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FALL 2003



In today’s nanotech world, even the smallest change can lead to big payoffs



hinking small is generally not encouraged. But in today’s nanotech world (where a human hair is considered oversized), thinking small — really small — is where the future lies. It will be the key to how we prevent and fight disease, organize information and protect our environment and ourselves. As you will learn in this edition of Binghamton Research, we value and support these small changes that lead to big payoffs. Whether it is finding ways to help diabetics and the elderly live a better life or detecting environmental or terrorist threats, our researchers are thinking small. But we are thinking big as well. The University is moving forward on its plan to enhance research capabilities through the new Innovative Technologies Complex that will house initiatives in protein dynamics, bioengineering and sensors. With support from earmarked state and federal funds and competitive research grants, our research efforts are reaching new levels. These strides are crucial not only for the campus but to the region and state as well, where the University’s intellectual capital can help invigorate and diversify the economic base. We are proud to share with our colleagues, friends and supporters some of our research successes.

Lois B.DeFleur President



It’s not easy being green BU, private industry team up to tackle lead-free challenge


6 Heavy metal revolution 8 Oliver’s twist


change 10 In today’s nanotech world, even the smallest change can lead to big payoffs 12

The more things change


Good things in small packages


Some of BU scientists’ “little” projects in nanoscience

Cancer cures Researcher looks for synthetic successor to Taxol 22


Modeling nature’s chemistry may help stop the disease

24 26


32 34 38

40 42 44

T Pumped up Miniature device has big potential

Putting a new spin on things BU research sends computing technology in new direction

Bone of contention Bioengineering approach points to different causes (and cures) for osteoporosis

Spreading the word(s) Helping teachers use keys to vocabulary building

Photographic memory Computer scientist aims to better define, index digital images

A sense of well-being Nursing scholars develop tool for measuring an elusive quality

Come to the light Photochemistry research could lead to cleaner environment, new sensors

The price of uncertainty Economist unravels principles of world financial markets

Quixote quest Spanish professor helps others appreciate Cervantes’ classic

To stay in touch with BU research throughout the year, subscribe to our online newsletter Discover-e.

hough it’s been more than four decades since physicist Richard Feynman gave what is commonly held to be the world’s first talk on nanotechnology, his classic presentation “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” remains as true today as it was in 1959. Feynman proposed that by working from the top down, scientists ought to be able to learn to manipulate things at the atomic scale — to develop miniaturized tools, design denser computer circuitry and manufacture microscopes that could help us examine and produce things at a scale smaller than ever before possible. As you will see in this issue, Binghamton University researchers are stepping up to an even broader challenge. They are looking at the world from entirely new perspectives — including from the sub-atomic scale, where many of the basic laws of physics are rewritten. Whether they work in bioengineering, chemistry, nanotechnology and physics or the humanities, health care and human development, Binghamton faculty are finding ways to improve upon existing tools and technologies and are creating new knowledge across the disciplines that can mean big payoffs. As visible to the human eye, the world is a very big place, full of many possibilities. At the scale of the infinitesimal, possibility becomes infinite. Our institutional commitment is to ensure that such promise will flourish in the halls of academe. Frances E. Carr Vice President for Research

Briefs Poetry brings joy for National Book Award winner

Stone’s sense of joy as poets awards over a career in which read aloud is visibly apparent as she has published eight books of she leans close poetry. In Among the students between to catch every November 2002, For National Book Award the buildings, word. It’s as if she won the the color of their clothes is a winner Ruth Stone, poetry has she wants to National Book mirage of tulips. always been a major part of life. experience the Award for poetry The lash of hot and cold upstate Her mother read Tennyson to words physifor In the Next New York mountain weather: her as a baby. Her typesetter cally. The room Galaxy (her most Poet Ruth Stone works with doctoral April splinters like an ice palace. father printed copies of her becomes a sort recent collecstudent Anne Rashid. — (from “Visions from My Office poems and left them on the of confessional tion) and, in Window” in In the Next Galaxy) kitchen table for 5-year-old Ruth as raw emotion December, the generation. Failing eyesight — to find. It helped her through the progressive macular degenerais shared. Wallace Stevens pain following her husband’s “Every year, I keep thinking it Prize from the Academy of tion — forced her retirement suicide and her struggle to raise can’t get any better,” Stone said. American Poets. from Binghamton University in three young daughters alone. “But it does. I love the exchange, “Out of all the teachers I’ve December 2000, but she And at 87, Stone still figures the play back and forth. It’s a had in creative writing, Ruth has continues to teach a two-week she’s got a lot left to say and rare pleasure.” pulled the most out of me,” said short course that has become a even more to share with the next mecca for budding poets. Stone has won countless doctoral student Anne Rashid, who has taken Stone’s workshop three times. “She has a way of have occupied the sites and which group could opening herself up that makes A respectful return be affiliated with the items,” said PAF director everyone comfortable. She’s Nina Versaggi. Archaeology center works with Iroquois taught me that you have to dig Rick Hill, chairperson of the Haudenosaunee to repatriate burial remains deep to find art in unexpected Standing Committee, commended the University places — places that sometimes fter years in specimen boxes and for its role in the process. “We were impressed by can be very painful.” laboratories, burial goods and remains the quality of the information that was shared of the indigenous people who once inhabited and the spirit in which that information was the region will soon come to rest among their shared,” he said. “There was mutual respect modern-day descendants. among all parties.” Guided by cultural icons and geography, PAF received a National Park Service representatives of the Iroquois Confederacy are grant to complete the inventory, which working with University archaeologists to consists mainly of small items, determine the cultural heritage of the Native including human remains and shell American burial goods and develop a plan for beads from six or seven sites, and a Professor Ali Mazrui (left) greets former their repatriation and burial. large collection of remains salvaged Nigerian President Yakubu Gowon. Collected during excavation and highway from the Englebert Site in Nichols. building projects from Delaware to Chemung The Englebert Site is a large Diplomats, government counties over the last 40 years, the remains have graveyard uncovered in the leaders recognize Mazrui been in the care of BU’s Public Archaeology early days of archaeology in Facility and the Anthropology Department. the Southern Tier, during More than 240 guests, Following provisions of the National Graves construction of Route 17. including a former head of state Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, PAF is When the formal and diplomats from around the coordinating the effort to return the items to repatriation occurs, world, celebrated the scholastic the appropriate descendants. After documentrepresentatives from the tribes legacy of Ali A. Mazrui, ing the collection and assigning preliminary — perhaps accompanied by their Schweitzer Chair in the Humanicultural affiliations, PAF officials met with the clan mothers and faith keepers — ties and director of the Institute Haudenosaunee Standing Committee, which will accept the remains and of Global Cultural Studies, oversees burials and regulations. other items. It’s most likely they during a two-day symposium “The consultation allowed us to come will return the goods to areas as this spring to celebrate his together to determine whose ancestors might close as possible to where they were found. scholarship and life’s work. The symposium featured a series of



Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2003

panel discussions to reappraise Mazrui’s conception of Africa as a product of a triple heritage encompassing indigenous, Islamic and western civilizations. Guests included former Nigerian President Yakubu Gowon, Kenyan ambassador to the United States Yusuf A. Nzibo and U.N Special Rapporteur for Children and Armed Conflict Olara Otunu.

into a single academic framework.” Garruto said students can specialize even further by taking electives in subjects such as evolutionary medicine, genetics, human growth and development, population dynamics and rural health.

New degree program to explore cultural aspects of health As SARS and other new diseases cross geographical boundaries with increasing rapidity, the need for Binghamton University’s new master of science in biomedical anthropology becomes ever more apparent. The program, the first of its kind, offers a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of the transmission and spread of infections, cellular and molecular mechanisms of disease, and the interaction of biological and socio-cultural factors that shape health outcomes. The 43-credit program, which requires an internship and a laboratory practicum, is expected to draw students from disciplines as diverse as nursing, anthropology, psychology, social work, biology and other health-related fields. “Biomedical anthropology represents the interface between medicine and the behavioral and social sciences,” said Ralph Garruto, research professor of anthropology and neuroscience. “It is set up to give broad-based training across disciplinary boundaries, the interface between anthropology and biomedicine, bringing everything

Rightmire key player in debate over early man With the finding of each new piece in the puzzle of early man, you will generally find Binghamton’s G. Philip Rightmire in the thick of speculation. Rightmire, an internationally recognized paleoanthropologist, specializes in analyzing prehistoric skulls. After the recent finding of skull fragments in Ethiopia of newly named Homo sapiens Idaltu, 160,000 years old, Rightmire was called upon by such media as Time magazine, the Boston Globe and The New York Times to discuss its significance. Of special interest was its relation to the theory that all modern people trace their heredity to Africa. Rightmire is firmly in the outof-Africa camp. “All the evidence seems to point to Africa as the only areas in which our species evolved and then spread across Europe, Asia and eventually the New World,” he said. In contrast, multiregional theorists argue that modern humans evolved simultaneously inside and outside Africa.

KUDOS • Francis J. Yammarino, professor of management and director of the Center for Leadership Studies, and Michael M. Horowitz, a developmental anthropologist who has advised governments around the world, have been named distinguished professors by the SUNY Board of Trustees. A prominent organizational scientist who has consulted with corporations and government agencies, including TRW, IBM, Lockheed Martin, the United Way, the U.S. military and the Education Department, Yammarino has created a leadership model that brings together contributions from psychology, management and statistics. Horowitz, who founded the independent Institute for Development Anthropology to evaluate the effect of development projects on native people and their environment, has worked extensively in Africa and Asia. He has served as a consultant for various U.N. agencies, the World Bank and other international agencies. Distinguished professorships, granted only by SUNY trustees, are above the rank of professor and are conferred on individuals who have achieved national or international prominence. • Subal Kumbhakar, professor of economics in Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, is listed in the fourth edition of Who’s Who in Economics. Kumbhakar is the author of more than 70 articles in economics journals and the book Stochastic Frontier Analysis. He has developed models to measure efficiency and productivity of railroads, airlines, agriculture, banking, manufacturing, electricity distribution, public administration and banking around the world. • Kathryn Kish Sklar, distinguished professor of history, will be the Harmsworth Professor of U.S. History at Oxford University in 2005-06. The endowed professorship is the oldest post in American history at Oxford and was established in 1922. Sklar is co-director of the Center for the Historical Study of Women and Gender and the Center for the Teaching of American History. An expert on women in social movements in the United States, especially in the Antebellum and Progressive eras, she is the first scholar in women’s history to receive the Harmsworth honor. • Isidore Okpewho, professor of Africana studies, English and comparative literature, and Donald Quataert, professor of history, have been named Guggenheim Fellows for 2003-04. Okpewho will use his award to continue his research into the use of African mythology in the New World. Quataert will use his fellowship to continue his research into the everyday lives of the coal miners of the Ottoman Empire, 1829-1922. Fellows were chosen from a pool of 3,200 applicants.

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2003



Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2003

BU, private industry team up to tackle lead-free challenge

“Five years ago, if you talked to somebody in the United States about replacing lead-tin (in microchips), they would have told you there was no way. Now here’s a huge can of worms and a lot of interesting science to explore.” — Eric Cotts


ederal environmental officials have been working for years to get the lead out of paint and other products, but have yet to turn their attention to the lead solders that literally hold together the microchip industry. That may be coming to an end. With Japan and Europe poised to begin lead-free electronics assembly within the decade, U.S. manufacturers may well be forced to follow suit. A research partnership between Binghamton University scientists and a leading microchip manufacturer could prove critical to the future of the U.S. electronics industry. With support from a $360,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Eric Cotts and Daryl Santos are teaming up with researchers from Universal Instruments, based in Binghamton, to find a dependable alternative. “In principle, there’s a health concern, and lead-based solder may eventually be outlawed,” said Universal project manager Peter Borgesen. “But we may not be up against a law so much as we will be up against public percep-

tion. Somebody’s going to start selling ‘green’ products. If we can’t, we’ll be in trouble.” In microelectronics, lead-tin solder is traditionally used to join chips or integrated circuits to the board. The Environmental Protection Agency considers lead a highly toxic metal that has been linked to everything from behavioral problems and learning disabilities to seizures and death. While lead-free microelectronics assembly means problems for manufacturers, it’s a windfall for research, said Cotts, physics professor and co-director of Binghamton’s materials science program. “For a metallurgist or a condensed matter physicist or a materials scientist, it’s a great challenge,” he said. “You have a problem that was essentially solved. Five years ago, if you talked to somebody in the United States about replacing lead-tin, they would have told you there was no way. Now here’s a huge can of worms and a lot of interesting science to explore.” There is still much to learn about the potential of the five most promising

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2003


It’s not easy being


Chemist wins EPA grant to develop nanosensors


hile conventional approaches for detecting heavy metals in water are expensive and not suited for use in the field, a Binghamton University researcher has developed a prototype nanosensor that can concentrate and trap lead particles 10 times smaller than a human hair. The prototype was enough to secure funding from


the Environmental Protection Agency for chemist Omowunmi Sadik and her collaborators to develop advanced nanosensors for continuous monitoring of other heavy metals in drinking water and industrial effluent. EPA’s “most wanted” list of metals of major environmental concern includes lead, cadmium (industrial), arsenic (natural decomposition and industrial), chromium 6 (nuclear reactors) and copper. Cadmium and copper are industrial wastes, arsenic is produced by natural decomposition and as an industrial waste, and chromium 6 is a nuclear waste product. Working with Joseph Wang from New Mexico State University, who will focus on nanofabrication of the electrodes required by the nanoreactor, and chemical engineer Ashok Muchandani of the University of California at Riverside, who will work on metal reclamation, Sadik intends to develop a one-squarecentimeter nanoreactor capable of detection and remediation of all heavy metals. In order to do that, she will first have to develop specific colloidal-metal nanoparticles that can be incorporated into a bed of electrically conducting

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2003

polymers. Analogous to integrated circuits used in semiconductors, in which millions of microcircuits are located on a silicon chip, this nanoreactor can be viewed as comprising millions of identical, elementary, molecular active sites 10 times smaller than a human hair. These molecular active sites will be generated through electromechanical synthesis and tailored to meet specific environmental or industrial needs. It is basically an elementary, molecular, heavy metal reactor that can generate molecular interactions, secure the recognition of the desired metal and decide on the reaction. Once Sadik has worked out the required chemistry from temperature and pH to the novel nanostructured materials that will be used in the nanoreactor, she is hoping the team can produce a simple device that could be used much like the paint-matching systems common to most home improvement stores. “For example, if we come up with a set of conditions for the chemicals, pH and temperature for removal of lead in water, by changing the chemistry inside the reactor we can make it applicable for industrial effluent,” she said. “And we should be able to provide a template for each of the metals in water or in industrial effluent.”

Physicist Eric Cotts is one of the researchers looking to develop lead-free alloys for use in microchips.

lead-free alloys — all some combination of tin, silver or copper. One of the most important changes is melting temperatures. Lead-tin alloys melt at 183˚C, which has become the standard of the whole industry. By comparison, it takes temperatures about 35 degrees higher to melt tinsilver-copper alloys. “That’s a huge change for the manufacturer,” Cotts said. “You have to heat the whole substrate to well above that temperature. A lot of different components are now exposed to those conditions.” Forsaking the reliability, predictability and manageability of lead-tin solder isn’t a choice U.S. electronics manufacturers readily embrace, Borgesen said. “It’s certainly not a matter of trading up. It’s not an improvement. We’re very lucky if it’s only a small step back.”

Even the basic chemistry of lead-tin makes it easier to predict reactions, Cotts agreed. Lead lowers the melting point and enhances the flow of lead-tin solder, but is essentially inert, not participating in the joining between metal and solder. That means fewer variables affect the process. To the contrary, in proposed replacements like tin-silver-copper, silver and copper react with the tin, forming intermetallic compounds, Cotts said. “Furthermore, they can diffuse very rapidly in tin,” he added, “so even though they’re present in small concentrations, they’re capable of participating in and significantly altering reactions as the solder and metal interface.” Such uncharted variables mean high anxiety for electronics manufacturers for whom the ability to make quantitative predictions about assembly yields and reliability are more important than to counterparts in other industries, Borgesen said. “If you build bridges, you build one bridge every 10 years,” he said. “That production rate allows plenty of time to check and doublecheck every operation. But electronics

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2003


It’s not easy being


manufacturing involves enormous numbers of the same product coming off assembly lines. We need an indepth understanding of the issues, technologies and materials. We need to be able to have good faith in our predictions without being able to check them often. That means we need fundamental research.” All of which is where Binghamton University becomes a windfall to Universal, Borgesen said. “We need the University as a resource — for students, who work with us in our laboratory and are a substantial part of our research program, and for the scientific support of the faculty, through whom we can link to truly fundamental academic research, We need to have a link to that. We need more than just some papers here and there. We need to be able to go over and talk to them. We need to go over and ask them questions. We need to interact and provide feedback. It’s very important not only that this work is going on over there. It’s important that it’s local to us, and we can have intense daily dialog with them.” Cotts, who studies atomic transport and mass transfer in thin film metal systems, said he looks forward to working with Santos, an associate professor of systems science and industrial engineering, and Borgesen. After exploring the evolution of the microstructure of lead-free solders through different melting and annealing heat treatments, Cotts expects to collaborate with researchers conducing a related Semiconductor Research Corporation grant on campus. That second-phase collaboration will allow researchers to investigate how the microstructure of alloys affects mechanical properties.


Oliver’s twist

Materials scientist Scott Oliver is helping to develop new materials to trap pollutants.

NSF award recognizes new talent in materials research


Binghamton University materials scientist, whose research could soon make it possible to safely and permanently “mop up” negatively charged pollutants like arsenates, phosphates and technetates, has received the prestigious National Science Foundation Career Award, which is given to promising new scientists. It’s likely to mean at least $500,000 over the next five years to support the research of Scott Oliver, an assistant professor of chemistry in his fourth year at Binghamton, who is working on a new class of microporous inorganic materials.

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2003

These crystalline materials, filled with molecule-sized holes, enjoy a $2.9 billion annual global market in petroleum refining, water treatment, air purification, chemical processing, manufacturing, environmental control and gas processing. Oliver’s materials, however, will boast an important, heretofore unheard of, twist. Microporous materials are naturally occurring minerals or synthetic compounds that trap oppositely charged substances within their pores. Until now, these host compounds have been anionic — negatively charged — so that only positively charged substances could reside as “guests.” Oliver

and his team, however, have synthesized the first of what should be a new class of cationic — positively charged — extended metal oxides for anionbased applications. “It opens up a whole range of potential applications,” he said. “We’re looking at anion trapping because most heavy metals form anions.” His cationic compounds could be used to trap many common industrial pollutants. Because these materials are inorganic, they are more stable than organic materials. They stand up to high temperatures or acidic/basic conditions, making them ideal for catalyzing many industrially important reactions. The practical applications could be far-reaching. Oliver’s graduate adviser, Geoffrey A. Ozin, professor of materials chemistry at the University of Toronto, isn’t surprised the NSF has recognized Oliver’s promise. “Scott’s graduate work with me was genuinely spectacular and deeply unusual,” Ozin said. “His thesis work opened a door into a realm of chemistry and materials that we had not known existed before. He is an outstanding young scientist with tremendous potential to make creative and significant contributions to materials chemistry.” Oliver returns Ozin’s compliments: “He is one of the top material chemists in the world, and he totally changed my life.” So, too, he admits, will the NSF award. “Now I can get the equipment, the chemicals and the graduate student support I need. I can really get things rolling.” Oliver is working on three other projects that involve unprecedented approaches to problems in materials chemistry:

• Developing the use of organic polymers as a template for growing inorganic materials. The organic template can then be stripped away by burning or dissolving, leaving a highly stable inorganic material with micron-sized pores. These could be used in solar cells, water purification and thermal insulation. • Developing a self-assembled monolayer (SAM) usable as the insulating layer in electronic devices. Oliver’s approach circumvents the current expensive process involving deposition of a metal film by thermal evaporation. It may have impact in manufacturing a range of electronics such as capacitors, displays, chips and solar cells. • A collaborative project with professors Jungyun Cho, Bahgat Sammakia and Wayne Jones, funded through a seed grant from the Infotonics Consortium in Rochester, using ceramics and SAM technology to produce coatings for various surfaces, such as micromirror arrays used by NASA. “All these ideas are not extensions of what’s out there,” Oliver said. “I haven’t seen anything like what we’re doing anywhere.” Oliver knows his work may result in discoveries of significant commercial impact, probably soon: “I think if we just keep at it, we could hit on it tomorrow.” When that happens, it will come as no surprise to Oliver’s pre-kindergarten teacher, who used to tell his mother, “This kid is going to go far.” But Oliver, who came to Binghamton from a postdoctoral position at Harvard, isn’t planning on going too far — at least not in trading academia for industry. “I like both teaching and research,” he said. “Being here at Binghamton has been great. It’s really worked out.”

“Oliver’s thesis work opened a door into a realm of chemistry and materials that we had not known existed before.” — Geoffrey A. Ozin, University of Toronto

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2003





Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2003

In today’s nanotech world, even the smallest change can lead to big payoffs


Small change. Though often a pejorative term suggesting something is expendable or unimportant, in today’s nanotech parlance that phrase has assumed new stature. In the world of nanoscience, where researchers work with materials and tools in the one- to 100-nanometer range (at a scale five times smaller than a virus), small changes can mean huge strides in invention and discovery and, possibly, giant leaps in economic potential. Across the disciplines, Binghamton research faculty are finding ways to tease big payoffs from small change, whether at the nanometer level or by tweaking new perspectives out of old ways of looking at things. When we consider the future, one thing seems certain: The next big thing will come from small change.

A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, 10 times the diameter of the hydrogen atom and about a hundred thousandth of the diameter of a human hair.

Craig Laramee spends most days sitting in front of his computer trying to figure out how to get enormous data sets, populated by tiny bits of information about cellular activity, to reveal the vital information they contain about biological systems. He is a bioengineer, specializing in bioinformatics. His algorithmic approach is just one example of many new fields that require researchers to think big about very small stuff as they attempt to exact large payoffs from small change. From healthcare and manufacturing to agriculture and consumer products, nanoscale science and engineering are promising to change the way we live.

Laramee’s focus is on developing algorithms that allow researchers to see the larger patterns formed by very small, very meaningful changes in the body. Using new-age instruments like gene and protein arrays, he and his research collaborators are able to record hundreds of thousands of infinitesimal changes in cellular activity. Given the right analysis, these infinitesimal changes combine to create discernible patterns that can aid in the understanding of disease states. At present, Laramee and his cross-disciplinary collaborators are working to understand how thyroid and breast cancers develop.

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2003


Binghamton scientist and professor Eric Dietrich, paraphrasing 1959 advice from physicist Richard Feynman:

“If you want to make a name for yourself, get involved in

nanotechnology.” But like many researchers working in the nanosciences, Laramee is far from single-minded. He is also part of another team working to model a certain class of proteins — called extracellular matrix proteins — that are key managers in cellular selforganization. As the name implies, extracellular matrix proteins exist outside the cell, but they significantly contribute to the framework and therefore the way in which cells develop. Understanding them and being able to replicate or tweak their assembly will afford researchers an opportunity to exert some control over cellular development. Laramee and his research partners are particularly interested in modeling fibronectin, elastin and fibroin, or spider silk — all of which could lead to more accurate diagnostic tools for breast and thyroid cancer, biological scaffolding to grow artificial tissues, better skin care products, and new materials that are as strong as a spider’s drag line, the tensile strength of which is greater than steel. Across the board, small-scale research has far-reaching applications. The U.S. government obviously agrees. It plans to spend big money on smallscale science and technology over the next three years. President Bush is asking for $847 million for the National Nanotechnology Initiative for the 2004 fiscal year. About a third of


that money would go to the National Science Foundation, a third to the Defense Department and the remainder to other agencies, including the Department of Energy. The NSF has already announced a program seeking collaborative research and education projects in nanoscale science and engineering in areas such as nanoscale biosystems; nanoscale structures, devices and materials; quantum control; nanoscale manufacturing processes; and studies on the societal and education implications of such small but sweeping advances. Binghamton University research has also been tapped for $2.4 million in federal appropriations for sensor and protein dynamics research, both of which heavily depend on nanoscience and engineering. In addition, the New

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2003

York State Senate has awarded the University $15 million to spend on the renovation of a building at the 21-acre Innovative Technologies Complex, where nano-research is expected to help enhance the local and regional economy through job creation and technology transfer. Laramee’s place in that promising big picture has been secured by forsaking the more traditional research approach that focuses on finding simple, single-element explanations for complex biological phenomena — from cancer to wrinkles. “It used to be researchers would be looking for a specific gene or a specific protein associated with a tumor,” he said. “We’re more interested in pattern changes. We’re looking for a large number of small changes, rather than a small number of large changes. “Historically,” Laramee said, “there’s

Big numbers for tiny measurements


t’s a paradox of epic proportions: Some of the smallest things in the world are measured in very, very large numbers. Consider the humble mole. Unlike the furry insectivore of the same name, the scientific mole is one of seven base units in the International System of Units, the modern metric system of measurement. “Mole” is the term that describes the base unit of the amount of a pure substance. Represented as 6.022 x 1023 units, it is derived from the German mol — short for molekulargewich, or molecular weight. When converting numbers from scientific notation, the small superscript number at the upper right corner of the 10, which is known as the exponent, represents the number of zeroes to be added to the right of the 1. Ten to the 23rd power, then, translates into 1 with 23 zeroes after it. Multiplied by 6.022, this means that one mole contains about 602,200,000,000,000,000,000,000 units. Though that’s a very large number, moles are used to measure very small things — usually atoms or molecules. On the other hand, while the numeric expression of the nanometer also contains lots of zeroes, their placement to the left of the 10 and to the right of a decimal point makes it clear that they are there to represent a very tiny measurement. A nanometer is represented as 10-9. That’s one billionth of a meter, or .000000001. While a meter is about the size of a yardstick, a nanometer is 50,000 to 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Other small measures and their interchangeable prefixes include: Femtosecond: 10-15, one millionth of a nanosecond Picogram: 10-12, one trillionth of a gram Attomole: 10-18, one quintillionth of a mole Zeptometer: 10–21, one sextillionth of a meter Yoctosecond: 10-24, one septillionth of a second

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2003


a mindset that says you try to understand a system by breaking it up into its individual parts and understanding each component.” While that more traditional approach often works in manufactured systems, such as a car or a computer, biological systems are complex, dynamic and self-organizing, he argues, and the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. That means that an ecological viewpoint — one that recognizes that no change in the system is likely to happen in isolation, and that most, if not all, changes will have a ripple effect throughout the system — is better advised. It is an approach, Laramee says, that is supported quite well at Binghamton University, where some of the greatest minds in systems science hold faculty appointments. It is also an approach, he says, that represents the future.

The more things



he meaning and nature of change has fascinated great minds since recorded time. Today, legions of philosophers and hosts of cognitive scientists continue the effort to resolve what may be one of the world’s greatest paradoxes: How do change and constancy coexist in the world and the human mind? Binghamton University Professor Eric Dietrich is sure of at least one thing. Our creativity, and likely our very survival, depends on the fact that they somehow do.

“Without some


ric Dietrich agrees. A cognitive scientist and philosophy professor who works with algorithms in an attempt to enhance artificial intelligence and our understanding of cognition and the human mind, Dietrich points to the past as a waystation for the future. The first speech ever written on the topic of nanotechnology, he notes, was a classic presentation called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” delivered by physicist Richard Feynman in 1959. While research of that era tended to take place at a macro-level, Feynman proposed the possibility of developing the general ability to manipulate things at an atomic scale. “This was Feynman’s point,” Dietrich said. “If you want to make a


Imagine having no memory in a world rife with change. Everything and everyone is brand-new to you at every moment. You don’t recognize family members. You don’t recognize your surroundings. You don’t recognize that you are the same person you were as a child — or even last week. You don’t know whether things are safe to eat or drink, or what the darkening sky and blustering winds might foreshadow. No past. No future. Just a totally confounding present in which the word “change” has lost all relevance and meaning, because that’s all there is. If the scenario is unnerving, that’s likely because it would probably mean the end of life as we know it. “Without some thread of constancy,”

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2003

agreed Eric Dietrich, a cognitive scientist and philosopher of the mind, “we’d be toast.” According to Dietrich, what actually happens for most of us is that change and constancy engage in a mysterious and symbiotic dance — a reel in which the two alternate the lead, working separately and in collaboration to inform our perceptions and interpretations of the world. Fortuitously, this results in a sum significantly greater than the parts. It also points to the kind of properties that continue to fuel cognitive studies and perplex cognitive scientists, Dietrich said. “You’ve got a whole bunch of neurons doing their thing in the brain,” he said. “What individual neurons do

Eric Dietrich

found in analogy and abstraction, both of which are at the heart of his current research interests. Analogy depends on and is characterized by an ability to draw similarities between things that are dissimilar. Abstraction, Dietrich said, is the act of developing a general sense, or “gist notion,” from many specific pieces of information. He is working in both areas through the development of algorithms to inform the development of artificial intelligence and his studies

world chess champions,” he added. “But at the end of the game, [Garry] Kasparov can stand up and go home. He can tie his shoes. He can make pasta. He can have a conversation” — all things Deep Blue, obviously, cannot do. Dietrich thinks his work helps to demonstrate that abstraction and analogy are key to the problem of constancy with change. He also hopes to learn more about how both relate to the kind of human creativity and artificial intelligence that will fuel the

thread of constancy, we’d be toast.” is very sophisticated. But it’s nothing compared to what a whole human can do. “Somehow, you end up with a language-speaking human engaged in trying to establish world peace. That’s a little hard to predict from neuronal activity in the brain. We couldn’t even predict consciousness from the neuronal activity in the brain.” Still it is minds, after all, that keep an ever-changing world from utter chaos, most philosophers now agree. “The world is constantly changing, but humans stamp constancy on it with their minds,” Dietrich said. “Minds make an ever-changing world somewhat constant. But no one is really sure how we manage to pull it off.” How is it that we develop and sustain the kind of constancy that is critical to learning, relationships and, very possibly, our basic sanity and survival in an ever-changing world? Dietrich thinks the answer might be

of cognition and the human mind. In 1909, when it suddenly occurred to Ernest Rutherford that electrons must hold the negative charge of atoms and that they must also orbit the nucleus “like planets around the sun,” Rutherford was abstracting from bits of data before him — drawing an analogy between a familiar, or “constant,” idea and an observed phenomenon or perception to arrive at a brand-new concept, Dietrich said. Though analogy research is a great success story in cognitive science, Dietrich said researchers are still a long way from building a machine that can spontaneously do what Rutherford did. “We have artificial neural networks that do a good job of perceptual abstraction,” he said. “They can look at your face and my face and, despite the obvious differences, they can abstract the notion of ‘face.’ “We even have machines — Deep Blue — that can sometimes beat

most promising nanoscale changes of the future. “It’s one thing to know the actual string of bases in the human genome,” Dietrich said. “It’s another thing to know what to do with that information.”

The nature of change: an old argument

Early debates about change and constancy generally addressed the two notions as mutually exclusive. In Ancient Greece, either everything in the world was changing, as argued by Heraclitus, or nothing was, as argued by Parmenides and his followers. Heraclitus is often credited with laying the foundation for all other speculation on physics and metaphysics. The Parmenidians haven’t been heard from of late.

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name for yourself, get involved in nanotechnology.” In his presentation, Feynman suggested that by the year 2000, the world would be asking why 1950s- and ’60s-era researchers had waited so long to embrace the challenges of small-scale research. But as it stands, in 2003, there’s no finger-pointing. We ourselves

are just beginning to scratch the surface, Dietrich said. “Things are getting small across the board with some very nice consequences,” he said. “DNA computing? That’s sexy stuff. And then there’s quantum computing, which is really, really sexy stuff. “All that work on chaos theory and

Integrated Electronics Engineering Center charts new “micro” direction


esearchers in the University’s Integrated Electronics Engineering Center are making a big deal out of small-scale electronics manufacturing. The new focus is part of the IEEC’s mission to help the United States regain pre-eminence in the electronics industry and to create and sustain regional jobs in electronics packaging by conducting research and reliability testing. “There’s no question that electronics manufacturing in the United States and worldwide is changing,” said Bahgat Sammakia, who has led the IEEC, a state Center for Advanced Technology, for the past four years. “Many jobs are leaving the country and will not come back. Whenever a product becomes a very straightforward commodity that can be manufactured anywhere, it will be manufactured elsewhere.” That reality creates a “change or perish” environment for the domestic

electronics industry. Cheaper off-shore labor has led to a steady decline in traditional American electronics manufacturing jobs and the loss of revenue for sustaining research and development critical to creating next-

Good things in


generation products. Without those products, companies stand little chance of survival. With electronics consumers most interested in buying ever smaller and more functional devices, research supporting their development and manufacture is a crucial niche university research centers like the IEEC need to fill, Sammakia said. “The advantage for companies to

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fractals? That was the big thing a few years ago, and while the hype has faded, all that work still needs to go on.” The bottom line, Dietrich said, is that we need to spend more money and time on things we can’t begin to see with the human eye, or even through classic microscopes. “We have so much further to go, it

stay in the United States is not going to be lower-cost manufacturing, it’s going to be for advanced technology.” As part of its standing commitment to foster development of the electronics industry, the IEEC will move into areas where micro- and nano-technologies, like microelectric mechanical systems, or MEMS; optical MEMS, known as MOEMS; and nanostructured materials are the clear wave of the future.


would be fine to spend the next 100 years with everyone rushing to the bottom,” he said.

Engineering Center is charting new directions that will maintain its commitment to traditional electronics packaging while pursuing nanoscale packaging. That’s not an easy task, because many of the rules change when working at the nano level. Materials behave in ways that scientists could never have predicted, and even the

Researchers across Binghamton’s



These require “a very different infrastructure than we have today, both from the research and the manufacturing perspective,” Sammakia said. “The infrastructure we have today is suitable for objects as small as tens of microns, where a micron is 10–6 meters. The nanostructure scale we’re moving to is tens of nanometers, or 10–9 meters: three orders of magnitude smaller.” If you figure the old standby for

packages size comparisons, the human hair, is about 100,000 nanometers wide, you’ll have some idea of what microelectronics are about. Small-scale work creates new challenges for researchers and manufacturers, including the need for cleaner, more controlled environments, Sammakia said. An errant dust particle can completely obliterate elements from researchers’ view. “The good news,” he noted, “is that an assembly line may require considerably less space than traditional assembly lines.” It also requires vibration-free

campus are taking on the challenges and embracing the promise of small change. The University’s worldrenowned Integrated Electronics

“We have to look at the behavior of materials and structures in a completely fresh way. It requires not just a new physical infrastructure, but a new intellectual infrastructure.” — Bahgat Sammakia, director of the Integrated Electronics Engineering Center

Community partners facilities and significantly more accurate instrumentation as well as willingness to change. While basic physics are understood at the nanostructure scale, materials and structures can behave completely differently at that scale, and a defect that could be ignored at the micron level probably is not tolerable at nanometer scale. It’s likely even basic assumptions about materials behavior will need to be rethought. “When we model things at the large scale, we tend to consider only effects we feel are relevant,” Sammakia noted. “When we change scales, these assumptions are not good anymore. We have to look at the behavior of materials and structures in a completely fresh way. It requires not just a new physical infrastructure, but a new intellectual infrastructure.”

The shift by the Integrated Electronics Engineering Center to small-scale research is compatible with its mission and its ongoing commitment to traditional electronics manufacturing. Research support and reliability testing services provided by the IEEC have attracted large national electronics companies, including IBM, ADI and GE Corporate Research, and local companies such as Universal Instruments, Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems, to the center’s membership. Full IEEC membership costs about $60,000 annually and provides access to student and faculty research expertise, diagnostic equipment, literature, laboratories and intellectual property produced by IEEC. With more than 50 other partners at participating or associate member levels, the IEEC yearly contributes $30 million to the Southern Tier economy.

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Some of BU scientists’ “little” projects in nanoscience • Thermal management devices. Interposers and interface materials for such applications as electronics packaging reduce thermal resistance and increase conductivity. • Electrical interconnect systems. Using nanoscale structures improves electrical interconnectivity between adhesively attached component structures. • Protective coatings. Ceramic/organic bilayer coatings have been developed for silicon and organic surfaces through novel processing techniques and microstructural design to more reliably protect silicon surfaces used in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and eliminate the need for hermetic packaging.

• Selective protective ceramics/SAM bilayer coatings for MEMS mirror applications. The disclosed procedure eliminates the need for an aggressive etching step in manufacturing the silicon mirrors used in MEMS devices in order to provide electrical interconnection sites on the metal bonding pads. As a result, manufacturing steps are simplified and the costs of manufacturing reduced. • Protective ceramic/bilayer coatings used as a hermetic encapsulation on organic packages. The innovation addresses the need for a reliable protective coating process and material to protect typical organic (plastic) packages. • A new technology for processing the size, shape and surface of core-shell nanoparticles. The invention is a new technology that allows highly efficient processing and controlled uniform production of core-shell types of metal and alloy nanoparticles. Because of the simplicity, versatility and cost-effectiveness of the technology, it may be utilized in a variety of applications, including the generation of fuel cell catalysts and the production of chemical sensing and biological labeling materials.


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• A new technology for assembling core-shell nanoparticles as thin films of controlled thickness and interparticle morphology. The invention is a new one-step technology for the assembly of core-shell metal and nanoparticles as thin films on any type of substrate, with a controlled thickness and interparticle morphology. Because of the simplicity, cost-effectiveness and applicability for the coating of potentially any substrate, the technology may be utilized in a variety of applications, in a variety of industrial sectors involved in computer chip manufacture, microelectronics, sensors and chemical catalysis. • A new technology for activating core-shell assembled and alloy nanoparticles and catalysts. The invention is a new technology that allows highly efficient/ effective preparation of core-shell types of metal and alloy nanoparticles as catalysts. • Fabrication of size-controlled spherical assembly of metal nanoparticles. In comparison with other methods for assembling nanoparticles into spherical assemblies of different size using polymeric structures with molecular recognition groups, the disclosed method has the ability to control size, shape and inter-assembly nanoparticle special properties. • Sensor arrays with nanostructured sensing materials for detecting nitroaromatic vapors. In this invention, core-shell nanoparticles are assembled as thin films and used as chemoselective array sensing probes with extremely high response sensitivity and selectivity to nitroaromatic vapors. • Nanofibrous fluorescent chemical sensors. The disclosure describes the structure and mode of preparation of fluorescent conjugated polymer nanofibers having extremely high surface-to-volume ratios. The resulting fibers may be used in the manufacture of highly sensitive sensor devices. • Gold-based alloy nanoparticles for use as fuel cell catalysts. The invention describes a new class of goldalloy nanoparticle catalysts for fuel cell anode and cathode electrocatalysis.

The NSF projects nanotech as a

$1 trillion market by 2015, and many observers think that’s conservative.

effects of gravity diminish. Nanoscale manufacturing presents new challenges in the development of materials, tools, assembly and quality assurance. Elsewhere on campus, recent invention disclosures include more than a dozen that represent interdisciplinary innovations in nanoscience, nanomaterials and nanotechnology, said Donald Colbert, assistant vice president for technology transfer and economic outreach. These disclosures all have two things in common, Colbert said. “They all address real-time problems with cutting-edge technologies, and almost all are interdisciplinary and interdepartmental. Physi-

cists working with chemists working with biologists working with engineers working with philosophers working with anthropologists working with educators and sociologists. Crossfertilization is taking over where disciplinary isolation used to hold sway. And the snowball keeps growing, one discovery at a time.”

What are the limits of small change? For now, at least, there seem to be no limits on nanoscience. Binghamton researchers are even finding ways to illuminate questions as large as the chemistry of ancient seawater by tracking small change. Tim Lowenstein, a professor of geology specializing in low-temperature geochemistry, and his

research team have developed ways to study tiny drops of seawater trapped inside salt crystals. These techniques allow researchers to accurately analyze the chemistry of seawater inclusions 100 times smaller than with previous techniques. “One outcome of this research is that geologists are making interesting connections between relatively small changes in ancient seawater salt composition and the evolution of organisms that build their shells out of calcium carbonate,” Lowenstein said. His work has helped to show that shell builders — for example, algae and corals — have been heavily influenced by small changes in the chemistry of the oceans, particularly when it comes to levels of calcium and magnesium. “Because these elements are involved in skeleton construction,” Lowenstein said, “when the calcium and magnesium concentrations change in seawater, reefbuilding organisms change in response.” In the past several years, Lowenstein’s work has debunked age-old presumptions that the chemistry of seawater had remained unchanged over 600 million years. His small-scale discoveries are helping to provide new contexts for the history and evolution of ocean-dwelling plants and animals. As if all of this isn’t a big enough payoff from small thinking, consider this: The NSF projects nanotechnology as a $1 trillion market by 2015, and many observers think that’s conservative. New machines thinner than a human hair, diagnostics that will function at the molecular level, materials that will be lighter, stronger and more versatile — these are just a few of the huge rewards Binghamton University researchers expect to see as a result of their growing commitment to small change.

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Cancer cures Researcher looks for synthetic successor to Taxol


he work of a Binghamton chemistry professor is altering conventional wisdom about the interactions of the anti-cancer drug Taxol® in ways that could lead to development of more effective next-generation pharmaceuticals. With funding from the National Institutes of Health, Susan Bane and her research team are working with David Kingston of Virginia Polytechnic Institute to learn more about the protein known as tubulin. “Tubulin is a target for a number of anti-cancer drugs,” Bane said. Found in the highest concentrations in the brain’s nerve cells, tubulin is critical to cell growth and can help control the spread of cancer, characterized by uncontrolled cell growth.


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Pacific yew tree, Taxus brevifolia, identifying it as paclitaxel. Almost another 20 years passed before clinical trials began. Not until 1992 did BristolMyers Squibb’s drug Taxol receive conditional FDA approval for treating metastatic ovarian cancer. Much of that time, scientists were struggling not only to understand and maximize paclitaxel’s therapeutic effects, but also to make it cost-effective and easy to administer. The Pacific yew, one of the slowest-growing trees, is environmentally protected. Because only infinitesimal amounts of the compound can be isolated from the bark, it takes six 100-year-old trees to provide enough Taxol for just one patient. Removing the bark kills the tree, so the cost of producing Taxol remained a limiting factor. Fortunately, a closely related paclitaxel analog was discovered in the leaves of a European species of orna-

“If you want to build a new drug based on an old one, you have to know how the original one works. We are laying that foundation.” — Susan Bane Bane has been studying tubulin for over a decade, as well as Taxol, an anticancer drug used to treat many breast, ovarian and lung cancers. Once, scientists thought the synthetic portion of the Taxol molecule was key to its effectiveness, because it binds with the receptor. But Bane’s discovery, published in Biochemistry, is that the naturally occurring part of Taxol does most of the work. A major money-maker for BristolMyers Squibb Company, Taxol earns the pharmaceutical giant around $1.5 billion a year in the United States alone. By determining how anti-cancer drugs

like Taxol interact with tubulin at the molecular level, Bane is helping to pave the way for developing better drugs. Taxol’s convoluted origins clarify why producing it and understanding how it works is challenging. In the early 1960s, the National Cancer Institute initiated screening of biological extracts collected from various natural sources. One extract exhibited significant anti-tumor activity against a broad range of rodent tumors. Five years later, researchers isolated the active compound from the bark of the

mental shrub, Taxus baccata. Although extraction and chemical elaboration of the substance remained labor-intensive, the source was renewable, and researchers obtained sufficient quantities for clinical trials. By the late 1990s, Taxol’s properties had made it a shining star in cancer treatment. By then, too, synthetic organic chemists had produced sufficient quantities of the drug to provide a non-intrusive alternative to radiation therapy and surgery. Taxol is today primarily used to treat solid tumors —

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notoriously stubborn, Bane said. As commercially available, Taxol is semi-synthetic — consisting of one natural and one artificial part. It is “a very big and complicated molecule,” said Bane. “The complicated core part can be isolated from the needles of the yew, a sustainable source. The less complicated part can be made synthetically.” Taxol binds to microtubules — protein polymers that are part of the cell’s structure — and disrupts the cell division that enables growth. “Taxol binds to them and prevents them from disassembling,” said Bane. “The cell dies.” Using natural products against cancer is big business. “More than half of the drugs we use have natural products as their origin,” said Bane. “The next ‘big thing’ will fight cancer as well as Taxol, but will be easier to administer and will not produce resistance.” To speed that discovery, Bane and her team are determining what Taxol does to tubulin, the main microtubule protein — which parts are important and which non-essential, as well as the shape of the molecule when interacting with the protein. Her research progresses through study and analysis of Taxol derivatives, each containing some of the Taxol atoms. Learning how Taxol works on tubulin will benefit scientists seeking more effective anti-cancer drugs. But even so, finding Taxol’s replacement may involve many fits and starts, Bane said. New drugs may have low “therapeutic windows” (the margin between toxic and effective doses), have adverse side effects or be difficult to administer. Still, Bane knows her work is crucial to more effective cancer treatment. “If you want to build a new drug based on an old one, you have to know how the original one works,” Bane said. “We are laying that foundation.”


Cancer cures Modeling nature’s chemistry may help stop the disease


n an organic chemistry laboratory in the Science II building, Scott Handy is whipping up batches of new substances modeled after natural compounds found in sea sponges and tobacco plants. Some of the synthetic compounds could help in the fight against cancer and AIDS. Others could provide a safer, more effective and affordable alternative to the traditional solvents organic chemists use to catalyze reactions and synthesize compounds, one molecule at a time.

A synthetic organic chemist, Handy enjoys creating and nurturing things, organic and otherwise. When it comes to his research, even though synthesizing molecules takes years of dedication and patience, the success of creation is only half the fun, he said. “For some people, making a molecule is sufficient, and that certainly is enough of a challenge much of the time,” he said. “But what I really like about synthesis is that if you can make a molecule, you can make a molecule that you can do something with. And

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that’s what breathes life into things for me. It adds a level of excitement and purpose to my research.” That probably explains Handy’s interest in synthesizing a family of compounds known as lamellarins, which are derived from marine sponges native to the Indian Ocean. Deadly, or cytotoxic, to cancer cells, lamellarins have shown the ability to kill cancer cell lines considered multidrugresistant. Such cell lines have cancer’s version of a bilge pump, Handy said — an

enzyme that transports most drugs out of the cell before they take effect. The cells are thus resistant to many cancer drugs and treatments. Once introduced into multidrug-resistant cancer cells, though, lamellarins quickly disable and disrupt the cells’ pumps. They remain in the cancer cells until the cells are killed off by the lamellarins or a companion drug. Unfortunately, for all their promise in treating cancer and AIDS, where they have shown the ability to inhibit HIV integrase and thereby control the disease, lamellarins, like many naturally occurring substances, are difficult and expensive to obtain. The most obvious source — ripping up chunks of coral reef to secure marine sponges — is illegal in many places and is not good environmental practice. Even if marine sponges were readily available, they produce lamellarins in such infinitesimal quantities that collecting and commercializing their use is impractical. However, after more than two years of work, Handy’s group has successfully synthesized the molecular skeleton of the lamellarins — which will allow them to begin seeking ways

to simplify it, while maintaining or amplifying its abilities. Each new variation of a compound is referred to as an analog, and homing in on the best analog can be long and exhaustive, Handy said. The pharmaceutical industry, for instance, expects to make about 100,000 analogs before finding a compound it can take to clinical trials — the phase Handy refers to as the “Lego” approach. “That’s the stage where we start taking the Scott Handy compound apart

Synthetic organic chemists might begin their work by dumping scoops of materials into large flasks, Handy said. But in the end — sometimes after 10, 15 or even 20 reactions and, if the compound is complex, two or more years later — they may be left with an end product needing to be measured at the milligram level, barely visible. The “Lego” approach allows chemists to find ways to produce effective substances more easily and cost-effectively. Handy is also exploring how organic synthesis can be accomplished more safely. Key to almost every organic synthesis are reaction solvents. Normally toxic, flammable, highly volatile and petroleum based, these substances dissolve the different molecules that

Using something analogous to a “Lego” approach, the pharmaceutical industry expects to make about 100,000 variations of a compound before finding one it can take to clinical trials. and ask ‘What happens if we stick the different parts together in a mix-andmatch way?’” he said. “Now that we have the whole skeleton figured out, we can put it together however we want.” That will allow Handy and his team to isolate parts that provide the desired activities, in this case cytotoxicity, inhibition of HIV integrase or interaction with tubulin. A protein key to cell replication, tubulin is critical in progression of many cancers which hijack normal cell replication and ramp it up. Compounds that interfere with tubulin, however, can halt cell replication, arresting cancer in its tracks. Handy is working with another BU researcher, Susan Bane, an expert on tubulin, to explore its interaction with lamellarins.

react to form a new molecule, helping this reaction to proceed efficiently. They can be costly, and, because of their toxicity, even more costly to dispose of — which needs to be done with troubling regularity. Handy is developing nicotine-based reaction solvents that seem to have none of the drawbacks of traditional solvents. “Building these things out of a biorenewable resource, no longer based on petroleum, is a big selling point,” Handy said. “But even more than that, these are recyclable systems, so you can use the solvent over and over.” Handy said his work has attracted interest from Philip Morris Inc., which is seeking applications for tobacco and nicotine in areas including the environmental sciences.

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low-power electrically driven pumping device developed by a Binghamton chemistry professor and a team of student researchers could significantly enhance the quality of life for diabetics worldwide. C. J. Zhong, assistant professor of chemistry, is leading the effort to develop a device that will perform microfluidic analysis inside the body, monitoring insulin levels and delivering precise amounts of insulin as needed. Zhong has dubbed it a “pumpless pump,” because it lacks mechanical parts. A wire sends an electrical voltage to two fluid columns the width of a

little fuel and producing no waste. One example is the space shuttle. “If you want to analyze water quality, you can take as little a sample as possible,” he said. “If it’s a long duration, the supply is going to run out, and astronauts have to make sure the water is drinkable.” He said the pumping device can also be remotely controlled. “One lab we’re working with is interested in metal contaminants from nuclear waste,” said Zhong. “Their current technology is to go in the field, take samples of contamiC. J. Zhong is leading an effort to develop a nated soil and analyze them back in the miniature device to monitor insulin levels. lab. We want to make remote-controlled portable chip devices that sit in the detector, a tiny electrical wire, will field.” measure insulin levels constantly and The technology rests on making lab respond by electrically charging the machinery smaller and more efficient. fluid in the column to make it move. The Just as computers have evolved into motion triggers the injector to supply small and fast models, Zhong hopes to the body with more insulin from an create what he calls a “lab on a chip” by external source. shrinking the machinery in a chemistry Because less time has passed between laboratory to the size of computer chips. injections, insulin levels do not fluctuate The benefits are numerous. Smaller as dramatically as they do for diabetics equipment uses fewer resources and who constantly monitor blood glucose creates less waste because it requires less level and respond to insulin deficits fuel. Zhong’s new pump runs on an with injections. This system works like a electrical current supplied by a tiny thermostat, analyzing a small sample battery. A conventional pump could and telling other components how to require the power of a generator, which respond. needs gasoline and emits toxic fumes. Zhong’s device will be so small that Design is a big advantage to Zhong’s doctors can insert it into the body. It device. While mechanical parts need

Miniature device has human hair. Applying opposite charges to each side of the column causes the fluids to oscillate, simulating the action of a pump. The pumping device will be the size of a computer chip, perhaps as small as an adult’s fingernail, said Zhong. It includes a detector, a column filled with moving liquid and an injector. The

BIG potential

will be wireless, powered by a small battery pack. He stresses that the pump is not an “artificial pancreas,” but is merely one part of a system that could someday be just that. Diabetics are not the only ones who may benefit. Every small, closed environment, said Zhong, can benefit from miniature equipment requiring

maintenance and repair, a pumpless pump doesn’t need lubrication, repairs or spare parts — and is practically weightless. The invention is still in the prototype state, but mass production is not far off. “This is going to take off very fast,” Zhong said — perhaps within three to four years.

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BU research sends computing technology in new direction


pintronics may evoke images of a whirring, robotized top, an electromechanical BattleBots gladiator or a glitzy high-tech toy. But for Binghamton University condensed matter physicist Jian Wang, it is a hightech gift of a different kind. Wang has received a room-sized $1.4 million ion beam deposition system to further his research in spintronics — a spin-based electronics that is fueling quantum leaps in computer technology. The machine arrived with $200,000 in research materials donated to the University by computer hard drives manufacturer Seagate.


Only a decade old, spintronics combines physics and electronics by harnessing the “spin” of electrons to control current and store information. It is a direction that will likely revolutionize the computer industry. “Professor Wang’s research in advanced spintronics devices and concepts is very important,” said Pat Ryan, executive engineering director for Seagate. “It could give Seagate valuable, direct knowledge for future product development and lead to a fundamental change in magnetic devices, storage and computing.” Within the next five years, spintronics should offer computer users the ultimate gift: a guarantee against

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losing files, even in a catastrophic power outage. How does spintronics work? In addition to mass and charge, electrons have a quantum property called spin. Imagine them as perpetually spinning marbles. In ordinary electronic circuits, the orientation of the electrons’ spin, labeled either “up” or “down,” is random, not affecting current flow, which is controlled only by the charge. In spintronic devices, however, a defined magnetic field is used to manipulate spin and, in combination with the electron charge, to control the current. This allows dynamic use of information stored by electrons as a particular spin orientation. Like digital computers’ 0s and 1s, spintronic bits are written as “up” or “down” orientations. Spintronics could allow computer manufacturers to replace dynamic random access memory, Pentium chips and hard drives with a single chip.

Within the next five years, spintronics should offer computer users the ultimate gift: a guarantee against losing files, even in a catastrophic power outage. The use of spin itself is not new. The recording industry has long used magnetic media to store information in bits comprising electron spin. But that approach provides slow access and processing times, Wang said. Spintronics actively manipulates spin to control current, so that information is stored as it is processed. In today’s computers, internal memory processes information and external memory stores files and data. The two are uncoupled and shuffling time between them is slow. Once you shut your computer down, anything being processed that has not yet been shipped to external memory is lost. “The idea of spintronics is to eliminate the boundary between external and internal memory,” Wang said. “Information being processed is

never lost.” Wang researches technologies using spin as the controlling mechanism in quantum communication and computing. The ion beam deposition system makes ultrathin magnetic films in an ultraclean environment, which controls the quality of the interface between the semiconductor and electrode layers in a spintronic device — critical to fabricating electrode structures at the nanometer scale. Producing the films requires vaporization of metal target materials in a vacuum so that vapors settle on a completely smooth substrate surface, like fog on a mirror. These films are nano-thin. (The width of a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers.) Incredibly, vaporizing a one-pound metal target would probably produce more than enough film that

thin to cover every surface of every building on the 887-acre Binghamton University campus. That’s why small quantities of target material are actually vaporized during production. Seagate’s donated equipment, and more than 50 pounds of “target” materials from which films will be vaporized, will enable Wang’s lab to produce in one hour samples it would have taken a week to make without it, he said. Wang and his team will now be working to keep up with assessing the qualities and characteristics of the host of samples they expect to produce. That’s important, Wang said, in determining how economically spintronic devices can be made. The microelectronics industry has already developed prototypes of non-volatile random access memory based on the technology. Wang’s research may ensure that spintronic devices find their way out of the laboratory and into the marketplace.

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Bone of

contention 28

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Bioengineering approach points to different causes (and cures) for osteoporosis


or years, popular media have preached — especially to women — that dietary calcium and exercise prevent osteoporosis, with warnings that ignoring this fact will result in rapid bone loss. But neither weight-bearing exercise nor calcium supplements — not even a combination — is capable of triggering bone growth. So says Kenneth McLeod, chair of Binghamton’s Bioengineering Department and a leading researcher in tissue development, healing and adaptation. But, thanks to McLeod, this doesn’t mean everyone needs to prepare for a life of dealing with chronic bone weakness and disfigurement in old age. Help may come: an electromechanical device that strengthens key muscle tissue and promotes bone growth.

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A past president of the BioElectromagnetics Society and the Society for Physical Regulation in Biology and Medicine, McLeod says it’s time for engineers and biologists to abandon fractured approaches to osteoporosis and recognize that bone loss is a natural, arguably “normal,” adaptive response to systemic body changes. “Osteoporotics are, in most cases, perfectly healthy,” he said. “This is not a disease, but an adaptive condition signaling some change in the internal environment. The bones of osteoporotics are adapting to their environment.” Recognizing this, he said, is key to understanding what is happening. An approach that targets the bone-loss mechanism probably offers real hope of avoiding or reversing the devastating effects of this increasingly “predictable” adaptation, he said. A major health threat for more than 44 million Americans, osteoporosis disproportionately affects females — 80 percent of those with the condition are women. Estimated national expenditures for hospital and nursing home care associated with osteoporotic and related fractures was $17 billion in 2001 — $47 million a day. Fifty-five percent of the population 50 years of age and older have depleted bone mass and face an increased risk of developing osteoporosis and related fractures, according to the National Institutes of Health. Characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, osteoporosis leads to bone fragility and an increased susceptibility to hip, spine and wrist fractures. McLeod said that while biologists might want to look for the gene for osteoporosis, and engineers to treat


Kenneth McLeod is using his engineering perspective to rethink the cause and cure for osteoporosis.

osteoporotic bones as parts of a failed mechanical system, osteoporosis cannot be fully understood by either approach. “There is not necessarily anything wrong with the bone,” he said. “What we need to know is what has changed in the environment — what is the mechanism for bone loss?” What researchers know for sure, McLeod said, is that an individual with a dietary calcium deficiency cannot make bone.

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“But just because you take calcium doesn’t mean you’re going to make bone,” he added. “Calcium is necessary, but not sufficient. There has to be a signal to make bone. It turns out that if you don’t have adequate fluid flow across your bone, you’re not going to have adequate cell metabolism to trigger bone formation.” Calcium’s limitations in addressing bone loss have been made most apparent in the space program, McLeod

“There is not necessarily anything wrong with the bone (of people with osteoporosis). What we need to know is what has changed in the environment — what is the mechanism for bone loss?” — Kenneth McLeod noted. “Astronauts have a very serious problem with osteoporosis. They go up in space and there is no signal to make bone, so they start dumping bone. [Yet] they have all sorts of calcium in their blood — so much so that they are likely to form kidney stones. You can overdose on calcium to the point where you have kidney stones, and still have osteoporosis.” The only way to maintain bone mass, McLeod said, is to maintain adequate fluid flow across bone tissue. That requires adequate muscle activity, which affects lymphatic flow and cardiovascular activity. But weightlifting, jumping jacks, running or long walks won’t help reverse osteoporosis

by triggering bone growth or even slowing its deterioration, he added. “It could well be that there are certain exercise regimens that will turn out to be very important,” he said. “But right now, we’ve tried all sorts of things — Tai Chi, aerobics, walking — and none of these works effectively in adults to increase bone mass in osteoporotics.” McLeod’s research suggests that a key to reversing bone loss and triggering growth is training one type of human muscle fiber, Type II A fibers. Also called fast-oxidative fibers, they contain mitochondria and are surrounded by many blood capillaries. Type II A fibers are pink, have a

medium contraction velocity and are fatigue resistant. By comparison, red Type I muscle fibers contract slowly and are highly fatigue resistant. The more common II B fibers are white and contract at high velocity, but fatigue quickly. With appropriate stimulus, McLeod said, Type II B “fast-twitch” or “fastglycolytic” fibers can be trained into Type II A muscles. He has developed a device that sends low-level vibrations into the body to stimulate II A development, enhance fluid flow through the bones and stimulate bone growth. The device is in clinical testing in advance of seeking Food and Drug Administration approval. Meanwhile, McLeod said, although walking is a healthy exercise, if you think it grows bone, forget it. “We are pretty confident now that walking has little influence on bone growth in adults,” he said.

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esearch shows that a large vocabulary is vital to reading comprehension and communication ability. It even affects how others perceive us. But, says Karen Bromley, a professor in the School of Education and Human Development, vocabulary building has been largely ignored by elementary-grade teachers. Their students are, literally, at a loss for words.

“We need to rethink the way we teach vocabulary,” said Bromley, a former third-grade teacher and

K-6 reading specialist who conducts research on how children acquire and expand on language skills. Research from the 1940s to today, she says, indicates that vocabulary constitutes about 80 percent of language comprehension and 65 percent of fluency — the ability to read, speak and write it confidently. “Some surveys suggest that kids from impoverished homes learn, maybe, 3,500 words a year,” she added. “Kids from more privileged homes learn about 5,000 words a year. And even if kids move out of the poverty level, their word-learning rate doesn’t increase. It’s always lower.”


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Helping teachers use keys to vocabulary building Schools can help bridge that gap. But textbooks and basal readers Bromley has examined mainly teach vocabulary through word lists, which teachers cover through study and drills. Bromley’s research indicates that successful vocabulary building requires teachers to help students actively use their own current knowledge to learn unfamiliar words. “If you just give kids the pronunciation and the meaning, they haven’t learned the word,” she said. It’s best learned by being spoken, written and used to create sentences and stories. “When teachers teach a word, they define it, and maybe use it in a sentence,” she said. “But if I were going to teach you the word intercollegiate, I would think aloud for you, by telling you how I figure out and remember what it means.” When teachers lead students to consider what they may already know — that interstate refers to a highway that runs among states; that collegiate sounds like college; and that the -ate suffix denotes an adjective — they can deduct the meaning of intercollegiate: “among colleges.” “Sixty percent of word meanings can be inferred from looking at the Greek and Latin roots,” Bromley said. But often, teachers don’t point this out because many lack basic knowledge of English word origins and structures — and too many lack passion for the language altogether. In a Bromley survey of 100 teachers, when asked what made them good vocabulary teachers, only three cited a love for words. “That was disquieting to me,” Bromley said, “because a

Educator Karen Bromley says we need to rethink the way we teach vocabulary.

reading teacher ought to love the language.” Approximately 70 percent of the words students need for their everyday reading and language use, she says, have multiple meanings. But beyond meaning, “kids need to be actively involved with words in a variety of contexts, so that they learn the structure, the grammatical function, the visual components and use,” she said. “Right now, vocabulary is at the forefront of what we’re understanding ought to be an important component of reading,” Bromley said. “It’s part of the Reading First initiative of the No Child

Left Behind Act.” (The Reading First initiative, created by the U.S. Department of Education, has the goal of ensuring that all American children can read by third grade.) She suggests other ways teachers can teach vocabulary: introducing word games, letting children act out meanings of words, and encouraging them to talk with each other more in class — for example, about results of science experiments. Children who don’t grow up speaking English face greater vocabulary obstacles. Bromley suggests pairing them with native speakers to correspond via “buddy journals.” Often, both students’ skills improve. Bromley gives an example of a student in the Johnson City School District, diagnosed as learning disabled, who was paired with a Kurdish student. After the two boys had worked on their buddy journal for several months, Bromley was surprised to discover writing by the American boy that looked like Arabic. The Kurdish student had taught him to write, “How are you? Will you come to my house this weekend?” in another language and alphabet. Teacher education, Bromley said, needs to sensitize future teachers to the lives of each student. Diversity training, she says, is making significant inroads. “When we understand where students are coming from — what they live with day by day — we can better accommodate their needs.” As for parents, they can help their children build vocabulary by reading with them — and, yes, by turning off the TV. “Engage your child in conversation, because vocabulary flows from the spoken to the written word,” she said. “Kids need to be actively engaged in vocabulary learning.”

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Computer scientist aims to better define, index digital images


onsider a photo of a couple standing in front of their house. Behind the house is a large tree. Several shrubs, trees and plants are in the front yard, which is enclosed by a fence. In the background, there are hills and clouds. Now, imagine what the people are wearing, what they are doing, that one is white and one is black, and the problem comes into sharper focus. “Looking at such an image, what are the key words in defining what you see?” asks computer scientist Zhongfei “Mark” Zhang. “‘Couple’? ‘Man’? ‘Woman’? ‘House’? ‘Tree’? ‘Fence’? It’s almost impossible to use words to describe the net content of the image, including its shapes, colors and textures. It takes the power of extensive computer analysis and processing to manage this kind of task.”

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From personal and commercial digital image libraries and multimedia databases to data-mining programs and high-tech security and defense surveillance, our need for more effective ways to index, retrieve and manipulate complex video or images is pressing. Verbal cues — whether key words or multiple-page abstracts — just aren’t cut out for the job, and neither coercion nor clichés can change that, Zhang said. “It’s very difficult to capture the entire content of a picture with any number of words,” Zhang said. “And you certainly can’t capture an image with a single word or with a few key words. In terms of effectiveness, this is not a good approach.” Still, so far, there is no commercial product available that can index such large-scale imagery or non-textual databases in their own modality. Almost all multimedia database programs work at the keyword level. And that is the problem that Zhang is determined to solve in this age of information proliferation. Such applica-


tions could not only make information searches on the Web less frustrating, but even track and bust international terrorist schemes. Zhang is involved in a number of research projects that seek to optimize the indexing, retrieval and use of images based on algorithms that rely on the semantics of the images themselves. His work is funded by industry and defense agencies. An expert in image understanding and multimedia indexing and retrieval, Zhang has worked on image indexing and retrieval issues with Eastman Kodak Company and on issues of multimedia indexing and retrieval of patient records with SUNY Upstate Medical University. He also continues to pursue research on facial recognition. His progress on all fronts is impressive. Zhang has filed an invention disclosure on his prototype for improved content-based image retrieval. The system involves the use of a novel fuzzy logic-based indexing

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scheme, as well as a novel userrelevance feedback algorithm. Based on semantic similarity within the images themselves, it can rapidly and effectively retrieve images from huge databases or the Internet. The system, which Zhang has dubbed “FAST” — for Fast And Semantic-Tailored image retrieval — also “learns” from user feedback about the relevance of images it retrieves. Zhang has already been approached about the prototype by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where databases of thousands of images could become more accessible through better indexing and retrieval. With funding from the U.S. Air Force, he is also working to develop a system to recognize independent motion in compressed surveillance video, like that shot from unmanned surveillance aircraft such as the Predator. When video is shot from a moving plane, extensive analysis is needed to detect what elements in a given frame are moving independently. Currently, that analysis requires decompression, followed by tedious inspection of large archived image databases by human image analysts. If successful, Zhang’s technology would automatically detect independent motion from an archived database or directly from the remote sensor in real time. “If you have a still camera and want to detect motion, all you have to do is detect the difference between two individual frames,” Zhang said. “However, in many scenarios, especially in military surveillance, typically the camera is also in motion, so everything is in motion from frame to frame. We have developed a preliminary prototype system to robustly and

“It’s very difficult to capture the entire content of a picture with any number of words. And you certainly can’t capture an image with a single word or with a few key words. In terms of effectiveness, this is not a good approach.” — Zhongfei “Mark” Zhang automatically detect independent motion directly from the compressed video domain.” Perhaps Zhang’s most challenging project to date is his new work on automatic model generation in an area called information fusion. With support from the U.S. Air Force and the National Institute of Justice, the goal is automatic detection of money-laundering schemes. “This is a completely new research problem,” Zhang said. “I used to work on computer vision and image understanding focusing on imagery and video data. Now my research horizon is extending to incorporate data mining in general, and in this project we are focusing on the text data modality in particular.” To investigate money-laundering crimes, Zhang’s research team has access to a significant amount of textual data, ranging from court reports, financial records and bank statements to per-

sonal communications and news reports. Zhang and his students are developing robust data-mining techniques to automatically build money-laundering models by scanning large collections of textual documents. Current investigation techniques require at least several months to build the model because it is generated manually. The prototype Zhang’s group has developed takes only minutes to generate. “The government is extremely interested in automating, or at least semi-automating, this investigation process to significantly save the manpower in law enforcement agencies and to expedite crime investigation and prosecution time,” Zhang said. “Considering the threat of global terrorism, preventing money laundering becomes ever more important to stop the financing of terrorist activities,” he added. “I can tell you that this research has great potential.”

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ell-being. We may have a sense of it, but can we measure it? Gerontologist and dean of the Decker School of Nursing Sarah Gueldner and a team of international colleagues have developed a unique research tool they say can measure almost anyone’s sense of well-being — even those who can’t talk. The instrument, which has been refined across four countries and three continents with the help of more than 3,000 study participants, looks as if it was torn from a children’s coloring book and could be completed with a crayon. If the tool, known as the Refined Index of Field Energy (IFE-R), sounds simplistic, Gueldner is just fine with that. Prior tools to measure well-being have tended to be far more erudite and, for some populations, not worth the paper they were written on, Gueldner said.


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“The usual tools that people give you to measure well-being ask questions like, ‘Do you feel more pragmatic or visionary . . . more finite or transcendent?’” she said. “Can you imagine going into a nursing home and asking people that? “Many people, particularly in older groups, have no research voice because they can’t respond to those kind of questions. But they can to mine.” Gueldner is convinced, and early studies seem to confirm, that her simple tool — consisting of 10 pairs of line drawings of everyday images like butterflies, balloons, eyes, puzzle pieces and water faucets — will help nurses and other providers learn more about the sometimes silent populations they serve. The survey pairs oppositional images — a sharp pencil vs. a dull pencil, a turtle vs. a butterfly, a lion vs. a mouse. In the space between the images are seven unnumbered boxes that allow participants to mark the place on the scale that best describes how they feel. Results are scored for each set from one to seven, with one being the lowest and seven the highest. Completed tests range from 10 to 70, with 70 indicating the respondent has a high sense of wellbeing and 10 showing a low sense. Based on the success of trials in Africa, Taiwan and Japan and its high correlation with other measures, Gueldner is confident the tool will hold up as perhaps the first international product of its kind. Even more important is its potential to reach broad populations, including people who have poor eyesight, limited formal education or language skills, or who may be too sick or frail to respond to more complex surveys. In one field trial, children with cerebral palsy completed the survey with crayons.

can see and talk to every day, catch a meal with or just be with.” Gueldner’s broader goal is to use the index to collect research data that can help redefine societal notions of wellness and spur human service and healthcare policy changes that allow people to live more enriched lives. Her own parents set a good example, she said. By being part of a close community, they were not only able to remain at home until their deaths, but also to experience a high quality of life even when they were ill, she said. “They lived to be 83 and 86, well beyond their life expectancies, and they did it right,” Gueldner said. “They did it Dean v Sarah Gueldner about as well as you can. They had awful, really major, things wrong with Gueldner suspects the test will even them. But they never did lose their will give a research voice to people with mild to moderate cognitive impairment. to live — their will to live well.” By identifying people who have a low Well-being, Gueldner says, is sense of well-being and measuring the recognized as “a relative sense of harmony and satisfaceffectiveness of simple interventions, tion in one’s life.” she hopes that perfect By measuring the perceptions of a health will no longer be the perceived population, such as Sarah Gueldner built her wellrequisite for a good the housebound being assessment tool on the elderly, practitioners life. Rogerian nursing model, which “They say by the can try and then test defines well-being by four time we’re 50 everysimple interventions. factors: For example, taking a body has some type • Energy, also known as of chronic illness,” housebound person frequency, is akin to life force. Gueldner said. “As outside for regular • Awareness of oneself as walks or arranging to we add years to life energy, or an understanding expectancy — very have a friend or family that the body is only the shape rapidly, really — we member call or stop by of the energy we represent. every day may have a just have to think of • Action, or the choice to do health in a different significant effect on something, whether physical or way. We have to well-being. cognitive, with that energy. “People just need to begin to recognize that even with have one good friend,” • Power, which essentially serious illness, there she said. “They can refers to whether you can manage the losses of is always the chance channel your energy toward getting what you need in life. for well-being, for a old age, as long as they good life.” have somebody they

Elements of the IFE-R

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Excellence in Research

Photochemistry research could lead to cleaner environment, new sensors


listair Lees spends much of his research time hoping to see the light. Using tools that improve by several orders of magnitude on the accuracy of microscopes and stopwatches, Lees is working at the molecular level to explore the effect of light on chemical systems. The field is called photochemistry, and Lees’ efforts could help to find cheaper ways to produce gasoline, make the environment cleaner and safer, and enhance the quality of microcircuitry and the equipment that relies on it. While most chemists work with molecules in their ground or normal states, Lees has spent the past two decades working with “excited” molecules, a state attained when molecules absorb light, known as “second chemistry.” The reactions that occur during these excited states are incredibly fast — typically about one tenth of one quadrillionth of a second. To be studied, they must be slowed or in some other way inhibited, and Lees has developed a unique approach. Excited-state molecules generally emit light, give off heat or break into fragments as they return to the ground state. Relying on this, many chemists — like forensic experts who determine the nature of an explosion by studying resulting debris — use a technique called matrix isolation to study the fragments produced immediately after a molecule emits light. Lees has instead synthesized whole new molecules that do not fragment in


their excited states. When cooled, his creations remain intact and display luminescence, giving him an unprecedented chance to study the second chemistry involved. This approach has opened the door to the development of several promising applications.

orange to yellow, signaling appropriate curing and an optimal bond. The microelectronics industry is keenly interested in this research. If adhesives aren’t completely set during the assembly process, machines fail, parts break and production costs soar. The aerospace

Come to the Working with $1.2 million in grants from the Energy Department and the American Chemical Society, Lees is studying hydrocarbon activation, particularly how some new rhodium and iridium compounds act as catalysts to break apart the bonds of methane. The reaction suggests the possibility that the small methane molecule could be built up to the size of the larger oil molecule. Methane, or natural gas, usually does not react with other compounds, but because it is both abundant and recyclable, it is an attractive alternative to oil. Lees’ preliminary research indicates it might someday be able to replace oil in the production of many fuels, as well as a host of other products, including plastics and pharmaceuticals. Lees’ research is also likely to help manufacturers of a wide range of products. Supported by a grant from IBM, Lees is incorporating some of his light-emitting molecules into adhesive polymers. As the adhesive sets, its luminescence changes from red to

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and automobile industries are also interested, Lees said. “Clearly, it’s important when you’re riding in a car or a plane that it not fall apart,” he said. Another application is photoinitiators. “We found that some of our organometallic compounds actually initiate polymerization reactions when exposed to light,” he said. Lees is collaborating with General Electric and IBM to learn more about how this technique might enhance microcircuitry production. Another application is likely to stem from supramolecular chemistry. Lees is finding ways to insert luminescent compounds into the cavities of some large molecules. Because the luminescence of such molecules changes substantially in reaction to their environment, they make excellent sensors. Recently, Lees and his team found a compound that is a good sensor for cyanide. Others, he said, are sensitive to hydrocarbon vapors, which could help detect pollutants, another important application in today’s industrial world.

light Alistair Lees’ research in photochemistry holds exciting promise for sensors, pollution control and materials science.

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price of uncertainty The

Economist unravels principles of world financial markets


ike any good physicist, Kristian Rydqvist has an eye out for real-world data that can be used to test the theorems of universal law. But the rules Rydqvist works to prove or disprove are those of economics, not Einstein, and the basic questions he asks are not about the nature of matter but about what matters in the nature of financial markets. “Thousands of economists over the last 100 years have worked at the theory of supply and demand,” Rydqvist said, “and there are some well-established implications that we expect to hold. I, along with many others like me, go out in the world and search for numbers that will allow me to test these implications.”


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A Swedish-born finance economist, Rydqvist joined the faculty of Binghamton University last semester as the Zurack Professor of Finance and Economics.

As a finance economist, Rydqvist deals with applied aspects of economics. When is it wiser to spend? When does it make better sense to save? The problem is the same in all societies, even where currency takes the form of crops, livestock or oil. Ultimately, he says, interest rates establish the pivot point on the scales of such decisions.

“It is a matter of shuffling money over time, a matter of savings and investment,” Rydqvist said. “If you borrow money, you get money today and pay it back in the future. If you have more than enough money for today, you save it and you get it back in the future, hopefully with some interest. Your choice is basically always the same: Should I use the money I have right now, or save it for the future?’” The act of saving is more controversial than it might seem. Giving away cash today in hopes of receiving it back with a little extra tacked on in the future is risky business — all the more so as the term of your investment increases. “You have no idea what the world is going to look like in 25 years. In fact, even overnight there was a recent case in Japan of a negative interest rate,” Rydqvist said. “So the biggest question in finance is, what is the price of uncertainty? How big a rate of interest do you require to risk such uncertainty?” Generally speaking, the implications of supply and demand suggest that the riskier and more uncertain the future,

the longer you have to wait to reclaim your investment, and the higher the interest rate you would require to save rather than spend your money on desired consumables today. Interest rates, therefore, are commonly viewed as something akin to the fair-market cost of uncertainty. Theoretically, that means that where there is no uncertainty or where it can be factored away through diversification, interest rates should not be a factor in pricing. Conversely, where there is a higher level of irresolvable uncertainty, interest rates should increase commensurately. Still, as Rydqvist and his collaborator Rick Green of Carnegie Mellon University have recently shown through an examination of data sets involving the sale of Swedish lottery bonds, it ain’t necessarily so. In the Swedish bond lotteries, if someone were to buy all the tickets, that person would know exactly what he or she would win, so there is no aggregate risk and it should not be factored into pricing. But, to Rydqvist’s surprise, careful review of the data showed that was not the case — not only in the Swedish data but, more recently, in data from similar Danish lottery bonds. His findings are turning heads. Though he declines to count himself among them, Rydqvist knows a lot of very smart people, with very high IQs. He does rank himself high in creativity, and sees it as key to his professional accomplishments and academic success. “This is the little bit of difference between IQ and creativity,” Rydqvist said. “With high IQ you can take a given theory and understand it, take a given problem and solve it. With creativity you can look upon a theory and change it.”

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Quixote quest Spanish professor helps others appreciate Cervantes’ classic


or Salvador Fajardo, teaching Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha is more than a job; it’s a passion. And the Spanish professor has been passing on his love for the classic work to other teachers at special summer workshops for more than a decade.

Supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fajardo held his first summer seminar in 1992. Students from all disciplines gather biennially to discuss the adventures of the elderly Quixote, who, inspired by tales of chivalry, sets out on a personal journey to prove himself as a knight. Although the seminar is designed primarily for teachers, Fajardo accepts anyone with an interest into the discussion group. “Participants include English and foreign language teachers, but I’ve also had math instructors, school administrators and principals,” he said. “And because many participants come from other areas and disciplines, I’ve also learned much.” According to Fajardo, the seminar provides a much-needed respite. “Participants really want to have an intellectual experience while enjoying their stay,” Fajardo said. “The seminar provides intellectual conversation. When you give intelligent people a chance to have a serious conversation on a text that is so subtle, so multilayered, they really enjoy it.” Why Don Quixote? What lessons can be learned from the fictional 16thcentury gentleman who careens around the Spanish countryside tilting at


windmills and challenging sheep to battle? Fajardo says Quixote’s quest, as comically absurd as it may seem, is the timeless journey of an idealist. “[The book] has a generous view of humanity, coupled with an acute understanding of our own foibles,” Fajardo said. “It is part of that view of humanity that believes ‘Yes, we can do great things.’ For a Spaniard like me, it is the sum of what the language can do as well.” As Quixote lived his life with passion and discipline, so too does Fajardo. “I feel a missionary zeal for this book because it’s such an extraordinary text,” he said, “a manual on how to read literature — a text to teach us what texts are.” Don Quixote continues to inspire several books and hundreds of articles yearly, including this year a new Spanish edition on Don Quixote coedited by Fajardo. “Of the few great classics in literature, after the Bible, it’s probably the book that has been translated most,” Fajardo said. Like Faulkner, Fajardo said he rereads the classic text every year. “No matter how many times I read it, I still

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find something new,” he said. “And I always laugh. “This is a book that produces changes. It causes people to look at things differently. We in the humanities have the view that part of our mission is to give students some background on how to be a complete human being through literature, art and music. It is important that children have access to universal texts. Don Quixote is the kind of book that can make an impact on a person’s life.”

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Bioengineering approach points to different causes (and cures) for osteoporosis Stone’s sense of joy as poets read aloud is visibly apparen...