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UMaine Today Magazine


Insights

Sensor research gets IGERT boost

Sensor Research
 

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Building on existing research strength and state-of-the-art infrastructure, the University of Maine will use a new five-year, $3.16 million research award to establish an interdisciplinary graduate education program in sensor science, engineering and informatics.

Funding comes from the National Science Foundation's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, designed to train Ph.D. scientists through interdisciplinary programs that address pressing global needs.

According to the NSF Web site, UMaine is one of only 32 institutions to receive more than one IGERT grant. UMaine's first launched the Functional Genomics program.

The IGERT program will involve UMaine's Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology (LASST), and the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA), working in cooperation with scientists in Germany, Italy, Australia and Ireland.

Over the course of five years, the program will train 20 Ph.D. students as IGERT fellows in sensor systems, including the creation of new materials and methods for the interpretation of sensor data.

Kate Beard-Tisdale from the Department of Spatial Information Science and Engineering and NCGIA is the program director and grant's principal investigator. Nineteen faculty from several science and engineering departments will be involved in the program.


Polarized Parties

More ideological conflict exists today between the Republican and Democratic parties when it comes to racial, cultural and economic issues than at any other time in the 20th century, according to University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer.

In the past decade, politicians — the political elites — have become more ideological and partisan in their rhetoric, policy proposals and voting behavior, to the point that party members have become more similar in their views.

The electorate has mirrored that heightened partisanship, according to Brewer. Mass partisanship, long linked to positions on issues relating to economic equality, is increasingly evident in racial and cultural issues.

Using the American National Election Study (NES) Cumulative Datafile, Brewer found that the electorate recognizes that the parties differ widely in their stances on issues related to economic equality (i.e. government involvement in health insurance), racial issues (i.e. federal aid to minorities) and cultural issues (i.e. the role of women in society). His analysis also demonstrates the increased relevance of partisan conflict when voters consider the issues.

The highly polarized American political climate today, with Democrats more liberal and Republicans more conservative than ever, feeds on itself, forming a closed circuit or loop, Brewer says. "Elites polarize on issues, causing increased polarization among the mass on these same issues, which, in turn, fuels further elite polarization as politicians react to the views and demands of constituents and voters," he says, in a paper published in Political Research Quarterly.

"Unless something develops that serves as a circuit breaker, we are likely to witness these high levels of polarization in American politics for at least the near future."


Pre-War Press

In the months leading up to the war in Iraq, the Bush administration addressed the United Nations and the American people repeatedly to make the case for a preemptive strike against a nation alleged to be harboring weapons of mass destruction.

The way the administration couched the run-up to war in the context of terrorism was echoed in the news coverage by Time and Newsweek, affecting public judgment of events and policies, according to a recent analysis by University of Maine political scientist Amy Fried.

"During this period, news magazines frequently juxtaposed terrorism and Iraq, and used graphics which linked Iraq to terrorism and terrorists," says Fried, who published her study in a recent issue of the Harvard International Journal of Press-Politics. Some graphics gave the false impression not only that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but also that their location was known.

Fried examined how the two news magazines covered Iraq and issues of terrorism in the pre-war period. In particular, she analyzed the news content in 34 issues published in September 2002 — the month President Bush gave a speech to the United Nations citing "the dangers, in their most lethal and aggressive forms" posed by Iraq — and in January– March 2003, the final run-up to war.

Terrorism and Americans' fears about it were part of the news coverage in the months leading up to the war in Iraq. Some terrorism stories focused explicitly on evidence and arguments regarding whether Iraq posed a threat of terrorism to the United States, while other terrorism stories emphasized the ways Americans could cope with increased threats.

"This coverage reflected the confluence of events, but also officials' decisions to bring various events together in time and space," says Fried.


Manufactured patriotism

In December 1899, Great Britain sustained three substantial military defeats in the opening phase of the Second Anglo-Boer War in South Africa. The events of "Black Week" ended Britain's complacency concerning its military prowess and sparked a spontaneous outburst of patriotism.

It's that patriotism, a powerful force that shaped late-Victorian Britain, to which thousands of able-bodied men responded when the War Office made the decision to allow civilian volunteers to serve overseas, according to University of Maine historian Stephen Miller, in a paper recently published in the Journal of Military History.

The call to champion the "imperial mission" was fueled by decades of "manufactured patriotism" found in daily papers, school lessons and even music hall entertainment. Much of the nationalism first revealed itself in the period of heightened fear of invasion in the 1850s. It only grew in the decades to come, shaping British attitudes toward the European continent, its formal Empire, and its informal interests in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Although a variety of economic and social factors determined each volunteer's course of action at the turn of the century, the most widespread reason for enlistment in the Volunteer Service Companies and Imperial Yeomanry was "the need for psychological fulfillment in the expression of patriotism," says Miller, who examined volunteerism in the South African War, 1889–1902.

Reading the memoirs, diaries and letters of Militia, Volunteers and Imperial Yeomen, it's clear that recruits desired to experience something new, says Miller. For late-Victorian society, ambition and love of adventure were inherently linked to patriotism.

The response to the government's call for volunteers was greater than anyone expected. More than 130,000 British men chose to fight in the South African War as auxiliary troops. In addition, there were close to 350,000 Volunteers at home.


Insight Lite: Here Comes the Sun

High gasoline prices and the country's dependence on foreign oil are prompting more people to take another look at alternative energy sources like solar. We asked University of Maine students on the Solar Vehicle Team for the best reasons to look to the sun.

  • Solar power is "green" — renewable, sustainable and clean.
     

  • Solar energy is free and readily available, even on the grayest of Maine days.
     

  • Solar panels installed in a home work even during power outages.
     

  • Advances in battery technology now make it easier and more efficient than ever to store solar energy.
     

  • Maine allows utility customers who generate their own electricity using alternative energy to sell the excess back to their power companies.
     

  • The Solar Black Bear, an '87 pickup converted to a solar-electric, zero-emissions vehicle, gets 3,000 miles "free" from the sun every year. The Solar Black Bear has been UMaine's entry in the Tour de Sol annually since 1999.


Older adults and alcohol abuse

The Center on Aging at the University of Maine has begun a two-year study to determine the prevalence of binge and chronic drinking in people older than 65. It will explore what lifestyle or cultural factors contribute to it, and what can be done to influence those factors.

The study is funded by a $30,000 grant from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Substance Abuse.

The project will investigate a very severe and neglected problem — alcohol abuse among older adults, says center Director Lenard Kaye.

The study will be statewide, but will focus especially on Hancock County, which has a disproportionately high percentage of older alcohol abusers compared to other regions of the state, according to a 2002 Health Planning Report for the Hancock region, performed by Eastern Maine Healthcare.

Heavy drinking, particularly when mixed with a multitude of prescription drugs many elders take for wellness, can lead to mental and physical health complications that may otherwise be avoidable.

Statistically, Maine has the largest percentage of older people of any state in the nation; it also ranks 14th in sales of spirits. Studies show that alcohol-related costs in Maine are approximately $1 billion a year, according to Kaye, as reflected in the cost of treatment, traffic accidents, associated health problems and lost work time.


Timpani tutorial

A new instructional DVD created at the University of Maine featuring Elliott Carter's Eight Pieces for Four Timpani will officially be released at the international convention of the Percussive Arts Society (PASIC) in November.

The interactive DVD tutorial developed by UMaine percussionist Stuart Marrs is expected to be the first in a series focusing on important repertoire for classical instruments. It is only the second recording of the complete set of Carter's eight timpani pieces on the market, and the first interactive timpani DVD, according to Marrs, who chairs the Music Division of the UMaine School of Performing Arts.

To complete the project, Marrs collaborated with new media faculty and staff, and with UMaine's Office of Research and Economic Development. The project was filmed and recorded at the Maine Center for the Arts with four digital cameras.

Designed for music instructors and for students of timpani, or kettle drums, viewers can choose a camera angle and optional narrative in English, French or Spanish, in which Marrs discusses his playing technique, the music and how he achieves the complex rhythmic patterns and pitch changes in the music.


Pop!Tech

This fall, an interdisciplinary course designed around the Pop!Tech 2005 conference in Camden, Maine, is exploring technology and society, and how they affect our ever-evolving cultures.

The online course, offered through the University of Maine Division of Lifelong Learning, is taught by a team of six faculty members. In October, it included a campus-based video link to the five-day conference.

Pop!Tech annually assembles some of the world's leading digital age thinkers, inventors, innovators and entertainers to wrestle with societal issues. For the past eight years, UMaine has been creating a companion course to the conference.

"As we shape technology, it, in turn, becomes a major force in shaping us, our societies and civilization itself," says Associate Professor of Public Administration Ken Nichols, one of the faculty members co-teaching the course. "How does technology help us deal with — and also generate — unavoidable challenges in our futures? That's what this eccentric course is about."

The course is designed to consider the sea change happening around us and to explore its implications for our personal, professional, and civic lives.


Cross-cultural management

A survey of more than 1,700 European business managers and employees found that while top management leadership strongly influences product and organizational innovation, its ultimate effectiveness is affected by the company's cultural sensitivity — or lack thereof.

The study reveals the importance of integrating leadership, sociocultural context and strategic innovation, according to Detelin Elenkov of the Stokely Management Center at the University of Tennessee and Ivan Manev of the Business School at the University of Maine, who published their survey results in the Journal of Management.

Elenkov and Manev compiled data from middle managers and their supervisors, and those employees involved in innovation processes. They represented 270 businesses in 12 European countries. The survey, in English, was translated into seven other languages.

"Leadership behaviors (for management) may be effective or ineffective depending on the fit with the prevailing cultural values of the hosting society," write the researchers. "Our results provide guidance to managers about the general fit of leadership behaviors with sociocultural contexts, as well as the appropriate leadership behaviors for influencing organizational innovation in different cultures."

Elenkov and Manev suggest exploring effective leadership within a culture, rather than trying to identify universally effective or accepted attributes. They note that research on leadership, strategic innovation and social culture "has the potential to reveal many new ways to improve business practice in the 21st century."

 

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