman (left) and Joel Tembo (center) chat with Executive Director for Development Karl Miller at the Google Keynote luncheon on June 18. Photo: Sara Combs
***“Meeting entrepreneurs in Austin and knowing they go through the same challenges we go through back in Africa is pretty encouraging. All we have to do is never give up.”
— Washington Fellow Florence Kamaitha is the founder of the Pad Heaven Initiative, a business that is providing cheaper sanitary pads to African girls with the hope of curbing school absenteeism. In addition to winning a $25,000 grant from the U.S. African Development Foundation to expand her business, Kamaitha will also personally meet with First Lady Michelle Obama about girls’ education issues during this week’s summit.Kamaitha (right) and her classmates attend a lecture in the Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex. Photo: JT Walford
***“I believe we need to shift our paradigm to starting businesses and creating employment and wealth with a human value.”
— According to fellow Lombola Gama Lombola, bamboo in his home country of Malawi takes about three years to regenerate, much quicker than the 10 years it takes traditional timber. That’s how he got the idea for Bamboo Express, a company that is creating eco-friendly, affordable furniture for his community. Thanks to a core curriculum developed by UT San Antonio’s Anita Leffel and UT Austin’s Dorie Gilbert, a professor in the School of Social Work, Lombola and his colleagues now have increased proficiency in writing business plans, crafting elevator pitches and networking — all skills that will help them grow their businesses back home.On their quest to learn more about Austin’s entrepreneurial scene, the 25 Washington Fellows toured Google’s offices on June 23. Photo: JT Walford
***“The amazing thing is the actual mantra of The University of Texas at Austin, which is ‘What starts here changes the world.’ That’s so true. If you allow yourself — whatever situation you’re in — to be present within that situation, you really can change the world.”
— Faith Mangope, the UT Austin fellow who was selected from 500 fellows nationwide to introduce President Obama and moderate a Town Hall meeting in Washington, D.C. Mangope is the founder of New G Business Forums, which offers three-day programs to young adults preparing for employment in South Africa. Watch the live stream of the Young African Leaders Presidential Summit here through July 30.Mangope presents her business idea to a panel of Austin entrepreneurs at the final pitch competition on July 24. Photo: Sara Combs
Mexico’s emergent energy reforms are generating much excitement for economic development, including increasing the need for highly skilled labor in petroleum engineering, chemistry, geology, physics and geophysics. Up to 2.5 million new jobs by 2025, according to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. But, is Mexico’s education system ready for the labor demands of a competitive, international energy market, and will new energy jobs decrease immigration to the U.S.? The bottom line is no.
There are more than 3,000 officially registered higher education institutions in Mexico, of which 60 percent are private. While Mexico has prestigious and internationally recognized public and private universities, such as the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), and TEC de Monterrey (ITESM), great disparity and differentiation exist among Mexico’s higher education subsystems. There is no single quality assurance agency, nor a single national higher education entity, and the quality of the different higher education subsystems can vary drastically. There is also no national comprehensive credit system or national qualification framework. All this lack of regulated and mandatory accreditation and consistency in programing makes the Mexican higher education system complex and complicated. Inconsistent and unevaluated English instruction is also a problem for the education system in Mexico, since most of the globalized energy industry handles its business in English.
Enrollment is also an issue. Although Mexico’s education system has been praised for its investment in universal preschool programs, it has a hard time keeping kids in school. At 56 percent, Mexico has the lowest enrollment rate among 15- to 19-year-olds of the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This is Mexico’s largest population age group in its history, and almost half are not enrolled in school. In higher education, only 12 percent of Mexican 20- to 29-year-olds participate, according to the OECD, the typical tertiary education age range. Although this is an increase from 2000, it is less than half the rate for Argentina and Chile and across OECD countries of the same age group. Also alarming is the number of youths who are not employed or in education or training programs. OECD indicates that 27.2 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds, and 29.5 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds were not employed or in education or training. This means that the sector of the Mexican population that could ideally meet the new need of a highly skilled labor force is largely undereducated and undertrained.
That is not to say that Mexico has not invested at high proportions in tertiary education in recent years and that the number of engineering students and graduates is high even compared with the U.S., but there is a mismatch between training and opportunity. Most Mexican engineering graduates end up as technicians for foreign-owned companies, not because they are unqualified for better positions, but because those are the current major industry needs. Meanwhile, 80 percent of PEMEX petroleum engineers are generally from two major universities, UNAM and IPN, limiting access to the current best jobs to graduates from these most elite public universities.
Monopolies and oligopolies have historically benefitted from and controlled economic growth in Mexico and have also enjoyed the greatest access to tertiary education. The highly skilled jobs in the energy sector will most likely be filled by several generations of this group and their professional networks, including their foreign professional business partners and investors. In fact, both the Mexican and the U.S. governments have already launched efforts for increased bilateral cooperation and exchange. Companies such as ExxonMobil are making big investments in education in Mexico’s premier universities, including training in English.
But who will be the primary beneficiaries of these emerging opportunities in either the U.S. or Mexico? Of course, some of these opportunities will trickle down, even to construction workers in areas of growth related to energy development, but it is unlikely, at least in the near future, that the Mexican public education system will meet those highly skilled labor needs, nor that energy reform will halt poor, rural migrants, those without access to an elite education, from trying to live an American dream.
Luis Urrieta is an associate professor of cultural studies in education and is affiliated faculty with the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies and the Center of Mexican American Studies at The University of Texas at Austin.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Houston Chronicle.
Although immigration and border security issues have been heavily debated for years, the debate about U.S. policy and the current border crisis has dominated the media landscape in recent weeks, especially in Texas. Experts from across all disciplines at The University of Texas at Austin are poised to share their insights on a variety of topics related to the immigration debate and are available to speak with the media.Immigration Policy & Culture
Co-Director of the Immigration Clinic and Clinical Professor of Law
Gilman is co-director of The University of Texas School of Law’s Immigration Clinic, which has clients from all over the world. Gilman has written and practiced law extensively in the international human rights and immigrants’ rights fields. Her areas of expertise include immigration, immigrants’ rights, civil rights advocacy and human rights advocacy. Prior to joining the UT Law faculty, she was director of the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs from 2000 to 2005. Gilman is also a faculty member at the university’s Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. Available for interviews in English and Spanish.
Co-Director of the Immigration Clinic and Clinical Professor of Law
Hines is co-director of The University of Texas School of Law’s Immigration Clinic and has practiced in the field of immigration law since 1975. Previously, Hines served as the first co-director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of the Texas Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. She has litigated many issues relating to the constitutional and statutory rights of immigrants in federal and immigration courts including the lawsuit leading to the closure of the controversial T. Don Hutto Detention Center. She frequently comments and publishes on topics related to immigration law and immigrants’ rights. Hines is also a faculty member at the university’s Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.
Victoria DeFrancesco Soto
Adjunct Professor of Public Affairs
DeFrancesco Soto’s research analyzes how social identities shape political behavior. Her academic expertise centers on campaigns and elections, political marketing, women, race and ethnic politics, and immigration. DeFrancesco Soto is a contributor to MSNBC and NBC Latino, where her weekly political opinion column appears. She is also a regular political analyst for Telemundo. Available for Spanish language and print only.
Professor of Sociology
Rodriguez is an expert on immigration reform, U.S. deportations to Mexico and Central America, the unauthorized migration of unaccompanied minors, evolving relations between Latinos and African Americans/Asian Americans, and ethical and human rights issues of border enforcement. Available for interviews in English and Spanish.
Professor of Government
Freeman specializes in the politics of immigration and comparative social policy. His most recent writing has been directed at understanding the form of immigration politics in different countries and explaining the integration strategies employed by countries as they grapple with immigrant populations. He is currently working on the question of the linkage between immigration and the welfare state, especially the impact of ethnic and other forms of diversity on the solidaristic foundations of social policies.
Professor of Anthropology
512-288-1952 (home), 512-471-7537 (office)
Menchaca studies the naturalization process of Mexican immigrants and challenges for immigrant populations in the United States. Research areas include social anthropology, ethnicity, gender, oral history/oral traditions, legal anthropology, immigration, Chicano studies, U.S./Mexican culture and Latin America.
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Shapira is an ethnographer who writes about political identity with an emphasis on right-wing politics in the United States. His book, "Waiting for José: The Minutemen’s Pursuit of America," examines the civilian volunteers who patrol the U.S. /Mexico border. He is available to discuss civilian-led movements against illegal immigration at the Mexican border. Not available for local TV interviews.
Director of the Texas Politics Project; Lecturer of Government
Henson researches Texas and U.S. politics, and the political impact of the policy decisions. He is available to discuss topics relating to Texas immigration reform.
Associate Professor of Government
Immigration Texas blog: http://www.immigrationtexas.org/
Givens' research interests include radical-right parties, immigration politics, immigration and security. She is available to address a broad range of issues relating to immigration reform.
Associate Professor of Communication
An award-winning photographer, videographer and journalist with a focus on Latin American issues, DeCesare is perhaps most widely known for her groundbreaking reporting on the spread of Los Angeles gangs in Central America. Her book, “Unsettled/Desasosiego: Children in a World of Gangs/Los niños en un mundo de las pandillas,” uncovers the effects of decades of war and gang violence on the lives of youths in Central America and U.S. refugee communities.
Assistant Professor of Radio-Television-Film
Mallapragada’s research and teaching interests include new media studies, immigrant media and cultures, Asian American studies and media industry studies. She is the author of “Virtual Homelands: Indian Immigrants and Online Cultures in the United States” (University of Illinois Press, 2014). She is currently working on a book that examines how African American, Latino and Asian American consumers and markets are transforming U.S. media industries.
Professor of Radio-Television-Film
Straubhaar’s research focuses on migration and media use, barriers to immigrants learning about the Internet and other new technologies and Austin technology instruction programs focused on immigrants. His book, “Inequity in the Technopolis: Race, Class, Gender, and the Digital Divide in Austin,” studies the effects of national, state and local programs that address the digital divide and digital inclusion in Austin.
Dean of the School of Social Work
Zayas studies the plight of citizen-children whose parents are being deported. Through funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, he is examining the effects of deportation on the psychosocial functioning of U.S.-born citizen-children of undocumented Mexican immigrants.
Professor of Education
Valenzuela is a professor in the Educational Policy and Planning Program within the Department of Educational Administration as well as the Cultural Studies in Education Program within the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. She also serves as director of the Texas Center for Education Policy and is the new director for the National Latino Education Research Agenda Project. As a Fulbright Scholar, she conducted research in the areas of immigration, human rights and binational relations. Her research interests are the sociology of education, education reform, and how education policy affects minority students.
Assistant Professor of Education
Adair’s focus is on the experiences in the U.S. education system of children and families from immigrant communities. She is currently researching how the social and academic development of Latino immigrant children can be improved through project-based instruction and by giving the children more autonomy and choice in the early grades.
Luis Urrieta Jr.
Associate Professor of Education
Urrieta is in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction’s Cultural Studies in Education program and is affiliated with the Center for Mexican American Studies and Native American and Indigenous Studies Program. His research focuses on the ways that immigrant children access education, activism in education on behalf of immigrant children, racism in education, and cultural and racial identities. Urrieta is an expert on cultural and racial identities, social movements related to education, and learning in family and community contexts.
Professor of Educational Psychology
Ainslie is an expert on the psychological experience of immigration, ethnic conflicts within communities and the relationship between individual and collective identity. Most recently, he studied the impact of the 1998 killing of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, on that community. Issues of race, community and identity also have been explored by Ainslie through documentary film and photographic exhibits.
Professor of Geography and the Environment; Women’s and Gender Studies
Torres studies transnational migration and rural restructuring; agricultural change; and the intersection between tourism, poverty and development.
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Ballí studies U.S.-Mexican borderlands, gender and violence, Latino expressive culture and narrative writing.
John S. Butler
Professor of Management
Butler’s research is in the areas of organizational behavior, entrepreneurship and new ventures. His books include “Entrepreneurship and Self-Help Among Black America: A Reconsideration of Race and Economics,” “All That We Can Be: Black Leadership and Racial Integration the Army Way” with co-author Charles C. Moskos, and “Immigration and Minority Entrepreneurship: The Continuous Rebirth of American Communities” with co-author George Kozmetsky (forthcoming).
This July marks 80 years since the Federal Communications Commission began to regulate broadcasting and telephone systems. The “public interest, convenience and necessity” was supposed to guide the development and operation of our national communications systems, and the FCC was supposed to proactively create the conditions to serve the public interest. During that time, however, the public’s interest has been losing its status. In fact, many innovations that communication and information services and businesses introduced over the past several years are unquestionably useful, even transformational, but public interest seems increasingly absent in how the FCC assesses where we need to go. In its stead, the marketplace, and what the market requires, provide dominant rationales.
The Supreme Court recently shut down Aereo, a system that tried to do something many of us would like: give us the channels we really want to watch on a digital device at a relatively low price. Streaming TV is becoming commonplace with the likes of Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go, but the sorts of technological changes that might benefit many of us are difficult to accommodate with the hold that many existing industries have over our communication systems and their accompanying copyright arrangements.
Under the vague public interest mandate, the FCC considers various topics such as net neutrality, expanding Internet access, shoring up our emergency communications networks, supporting “innovative” communications systems and keeping our phone and Internet service options from lapsing into limited, high-priced options. Continuous skirmishes around what constitutes the public interest have muddied what the FCC can and should do. Aereo, for example, provides a service many people believe is more desirable than conventional satellite or cable television. Netflix, in the crosshairs of net neutrality debates, capitulated to Comcast’s and Verizon’s bids for paid fast lanes for its programming, deflating many people’s hope that it would be a poster child for strong rules enforcing equal treatment in network transmission. Could proactive signals from the FCC have changed these companies’ futures?
The current communications and information revolution highlights the difficulties facing the FCC and the courts. The 1934 Communications Act originally was thought to exist to streamline the radio broadcast industry. Almost immediately, however, the 1934 FCC investigated relationships among the “common carrier” industries, namely the phone and telegraph carriers, in order to report to Congress whether legislation was needed to ensure that industry parties were behaving themselves. If their “joint arrangements” were likely to adversely affect services or charges, the FCC was supposed to recommend that Congress provide them with the authority to reject or modify company transactions. Things haven’t changed that much since then.
These early inquiries set the stage for 80 years of continuous policy zigzagging among Congress, the FCC, the courts and the industries being regulated. The constant jockeying for industry growth often conflicts with what is right — what is in the public interest. The question is, how do we know what is right? The FCC hears a lot from the industries it regulates and typically does not hear much from the public. Current debates about net neutrality and, perhaps surprisingly, media ownership/acquisitions are an exception. Those two topics have galvanized a public that understands in various ways that bigger and bigger companies (think AT&T merging with DirecTV or Comcast acquiring Time Warner Cable) generally mean higher priced services, and that allowing certain types of content to move faster on the Internet than other types might be somehow disadvantageous. More than 100,000 people, for example, recently contributed to an online petition advocating strong net neutrality. But regarding the release of more unlicensed spectrum, which has allowed such things as the spread of free or cheap Wi-Fi, or the remedying of the digital divide, there is scant evidence of widespread public opinion or even awareness. This raises the stakes in having an FCC that has the foresight and will to think through exactly what is in the public interest and the ability to take the initiative.
Without strong and clearly articulated public interest values, values that go beyond what is good just for the market, our FCC will continue to be a chaperone directing businesses to places where they do little more than not interfere with one another.
Sharon Strover is the Philip G. Warner Regents Professor in Communication and former chair of the Radio-TV-Film Department in the Moody College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin.
The current migrant crisis on the Texas border comes weeks after the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found that many Texans believe immigration and border security are the two most important problems facing the state.
The statewide poll, conducted in late May and early June before the situation on the border drew national attention, featured a battery of questions about Texans’ attitudes on border security and immigration.
The results show that most Texans — 54 percent — agreed that all undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States should be deported immediately, compared with 30 percent who disagreed. The overall numbers reveal a deep partisan divide on immigration reform, says James Henson, co-director of the poll and director of the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin.
“The fact that immigration and border security lead the pack in Texans’ assessment of the most important problems facing the state is largely a result of intense Republican interest in those issues,” Henson said. “Those two issues were seen as the most important problems in the state by 51 percent of Republicans, but by only 9 percent of Democrats.”
The statewide poll, conducted May 30 to June 8, surveyed 1,200 registered Texas voters and had a margin of error of 3.28 percentage points. The poll was co-authored with Daron Shaw, professor of government, and Joshua Blank, manager of polling and research at the Texas Politics Project.
According to the findings:
- A large majority — 73 percent — believed that the U.S. government should restrict and control people coming to live in the U.S. more than it does now, while only 21 percent disagreed.
- A slimmer majority — 54 percent — agreed with the statement, “Undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States should be deported immediately.” Forty percent disagreed with the statement.
- Asked which candidate for Texas governor they trusted more with respect to immigration reform, 45 percent of voters favored Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, and 32 percent favored Democrat state Sen. Wendy Davis. Twenty-four percent expressed no opinion.
As state and federal officials wrestle with ways to respond to the influx of mostly Central American migrants who are now being detained as they cross the U.S.-Mexican border into Texas, these poll results provide the context for how the public will likely view future policy decisions.
“Many Texans have been thinking about issues at the intersection of immigration and border security for some time now, according to the last several years of the UT/Texas Tribune polling,” Henson said, “and the political patterns in their attitudes are well known to the Texas political leaders now attempting to implement policy responses to the current situation.”
Graphics of Responses to Immigration Questions on the June 2014 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll:
These links also include crosstabs by party identification and selected demographic characteristics.
A team of researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin has developed a tiny, low-power device that mimics a fly’s hearing mechanism.
The new device could be used to build the next generation of hypersensitive hearing aids with intelligent microphones that adaptively focus only on those conversations or sounds that are of interest to the wearer.
The researchers drew inspiration for the device from the yellow-colored Ormia ochracea fly, which can pinpoint the location of a chirping cricket with remarkable accuracy because of its ultra-sensitive acute hearing. The fly relies upon a sophisticated sound-processing mechanism that resembles a teeter-totter to determine direction of sound within two degrees.
Using the fly’s ear structure as a model, Neal Hall, an assistant professor in the Cockrell School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and his graduate students built a miniature pressure-sensitive device out of silicon that replicates the fly’s super-evolved hearing structure. The 2-millimeter-wide device is nearly identical in size to the fly’s hearing organ.
Other researchers have built fly-inspired hearing devices, but the UT Austin engineers are the first to apply piezoelectric materials. These materials turn mechanical pressure into electric signals, or voltage, and allow the device to operate with very little power.
The article detailing the device and research will be published in the journal Applied Physics Letters on July 22.
"Because hearing aids rely on batteries, minimizing power consumption is a critical consideration in moving hearing-aid device technology forward,” Hall said.
This technology may be a boon for people who are hearing impaired in the future. Currently, only 2 percent of Americans wear hearing aids, but as much as 10 percent of the population could benefit from wearing one, Hall said.
"Many believe that the major reason for this gap is patient dissatisfaction,” Hall added. "Turning up the volume to hear someone across from you also amplifies all of the surrounding background noise — resembling the sound of a cocktail party."
Humans and other mammals have the ability to pinpoint sound sources because of the finite speed of sound combined with the separation between our ears. Insects generally lack this ability because their bodies are so small that sound waves essentially hit both sides simultaneously.
O. ochracea is a notable exception. It can locate the direction of a cricket's chirp even though its ears are less than 2 millimeters apart. In the four millionths of a second between the sound entering one ear and the other, the sound phase shifts slightly. The teeter-totter-style structure in the fly’s ear effectively amplifies the time delay and allows the fly to locate its cricket prey with remarkable accuracy.
To replicate the fly’s hearing mechanism, the researchers developed a flexible beam and integrated the piezoelectric materials. The use of piezoelectric materials allowed them to simultaneously measure the flexing and the rotation of the beam, which in turn allowed them to replicate the fly’s hearing.
Hall credits the pioneering work of Ronald Miles at Binghamton University and Ronald Hoy at Cornell University, along with their teams, who discovered the fly's unusual hearing mechanism, for inspiring this research and device.
In addition to possibly improving hearing aids, the device could have military and defense applications as well. In dark environments, for instance, where visual cues are not available, localizing events using sound may be critical.
Hall's work was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
This release was adapted from the American Institute of Physics’ original version, which can be found at www.aip.org.
The University of Texas at Austin is committed to transparency and disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. The university investigator who led this research, Neal A. Hall, has submitted required financial disclosure forms with the university. Hall has an equity partnership in Silicon Audio Inc., a firm with business interests in areas related to the technology described in Hall's paper. Hall has received research funding for other projects from Silicon Audio and from government funding agencies including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense.
Hans Mark, center, with fellow aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics professor Wallace Fowler and a student at a system engineering design class fly-off.
Joined the University of Texas System as Chancellor
1988-1998 and 2001-2014
Served as Director of Defense Research and Engineering in the U.S. Department of Defense
Why do we explore space?
Hans Mark says it’s because “discovery is in our DNA.”
The legendary aerospace engineering professor knows a thing or two about discovery.
He was in mission control for the first moon landing (45 years ago on July 20) and the first space shuttle launch, taught Carl Sagan, pushed President Ronald Reagan to adopt the Space Station program and is still pushing to this day for a manned mission to Mars.
“To explore is an essential part of life, and a great nation has the obligation to explore,” Mark said in an in-depth story about his legacy on the Cockrell School of Engineering website.
After a distinguished career that spanned six decades and placed him on the front lines of technological revolutions, the beloved engineering professor will retire from the university this summer.
In honor of his extraordinary career, we’re looking back at 10 of his most monumental accomplishments.Hans Mark Scholars Endowment in Engineering Honors
Former students and friends are working to raise $1 million to establish the Hans Mark Scholars Endowment in Engineering Honors to provide full tuition to the best and brightest undergraduate students. Visit the endowment page for information about making a gift to the Hans Mark Scholars Endowment.Escaped Nazi Germany
Mark’s remarkable journey began long before he cracked open his first science textbook.
He was born in 1929 in Mannheim, Germany, and as a young boy he witnessed violent clashes between fascist and communist gangs and saw his Jewish father imprisoned for advocating Nazi resistance. A bribe and his father’s expertise in synthetic chemistry (he is now known as the father of polymer science) secured him and his family a home in the U.S.
Mark would later earn physics degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and MIT.Served as Director of NASA Ames Research Center
After an early career in academic nuclear research and teaching posts at Berkeley and MIT, Mark shifted to government aeronautics and space development.
At Ames Mark managed the center’s research and applications efforts in aeronautics, space science, life science and space technology and broadened the center’s influence within NASA and the wider aerospace community. The position also earned him a seat in the mission control room during Apollo 11′s historic moon landing.
Pioneer 10 was a space probe that the NASA Ames lab designed to fly past the asteroid belt, Jupiter and Saturn to collect data and images.
With a little help from famed astrophysicist and Mark’s former student, Carl Sagan, Mark secretly attached a message onto Pioneer 10 to introduce the human race to any extraterrestrials that may encounter the probe.
Listen to Hans Mark tell the story of the plaque he and Sagan sneaked onto the Pioneer 10.Elected to the National Academy of Engineering
Election to the NAE is among the highest professional distinctions bestowed upon an engineer. Academy membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice or education.Named Secretary of the U.S. Air Force by President Jimmy Carter
“I had some misgivings because my [previous] job as under secretary permitted me to exert considerable influence on the management of the nation’s space program,” Mark wrote in his autobiography, “The Space Station: A Personal Journey.” He decided to accept because “the opportunity to learn something about the broader issues related to our national security was enough to override my doubts. In addition, as secretary, I would have greater influence on the development of the appropriate organizations within the Air Force concerned with the development and operation of space systems.”Served as Deputy Administrator of NASA
In addition to being a key player in the push to develop the Space Station, Mark oversaw 14 space shuttle flights.Hans Mark in NASA’s Mission Operations Control Center at the Johnson Space Center.
Joined the University of Texas System as Chancellor
Chancellor Mark had three big goals: to increase research funding, attract economically lucrative technology companies to Austin, and reach out to Texas’ booming Hispanic population. By the time he left the position in 1992, Mark had doubled the UT System’s research budget, helped bring microchip consortium SEMATECH to Austin and established The University of Texas-Pan American on the Texas-Mexico border.Became Professor of Aerospace Engineering at UT Austin
1988-1998 and 2001-2014
Mark divided most of his remaining career between teaching and consulting in Washington, D.C. Since 2001 he has been a consistent part of UT’s aerospace undergraduate experience, having made teaching an introductory aerospace class his main objective. It’s many students’ first taste of the field.
“I teach them aerospace and then I tell them jokes,” Mark says.
In honor of his retirement, former students and friends have launched an effort to raise $1 million to establish the Hans Mark Scholars Endowment in Engineering Honors, which will provide full tuition to the best and brightest undergraduate engineering students.Mark in his office.
Served as Director of Defense Research and Engineering in the U.S. Department of Defense
During his time at the Pentagon, Mark was responsible for developing policies, providing guidance and managing atomic energy, chemical, and biological defense plans and programs.Inducted into Air Force Space and Missile Pioneer Hall of Fame
Mark was recognized for his advocacy of the establishment of an Air Force major command for space operations, initiating plans for a new military control facility and fostering military orbital missions using the space shuttle.
Reporting contributed by Monica Kortsha and Cockrell School of Engineering staff.
Sunday, July 20, marked 45 years since the United States put the first two astronauts safely on the moon. The cost for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs was more than $25 billion at the time — more like $110 billion in today’s world. The ensuing U.S. space efforts have cost an additional $196 billion for the shuttle and $50 billion for the space station. NASA’s total inflation-adjusted costs have been more than $900 billion since its creation in 1958 through 2014 (more than $16 billion per year). Looking back, have we gotten our money’s worth from the investment? I say yes.
Some argue that spending money on space is not a good investment, or that it is a luxury that we cannot afford. I believe that space exploration is a very sound investment. NASA’s 2015 budget is $17.5 billion. It is estimated that the total economic benefit of each dollar spent on the space program has been between $8 and $10. Compare that to Americans spending more than $35 billion a year on pizza or the national total annual economic cost of tobacco exceeding $250 billion and you can see that our return on our NASA investment is rather high.
The space race was technological focus that accelerated advances in multiple areas of science, technology and medicine without a shooting war. This is almost without precedent in history. We have recently created a unique international research facility, the International Space Station. It’s hard to put a monetary value on international cooperation, but the space station has recently been the focus of a nomination campaign for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Technologies have been driven by space exploration as well. For space equipment, mass is paramount. Putting a kilogram of payload (instruments, astronauts, supplies) in Earth orbit is costly, and sending it beyond Earth orbit is even more expensive. In the 1960s, there were two options, miniaturize or create huge boosters. The U.S. chose to miniaturize wherever possible while the Russians focused on huge boosters. The Apollo guidance computer was the great grandfather of the microcomputer. It weighed 70 pounds, required 55 watts of power, and had less than 40 KB of memory in a day when most computers weighed tons, filled rooms and needed their own air-conditioning systems. It had less capability than many of today’s electronic wristwatches, but it took us to the moon and back. Its descendants are today’s laptops, tablets, GPS receivers and cellphones. Today, the trend for such devices is to make them ever smaller, ever more capable — a trend driven by the space program.
Almost every area of technology has benefitted from space research. Clothes and vehicle interiors are more fire resistant because of research after the Apollo fire. Weather forecasting is much more accurate because of satellite monitoring. Monitoring from space can detect forest fires, oil spills, aquifer depletion, downed aircraft, etc. We have recently watched the World Cup matches from Brazil in near real-time via satellite feed. We can surf the Internet with laptop or tablet while flying in an airplane almost anywhere in the world. We are more connected than ever, both in our everyday activities and in emergency situations.
Medicine has been revolutionized by the space program. We learned to monitor orbiting astronauts — pioneering telemedicine and leading to unprecedented improvements in patient monitoring, in and out of hospitals. Research into astronaut bone calcium loss has led to better understanding and treatment of osteoporosis. Digital mammography is a direct application of space data reduction processes. Baby foods are more healthful because of astronaut food research.
There are few other public activities with such a sustained level of performance and impact. Why? Because the space race was a unique event in history. However, in order to remain relevant, NASA needs to have a driving focus — a mission. The space around Earth contains a huge number of asteroids. We are very much overdue, at least statistically, for a large asteroid to strike the planet. The last large asteroid killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Would protecting Earth and saving civilization be a sufficiently important mission?
Wallace Fowler is the director of the Texas Space Grant Consortium and a professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.
Contradicting earlier claims, “The Family That Walks on All Fours,” a group of quadrupedal humans made famous by a 2006 BBC documentary, have simply adapted to their inability to walk upright and do not represent an example of backward evolution, according to new research by Liza Shapiro, an anthropologist at The University of Texas at Austin.
Five siblings in the family, who live in a remote corner of Turkey, walk exclusively on their hands and feet. Since they were discovered in 2005, scientists have debated the nature of their disability, with speculation they represent a backward stage of evolution.
Shapiro’s study, published online this month in PLOS One, shows that contrary to previous claims, people with the family members’ condition, called Uner Tan Syndrome (UTS), do not walk in the diagonal pattern characteristic of nonhuman primates such as apes and monkeys.
According to a theory developed by Uner Tan of Cukurova University in Turkey, people with UTS are a human model for reverse evolution, or “devolution,” offering new insights into the human transition from four-legged to two-legged walking. Previous research countering this view has proposed that the quadrupedalism associated with UTS is simply an adaptive response to the impaired ability to walk bipedally in individuals with a genetic mutation, but this is the first study that disproves claims that this form of walking resembles that of nonhuman primates.
The study’s co-authors are Jesse Young of Northeast Ohio Medical University; David Raichlen of the University of Arizona; and Whitney Cole, Scott Robinson and Karen Adolph of New York University.
As part of the study, the researchers analyzed 518 quadrupedal walking strides from several videos of people with various forms of UTS, including footage from the BBC2 documentary of the five Turkish siblings, “The Family That Walks on All Fours.” They compared these walking strides to previous studies of the walking patterns of healthy adults who were asked to move around a laboratory on all fours.
According to the findings, nearly all human subjects (in 98 percent of the total strides) walked in lateral sequences, meaning they placed a foot down and then a hand on the same side and then moved in the same sequence on the other side. Apes and other nonhuman primates, however, walk in a diagonal sequence, in which they put down a foot on one side and then a hand on the other side, continuing that pattern as they move along.
“Although it’s unusual that humans with UTS habitually walk on four limbs, this form of quadrupedalism resembles that of healthy adults and is thus not at all unexpected,” Shapiro says. “As we have shown, quadrupedalism in healthy adults or those with a physical disability can be explained using biomechanical principles rather than evolutionary assumptions.”
The study also shows that Tan and his colleagues appeared to have misidentified the walking patterns among people with UTS as primate-like by confusing diagonal sequence with diagonal couplets. Sequence refers to the order in which the limbs touch the ground, while couplets (independent of sequence) indicate the timing of movement between pairs of limbs. People with UTS more frequently use diagonal couplets than lateral couplets, but the sequence associated with the couplets is almost exclusively lateral.
“Each type of couplet has biomechanical advantages, with lateral couplets serving to avoid limb interference, and diagonal couplets providing stability,” Shapiro says. “The use of diagonal couplets in adult humans walking quadrupedally can thus be explained on the basis of biomechanical considerations, not reverse evolution.”
Neuroscientists at The University of Texas at Austin have generated mutant worms that do not get intoxicated by alcohol, a result that could lead to new drugs to treat the symptoms of people going through alcohol withdrawal.
The scientists accomplished this feat by inserting a modified human alcohol target into the worms, as reported this week in The Journal of Neuroscience.
“This is the first example of altering a human alcohol target to prevent intoxication in an animal,” says corresponding author Jon Pierce-Shimomura, assistant professor in the university’s College of Natural Sciences and Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research.
An alcohol target is any neuronal molecule that binds alcohol, of which there are many.
One important aspect of this modified alcohol target, a neuronal channel called the BK channel, is that the mutation only affects its response to alcohol. The BK channel typically regulates many important functions including activity of neurons, blood vessels, the respiratory tract and bladder. The alcohol-insensitive mutation does not disrupt these functions at all.
“We got pretty lucky and found a way to make the channel insensitive to alcohol without affecting its normal function,” says Pierce-Shimomura.
The scientists believe the research has potential applications for treating people addicted to alcohol.
“Our findings provide exciting evidence that future pharmaceuticals might aim at this portion of the alcohol target to prevent problems in alcohol abuse disorders,” says Pierce-Shimomura. “However, it remains to be seen which aspects of these disorders would benefit.”
Unlike drugs such as cocaine, which has a specific target in the nervous system, the effects of alcohol on the body are complex and have many targets across the brain. The various other aspects of alcohol addiction, such as tolerance, craving and the symptoms of withdrawal, may be influenced by different alcohol targets.
The worms used in the study, Caenorhabditis elegans, model intoxication well. Alcohol causes the worms to slow their crawling and exhibit less wriggling from side to side. The intoxicated worms also stop laying eggs, which build up in their bodies and can be easily counted.
Unfortunately, C. elegans are not as ideal for studying the other areas of alcohol addiction, but mice make an excellent model. The modified human BK channel used in the study, which is based on a mutation discovered by lead author and graduate student Scott Davis, could be inserted into mice. These modified mice would allow scientists to investigate whether this particular alcohol target also affects tolerance, craving and other symptoms relevant to humans.
Pierce-Shimomura speculated that their research could even be used to develop a “James Bond” drug someday that would enable a spy to drink his opponent under the table without getting drunk himself. Such a drug could potentially be used to treat alcoholics because it would counteract the intoxicating and potentially addicting effects of the alcohol.
Davis and Pierce-Shimomura’s co-authors at The University of Texas at Austin were research associate Luisa Scott and undergraduate student Kevin Hu.
This research was funded by the ABMRF/The Foundation for Alcohol Research, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research at The University of Texas at Austin.
You can access the original paper in The Journal of Neuroscience here.
This afternoon, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit announced its decision in the case of Fisher vs. the University of Texas at Austin, which had been remanded to the Fifth Circuit by the Supreme Court last summer. In a 2-1 decision, the Fifth Circuit found in favor of UT Austin. I am very gratified that the Court’s ruling recognizes the constitutionality of the University’s admission policy under the Supreme Court’s recent guidance.
In its decision, the majority wrote, “It is equally settled that universities may use race as part of a holistic admissions program where it cannot otherwise achieve diversity.” The court continued, “This interest is compelled by the reality that university education is more the shaping of lives than the filling of heads with facts — the classic assertion of the humanities.”
We remain committed to assembling a student body at The University of Texas at Austin that brings with it the educational benefits of diversity while respecting the rights of all students. This ruling ensures that our campus, our state, and the entire nation will benefit from the exchange of ideas and thoughts that happens when students who are diverse in all regards come together in the classroom, at campus events, and in all aspects of campus life.
Like the 19th Century Orphan Trains that carried abandoned and homeless children out of Eastern cities west to waiting adoptive families in America’s heartland, today’s Orphan Trains are ferrying tens of thousands of children up from Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border. And like that earlier great migration of children, these Central American children are coming out of impoverished, violence-riven communities in hopes of a better life. However, the analogy breaks down quickly beyond this point. Most of the Central American children are not orphans at all; typically they are children whose parents are already in the U.S., long rendered inaccessible to them by distance and their parents’ illegal status. The present humanitarian crisis on our border is only the most recent indication that the nation can ill afford to turn a blind eye on comprehensive immigration reform. Indeed, the crisis is directly rooted in Congress’ failure to take action.
In 2008, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. Humanitarian organizations working with unaccompanied minors considered it a victory because it directed the Border Patrol to transfer immigrant children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement if they came from countries whose borders were not contiguous with the United States. The vast majority of these children were released into the care of a parent, relative or family friend while they awaited their legal proceedings, whereas unaccompanied children from Mexico (Canada has never been a factor) were typically deported immediately. The Orphan Trains from Central America are carrying children whose families have become aware of this provision. In 2008, unaccompanied children from Central American countries were a mere trickle. Now, nearly 50,000 minors have been detained in the last eight months alone resulting in a significant humanitarian crisis. Guided by their understanding of the laws, they turn themselves in to U.S. authorities at the first opportunity after crossing the border. According to the Border Patrol, three out of four of the current unaccompanied children are from three countries: Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The wave of these unaccompanied children have overwhelmed our resources. Border Patrol stations typically accustomed to processing detainees within 12-48 hours are presently holding them for as long as ten days in cramped, overcrowded facilities that lack basic necessities such as showers, recreation areas, and adequate bedding. In fact, military installations are being marshaled to help provide temporary shelters for unaccompanied minors. President Obama recently described the circumstance as an “urgent humanitarian situation,” deploying the Federal Emergency Management Administration to orchestrate the multi-agency response.
The new Orphan Trains (they typically make their way over land to the Guatemala-Mexico border, where they catch the trains heading north) are carrying minors who come from poor communities, where gangs are predatory and violence a staple of daily life. These are the same conditions that drove their parents to migrate to the U.S., often catching the same trains that are now ferrying their children north, victimized by the same criminals along the way. For many of these children, the experience is both harrowing and profoundly traumatizing. Weeks of uncertainty and brutalizing danger are the defining features on the new Orphan Trains.
Dangers notwithstanding, the majority of these parents believe this to be their only hope for reuniting with their children; they’ve made the calculus that the risks are worth it. As a result, the wave of unaccompanied children continues unabated for the present and the humanitarian crisis that they represent becomes more acute with every day that passes. President Obama is asking Congress to provide $2 billion in new funds to manage the influx as well as expanded powers to accelerate the deportations of unaccompanied children. But these are stopgap measures. What the nation needs more than ever is well thought out, comprehensive immigration reform.
Ricardo Ainslie is a professor of educational psychology in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin. He is an expert in the psychological experience of immigration.
The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing has received a two-year $703,000 grant from the St. David’s Foundation to fund services at the UT School of Nursing Wellness Center, which provides health care for low-income, uninsured residents of Central Texas.
Located at two sites — the Family Wellness Clinic in East Austin and the Children’s Wellness Clinic in Del Valle — the center also furnishes valuable clinical training programs for nursing graduate students to master skills in management of chronic disease, acute conditions and preventative medicine.
In addition to primary care, the community can obtain a variety of services at both sites that are not available at most other health care facilities, including walk-in immunization clinics, health education classes and community health outreach.
Since 1998, the School of Nursing has received more than $6 million from the St. David’s Foundation to be used for public health services and outreach.
“The generous support from the foundation helps us to provide high-quality, comprehensive health care to thousands of Central Texans without private health insurance,” said Elizabeth Loika, director of the School of Nursing wellness centers. “Our clinics help cut down on expensive, inefficient emergency room visits and improve quality of life for patients and their families. We appreciate the St. David’s Foundation’s ongoing support of our efforts to make health care accessible to so many in our community.”
The Austin-based St. David’s Foundation invests in a healthy community through funding and initiatives to better care for the underserved and uninsured.
The FIFA World Cup is a monthlong celebration of fútbol, rituals and even international geopolitical relations. As the Brazil World Cup draws to a close, we’ve got a couple of experts to help us navigate what’s happening off the field. To start, the FIFA World Cup, perhaps more than any other sporting event except the Olympic Games, is rife with rituals. From the way the teams walk on to the field holding the hands of children to the post-game shirt exchange, international soccer is as much ceremony as sport. Psychology professor Cristine Legare explains how today’s soccer customs tie to a long history of ritual in sport. As part of international soccer tradition, schoolchildren escort the players onto the field before each match of the World Cup. Here, the Argentine national soccer team lines up with their little buddies on the field to sing their national anthem before a match at the 2014 World Cup. “Soccer is a game of theater and pageantry as much as any other sport. And ritual,” former U.S. national team defender Alexi Lalas said in an Associated Press story in 2010. [Image courtesy FIFA World Cup.]
The 2014 World Cup isn’t just an outlet for showcasing national pride, indulging in international competition, and showcasing athletic talent. It also illustrates one of the most curious and pervasive aspects of human behavior — ritual. Even the best soccer player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo, performs pre-game rituals. Not only does he insist on being the first member of the Portuguese national team to enter the field, he also insists on getting his hair cut right before every game.
If the illusion of control rituals provide give athletes more confidence and reduces anxiety, they may provide a competitive edge.
It may be hard to imagine why either of these behaviors has any bearing on whether Portugal defeats their opponents, but the lack of a transparent cause-and-effect explanation simply doesn’t prevent people from engaging in rituals. In fact, the lack of a logical rationale behind these odd, seemingly idiosyncratic behaviors is part of the point. Rituals provide a socially sanctioned opportunity to exert personal control in the face of uncertainty.
The curious pre-game rituals in sport culture are nothing new. Anthropologists have long noted that the use of rituals is often linked to conditions of risk and uncertainty, conditions that high stakes, highly competitive World Cup matches meet. When anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski visited the Trobriand Islands of New Guinea, he observed that Trobrianders rarely relied on ritual when fishing in a reliable and safe lagoon; they described their successes and failures in terms of skill. In contrast, extensive ritual preceded the uncertain and dangerous conditions of deep-sea fishing.Cristine Legare
The Trobriand fishermen are not alone in their use of ritual to restore feelings of control when confronted with uncertainty. On college campuses, for instance, up to 70 percent of students employ such strategies to assist with performance on exams and in athletic competitions.
Rituals provide a means for coping with the negative feelings caused by uncertainty due to the belief that there is a relationship between the behavior (Ronaldo’s pre-game haircut) and the desired outcome (Portugal’s victory in the World Cup).
In 2012, my colleague Andre Souza and I studied Brazilian ‘simpatias,‘ ritualistic remedies that are meant to ward off bad luck and solve problems. We found that the more people perceived randomness or lack of control, the more effective they expected the simpatia rituals to be.
From a psychological perspective, whether or not there is evidence that rituals actually result in a desired outcome isn’t driving the behavior. Confidence is often the single most important factor in winning a closely matched game. And if the illusion of control rituals provide give athletes more confidence and reduces anxiety, they may provide a competitive edge.
Cristine Legare is an assistant professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin. She is the director of the Cognition, Culture, and Development Lab, where she studies cognitive development, cultural learning and cognitive evolution.The Hook: The Other Football Next up, John Hoberman, professor of Germanic Studies, offers his take on the political and economic implications of international sporting competitions. (And you thought it was all just a soccer tournament!) Hoberman appears on The Hook, the weekly news show produced by the Texas Exes.
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The country rounded a new and dangerous corner with the recent Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. By holding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) excuses for-profit employers from providing contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the court has given businesses a presumptive right to disregard laws that conflict with their religious beliefs.
For 125 years the court has resisted the notion that religious individuals are entitled to disobey laws that everyone else is obligated to follow. The court has taken a “hands off” approach to churches and other religious congregations, and sometimes used broad language in its effort to protect minority faiths; but in the end, the court has emphatically affirmed what good sense, constitutional tradition and justice among a religiously diverse people, unite in demanding: Religious conviction does not entitle believers to disobey democratically enacted laws that bind the rest of society.
RFRA overturns this understanding, giving “any person” a right of exemption from any law that “substantially burdens” that person’s exercise of religion, unless the government can prove that the law “is in furtherance of a compelling government interest” and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling interest.” The court has now employed RFRA to give for-profit businesses such as Hobby Lobby the right to deny insurance to employees for medical prescriptions and procedures that offend the owners’ religious convictions. For the first time in U.S. history, the Supreme Court has endorsed the principle that for-profit businesses may be excused from obeying laws and regulations to which they or their owners object on religious grounds.
The majority opinion principally relies on an existing accommodation created for nonprofit religious employers such as religious hospitals and universities that relieves them of the obligation to cover contraceptives to which they object and imposes it instead on their health-plan insurer or administrator. The court determined that this narrow accommodation of indisputably religious organizations can simply be extended to for-profit employers such as Hobby Lobby, with little cost to the government and no cost to anyone else. It gave no serious consideration to cost or feasibility, let alone to the many current lawsuits contending that this accommodation also violates RFRA.
Although the court gestures at limiting its decision to the facts at hand, its opinion will reach far beyond Hobby Lobby’s opposition to a few contraceptives. Religious business owners who object to all contraception can now successfully seek relief under RFRA. Likely to follow are religious objections to covering other prescriptions, treatments and procedures such as mandatory immunizations. Some state courts will undoubtedly be influenced by the court’s expansive interpretation of federal RFRA in applying the “little RFRAs” that many states have adopted. In fact, lawsuits have already been brought by closely held for-profit businesses claiming that their religious beliefs require discrimination against employees or customers on grounds of sexual orientation in violation of state law. Nothing in the majority opinion explains why these claims are materially different from the RFRA exemption it has granted to Hobby Lobby, and the lower courts will soon be bogged down in the impossible task of weighing when the religious owners of closely held businesses must be excused from obeying laws that bind everyone else in the workplace.
The Supreme Court did not “restore” religious liberty by granting Hobby Lobby an RFRA exception, but dealt it an unprecedented blow in a 5-4 decision with uncertain ramifications. After Hobby Lobby, believers and unbelievers alike must bear the workplace costs of someone else’s religious convictions. Protecting the liberty of all Americans requires the limitation or repudiation of this approach.
Lawrence Sager is Alice Jane Drysdale Sheffield Regents Chair in Law at The University of Texas; Frederick Mark Gedicks is Guy Anderson Chair and Professor of Law at Brigham Young University. The opinions expressed above are those of the authors and not necessarily those of their respective institutions.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Austin American Statesman.
Beginning Monday, July 14, the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin will host the nation’s two biggest collegiate solar car races — the Formula Sun Grand Prix and the American Solar Challenge.
About 20 student solar car teams from universities around the world including UT Austin, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Kaohsiung University of Applied Sciences will be in Austin to compete in the two back-to-back competitions.
The student teams design solar vehicles that use photovoltaic panels to convert the sun’s energy into electricity. These solar-powered cars can reach speeds of 40-50 miles per hour using only 1,200 watts of power — about two-thirds the amount of power it takes to run a hair dryer.
“We are thrilled to host students and faculty from across the world as they participate in these competitions,” said Sharon L. Wood, interim dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. “These races reinforce the skills and knowledge our engineering students gain throughout the year and offer them an exciting opportunity to design, build and test their technologies.”
For the second consecutive year, the Cockrell School and its Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering will host the Formula Sun Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) Formula One racetrack July 14-19. The Formula Sun Grand Prix begins with a series of qualifying events and inspections, called scrutineering. Only teams that successfully pass scrutineering can move forward to compete in a three-day endurance race on the COTA track. The team that logs the most laps after the three-day racing period wins.
In order to qualify for the next competition, teams competing in the Formula Sun event must complete a minimum number of laps at a minimum speed. This is so the team’s solar cars demonstrate that they can safely function on the highway during the American Solar Challenge.
After Formula Sun, the teams will have a one-day break to gear up before embarking on the more than 1,100-mile drive from Austin to St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the American Solar Challenge, July 21-28.
A cross-country road race, the American Solar Challenge is intended to test the reliability and endurance of the solar cars’ systems in real-world driving conditions and weather. The team with the fastest elapsed time for completing the route is the winner.
The UT Solar Vehicles Team sponsors are COTA, Freescale Semiconductor, General Motors, Plantronics, SunPower, Texas Motor Sports, Union Pacific and the University Co-op.
Before the teams begin their journey for the American Solar Challenge, there will be several events open to the public, both at the COTA track and on the UT Austin campus:
July 19: Formula Sun Grand PrixPublic Day at COTA
The public is invited to COTA to view the race, see sponsor booths and participate in activities for children, including building solar cars, solar radio control car racing and more.
Location: COTA, 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd.
Time: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
July 20: Public Display Day
The public can view cars up close and talk to teams.
Location: UT Campus Parking Lot 104
Time: noon to 4 p.m.
July 21: American Solar Challenge Starting Line
The public can watch the beginning of the cross-country race.
Location: UT Campus, outside F. Loren Winship Drama Building, 300 E. 23rd St.
Time: 6-9:30 a.m.
For more information, visit ece.utexas.edu/utsvt
I’m delighted to inform you that I will be serving as president of The University of Texas at Austin through the 2014-2015 academic year and the coming legislative session, after which I will return to teaching and my faculty position in the Law School.
I am deeply grateful to Chairman Foster and Chancellor Cigarroa for their leadership of The University of Texas System and for working together on this plan. It is truly in the best interest of the university, our students, faculty, staff and alumni. It will allow me to continue to build on our student success initiatives, complete our $3 billion capital campaign, and bring the Dell Medical School closer to reality over the next year while ensuring a smooth transition to my successor. It will also allow me to work with elected officials in the 84th Texas Legislature.
Most of all, I want to thank all of you for your tireless support of our university. Serving as president of The University of Texas at Austin has been the highest honor of my life. Even more, the friendship and support of alumni and friends has been a great blessing for me, Kim, and our family.
Thank you and Hook ’em!