A psychology study from The University of Texas at Austin sheds new light on today’s standards of beauty, attributing modern men’s preferences for women with a curvy backside to prehistoric influences.
The study, published online in Evolution and Human Behavior, investigated men’s mate preference for women with a “theoretically optimal angle of lumbar curvature,” a 45.5 degree curve from back to buttocks allowing ancestral women to better support, provide for, and carry out multiple pregnancies.
“What’s fascinating about this research is that it is yet another scientific illustration of a close fit between a sex-differentiated feature of human morphology — in this case lumbar curvature — and an evolved standard of attractiveness,” said the study’s co-author David Buss, a UT Austin psychology professor. “This adds to a growing body of evidence that beauty is not entirely arbitrary, or ‘in the eyes of the beholder’ as many in mainstream social science believed, but rather has a coherent adaptive logic.”
This research, led by UT Austin alumnus and Bilkent University psychologist David Lewis, consisted of two studies. The first looked at vertebral wedging, an underlying spinal feature that can influence the actual curve in women’s lower backs.
About 100 men rated the attractiveness of several manipulated images displaying spinal curves ranging across the natural spectrum. Men were most attracted to images of women exhibiting the hypothesized optimum of 45 degrees of lumbar curvature.
“This spinal structure would have enabled pregnant women to balance their weight over the hips,” Lewis said. “These women would have been more effective at foraging during pregnancy and less likely to suffer spinal injuries. In turn, men who preferred these women would have had mates who were better able to provide for fetus and offspring, and who would have been able to carry out multiple pregnancies without injury.”
The second study addressed the question of whether men prefer this angle because it reflects larger buttocks, or whether it really can be attributed to the angle in the spine itself.
Approximately 200 men were presented with groups of images of women with differing buttock size and vertebral wedging, but maintaining a 45.5-degree curve. Men consistently preferred women whose spinal curvature was closer to optimum regardless of buttock size.
“This enabled us to conclusively show that men prefer women who exhibit specific angles of spinal curvature over buttock mass,” said the study’s co-author Eric Russell, a visiting researcher from UT Arlington.
This morphology and men’s psychological preference toward it have evolved over thousands of years, and they won’t disappear over night.
“This tight fit between evolutionary pressures and modern humans’ psychology, including our standards of attractiveness, highlights the usefulness that an evolutionary approach can have for expanding our knowledge not just of the natural sciences, but also the social sciences,” Lewis said.
Five state lawmakers who are also former collegiate student-athletes will discuss the influence of sports in society at an event sponsored by The University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation.
Center Director and founder Daron K. Roberts, who is also a former NFL assistant coach, will moderate the panel.
When: Monday, March 23, 6 to 7 p.m.
Where: Room 212, Main Building, UT Austin campus
News media are invited to attend and cover the event.
WHO: Participants are:
- Sen. Royce West of Dallas, former football player at UT Arlington
- Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, former golfer at Texas Christian University
- Rep. Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, former basketball player at Abilene Christian University
- Rep. John Kuempel of Seguin, former football player at UT Austin
- Rep. Rick Miller of Sugar Land, former baseball player at the U.S. Naval Academy
Background: The Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation was established in 2014 to leverage UT Austin’s academic and sports capital in order to cultivate leadership and character reform among student-athletes across the country.
Its three primary areas of focus are implementing a certification program for high school coaches who want to better cultivate leadership and sound character traits in their student-athletes; developing curricula for college student-athletes on financial literacy and sound decision-making; and applying quantitative analyses to issues of sports management and strategy.
In light of President Barack Obama’s looming carbon regulations for existing U.S. power plants, it’s worth remembering that a comprehensive climate policy needs to do more than tackle smokestacks.
It also needs to do something about agriculture. And more broadly, Texans and the rest of the nation need to think more environmentally about the way they eat.
After fossil fuel combustion, agriculture is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the nation. Despite consuming 2 percent or less of our energy, agriculture generates 10 percent of our emissions.
And while other sectors of the economy are reducing emissions, agriculture is heading in the opposite direction. This trend is bad for Texas and the U.S.
Agriculture primarily emits two potent greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide and methane, from activities such as the application of nitrogen-based fertilizers, manure management and burps from cows. And, agriculture is a source of dust and precursors for air pollution.
But, agriculture often gets a pass when it comes to air quality laws.
Historians can debate why this happened in the past, but to allow it to continue by giving agriculture a pass on its greenhouse gas emissions would be a huge mistake moving forward.
Regulations on carbon emissions disproportionately affect states that rely heavily on coal-fired electricity such as Indiana and Illinois, while states such as Washington that rely on hydropower would not be noticeably affected.
By contrast, everyone in America eats, so putting a price on the carbon intensity of food would spread more uniformly across society so we all share in the benefits and costs.
It’s true that farmers will have to make adaptations, but through incentives we can make these revenue neutral for farmers who lower emissions.
If we were to put a price on agricultural carbon, consumers would face higher prices for more carbon-intensive foods, such as meat. The change would encourage healthy shifts in diet and could dramatically lower emissions, because meat is known to be much more carbon-intensive to produce than fruits, grains and vegetables.
The agricultural sector may balk, saying that holding it accountable for emissions the way we hold other sectors of the economy accountable will be bad for business. But this is not true. There are plenty of ways farmers can adapt to a lower carbon world and even find new revenue streams in the process.
Consider the 100 million tons of manure that livestock generate each year. Those piles are a major source of greenhouse gases and a major headache for farmers, who have to deal with economic, environmental and legal liability from odor and handling costs.
Those same mounds of manure, however, are potentially a rich source of biogas, which could offset 4 percent of our annual natural gas consumption. This might be one of the easiest, cheapest and fastest ways to produce a significant amount of renewable, low-carbon, domestic energy that is available around the clock.
Another big opportunity is to reduce food waste. Amazingly, anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of our food is wasted, which amounts to a tremendous, equally wasteful use of energy and emissions. We quite literally throw that food-energy right into the garbage.
Reducing food waste is a straightforward way to reduce energy and emissions from the food system, and it should save money for everyone along the entire food supply chain, from farmers to retailers to grocery shoppers.
Most important, certain land management techniques can sequester hundreds of millions of tons of carbon into soils each year. No one is better suited to do this at larger scale than the agricultural sector. Putting carbon back into the soil from conservation programs does society an important service, and farmers should be paid handsomely for it.
The time has arrived to tackle climate change in a comprehensive way. At a policy level, we have to stop giving agriculture a free pass. If we can drive more efficient cars, insulate our homes and use less coal, surely we can also reduce emissions from the food we eat.
Michael Webber is the deputy director of the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Corpus Christi Caller Times.
To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.
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New op-ed on TP: We need to stop giving agriculture a free pass and reduce emissions from the food we eat. http://t.co/B8Ug66rAsx— Texas Perspectives (@TexPerspectives) March 19, 2015
The University of Texas at Austin Tower will be lit orange Wednesday, March 18 to honor the Texas Track and Field teams for winning both the men’s and women’s Big 12 Conference Indoor Championships. Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics.
The Tower will shine with orange lights Wednesday, March 18 to honor the Texas Track and Field teams for winning both the men’s and women’s Big 12 Conference Indoor Championships.
The Longhorns last swept the titles in 2006, but this year’s victories mark the first time a single school has won both the men’s and women’s titles at the Big 12 Conference Indoor Championships since 2012. This year’s women’s team successfully defended their 2014 title, and the men’s team returned to the conference’s top position after last winning the title in 2013.
After the title sweep, men’s head coach Mario Sategna’s peers selected him as the Big 12 Conference Men’s Coach of the Year, and sprinter Courtney Okolo was named the Women’s Indoor Track and Field Co-Outstanding Performer of the Year.
“Winning is going to continue to happen at the University of Texas at Austin,” Sategna says. “I think now more and more these athletes in that program are starting to see the light. They saw that if they pull together as a team and as a group there’s going to be some great things that happen.”
To win the Big 12 titles, the women’s team went toe-to-toe with Kansas State and pulled off the victory during the final four events with a 6.5 point lead. The men’s team, meanwhile, outperformed second-place Texas Tech by more than 40 points.
The Longhorns then competed in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, where each team finished sixth overall.
During the NCAA championships, Courtney Okolo won the national title in the 400 meters race, and the Longhorns also won the national title in the women’s 4×400 meter relay with the No. 5 time in collegiate history.
When it comes to cellphones, we are no better than trained rats in a box.
Just the other day, I was stuck behind a driver playing with a cellphone while driving. I have gotten used to assuming that everyone doing something silly on the road is driving while distracted.
In Austin, San Antonio and several other Texas cities, it is illegal to text or hold a phone while driving. It is also illegal to hold a phone while driving in 14 states and to text while driving in 44 states.
So, why are people still using their phones while driving, even though most of us know it leads to hundreds of thousands of injuries in distracted driving crashes each year?
Because as it turns out, most of us are addicted to our phones.
In my introductory psychology class in college, my lab partner and I got a rat to train. The rat was in a small box with a small cup that could be filled with water and a bar on one side of the cage that the rat could press.
The rat was thirsty, so the water was a great reward. At first we gave the rat water when he went near the bar, then when he brushed it, next when he touched it, and finally when he pressed it.
After that, the ideal schedule of reward was to give it water about half the time it pressed the bar randomly. This schedule keeps the rat pressing the bar for a long time.
You create this schedule of reward for yourself with cellphone use. You pull your phone out at intervals that give you the reward of a new message about half the time you check it.
Once the habit is set, you start getting a serious craving to pull out the phone when too much time goes by. Cravings are painful, and so it is easy to give in and check the phone, particularly because the odds of crashing are small, even if they are vastly higher than they would be if you drove without texting.
Unfortunately no amount of information about the dangers of distracted driving is going to change people’s behavior. The habit to pull out the cellphone is at addiction-level strength.
Hefty penalties for distracted driving help a bit, but the odds of being pulled over are also low. It would send a strong message for all states to ban texting and require hands-free devices (although even talking on a hands-free device is still distracted driving).
It would also be valuable for the media to report more of the crashes that involve distracted driving, even when they do not involve fatalities.
Beyond laws and fines, what needs to happen is people need to protect themselves from themselves.
A key principle of changing behavior is to fix the environment to make desirable behaviors easy and undesirable behaviors hard.
If you’re a cellphone junkie, then create a new habit. Before you start the car, put your cellphone in the glove compartment or the console between the seats. Otherwise, you have about the same chance of keeping yourself from checking the phone while driving that a rat does of avoiding the bar.
Art Markman is a professor of psychology and marketing at The University of Texas at Austin and author of the book “Smart Change.”
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Austin American Statesman.
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People who recently have been infected with HIV may not be as highly infectious as previously believed, a finding that could improve global efforts to prevent HIV transmission and save lives. In particular, the finding bolsters the strategy of treating patients with antiretroviral drugs before the onset of AIDS to prevent transmission.
Mathematical epidemiologists Steve Bellan, a postdoctoral researcher at The University of Texas at Austin, and Lauren Ancel Meyers, a biology professor at the university, authored the paper with researchers from McMaster University and Yale University. The analysis was published today in the open access online journal PLOS Medicine.
A few weeks after people are infected with HIV, they enter a months-long acute phase of infection when levels of virus in the bloodstream spike. If left untreated, this is followed by a decade-long chronic phase of infection that precedes AIDS. The acute phase has been previously associated with elevated risk for spreading HIV, even higher than expected from the viral spike. Researchers have argued that a large portion — or even the majority — of HIV transmission may arise from individuals who have just been infected, but the new analysis finds that previous estimates of infectivity during this acute phase are likely to be too high. In fact, today’s report suggests one of the most commonly cited estimates could be as much as 20 times too high.
“We found that people are less likely to spread HIV to others during this early stage than has been believed for many years,” Bellan said. “Our new estimates imply that some novel strategies to control HIV may be even more effective, and it can help communities to direct public health resources to save more lives.”
Estimating infectivity during acute-phase HIV is notoriously difficult, and only one study, involving heterosexual couples in Rakai, Uganda, has ever measured it directly. The new study took two complementary approaches to estimate the additional risk of transmission during the acute phase. The first analysis used data from the Rakai study but accounted for differences among the couples that were ignored in earlier studies; the second analysis estimated infection risk from measurements of virus levels throughout the acute phase. Both approaches found that the risk of transmission is indeed higher during the acute phase than the chronic phase, but the amount of additional risk during the acute phase is equivalent to only eight extra months of chronic-phase infectivity. By contrast, the most commonly cited earlier estimates suggest that the HIV acute phase produces risk equivalent to 31-141 extra months of chronic-phase infection.
"One of the biggest challenges to eliminating HIV is diagnosing people before they have the chance to infect others,” Meyers said. “If newly infected people are not as infectious as previously believed, then we can be more optimistic about the global impact of HIV ‘treatment as prevention’ efforts."
An estimated 2 million people each year become newly infected with HIV, the disease that causes AIDS. Treating HIV-infected individuals with antiretroviral drugs not only prevents AIDS, but also makes them unlikely to infect others. In the past five years, policy has consequently shifted toward programs that aim to keep HIV infections from spreading across a population by administering antiretroviral treatment as a preventive strategy. However, individuals can only be treated once they are tested and diagnosed, and individuals rarely get tested within the first few months after infection.
Because of this lag between infection and diagnosis, these “treatment as prevention” programs are unlikely to prevent transmission from acutely infected individuals, and some have questioned whether the strategy prevents much of HIV’s spread. The new analysis suggests it’s less likely that newly infected patients could undermine the strategy’s impact. By contrast, programs focused entirely on early identification of the disease may not be as cost-effective as once thought for controlling HIV’s spread.
McMasters University’s Jonathan Dushoff and Yale University’s Alison Galvani were the other authors on the paper. The research, which was started at the 2013 International Clinics on Infectious Disease Dynamics and Data, was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the J.S. McDonnell Foundation.
A new method of testing the most common cause of life-threatening infection in people with cystic fibrosis could improve efforts to study and combat the illness.
The bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a leading contributor to hospitalizations, serious illness and early death for people with cystic fibrosis (CF). Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have found a way to recreate conditions specific to the environment in which the bacterium spreads in the lungs of a person with CF, allowing them to identify several genes that appear to be necessary for its survival.
A description of the method and findings appear online today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In cystic fibrosis, a serious genetic disease that causes recurring lung infections, bacteria colonize a patient’s lungs, usually beginning in childhood, leading to difficulty breathing. One of the most dangerous of these bacteria is P. aeruginosa, which, within the unique mucus that forms in the lungs of a person with cystic fibrosis, develops into large, antibiotic-resistant colonies.
Although scientists first mapped the genetic structure of P. aeruginosa 15 years ago, efforts to pinpoint how it behaves during an infection and which genes would need to be turned off to stop its spread have been hampered in part by the difficulty of mimicking the unique conditions of a cystic fibrosis patient’s lungs. Experiments that model the bacteria in animal cells, for example, have shown that P. aeruginosa behaves and grows in certain ways only when it is in the infected lungs of a person with CF.
Marvin Whiteley, a professor of molecular biosciences, and his research team at The University of Texas at Austin explain in the paper how they applied new technology to bacteria thriving in actual samples of the mucus from CF lungs to model the behavior of the bacterium in that environment. The team was then able to test tens of thousands of mutations of two strains of P. aeruginosa, which helped them identify key ways the pathogen behaves during an infection and the genes that might be essential for reproduction.
“We’ve developed something other labs can replicate,” said Whiteley, who has used this method of studying the bacterium for over five years. “It allows researchers to do relevant experiments in a context that really matters.”
Scientists at other institutions studying the bacterium and its effect on people with CF said the research was important and indicated others will follow the lead of Whiteley’s lab. The new model allows researchers to run large-scale experiments in conditions that are much more like the actual places where the bacteria colonize, without requiring researchers to collect countless specimens of actual mucus, called sputum, from humans.
“For the past decade, we have understood that Pseudomonas is arguably the major colonizing infection for people with cystic fibrosis. For a long time we have studied Pseudomonas the way we study other pathogens,” said John LiPuma, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Michigan. “But the cystic fibrosis lung is extraordinarily complex. In the research community, we’ve got to develop systems biology approaches, such as this one, that take a more sophisticated approach to get us where we need to be.”
Others note that the ability to recreate conditions closer to the sputum in the lung of a CF patient will lead to better understanding of how different strains of the bacterium behave. It will also allow for easier identification of genes that contribute to the bacteria’s spread from patient to patient, and more meaningful scientific experiments to understand the bug’s resistance to antibiotics or identify new antimicrobial compounds that target specific genes necessary for maintaining these persistent infections.
“Most studies grow bacteria in test tubes in a rich growth medium they never see in the real world. It’s rather like studying lion behavior in a zoo rather than in its natural habitat,” said Steve Diggle, an associate professor of life sciences at the University of Nottingham. “What Marvin has done is to try and re-create the sputum that Pseudomonas grows in so we can see what genes are important for bacterial fitness in this environment.”
In addition to Whiteley, authors of the paper are Keith Turner, Aimee Wessel, Gregory Palmer and Justine Murray. Research support came in part from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) in the Jackson School of Geosciences have discovered two seafloor gateways that could allow warm ocean water to reach the base of Totten Glacier, East Antarctica’s largest and most rapidly thinning glacier. The discovery, reported in the March 16 edition of the journal Nature Geoscience, probably explains the glacier’s extreme thinning and raises concerns about how it will affect sea level rise.
Totten Glacier is East Antarctica’s largest outlet of ice to the ocean and has been thinning rapidly for many years. Although deep, warm water has been observed seaward of the glacier, until now there was no evidence that it could compromise coastal ice. The result is of global importance because the ice flowing through Totten Glacier alone is sufficient to raise global sea level by at least 11 feet, equivalent to the contribution of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet if it were to completely collapse.
“We now know there are avenues for the warmest waters in East Antarctica to access the most sensitive areas of Totten Glacier,” said lead author Jamin Greenbaum, a UTIG Ph.D. candidate.
The ice loss to the ocean may soon be irreversible unless atmospheric and oceanic conditions change so that snowfall outpaces coastal melting. The potential for irreversible ice loss is due to the broadly deepening shape of Totten Glacier’s catchment, the large collection of ice and snow that flows from a deep interior basin to the coastline.
“The catchment of Totten Glacier is covered by nearly 2½ miles of ice, filling a sub-ice basin reaching depths of at least one mile below sea level,” said UTIG researcher Donald Blankenship.
Greenbaum and Blankenship collaborated with an international team from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and France.
Because much of the California-sized interior basin lies below sea level, its overlying thicker ice is susceptible to rapid loss if warm ocean currents sufficiently thin coastal ice. Given that previous work has shown that the basin has drained its ice to the ocean and filled again many times in the past, this study uncovers a means for how that process may be starting again.
“We’ve basically shown that the submarine basins of East Antarctica have similar configurations and coastal vulnerabilities to the submarine basins of West Antarctica that we’re so worried about, and that warm ocean water, which is having a huge impact in West Antarctica, is affecting East Antarctica, as well,” Blankenship said.
The deeper of the two gateways identified in the study is a three-mile-wide seafloor valley extending from the ocean to beneath Totten Glacier in an area not previously known to be floating. Identifying the valley was unexpected because satellite analyses conducted by other teams had indicated the ice above it was resting on solid ground. Special analysis of ice-penetrating radar data shows the bottom of the ice over the valley is smoother and brighter than elsewhere in the area — tell-tale signs that the ice is floating and being eroded by the ocean.
“Now we know the ocean is melting ice in an area of the glacier that we thought was totally cut off before,” Greenbaum said. “Knowing this will improve predictions of ice melt and the timing of future glacier retreat.”
In some areas of the ocean surrounding Antarctica, warm water can be found below cooler water if it is saltier and, therefore, heavier than the shallower water. As a result, seafloor valleys that connect this deep, warm water to the coast can especially compromise glaciers, a process previously known to be occurring along the coast of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Although glaciers in West Antarctica have received more attention in previous Antarctic studies, this work shows that similar processes are underway in East Antarctica where there is also the possibility for retreat into an interior basin. As in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, complete collapse of the Totten Glacier catchment may take many centuries, although the timing of retreat in both places is the subject of intensive research.
The UTIG team collected the data during five Antarctic field campaigns using aircraft loaded with equipment to analyze the ice and seafloor in regions that even icebreakers are unable to reach. The airplane was outfitted with radar that can measure ice several miles thick, lasers to measure the shape and elevation of the ice surface, and equipment that senses the Earth’s gravity and magnetic field strengths, which are used to infer seafloor shape.
The data for this study were gathered as part of the UTIG-led ICECAP (International Collaboration for Exploration of the Cryosphere through Aerogeophysical Profiling) project with support from the U.K.’s Natural Environment Research Council, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Australian Antarctic Division, as well as NASA’s Operation IceBridge, the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation, and the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences. The ICECAP aircraft was operated under contract to the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics by Kenn Borek Air LTD., Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Co-authors on the study also include D.A. Young and T. G. Richter from The University of Texas at Austin; J. L. Roberts, B. Legresy, R. C. Warner and T. D. van Ommen from University of Tasmania and the Australian Antarctic Division; A. R. A. Aitken from The University of Western Australia; D. M. Schroeder from the California Institute of Technology; and M. J. Siegert from Imperial College London. Legresy has joint appointments at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship and CNRS-LEGOS.
Two veterans of the pioneering IDEO design firm will lead the Design Institute for Health, a first-of-its-kind institution dedicated to applying design thinking and creative solutions to the nation’s health care challenges, and to integrating that perspective into medical education and community health programs.
The Design Institute for Health is a collaboration between the new Dell Medical School and the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. The institute will be led by two veterans of the internationally recognized design firm IDEO: Stacey Chang, IDEO’s former managing director of health and wellness; and Beto Lopez, former global lead of systems design at IDEO and a UT Austin alumnus.
IDEO is credited with a number of landmark designs that established its reputation, including the original computer mouse, the folding laptop computer and the Palm PDA device. Since then, IDEO has expanded its reach into the design of offerings as diverse as educational systems, public policy, retail spaces and children’s toys.
In announcing the institute’s creation at The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center art museum on Monday, the first day of the inaugural South by Southwest Health and MedTech Expo, Chang said there are great design opportunities in health.
Providers are moving toward a system that focuses as much on people’s lives, priorities and loved ones as on their particular maladies. The nation is more than ready, Chang said, for creative, human-centered designs that reduce waiting room times, streamline insurance payments, help people tend to their health and create a more compassionate atmosphere in hospitals and clinics.
The Design Institute for Health aims to generate designs and strategies that reinvent the ways doctors are taught and Americans get healthy and stay healthy.
“In health care, there are endless opportunities to rethink products and systems so they better serve people who need them,” said Chang, who oversaw IDEO’s health-related portfolio and will be the institute’s executive director. “The Design Institute for Health will take on these longstanding challenges in a way that’s fully integrated with the Dell Medical School’s efforts to create a vital, inclusive health ecosystem and make Austin a model healthy city.”
“This institute will systematically use design and creativity to create better health outcomes at lower costs, increase value in the health care system and improve the lives of patients and providers,” said Lopez, who will be the institute’s managing director. “We’ll examine everything from the design of health products to the architecture of the hospital to the functionality of the health ecosystem itself — it’s an incredibly exciting project.”
The Dell Medical School is the first medical school in decades to be built from the ground up at a top-tier research university. Dr. Clay Johnston, inaugural dean of the Dell Medical School, said that newness will help the school embrace novel solutions without worrying about effects on existing models and practices.
“In health care, ‘redesign’ has become such a buzz word, but few entities are using the principles of design thinking to take on these challenges,” Johnston said. “Creative, uniquely Austin solutions are required to make this a model healthy city. These guys are the creative gurus.”
Both Johnston and Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts, credited UT Austin President Bill Powers and Provost Greg Fenves for supporting initiatives such as the Design Institute with the potential to improve health and transform health care.
“The joint appointments of these design experts to the faculties of Fine Arts and the Dell Medical School is a first, big step in an exciting new collaboration between our two colleges,” Dempster said. “Our goal is nothing less than to redesign health care delivery in America. In the process, we are ensuring that our design program is a unifying entrepreneurial discipline at The University of Texas.”
AUSTIN, Texas — A new study suggests that increases in atmospheric CO2 could intensify extreme droughts in tropical and subtropical regions — such as Australia, the southwest and central United States, and southern Amazonia — at much a faster rate than previously anticipated, explains University of Texas at Austin professor Rong Fu in a commentary in the March 13 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Fu, a professor at the university’s Jackson School of Geosciences, writes about a new study by William K.M. Lau of the University of Maryland and Kyu-Myong Kim of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, explaining that it shows for the first time through computer climate modeling that the Hadley Circulation will intensify as the world warms. The study, “Robust Hadley Circulation changes and increasing global dryness due to CO2 warming from CMIP5 model projections,” was posted online Feb. 23.
The Hadley Circulation, associated with the prevailing trade winds in the tropics, is an atmospheric air current centered around the equator that affects areas between the latitudes of about 30 degrees north and 30 degrees south.
The Hadley Circulation influences the distribution of rainfall, clouds and relative humidity over half of Earth’s surface. It can expand or contract in a warmer or colder global climate, leading to substantial changes of regional rainfall. Such changes have been linked to the collapse of the ancient Maya civilization.
During the past decade or two, the Hadley Circulation has become stronger and expanded toward the poles at a rate faster than predicted by global climate models, contributing to increased droughts over many subtropical regions and increased rainfall in equatorial regions. Past studies have attributed the intensifying of the Hadley Circulation to natural decadal climate variability, because climate models have predicted that the Hadley Circulation will weaken in the future as climate changes. But Lau’s and Kim’s work found that the Hadley Circulation intensified in warmer climate, which is expected to continue.
“This is the first study that suggests a possible intensification of droughts in the tropic-subtropical margins in warmer climate. The finding is critical to understanding what the world will be like as the climate continues to change,” Fu said. “Will the Hadley Circulation continue to expand? Could the intensification of droughts over the tropics and subtropics be a new norm? These are questions that need to be answered.”
To read “Robust Hadley Circulation changes and increasing global dryness due to CO2 warming from CMIP5 model projections,” go to http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/02/17/1418682112.full.pdf+html
Police badge cams, those small, portable video recorders, are the latest tool being deployed by police departments around the U.S. to improve crime-fighting and community trust.
They are valuable, but limited, tools for building safer neighborhoods, and more is needed to foster a positive relationship between police and the public.
The Los Angeles Police Department knows this well as it reviews a set of badge cam videos from a shooting in that city that left a homeless man dead. The badge cam videos recorded one of the officers shouting that the man had grabbed for his gun, according to news reports.
The advantages of badge cams are twofold.
First, they provide another piece of evidence for the kind of tragic case unfolding in Los Angeles. Studies find that witnesses, even victims of crime, are often inaccurate and subject to cognitive bias, including racial bias. Video cameras can provide an independent visual record of events unfolding in real time.
Also, as indicated by a study from Rialto, California, where complaints about police plummeted, badge cams seem to have a preventive effect. An officer wearing a badge cam is more likely to take a deep breath before saying something inappropriate or rude in a stressful situation — and in turn is protected from bogus complaints.
Still, badge cams can only do so much in fostering goodwill between police and the public. Rogue officers can turn them off.
A badge cam also shows only the officer’s point of view, which is valuable, but that is only one perspective. The wider view from cellphone videos from Los Angeles, for instance, shows a somewhat chaotic scene with a number of officers, two suspects and many bystanders.
Camera perspective is like political perspective: The view from changes when you switch sides. This is why responsible police accountability activism, in which members of the public film police activity without interfering, is essential.
Citizens need to exercise their right to film police in public. The more perspectives, the better.
My research explores the way video must also be defined and explained. One of the most famous arrests caught on video was that of Rodney King, who was beaten by multiple officers in 1991. When defense attorneys showed the video in court in segments, explaining frame by frame what police were doing, the case ended with acquittals for all of the officers.
Trust between police departments and residents, therefore, requires more than video. Recent events in Ferguson, New York City and other parts of the U.S. have called attention to the wide disparities in the way African Americans and white Americans experience the justice system.
African American parents in Texas and across the U.S. lament the fact that they must have a “talk” with their teenagers that has nothing to do with the birds and the bees, but instead about how to respond during a police stop to avoid violence.
The hashtag trend #crimingwhilewhite, while not scientific, provides multiple anecdotes of the way white and black Americans experience policing very differently.
Badge cam video only has evidentiary value after something has happened. This is why in my classroom I spend many hours talking about stereotypes and how the brain processes visual information. Simply put, our brains respond differently — more quickly, more emotionally — to visuals, particularly fearful ones.
Even with their extensive training, police officers are humans who experience excitement, danger and fear, and they have occasion to face such emotions every day on the job.
As long as people with darker skin are stereotyped as dangerous, their appearance can spark fearful, or at worst, violent, responses.
Safer communities, therefore, require badge cams, public cameras, even-handed law enforcement and departments with diverse staffing. Video is great for a look at the evidence, but American justice is symbolized with a blindfold for good reason. Fairness is served only when everyone is “seen” the same way by the law.
Mary Bock is an assistant professor of journalism at The University of Texas at Austin.
To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.
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Share this story on Twitter:March 12, 2015
This week, U.S. News & World Report released its annual rankings of American graduate programs, and numerous UT programs were highly ranked. In engineering, law, education, and nursing UT graduate programs are ranked among the top 15 in the nation, and the University’s accounting program is No. 1.
In all, more than 50 science, social science, humanities, and professional programs and disciplines are ranked in the top 15 nationally according to the rankings, which are based on quantitative and qualitative measures, including GRE scores, student/faculty ratio, research expenditures, job placement success, and ratings of academic experts, national faculty members, and administrators.
The Cockrell School of Engineering ranks No. 10 (No. 5 among public universities) with eight specialty programs in the top 15. Law repeated as No. 15 nationally (No. 4 among publics). Education is No. 10 in the nation (No. 3 among publics), with five top-15 specialty areas. Nursing ranks No. 13 nationally (No. 5 among publics). And Business ranks No. 17 in the country (No. 5 among publics) with eight specializations in the top 15.
U.S. News & World Report does not rank every discipline in every year. Therefore several other graduate programs at UT Austin remain nationally ranked according to data from 2012-2014 that was not revised this year. Pharmacy ranks No. 4 both nationally and among publics. Geosciences ranks No. 8 for earth sciences (No. 4 among publics). Computer Science ranks No. 9 (No. 4 among publics). The School of Information ranks No. 6 (No. 5 among publics). Social Work ranks No. 7 (No. 5 among publics), and the LBJ School of Public Affairs is No. 16 (No. 8 among publics).
You can see how we ranked in additional programs here.
I’m tremendously proud of our graduate programs and the students, faculty, and administrators who make them the centers of excellence they are. Graduate education is a critical link in the higher education ecosystem, and the fact that more than 50 of our programs rank in the top 15 testifies to UT Austin’s remarkable breadth and depth.
The following is a statement by The University of Texas at Austin Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly:
After recent events involving the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity chapter at the University of Oklahoma, our office was made aware of online allegations of similar behavior at our local chapter of SAE. We connected with local chapter leadership yesterday, who confirmed they do not perform the chant or anything similar. They also confirmed never having heard the chant before and stated such behavior had no place in their organization. Our office is also reaching out to former and current students involved with SAE for a more complete review.
Answering questions about past behavior may take time, but we wanted to let the community know right now that our local chapter of SAE reports no awareness of the chant and expresses strong disapproval of it.
The University of Texas at Austin has partnered with Baylor Scott & White Health and the Department of State Health Services to launch the first of multiple trainings that introduce physicians to eTobacco, a newly designed tobacco cessation protocol that connects a patient’s electronic medical records with a state-funded tobacco cessation program called Quitline.
Dr. Shelley Karn, a certified health care reform specialist in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at UT Austin, says the trainings are “the first of their kind” and expects approximately 30 physicians to attend today’s kickoff instruction session hosted by Temple Memorial Hospital in Temple, Texas.
According to the eTobacco protocol, when a trained physician encounters a patient who qualifies for help with tobacco cessation, the doctor can easily make a referral within the patient’s electronic medical records, which results in automatic referral to the Quitline program. Eligible patients are then proactively contacted, counseled and provided with free nicotine replacement therapy. At the end of the program, feedback and progress are reported through the medical records and shared with the prescribing physician.
“This initiative will have a huge impact on the No. 1 preventable risk factor for all chronic diseases — tobacco use — and stands to net the state over $271 million in health care cost reductions and workforce productivity increases,” explains Michael Davis, project lead and director of the Cancer Institute at Baylor Scott & White Health. His estimate reflects eventual implementation across central and north Texas, when the program will be available to all Baylor Scott & White Health patients.
Through the eTobacco protocol, adults interested in or struggling with tobacco addiction will find coordinated support and reap the benefits of free and proven interventions, says Karn.
“The University of Texas is working to establish these connections throughout clinic systems in Texas,” says Karn. “This presentation is the first, but we hope to do similar trainings to integrate the eTobacco protocol and other Quitline referral resources throughout the state.”
The following is a statement from UT Austin President Bill Powers:
Many of you have read that the president of the University of Oklahoma, David Boren, has expelled two students and cut ties to OU’s chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity after a racist chant by its members was captured on video. This has renewed questions about our response to an off-campus UT Austin fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta fraternity (FIJIs), that hosted a party where some guests dressed in costumes expressing racial stereotypes.
Both of these incidents were hurtful and offended many. I deplore this behavior, which is contrary to the core values of The University of Texas at Austin.
Our dean of students has worked extensively with the group to educate its members on the harm it has caused and to reconcile it to the greater community. The FIJIs have apologized, have been fully engaged with the dean of students’ efforts, and have reached out to Latino groups. The FIJIs and one Latino group collaborated on a recent day of service. Much work remains but this is a positive start.
Additionally, a photo of alleged FIJI pledge rules has surfaced online. This ugly document appeared in 2007 and was largely believed to be a hoax even then.
Rumors also are circulating that a chant similar to the one at OU has been traditional in the UT chapter of SAE. Our dean of students said Monday she is looking into this matter as is standard practice in such cases.
Through its programs, through its efforts in the U.S. Supreme Court, and through its student and faculty recruiting, The University of Texas remains committed to creating a diverse campus. I remain committed to a campus that welcomes everyone.
Updated at 10:20 a.m. on March 11, 2015.
Scientists and mathematicians at The University of Texas at Austin have reasons to celebrate pi year round. Here’s a sampling of how pi plays a central role in their research. Extrasolar Planets
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Astronomer Bill Cochran uses pi every day in his search for planets around other stars, called extrasolar planets. Pi is a key element in measuring the size and shape of an extrasolar planet’s orbit. Knowing that information about the orbit can tell you whether the planet is in a region around a star that might support life, called the habitable zone. Pi is also useful in determining the size of a planet, which is important if you want to find Earth-like planetary cousins.Drug Discovery
Computer scientist Chandrajit Bajaj uses computer simulations to predict how well a drug might bind to a drug target, such as a virus or tumor cell. Since real-life drug trials are costly, this method can help sort through drug candidates to select the most promising ones to pursue. His simulation essentially tries to stick a drug and drug target together in thousands upon thousands of different ways, like rotating pieces of a 3D jigsaw puzzle, to find a match. A formula that includes pi helps insure that these binding attempts are evenly distributed in 3D space.Tracking Tumors
Mathematician Andrew Blumberg is collaborating on a research project that charts how a person’s cancerous tumor evolves over time, with the hopes of finding more effective treatments. The genetic changes in a tumor can be mapped out in a 3D evolutionary tree. To measure how far different versions of the tumor have evolved apart — and predict how effective certain treatments might be against it — he uses a calculation that involves pi.One True Constant
Some physicists have suggested that our universe is but one of many universes, each with its own set of physical constants. These other universes might have electrons with different charges than ours, for example, or gravitational constants that are weaker or stronger. But in a system where so much seems capable of change, Bill Cochran says pi is one of those rare physical constants.
“I couldn’t imagine a different universe where pi would be different,” he says. “It’s so intimately tied to geometry and I don’t see how you could change geometry. Even if string theory is right, and there are something like 14 dimensions, as long as you have at least two dimensions, you’d still have pi.”
So celebrate Pi Day! Eat some pie. Compose a piem (that’s a poem where the number of letters in each word is equal to the corresponding digit of pi). Toss some frozen hot dogs on the floor a few hundred times and calculate the value of pi yourself. View pi-inspired art from the university community at the Art of Pi virtual exhibit. And watch for public art displays like this one at the University’s Physics Mathematics Astronomy Library, or the amazing one that appeared in the skies over downtown Austin and campus last year. An artist teamed up with an aerial advertising company to write hundreds of digits of pi a quarter mile high.
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Making Pi (Know)
AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin’s graduate schools in engineering, law, education and nursing are ranked among the Top 15 in the nation, and the university’s accounting program is No. 1 in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report's 2016 edition of “Best Graduate Schools,” released this morning.
In all, more than 50 science, social science, humanities and professional programs and disciplines are ranked in the Top 15 nationally according to the rankings, which are based on quantitative and qualitative measures, including GRE scores, student/faculty ratio, research expenditures, job placement success and ratings of academic experts, national faculty members and administrators.
U.S. News’ graduate rankings, separate from the magazine’s yearly ranking of undergraduate programs, are among the most prestigious ratings in higher education.
The Cockrell School of Engineering ranks No. 10 nationally (No. 5 among public universities) and has eight specialty programs in the Top 15. The University of Texas School of Law repeated as No. 15 nationally (No. 4 among publics). The College of Education is No. 10 in the nation (No. 3 among publics), with five Top 15 specialty areas. The School of Nursing ranks No. 13 nationally (No. 5 among publics). The McCombs School of Business ranks No. 17 in the country (No. 5 among publics) with eight specializations in the Top 15.
Several other graduate schools at UT Austin remain nationally ranked according to U.S. News & World Report data from 2012-2014 that was not revised this year. (The publication does not rank every discipline in every year). The College of Pharmacy ranks No. 4 nationally (No. 4 among publics). The Jackson School of Geosciences remains No. 8 for Earth Sciences (No. 4 among publics). Computer Science ranks No. 9 (No. 4 among publics). Library & Information Studies ranks No. 6 both nationally and among publics. The School of Social Work ranks No. 7 (No. 5 among publics) and the LBJ School of Public Affairs is No. 16 (No. 8 among publics).
“I’m tremendously proud of our graduate programs and the students, faculty, and administrators who make them the centers of excellence they are,” said President Bill Powers. “Graduate education is a critical link in the higher education ecosystem, and the fact that more than 50 of our programs rank in the top 15 testifies to UT Austin’s remarkable breadth and depth.”
Within the rankings for individual graduate disciplines and specializations, UT Austin has 10 programs ranked in the Top Five nationally, including five based on new data:
- Accounting (McCombs School of Business) – No. 1
- Information Systems (McCombs School of Business) – No. 3
- Administration/Supervision (College of Education) – No. 3
- Special Education (College of Education) – No. 4
- Civil Engineering (Cockrell School of Engineering) – No. 3
The top rankings for graduate programs are also consistent with other rankings for UT Austin, which has been named the 28th best university in the world (Times Higher Education), the 53rd best overall university in the United States (U.S. News & World Report) and the 14th best value among public colleges (Kiplinger). UT Austin has maintained these levels of excellence and improved in many rankings despite cuts in state support during the past decade.
UT Austin graduate schools and programs ranked in the Top 30 are listed below. An asterisk indicates a ranking that is based on earlier data and was not revised this year. These rankings are drawn from early figures released by U.S. News & World Report and could grow when fuller lists are published. Check utexas.edu/news for the most up-to-date lists:
- Business - 17
- Accounting - 1
- Entrepreneurship - 8
- Finance - 13
- Information Systems - 5
- International Business - 15
- Management - 18
- Marketing - 11
- Production/Operations - 15
- Supply Chain/Logistics - 15
- Executive MBA - 17
- Part-Time MBA - 7
- Education - 10
- Administration/Supervision - 3
- Curriculum/Instruction - 11
- Educational Psychology - 10
- Higher Education Administration - 20
- Elementary Teacher Education - 15
- Special Education - 4
- Engineering - 10
- Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical - 8
- Biomedical - 14
- Chemical - 6
- Civil - 3
- Computer - 9
- Electrical/Electronic/Communications - 10
- Environmental/Environmental Health - 6
- Industrial/Manufacturing/Systems - 22
- Materials - 24
- Mechanical - 13
- Health Disciplines (other than Nursing)
- Audiology - 21
- Clinical Psychology - 11
- Pharmacy - 4
- Social Work - 7
- Speech-Language Pathology - 10
- Law – 15
- Clinical Training – 22
- Intellectual Property Law – 32
- International Law - 17
- Nursing - 13
- Library & Information Studies – 6*
- Archives & Preservation - 4*
- Digital Librarianship - 9*
- Information Systems - 11*
- Law Librarianship - 2*
- Public Affairs - 16*
- Information & Technology Management - 8*
- Nonprofit Management - 8*
- Public Finance & Budgeting - 16*
- Public Management Administration - 14*
- Public Policy Analysis - 11*
- Social Policy - 14*
- Biological Sciences - 30*
- Ecology/Environmental Biology - 7*
- Chemistry - 12*
- Analytical - 4*
- Organic Chemistry - 13*
- Theoretical - 12*
- Computer Science - 9*
- Artificial Intelligence - 7*
- Programming Language - 8*
- Systems - 8*
- Theory - 10*
- Earth Sciences - 8*
- Geology - 5*
- Mathematics - 14*
- Analysis - 8*
- Applied Math - 10*
- Topology - 8*
- Physics - 14*
- Atomic/Molecular - 14*
- Cosmology/Relativity/Gravity - 9*
- Plasma - 3*
Social Sciences & Humanities
- Economics - 26*
- English - 17*
- History - 17*
- Latin American History - 1*
- Political Science - 21*
- Psychology - 14*
- Sociology - 14*
- Sociology of Population - 5*
- Fine Arts - 22*
- Painting/Drawing - 16*
- Printmaking - 10*
- Sculpture - 15*
*Ranking not revised for 2015. Based on latest ranking available.
Think back to your grade school days and those many times when you had to memorize a lesson. Even decades removed from the exam, you might still remember the material, even if it never had relevance in your life again.
But the ability to recall the quadratic formula, for example, masks a much bigger question: Did memorizing the material lead you to apply it to your life?
That is one of the questions raised by a recent move in Texas, Arizona and several other states to begin requiring students to pass a civics test to graduate.
North Dakota has already approved a requirement similar to Arizona’s, and South Carolina, Indiana and Utah have bills in the pipeline.
Few would dispute the statements made by the sponsor of a bill that would require Texas students to pass a civics test, Texas state Rep. Bill Zedler, who was quoted as saying “When you start having students graduate from high school who don’t know where we got our independence from and that kind of stuff, I think it’s a little frightening. I want kids to know as much as people who become citizens of the United States.”
Concern about students’ levels of civic knowledge has plagued Texas and the nation for a while. Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in civics barely rose between 2006 and 2010 for eighth- and 12th-graders, though they did edge up for fourth-graders.
But beyond civic knowledge, Texans should be concerned about a student’s ability to participate as an active citizen.
The most recent Texas Civic Health Index completed by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life found startlingly low levels of civic engagement among all Texans, including young adults, on everything from voting to discussing issues to communicating with their elected representatives.
An exam that tests a student’s civic knowledge would enable and encourage some of those students to participate more actively in civic life. But research shows that three ingredients are necessary for more students to become active citizens: civic knowledge, civic skills and pro-civic attitudes.
Building all three requires a curriculum, sometimes called “action civics,” that not only teaches kids facts, but also offers an experiential learning opportunity that encourages students to identify, research, and address community needs.
From an attitudinal standpoint, students need to grasp the significance of government in their daily lives and the need for an ongoing dialogue with their elected and appointed public servants.
What is needed is a more profound project-based civics curriculum that encourages students across Texas to research current issues of interest and articulate causes and solutions. Those experiences help make civics fun, challenging and, perhaps most importantly, relevant to a student’s life.
Research shows that such experiences significantly increase a young person’s inclination to become civically active as an adult — to vote, to join a community organization, to contact elected representatives and to continue speaking out on issues that concern them for the rest of their lives.
The challenge of making students more civically literate is daunting. While adding another graduation requirement in a state with already extremely low graduation rates may give some reason to pause and while some Texans bemoan more school assessments, an exam would help make teaching civics more of a priority.
After all, if teachers are evaluated partly on the basis of their students’ test scores, then those teachers would probably be more motivated to spend more time on civics lessons if their students had to take an exam in that subject.
Students themselves might also show a greater interest in the subject if they knew that mastering the three branches of our federal government and key milestones in American political history was a key part to their advancement.
It is encouraging to see the topics of civic literacy and civic engagement entering the public consciousness in Texas.
If an exam does become required and gets paired with added resources for action civics, students would be given the opportunity to practice what is being preached, develop fluency in the language of civics, and become lifelong engaged citizens.
Regina Lawrence, Larry Schooler and Deborah Wise are affiliated with the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at The University of Texas at Austin.
To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.
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Share this story on Twitter:March 10, 2015
This year’s Pi Day (March 14, 2015) corresponds to the first five numerals of pi (3.1415). In honor of this auspicious numerical alignment, the Physics Mathematics Astronomy Library (PMA) asked Longhorns to submit artistic representations of the ratio found in every circle (ratio of circumference to diameter). From knitting to sewing to computer-generated graphics, the interpretations illustrate the artfulness of pi. (And check out ways that UT Austin researchers use pi in their work every day.)
“Spring Pi” by PMA Libraries head librarian Molly White and Jack Moore (pinscreen impression).
“Orchard” by mathematics graduate student Aaron Fenyes (digital art). In this garden, seeds were planted in a neat grid, but not all of them grew into flowers. Each seed cast a shadow in a straight line out from the center of the garden, and the seeds planted in the shadows did not sprout. When the flowers were gathered, and the size of the harvest was measured, a factor of pi appeared. I do not know why pi came to this orderly garden, shaped only by straight lines. Perhaps it was attracted by the buzzing of the bees, as it is by all music?
“Pi Pile” by mathematics graduate student Aaron Fenyes (digital art). This pile was made by dropping twelve thousand balls through a giant pachinko machine, with six thousand layers of pins. Its height reflects, as expected, the number of balls and the number of pins, but it also contains a factor of pi. I do not know why pi took a hand in this game, which should have been ruled only by the laws of chance. Perhaps it was attracted by the thought that, in a three-dimensional pachinko machine, the balls would have fallen in a circular pile?
“Pi Spiral” by astronomy graduate student Aaron Javier Juarez (digital art – Python scripting language). This work contains 3,000 digits of pi, approximated will a simple generator function. The background is 314 stacked circles with different radii and colors, to give the illusion of a color gradient.
“Special Triangles of Pi” by astronomy graduate student Aaron Javier Juarez, (digital art – Python scripting language). This work conveys the special right triangles [red (30-60-90 deg), green (45-45-90 deg), and blue (60-30-90 deg) triangles] and their angles found from the unit circle. Along the vertical center of the piece are equilateral triangles whose sides are scaled by a factor of pi from one another. The “fog” effect of the color in the background is actually many encircling circles with varying opacity. In fact, all the gradients you see are illusions, created by many stacked shapes with varying colors.
“Pi Pincushion” by PMA Libraries librarian Dave Gilson (bamboo yarn, straight pins). Knit in the round, starting by increasing in stitches and ending by reducing the number of stitches. These increases and decreases change the radius which in turns changes the circumference of the row being knit causing the base to expand and then the top to contract until it is closed up.
“Berry Hot Pi” by Life Sciences Library head librarian Nancy Elder (cotton fabric). I used π to calculate the circumference of the pie.
This story is part of our series “The Creative Campus,” which showcases student creativity. Learn more about the Creative 40 Acres program, which supports student artistic expression at the university.
Like any top-notch university, The University of Texas at Austin campus is home to state-of-the-art labs, extensive library collections and hundreds of classrooms designed to enrich the student experience.
But that’s not where education or the campus identity ends.
Spend any time on the Forty Acres, and you’ll find yourself encountering some rather extraordinary art, even if you don’t seek it out — and often without setting foot inside a building. That’s due in large part to Landmarks, the university’s public art program that launched in 2008.
At 36 pieces and counting, the Landmarks collection helps ensure UT is not only an academic campus, but a cultured one, too. Much like the classroom discussions and lab experiments taking place around them, the sculptures, murals, videos and installations Landmarks brings to UT create a vibrant campus that encourages new ideas, debates and thoughtful reflection.
We took a closer look at five important pieces of campus art and their relationships to the settings in which they reside.Gates Dell Complex / A Mathematical Theory of Communication Photo by Paul Bardagjy.
Artist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate Casey Reas, whose work has been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, is the co-creator of an open-source programming language called Processing, which he manipulates to produce digital art.
Reas’ A Mathematical Theory of Communication is a mural on two separate walls in The Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex & Dell Computer Science Hall (map). The piece is a site-specific commission for Landmarks and is named after a seminal 1948 article of the same name that helped establish the field of information theory.
In her artist entry for the piece, New School faculty member Christiane Paul writes, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication puts viewers in the middle of the data landscape, inviting them to experience algorithms and the digital medium in both its fidelity and uncertainties. While the murals create this experience on the basis of specific imagery, they raise questions about perception that ultimately apply to any work of digital (or even visual) art: how do images communicate their message and how do we decode and perceive them?”
In other words, it’s both art and science.Walter Cronkite Plaza / And That’s the Way It Is Photo by Paul Bardagjy.
Evoking legendary newsman and UT alumnus Walter Cronkite’s broadcast sign-off, And That’s the Way It Is projects a grid of text from televised news broadcasts onto one of the Moody College of Communication buildings that overlooks the plaza (map) every evening.
Landmarks commissioned the piece in 2012 from sound designer and visual artist Ben Rubin. His own software scans and selects segments of closed caption transcripts of live network news and archival transcripts of Cronkite’s vintage CBS Evening News broadcasts, each displaying in a different typography. As daily news is generated, the language adapts to reflect current events, connecting the past and present in surprising and poetic ways.
Cronkite attended UT in the 1930s and studied political science, economics and journalism. He also worked for the university newspaper, The Daily Texan, which is headquartered across the plaza from the video projection. He was anchorman and managing editor for the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981, and his personal archive is housed at UT’s Briscoe Center for American History.
[Related: Five Great Longhorn Speeches]Student Activity Center / The Color Inside The Color Inside during the day (left) and during a light sequence (right). Photos by Florian Holzherr.
When the new Student Activity Center (map) was being designed, students requested a “reflection room” for the building, which is bustling with Longhorns attending events, grabbing lunch and studying. Now, perched on the roof above that constant activity, sits The Color Inside, by renowned “sculptor of light” James Turrell.
The structure, designed specifically for the university, is one of Turrell’s signature Skyspace naked-eye observatories. The Color Inside is an elliptical white-plaster tower with an oval opening in the ceiling. A black basalt bench lines the reclining walls, with room for just 25 people.
At sunrise and sunset custom LED lights unleash brilliant washes of color on the ceiling, morphing slowly between all manner of pinks, purples, whites, greens and yellows. Meanwhile, the sky changes color with the rising or setting of the sun and in comparison to the ceiling. In one sunset sequence, the sky shifts from indigo to gray to rust and then finally a vivid teal set against saturated watermelon LEDs.
The design of the tower and the intensity of the lights sometimes make it impossible to discern sky from ceiling. All sense of depth seems to disappear.
“I hope that people find it as a place of refuge, a way to cultivate attention and have a moment of quiet in a busy day,” says Landmarks director Andrée Bober, who hopes the piece becomes a new university icon.Perry-Castañeda Library / Square Tilt Left to right: Photos by Ben Aqua and Paul Bardagjy
In its 2014 “Best of Austin” critics poll, the Austin Chronicle named the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) Austin’s “Best Brutalist Architecture,” a prime example of the midcentury architecture movement that once produced massive concrete structures but has since fallen out of fashion. The exterior of the PCL (map), which opened in 1977, displays all the hallmarks of Brutalism. In the words of the Chronicle, the PCL has “an imposing fortress-like appearance, sharp angles, a complex form out of simple geometry, rough macro-texture of repetitive windows, and those awesome walls of concrete that threaten to smash your ignorant meatbrain into a state of education.”
It’s also an intriguing backdrop for the off-balance, abstract piece, Square Tilt, which sits on the PCL plaza. Constructed in 1983 by Joel Perlman, and on permanent loan from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Square Tilt is a 10-foot-tall open rectangular frame made of steel with smaller geometric steel plates attached at various angles. It possesses a sense of liveliness and uncertainty that stands in contrast to the PCL’s weighty, dense demeanor.
And yet, as a portal, which Perlman’s work is often likened to, Square Tilt is a natural partner for the university’s main library, home to 70 miles of book stacks, 3.2 million volumes and countless students cramming for finals.
Consider this line from the artist entry about the sculpture: “Square Tilt consequently carries connotations of openness, far horizons, and passage into other domains of perception and thought.”
On a good day, that’s what happens at the library, too.
[Related: Five Great UT Ideas]Bass Concert Hall / Various Sculptures Clockwise from top: Column of Peace by Antoine Pevsner (Photo by Robert Boland), Untitled (Seven Mountains) by Ursula von Rydingsvard (Photo by Mark Menjivar), Amphora by Bryan Hunt (Photo by Mark Menjivar) and The Swan’s Dream of Leda by David Hare (Photo by Mark Menjivar).
A goal of the Landmarks program is to be a primary resource for students in their fields of study, art or otherwise. Take the recent “Sound in Sculpture” concert, which featured the premiere performance of five compositions by Butler School of Music students inspired by sculptures in Bass Concert Hall (map). Each original work was performed next to the sculpture that inspired it, with musician and audience member sometimes less than three feet apart.
Music composition doctoral student Elizabeth Anne Cominellis was drawn to artist Antoine Pevsner’s Column of Peace (top row, above), located on the east side of the fourth floor of Bass. The bronze sculpture, created in 1954, was meant as a monument to postwar peace and was actually a model for a large memorial that was never realized.
Taking cues from the sculpture’s four intersecting, upwardly rising diagonal arms, Cominellis composed a piece that “share(s) melodic material among instruments” and that contains various textures and timbres, reminiscent of the sculpture’s delicate ridges. The trajectory of the columns is echoed in the conclusion of her composition, which is titled “Peace I Leave with You,” a reference to the promise Jesus Christ makes in the New Testament. “Much as the sculpture shoots to the top and fans outward slightly, each instrument, as the music draws to a close, rises to a dramatic peak, each playing in its most extreme high register,” Cominellis explains.