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ow is it that one person can look at something, be it an object or a scientific hypothesis, and see little of interest, while another can look at the same object or hypothesis and see great potential? Differing perspectives. At Binghamton, we take advantage of differing perspectives as our scholars and research faculty challenge common beliefs as well as seek beneficial applications of new knowledge. This issue of Binghamton Research provides examples of how new and innovative perspectives can move research forward in a wide range of fields. As the University maps out its future with an updated strategic plan, there will be additional initiatives to support faculty and their research. Our research infrastructure will be enhanced dramatically with the opening of the Innovative Technologies Complex, as well as through other improvements to research facilities across campus. Our ability to garner federal and state funds, as well as competitive research grants, continues to grow, and we will utilize these resources to strengthen our partnerships with organizations throughout the region and the state. We are proud of our faculty and their research, and we invite you to broaden your perspectives about Binghamton as you read about the exciting work taking place on campus. Lois B.DeFleur President




corrective LENSES 5

The evolution of inspiration: Tracing the taproot of religion


The power of suggestion: Better therapy through better hypnosis


Which old witch? Taking another look at Salem witch trial records


In the blink of an eye The passionate pursuit of new perspectives 12

The “eyes” have it


Reading between the lines of progress


Success breeds success


“All systems go”


War and peace: The evolution of new perspectives


The Tortoise and the Hare revisited: Quantum leaps vs. convergent technologies



Reshaping public policy Research, scholarship, creative activity and the real world

24 26


A breath of fresh air Evaluating asthma programs


A story to tell African oral traditions are indeed epic

Fetal alcohol syndrome Improving outcomes for children with fetal alcohol syndrome Cool consideration of a hot issue: Data center design Binghamton researchers take on the thermal management challenge



34 36 38

Microsensors: Providing immediate, on-the-spot analysis Research that may detect cancer, monitor pollution and test for biohazards — at once, on site

Nanotechnology: This small stuff is really big Structures tens of thousands of times smaller than a human hair have high-stakes, practical applications

Chemistry for a safer world Supercharged “kitty litter” could attract, neutralize toxins Solitude linked to women’s creativity and “voice” Personal space and time are key to raising literacy voices Teasing reason out of the “irrational”: Binghamton researcher looks at consumer decision-making Shaping consumer preferences by understanding the environment that drives them To stay in touch with BU research throughout the year, subscribe to our online newsletter, Discover-e, at

he anticipation of discovery from research and scholarly activity is both extremely exciting and an attraction that’s hard to resist. It’s what drew me to Binghamton University’s Division of Research. It’s what beckons other new faculty and outstanding young minds to teach, conduct research and study here. We know that excellence and the creative endeavors necessary to foster it are the hallmarks of Binghamton University. We will strengthen these through new interdisciplinary programs where faculty and students from different areas of expertise work together to find new and unique approaches to research problems. We will expand collaborations with business, governmental and other organizations where our common goal is to explore new research areas that allow us to capitalize on today’s state-of-the-art technologies as well as develop the technologies of the future. By finding novel areas of excellence, we will provide the greatest opportunities for our students, faculty and community to move forward and advance scholarly activity and economic development. And we will be persistent in letting no opportunity go unanswered. In the pages that follow, you’ll read about the results of many of these novel approaches to research. You can be sure that there will be many more exciting developments to follow.

Gerald Sonnenfeld Vice President for Research

Briefs EvoS program brings disciplines together A new campus-wide evolutionary studies curriculum is bringing together students and faculty from a range of disciplines. Called EvoS, the integrated curriculum is designed for undergraduates from all majors who wish to develop an understanding of evolution and its implications for human relationships and life on earth. It is part of a large evolutionary studies program that also offers a graduate certificate and a seminar series open to the entire campus. Headed by Professor David Sloan Wilson, the program requires students to complete 20 credits to obtain a certificate and a notation on their transcript. The first students are expected to complete the program this spring. “The idea for the program came from teaching and research activities that were already taking place on campus,” Wilson said. “There was a community of scientists and scholars who became interested in evolution and now we have made something that is much greater than the sum of its parts.” In addition to an extensive seminar series, the program consists of an undergraduate and graduate curriculum that can be taken in parallel with any major or research concentration, resulting in a certificate along with a student’s diploma.

Nation’s first PhD in translation studies Binghamton University is offering a PhD in translation studies, the first of its kind in the nation. “Our campus is widely regarded as a model for international education activities, and


Binghamton, Infotonics Center team up


n alliance of Binghamton University and the Infotonics Technology Center will help speed the commercialization of next-generation microsystems by focusing on electronics packaging research. Binghamton’s Integrated Electronics Engineering Center (IEEC) will bring to the alliance its world-class expertise in mechanics, thermal management and reliability, according to Bahgat Sammakia, director of the IEEC, a New York state Center for Advanced Technology. “The research at Binghamton complements the focus of the Infotonics Center very well,” Sammakia said. “We are excited to join this initiative and we expect great things from it.” Some of those positive aspects will come in the form of improved products and technologies

to have the nation’s first PhD program in translation enhances our role as a leader in internationalization,” said President Lois B. DeFleur. “This program will also help us attract and retain outstanding faculty and graduate students.” The program is the offspring of a graduate certificate program established in 1971 by Marilyn Gaddis Rose, distinguished service professor. In 1974, she started the Translation Referral Service, a nonprofit organization that connects businesses and publishers with foreign language interpreters. “We planned a doctoral cur-

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005

in fields ranging from health care and homeland security to agriculture, consumer products and manufacturing processes. Others likely will include significant increases in research funding as well as new opportunities to explore and refine collaborative working relationships across the region. Binghamton’s contribution to the alliance will be the fundamental science that supports the development of worldclass products that can survive in the harshest of environments and conditions. Outcomes of such small-scale systems research and engineering include the creation of new machines that will be thinner than a human hair, diagnostics that function at the molecular level and electronics packaging that is lighter, stronger and more versatile than existing technologies.

riculum that focuses on the disciplines from which translation studies derive: anthropology, comparative literature, natural languages and philosophy, with strong contributions from the fine arts, humanities and social sciences,” Gaddis Rose said.

Political Science, Chemistry earn accolades Binghamton University’s Political Science and Chemistry departments were ranked highly by prestigious organizations in 2004. The Department of Political Science was named 19th leading political science department in the world based

on its number of scholarly publications in scientific journals, according to a published report by the London School of Economics. The report, which ranks schools on a five-year rolling average, uses the content and quantity of publications in scientific journals to rank more than 200 academic institutions worldwide. The Department of Chemistry was touted as one of the best departments in the nation for the number of bachelor’s degrees it granted during the 2001-02 academic year. It was ranked 19th among 623 aca-

demic institutions in the nation by the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Professional Training for its ability to retain its students throughout their academic careers.

Small scale systems center gets federal boost Binghamton University’s Small Scale Systems Packaging Center will receive a $1 million federal boost under the FY2005 Omnibus appropriations Bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate in November. U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-Saugerties), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, directed the funding in the law, which fixes much of the federal spending for fiscal year 2005. “The projects funded by these earmarks are very important locally, while also meeting a national interest or priority,” said Hinchey. “I’m gratified to be able to help with these worthy efforts.” The funding will provide support for the University’s Small Scale System’s Packaging Center in areas such as experimental and intellectual infrastructure to enable research into the nature of materials and products at very small scales. U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton have also indicated they will continue their work in guiding the funding through the budget process. The funding follows an initial $1.1 million federal earmark for small-scale systems reasearch and development announced in 2003.

KUDOS • Four faculty members have been named distinguished professors by the SUNY Board of Trustees: Kenneth Greene, professor of economics; Ralph Miller, professor of psychology; Isidore Okpewho, professor of Africana Studies; and K. Hari Srihari, professor of systems science and industrial engineering. The title, granted only by SUNY trustees, is the highest academic rank possible and is conferred on individuals who have achieved national or international prominence. A fellow of the International Center for Economic Research, Greene is known for his work in public choice and public economics. He has provided new insights into fundamental issues related to public policy economics, including taxation and charitable giving. According to Who’s Who in Economics, Greene “is among the most frequently cited of all living economists.” Miller has focused his research in the areas of animal learning and acquired behavior. According to Peter Holland from Duke University, Miller is probably the most prolific experimentalist in his field and has made “several major theoretical contributions to the field of associative learning.” Former students regularly cite Miller as the largest contributing factor to their success as psychologists. Okpewho played a seminal role in the development of the scholarly understanding of oral traditions in African literature. His extensive research into oral traditions and African tales involves ethnographic investigations and the collection of narratives. A recent Guggenheim Fellow, Okpewho also researches African mythology in the New World to help construct an identity for those who were brought to America from Africa. Srihari is an expert in electronics packaging, including the exciting new area of opto-electronics packaging. As director of Electronics Manufacturing Research and Services (EMRS) and associate director of the Integrated Electronics Engineering Center (IEEC), he has played a key role in developing University-industry partnerships. His creativity and insight in applying fundamental theories to industrial applications have earned him international recognition and provided his students with outstanding developmental opportunities. • Two Binghamton University researchers have been awarded patents for new ideas in healthcare diagnoses and treatment. Chemist Omowunmi Sadik has been awarded a patent for a technology that could improve the ability to track and treat tumors. Sadik’s technology, which will eventually be incorporated into a tiny biosensor that can be injected into the body, will help detect and image tumors in blood and tissues. She estimates the technology will be ready for clinical testing in three to four years. A patent issued to Kenneth J. McLeod, chair of bioengineering, and colleague Clinton T. Rubin, professor and chair of biomedical engineering at Stony Brook, recognizes a new, non-invasive method of monitoring balance and posture in the elderly. McLeod’s patent builds on his fundamental research into the interaction of the nervous, muscular and cardiovascular systems. The patent is for a treatment strategy and vibrational device to improve involuntary postural control by stimulating the development of Type IIA muscle fibers. A sister patent issued last spring addressed a related technique for measuring stability and changes as a result of activities, aging or a variety of factors. • Four Binghamton University faculty were recognized by the Research Foundation of the State University of New York: Kenneth J. McLeod, chairman of Binghamton University’s Department of bioengineering, earned an excellence award in the Pursuit of Knowledge; Omowunmi A. Sadik, associate professor of bioanalytical and environmental chemistry, was honored with a First Patent award; and Harold Ackler, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Timothy Singler, associate professor and director of graduate studies in mechanical engineering, were recognized with Promising Inventor awards.

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005



research, scholarship and

creative activity have changed the way people view the world. By creating and refining knowledge, these processes bring into sharper focus how the future is informed by the present. They help us to better understand the living legacies of the past and to make better sense of our relationships with the environment and each other. They expand our notions of what is possible and enhance our intellectual acuity. They improve — in every sense of the word — our vision. The work of the Binghamton researchers featured here is proof of principle.


Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005

The evolution of inspiration: Tracing the taproot of religion


avid Sloan Wilson has made a career out of addressing controversial issues in evolutionary theory. The professor of biological sciences with a joint appointment in anthropology is best known for championing a theory called multilevel selection, a theory that posits that adaptations can potentially evolve at all levels of the biological hierarchy — from genes to ecosystems. This idea became a heresy in the 1960s and Wilson David Sloan Wilson has been arguing in its favor ever since he wrote his first paper on the subject as a graduate student in 1975. “Multilevel selection has finally become part of mainstream science, with implications that extend the length and breadth of biology and the human sciences,” he agreed. But now, nearly 30 years after beginning his research, Wilson has embarked on a new challenge to show

“True love means growth for the whole organism, whose members are all interdependent and serve each other. That is the outward form of the inner working of the Spirit, the organism of the Body governed by Christ. We see the same thing among the bees, who all work with equal zeal gathering honey.” — Andreas Ehrenpreis (1650) that evolution and religion are not far different. In his latest book, Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion and the Nature of Society, released in 2002, Wilson joins the two topics in a process of proposing an evolutionary theory of religion that shakes both evolutionary biology and social theory at their foundation. “Evolution provides the framework for studying our own species as well as the rest of life,” said Wilson, who joined Binghamton University’s faculty in 1988. “There is nothing that humans do, including practicing their religions, that can’t be approached in some sense of an evolutionary prospectus.” Wilson touches on theology, psychology, history and anthropology, among other areas, seeking a unified

theory of human behavior — evolution on one end and an explanation of religion on the other. Wilson decided to study religion from a multilevel evolutionary perspective nearly five years ago, resulting in the book, which begins with a passage that compares a religious group to a single organism and a social insect colony. According to Wilson, this metaphorical comparison can be treated as a serious scientific hypothesis. “The ability of human groups to function as adaptive units is a product of biological and cultural evolution in which the traits associated with religion play an important role.” The key, he explained, is to think of society as an organism, an old idea that has received new life based on recent developments in evolutionary biology. If society is an organism, he questions if we then can think of morality and religion as biologically and culturally evoked adaptations that enable human groups to function as single units rather than

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The power of suggestion:

Actually, hypnosis is not like that at all, said Steven Lynn, professor of psychology at Binghamton University, who has devoted much of his career to establishing a clear, scientific understanding of hypnotic suggestion. A person who responds well to hypnosis

takes an active rather than passive role, working in partnership with the hypnotist. “Hypnosis involves the participant thinking and imagining along with whatever is suggested, in an expectant manner,” he said. Hypnosis can serve as a valuable

adjunct to certain kinds of psychotherapy, Lynn said. But not everyone responds to it equally well. In some of his latest work, Lynn tries to pinpoint what makes certain people especially good hypnotic subjects and determine if it’s possible to raise others to their level. One project, supported by a $376,000 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, explores the idea that the ability to respond to hypnotic suggestions “can be changed and enhanced when participants are instructed,” Lynn said. Janet Ambrogne, assistant professor in Binghamton’s Decker School of Nursing, is working on this study along with Lynn and his graduate students. The research team tests subjects to determine how well each responds to hypnotic suggestions. Then researchers provide information about how hypnosis works, trying to eliminate the subject’s misconceptions — for example, that people under hypnosis are gullible and easily led. “We try to encourage them to use their imaginations, rather than to

mere collections of individuals. Wilson presents a variety of evidence to bear on the question, from both the biological and social sciences. Using examples from Calvinism in 16th century Geneva to Balinese water temples, from hunter-gatherer societies to urban America, Wilson shows how religions have enabled people to achieve collective action that they could never do alone. Wilson’s book has been well received

not only in academic circles, but also in some religious circles. “This isn’t as strange as it might sound,” Wilson said, “because many values associated with religion are affirmed from an evolutionary perspective.” He has become a frequent speaker in science and religion throughout the nation and recently visited St. John’s University in Minnesota, a Catholic university and the oldest Benedictine monastery in America, where his lecture and a conversation

with a group of faculty and monks were filmed for a national public television production. Wilson’s interests aren’t limited to multilevel selection. “At any particular time, my graduate students and I can be studying anything from microbial communities, to shyness and boldness in fish, to gossip in humans,” he said. “The wonderful thing about evolution is that it provides a single conceptual framework that can be applied to any subject

Better therapy through better hypnosis


n the popular imagination, a person who submits to hypnosis falls into a trance. The subject slavishly follows the hypnotist’s commands, perhaps to squawk like a chicken, re-enact events from childhood or develop a lasting aversion to cigarettes. When the subject “awakens,” he or she forgets everything that happened during the session.


Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005

passively respond to the suggestions, and to actively immerse themselves in the experience of whatever is suggested,” Lynn said. Researchers also teach subjects how to interpret hypnotic suggestions, so that a misunderstanding won’t lead to an inappropriate response. Two years into the three-year project, the research indicates that instruction does indeed help people respond better to hypnotic suggestions. By speaking with subjects and letting them watch how others perform under hypnosis, “we can get at least half of initially low-hypnotizable subjects to test as high-hypnotizing subjects,” Lynn said. The team still needs to figure out, though, which elements of the training do the trick. “Is it telling people they should make an active response? Is it the imagination part of it, when we ask people to vividly imagine what we’ve been suggesting? We don’t know which components are responsible for the effectiveness.” Lynn will also investigate the malleability of hypnotic

response in a new study of “mindfulness” — the ability to stay nonjudgmentally aware of one’s fluctuating thoughts and feelings. “Many psychotherapies are now recognizing that people try to suppress or conceal feelings,” but the more they try to push away unwelcome mental experiences, the more those experiences come back to trouble them, Lynn said. By learning to observe and accept whatever flows through their minds, “individuals can come to desensitize themselves to unsettling thoughts and feelings.” Lynn and his graduate students are working to develop scales that measure a person’s aptitude for mindfulness to see how one’s ranking on those scales correlates to other traits. “Initial results suggest that the ability to be mindful is associated with a variety of positive characteristics, such as positive selfesteem and the ability to be absorbed in different experiences, from watching a sunset to reading novels,” he said. Along with other traits, they want to determine if mindfulness correlates to strong hypnotic response. “If we had scales where we could pre-select people who tend to be mindful, and contrast them with people who in everyday life tend to not be especially mindful, we could see whether, for example, there

were differences in the way they responded to hypnotic suggestions,” Lynn said. “Or we could ask the question, ‘Would combining a hypnotic induction with suggestions to be mindful increase people’s suggestibility?’” If the researchers can figure out what sort of instruction or encouragement helps subjects gain greater benefit from hypnosis, this knowledge could help therapists put hypnosis to better use for clients who want to manage anxiety, lose weight or make other positive changes. It might also settle certain theoretical controversies. Along with the general public, some psychologists also contend that hypnosis is a state apart from ordinary consciousness, according to Lynn. In their research, he and his team “try to consistently debunk that position and show that the same variables that account for non-hypnotic behaviors and experiences account for hypnotic behaviors and experiences.” “My way of thinking,” Lynn said, “is that hypnotic responsiveness is associated with attitudes, beliefs, expectancies, motivation, using your imagination and the kinds of strategies people use.” If he is correct, and if therapists can help subjects fine-tune those variables, the value of hypnosis could be enhanced as a therapeutic tool.

relevant to biology and human affairs.” In one project published in the current issue of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, Wilson studied physical attractiveness from an evolutionary perspective with Kevin Kniffin, his former graduate student in anthropology now at the University of Wisconsin. “We show that people evaluate the physical attractiveness of people they know very differently than strangers,”

he said. “If you like someone or if they’re contributing to a shared goal, they appear more beautiful to you, apart from their physical features. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective if beauty is an assessment of fitness value and the value of a social partner is influenced by non-physical, in addition to physical, traits.” In addition to his research, Wilson directs EvoS, Binghamton’s new campuswide evolutionary studies program,

which is designed to allow any undergraduate or graduate student to learn the basic principles of evolution and their wide-ranging implications in parallel with their major or research concentration. “There has always been a transdisciplinary community of faculty at Binghamton whose research and teaching are informed by evolution,” Wilson said. “However, EvoS organizes this community and makes it available to students in a way that’s unique.”

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005


Which old witch?


t began in a shop in Salem, Mass. Spying a coffee mug emblazoned with a stereotypical witch — an old hag resembling the witch from the Wizard of Oz riding on a

broom, a Binghamton University English professor began to wonder how the modern-day images depicting the trials could become so distorted. In the 15 years since that day, Bernard Rosenthal has become one of the world’s leading authorities on the Salem witch trials, and his work continues to challenge and broaden traditional scholarship, even his own, regarding the hysteria that led to the deaths of 24 people, most of them women.


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studying the original records found in Salem and Virginia. Although many of the transcripts have been scanned onto CDs, the researchers rely on original records because ink color can indicate changes to the original documents. “The ink colors and crossed-out portions of documents are very revealing,” Rosenthal said. “You can tell if the manuscripts have been doctored or changed. But you can only do this by looking at the original documents.” Since even the smallest mistakes can change the story, transcripts will be scrutinized by anonymous peer review to ensure no new mistakes are introduced, Rosenthal said. Rosenthal’s research hopes to correct errors and find new documents that can add context to the events and life to the memories of the victims of the trials. “When we’re done we hope to have a collection of comprehensive and accurate documents pertaining to the Salem witch trials,” Rosenthal said. The collection will include 30 to 50 newly to be checked. We need to be much As he wrote his book, Salem Story: more careful with work on this particu- discovered documents that don’t appear Reading the Witch Trials of 1692, in current standard editions of the trial lar issue.” Rosenthal discovered he had inadvertAs a result, Rosenthal and his team of transcripts. Some have appeared in ently included an erroneously tranprint in obscure sources but were scribed court date. Upon closer scrutiny, historians, linguists and other scholars missed by the WPA, and some have have started their newest endeavor — he found more. never been in print, Rosenthal said. the creation of a Manuscript Transcrip“I found that there were things that According to Rosenthal the events didn’t make sense,” he said. “There was tion Database, which includes a scribal leading up to the witch trials actually database for the Salem witch trial an arbitrary piece of manuscript put occurred in what is now the town of documents, and will be housed on a together with another where it didn’t Danvers, then a parish of Salem Town, private Intranet site. belong. Before seeing that, I couldn’t known as Salem Village, not Salem “Some of the historians I’m working figure out why a particular event didn’t proper. That’s perhaps appropriate, with are decoding who wrote which make sense to me.” He discovered the printed edition he manuscript, so that with any document Rosenthal said, because not much in Salem is authentic. “But they do have you look up in the database, you’ll also was using was based on an incorrect the Phillips Library part of the Peabody manuscript. “Then after checking other have an identification of the scribe.” Museum. A lot of the transcripts The scribal information will include things, I noticed a number of other errors,” he said. “They were minor, but genealogical or family connections (i.e., pertaining to the witchcraft trials are there,” he said. Focusing on those kinships, relationships), all of which is the discovery showed the manuscript important to consider because informa- transcripts rather than on the sensawasn’t transcribed as closely as it tionalized commercial images related to tion could have been manipulated or could’ve been.” Salem is the only way to glean the truth omitted depending on the origin of the According to Rosenthal, there were about the sad events that took the lives document. two major attempts to transcribe the Much of Rosenthal’s work is done by of so many innocent people. original witch trial documents. The first “I understood, at the time, that the only people executed were those individuals who insisted they were innocent, fearing the damnation of their immortal souls,” Rosenthal said. “Seeing them depicted as hags and not as the martyrs they were made me think, ‘Why is this so?’” That question fueled his research regarding America’s original witch hunt, an infamous spree that led to the hanging of 19 people on Gallows Hill in Salem Town and to the imprisonment of more than 200 others, some of whom died miserable deaths in prison.

transcription of the documents was done as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project during the Great Depression. Then in the 1970s, historians attempted to modernize the WPA transcripts, but didn’t check them for accuracy. It was those texts that became the standard for Salem witch trial information. “I don’t mean to imply that all the history is incorrect,” Rosenthal said. “Mistakes have been made in just about every book written on the subject — mine included. But now that we’re aware of it, we know secondary sources need

Taking another look at Salem witch trial records

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005


In the blink of an eye The passionate pursuit of new perspectives


riend or foe. Success or failure. Trash or treasure. Pricey perennial or worthless weed.

It’s really all a matter of perspective. Looking at things differently

can transform old beliefs, behaviors and technologies into new landscapes of opportunity, understanding and possibility. Whether they are arrived at as the result of formal study, political persuasion or the serendipitous collision of circumstance, in the blink of an eye, new perspectives and new insights can change the world by redefining our models of it and our

What is a weed?

experiences in it. The transformative power of looking at things differently is readily evident across the disciplines at Binghamton University, as faculty and student researchers from every walk of academic inquiry and creative activity are engaged in the pursuit of new perspectives. From learning more about our most basic human activities to expanding possibilities in health care, governance, technology and management, researchers are advancing the frontiers of knowledge, and affording new and important linkages between the old and the new.


Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005

A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

The “eyes” have it


or those who have mastered the skill, reading is perhaps the primary visual pathway to new perspectives and insights. Albrecht Inhoff, a cognitive psychologist and professor of psychology at Binghamton University, has spent more than 20 years researching this skill that most people in the developed world take for granted and

practice with relative ease. Inhoff’s work — to understand the complexities of the mental processes that transform raw sensory signals into knowledge a writer intended to communicate to readers — has received nearly continuous external support. He is currently working with a four-year $425,943 grant from the National Institutes of Health to better understand selective cognition in reading. Henry Miller once said, “The moment

one gives close attention to any one thing, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” Talking to Inhoff for even a few minutes, Miller’s point becomes clear. The mundane and highly familiar task of reading emerges as a “multifaceted vehicle that has propelled us from the past into the present and which will propel us from the present into the future.” “Societally, reading is an immensely

Reading between the lines of


eading could soon become a much more flexible activity thanks to Binghamton’s small scale systems packaging researchers who are getting involved in

roll-to-roll electronics manufacturing in order to ramp up research projects related to the manufacture and testing of high-resolution flexible displays or “electronic paper.” With the development of ways to print organic electronics onto

Albrecht Inhoff demonstrates a device that allows researchers to track and record the movement of a reader's eye across a page at the rate of 550 frames per second.


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relevant skill,” Inhoff says. “Without it, you are just not in. You can’t have a job because you can’t fill out an application. You can’t drive a car because you can’t pass the driving test. You can’t even go grocery shopping because you can’t read the labels.” But reading is more than a pure language skill, and a contrast with spoken language is instructive. In spoken language, linguistic information

tion. His research relies on technologies that can capture and analyze the movements of a reader’s eyes at a rate of 500 frames per second. It is aided by the very cognitive conventions that help make reading possible. “When I talk to you, I bring information to you, piece by piece as I speak,” Inhoff said. “In reading, that is no longer the case. Now you have before you a whole page of symbols and you have to find even the starting place. Now you need conventions. In our language, for instance, the starting place is the top left. As a reader, you can’t see the whole page at once, and so you’ve got to find a way to digest the information. That means you have to sync your eyes with your mind, so that the eyes are approximately where the mind is.” As a result of that simple fact, Inhoff can use a reader’s eyes as a reliable indicator of what is going on in his or her mind. His measures are very basic. In experiments that usually thin plastic films, consumers might be able within the decade to rely on skilled acquire updatable newspapers that can be rolled up and stored in a readers, he collects coat pocket or briefcase. Such displays could eventually make “livedata about where action” newspaper photos, such as those envisioned in the Harry readers look on Potter book and film series, the stuff of real life. Roll-to-roll the page, the track manufacturing technology could also allow for the creation of large, their eyes follow seamless electronic displays for use as billboards and large banners. to reach that point and how long they look at a particular item on the page before moving on to Magicians make their living making the next point. things disappear. As a scientist, Inhoff By analyzing this kind of data, designs experiments that help him to scientists can develop models of eye better understand the miraculous acts movement during reading, of linguistic of “appearance” made possible by models of word recognition and of text reading. Read the word “horse,” and a comprehension. These can improve “horse” appears in your mind. How literacy training and help explain what does this happen? Although Inhoff is going wrong in cases where children can’t say for sure, his work helps to and adults are unable to learn the skills inform scientific inquiry into that and necessary to become successful readers. other mysteries of reading and cogniis generally presented one segment at a time, so that we hear one word and then another. The order of the symbols to be comprehended is defined by the speaker, who also dictates the tempo with which these symbols are made available. Visual language, by contrast, offers linguistic information in a radically different sensory format. Visual text can consist of a large number of signs, all of which are copresent in a sentence or on a full page of print. Moreover, there is no inherent order to these signs. Order is instead determined by spatial conventions, typically left-to-right or right-to-left. Skilled reading, then, is a complex visual task, which requires the sophisticated coordination of visual skills, motor skills and language comprehension. And individuals with good spoken-language skills can be relatively poor readers.


“We can say, ‘Aha! For reading to occur a reader must do the following. And we can determine whether these critical bits of knowledge have to be learned in a particular way, and whether selective forms of training remediate reading difficulties,’” Inhoff said. Because we can see only one or two words clearly at a time, readers must act in ways that new words can be continuously brought into focus. This is achieved by moving the eyes to the location of new words. Because not just any new set of words will do, movements of the eyes during reading have to be principled, i.e., they need to be directed to an upcoming word in the text, and they have to be relatively precise so that the eyes land near the desired text location. Outwardly, this is expressed in a jerky sequence of eye movements called saccades, which move the eyes along a line of print. Reading also involves covert selection, which means we do not “pay attention” to words that we have already read and are literally blind to the linguistic information conveyed by words that occupy the lines above or below the line of print we are currently reading. Because of this, movements of the eyes can be used to study linguistic processes. One aspect of reading that Inhoff is currently researching through close observation of eye movements in readers is how successful readers “tag” unfamiliar words when they read. Absent this important skill, readers would be stopped cold and unable to continue when they came upon a word they didn’t know. Inhoff views the ability to tag a word as a variable and to continue reading until the meaning of the tagged word is revealed by context as critical to successful reading. “When a skilled reader reads, it takes a lot of learning, and a lot of

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highly practiced skills to do that. My work attempts to answer the questions, ‘What does good reading look like? And how do we explain what is being learned and how good readers use that information?’” Another core hypothesis Inhoff is working on addresses the subject of inner articulation. “To read you must leave the world and become one with the text,” Inhoff says. “I think the way we achieve this for a sustained period in reading is by sounding out the words and speaking them to ourselves. It needn’t be aloud. When we read silently, we use something called inner articulation or inner speech. But I think this is the vehicle by which we have learned to become one with the text, to really attend to it for an extended period of time.” Inhoff’s preliminary experiments show that when inner articulation is disrupted, reading comprehension plummets, he said. Stop for a moment and read the sentence, “Upon his white horse, the handsome prince rode to the dragon’s lair to save the beautiful princess.” Pay careful attention as you read the sentence and you will likely ‘hear’ yourself articulating the words in your mind. People who do not ‘hear’ such articulation are likely left without the building blocks of meaning the words provide, and would therefore be unable to build an inner model of the images and events the words describe, Inhoff theorizes. “To develop an inner world, to develop an inner representation, to develop a memory of what you read — all this requires inner articulation. What you articulate to yourself at every given moment defines your


inner present, it provides the building blocks from which you fashion your own inner model of the world.” Inhoff, who is a 2004 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities, conjectures that inner articulation is

the device that keeps the whole cognitive system on track. He thinks this device is particularly important when it comes to reading, which is an acquired skill, unlike spoken language, for which the human brain and its neural networks are hardwired.

Success breeds success


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n research as in all other activities, success often tends to be selfreplicating. In early 2004, Governor George Pataki tapped Binghamton for $21 million in state funding to establish the Small Scale Systems Packaging Center, New York’s first high-tech commercialization center, in an effort to capitalize on Binghamton’s strengths in the area of materials science and electronic engineering. The Governor’s designation came on the heels of a $15 million commitment from the state Senate’s Gen*NY*sis program in late 2002 for the renovation of the Innovative Technologies Complex at the eastern edge of the campus. Since then support from industry and federal sponsors has significantly increased, helping Binghamton to maximize the impact of critical seed funding from the state. Some examples of recent funding successes include: • About $4 million in thin-film manufacturing equipment donated to Binghamton’s Small Scale Systems Packaging Center by IBM. • Almost 20,000 square feet of laboratory space at Endicott Interconnect’s facility, as well as the services of technicians and access to key pieces of equipment. • A critical piece of manufacturing equipment valued at more than $358,000, from Universal Instruments, giving Binghamton surface-mount assembly capability and enhancing research and education. • More than $4.1 million in federal appropriations awarded since 2003 for projects, including protein dynamics, sensor design and enhanced reliability of fuse technology.

“All systems go”


s a reader, you just finished reading a paragraph that included the words “networks,” “system,” “device” and “hardwired,” all words that take on a very different perspective when they are used in reference to another area of important cross-disciplinary research being conducted at Binghamton University. Bringing together researchers from engineering, chemistry, physics, anthropology and biology, the University’s new Small Scale Systems Packaging Center is addressing the need to tease maximum functionality from small scale devices through the design of systems that both read and respond to the needs of the marketplace. As a high-tech commercialization center, the Small Scale Systems Packaging Center will be engaged not in fundamental research, which focuses on discovery for the sake of knowledge, but in research projects that promise to have an immediate impact on humanity and society, said Bahgat Sammakia, a renowned expert in electronics packaging and thermal management and director of the new center and of Binghamton’s Integrated Electronics Engineering Center. “Binghamton’s strength and focus is the system level,” Sammakia said, “And that means we need to understand what people need. We need to do market studies and analysis. We need to talk to customers and let them help us define the application condition, which will

“If you do that little bit of upfront work, then you’re ready to pick the right projects — the projects that make a real difference in terms of jobs and dollars.” — Bahgat Sammakia, director of Binghamton’s Integrated Electronics Engineering Center

then define the system configuration. The materials we use, the strength, durability and reliability of the system, all this is defined by the customer and the market, and that is a brand-new perspective.” Take, for example, the development of miniaturized, portable sensing systems — patches that could be applied to a person’s clothing or skin. In this example, the systems would be developed only after surveying police and fire agencies, soldiers and doctors. Assessments would look at what kinds of measures each customer might need, and within what kind of conditions the system would have to function. If market research indicated that most customers want a sensing patch that can measure body temperature, pulse, blood pressure and respiratory rate, so be it. Then further decisions would be made based on the tolerances required by conditions in which the system would need to operate. “This is the kind of research that results in economic development,” Sammakia said. “If you don’t do the market studies and analysis, if you don’t know what customers want and need, then you have to be lucky. But if you do that little bit of upfront work,

then you’re ready to pick the right projects — the projects that make a real difference in terms of jobs and dollars.” This new perspective is quickly attracting governmental, industrial and academic partners, and they are bringing millions of dollars of additional support to Binghamton in terms of research dollars, laboratory space and equipment, leading-edge expertise and collaborative project support. No partner was quicker off the mark than Endicott Interconnect Technologies. In a groundbreaking partnership, EI is giving the University more than 10,000 square feet of clean room space at its Technology Development Complex in Endicott, making accessible fully equipped laboratories for thermal management, mechanical analysis, photomechanics, failure analysis and cross-sectioning, and donating thousands of dollars in equipment as well as the services of four engineers and four technicians for four years to the Small Scale Systems Packaging Center. The collaboration will allow the University to set up a thin-film manufacturing line, where it can build systems as big as 8 inches incorporating micro- and nano-sized features. “This will make us number one in

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New York in terms of a center for system-level integration of small scale devices,” Sammakia said. “And we will constantly be exploring opportunities, jointly with EI and others, to get additional equipment to turn that area in EI into a vibrant, dynamic research environment with scientists from industry and academia collaborating in an open hub of activity.” Ask James J. McNamara Jr., president and CEO of Endicott Interconnect, and he’ll be quick to tell you that the University’s small scale systems research program is already a significant part of the EI business plan. “I am excited about BU,” McNamara said. “That’s where we find the opportunity to get into a rich organization that has a lot of creativity and some people in leadership roles that understand not only business, but our kind of business. Bahgat is a man on a mission for the University, and I actually believe we can start new businesses out of this relationship.” The key to success at EI, which is working to develop homeland security and other important products out of small scale technologies, is innovation and advanced technology, McNamara said. This not only requires that the company find a way to keep creative juices flowing, but also that it have a commitment to turn the bit of intellectual property (IP) that comes out of research and development into revenue. EI engineers are creating new ideas every day, McNamara said, but the marketplace is voracious, and its appetite for the “next big thing” is insatiable . . . all the more so perhaps now that most of the next big things are very small.


“If the technology you bring to me today is an advanced technology, I’m going to look at you and say ‘OK, give me the next one,’” he said. “With the rich creativity we have in our company, accelerated by our relationship with BU, by working in collaboration on trials, concept and taking some of this stuff to market, we can move this thing forward and reinvent ourselves year after year after year.” That’s a perspective that has plenty of appeal to others as well. In addition

to the EI collaboration, Binghamton is a key partner with other major industries; regional economic development groups including the Greater Binghamton Coalition and the Southern Tier Opportunity Coalition; the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research; the Albany Nanotech Center and other centers of excellence across the state. Binghamton’s small scale systems focus has also gained federal support in each of the last two years, attracting

War and peace: S

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tudying and practicing the management of human discord is Patrick Regan’s stock-in-trade, and still he thinks there is significant hope for a more peaceful world. Not only that, he thinks there is evidence to support the idea that evolution is working to minimize human conflict. Regan keeps a database on civil war. Not the Civil War, but all civil war. Every civil war, anywhere in the world, in the last 50 years. Give him the place and time of the conflict, and Regan can tell you who is or was fighting, how deadly the conflict was or is, and myriad other details and characteristics of the war in question. At his fingertips is data on any third parties who have ever intervened with military or economic aid or diplomatic efforts to resolve or attempt to resolve these conflicts. Regan also researches negotiations in the attempt to resolve interstate wars and volunteers as a community mediator helping individuals resolve disputes that might otherwise lead to violence or court. Regan says it doesn’t take a political scientist. The key to ending conflict is simple: “Somehow you need to get both sides to agree to a position other than

that which got them to take up arms in the first place.” The rub is what that “somehow” looks like, and political scientists like Regan are working to help make matters clearer for policy makers by analyzing the successes and failures of the past. One thing that generally works is to help people overcome “asymmetries of information” — essentially, to wake up and smell the coffee. For example, spears against a nuclear arsenal ought to be given significant weight, no matter the power of one’s convictions in a dispute. “Quite often getting people to the point where they are willing to see things differently is a function of giving them the most realistic possible view of the likelihood of them prevailing,” Regan said. Most conflicts stem from the inequitable allocation of resources, which could mean anything from money to political clout, finite natural resources or access to economic opportunities such as jobs and education, Regan maintains. In the case of civil war, an underlying issue is almost always how far the state is willing to go

more than $2 million in federal appropriations for its work on sensors and protein dynamics. Still, according to Sammakia, the mother lode of innovation that Binghamton University can help New York capitalize upon is undoubtedly still untapped, and will include inventors the University hasn’t yet met. “We are always looking for new partners, new collaborations and new ideas,” he said. “If someone has IP in our area of strength and focus, if

someone wants to look for opportunities for commercialization, we invite them to be in touch.” New machines that will be thinner than a human hair, diagnostics that will function at the molecular level, electronics packaging materials that will be lighter, stronger and more versatile than anything now known and flexible displays that create whole new interfaces between readers and text — these are just a few of the expected fruits of small scale systems

The evolution of new to accommodate rather than to violently or otherwise repress individual or group differences. And in almost all cases of continuing discord, one side has a falsely inflated opinion of its ability to prevail. “If I think I’m really powerful compared to you, then you’re going to have to come up with a deal that’s going to look a lot like my preferences to get me to settle the conflict,” he said. “But oftentimes, perceptions are mistaken. The role of the outside actor is to help parties change the perspective by which they view either the issues they are fighting over or how likely they are to prevail. If you told me I was 99 percent certain to win, frankly I have no reason to negotiate. If you told me instead that my chances were 50-50, then finding a settlement is probably a better deal for me.” The proliferation of technology and media coverage of armed conflicts might give people the impression that the world is increasingly in conflict. But Regan said the statistics and trends don’t really back that perception. In fact, there has been a dramatic expansion of freedom and democratic

packaging research. Whether stemming from basic research efforts such as Inhoff’s or applied research and collaborative technology transfer efforts such as those related to small scale systems packaging, the transformational value of research and scholarship is in its ability to build on our existing knowledge and take us to places and perspectives never before imagined, and to do so, quite literally, in the blink of an eye.


government in the world. In 1972, according to a widely respected survey by Freedom House, there were 43 free countries, while 38 were partly free and 69 were not free. Today, 88 countries, representing 44 percent of the world’s population, are free. Fiftyfive countries, representing 21 percent of the world’s population, are considered partly free; 49 countries, representing 35 percent of the world’s population, are not free. Regan doesn’t think that’s a coincidence. He thinks there are evolving norms of behavior that may be linked to evolution of the human condition. “I mean, think about it. We used to burn witches at the stake in New England. We denied all access to blacks. We beat them, shot them and lynched them without batting an eyelash. Five hundred years ago, the industrial countries tortured people right in the center of the city because public torture is really effective in quelling dissent,” Regan said. “But today, even in developing countries that are high abusers, where torture takes place, it is in some hidden prison.

And that’s a very different beast than putting it in the middle of town.” In order to look more closely at such phenomena, Regan and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson have submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation to study changing social dynamics from the evolutionary perspective. “If the pattern is correct, there’s no reason to suspect that the human condition, as it is expressed through state policy, doesn’t evolve in ways that lead to less conflict,” Regan said. “That doesn’t mean an end to all conflict. If you imagine a condition in which every country in the world is democratic, we are not all going to be planting tulips in the middle of the road. There will still be conflicts. But it will probably be better than it was 50 years ago.” Regan admits that it’s hard to say if the human condition is on an evolutionary track toward peace. And even if it is, he knows the trend may be reversible. But if a review of data across time supports the hypothesis, he’s confident that an evolutionary move toward peace will be a new perspective we can all live with.

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The Tortoise and the Hare revisited Quantum leaps vs. convergent technologies


ust as celebrity is seldom the result of overnight success, even the hottest of new ideas is unlikely to appear without precedent. Those that do can change life as we know it. But as bioengineering Professor Kenneth McLeod points out in his essay below, it probably wouldn’t be wise to hold our breath while waiting for such Category 5 brainstorms to make landfall. A principal in more than 10 startup companies and the holder of multiple patents, McLeod affords us an insider’s view on innovation. He reminds us that when it comes to the race to create new jobs and economic vitality through innovation, tweaks on existing knowledge and advances at the boundaries of current technologies often play the tortoise to the hare of unprecedented inspiration . . . and with the same results.

There is a common perception that innovation and new technology are synonymous, and without question, many important innovations are closely tied to new breakthroughs, or “quantum leaps,” in technology. Electrical power, the telephone, automobiles and powered flight are such innovations — technologies that have profoundly altered the way we


live and work. Indeed, we often refer to such technologies as “disruptive technologies” due to their impact on the existing culture. However, such breakthroughs are rare. Moreover, despite being referred to as “leaps,” fundamentally new technologies take a remarkably long time to permeate society. Both the automobile and electric power distribution were first

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developed in the 1880s, yet it was more than 30 years later, not until World War I, that each of these technologies became widely distributed throughout the United States. Why the long delay for society to embrace such clearly beneficial technologies? Principally, it is the lack of appropriate infrastructure. Despite clear proof of principle, there is little or no knowledge of the technology in the community with respect to how one designs reliable products using the new technology, how to efficiently build products based on the new technology, how consumers may best use the technology or how to maintain or repair the technology when it fails. Until these infrastructural problems are resolved, no new technology can take hold. This 30-year delay in the roll-out of new technology (roughly the time to train a new generation of engineers, producers and consumers) has been remarkably constant for hundreds of years. If breakthrough technologies do not form the basis of innovation, then

what does? To a large degree, this role is played by convergent technologies. Convergent technology refers to applying one or more established technologies in a new way to solve a problem. This kind of innovation takes place when someone recognizes a problem or an opportunity and sees that a new or different application of current technology can be exploited to address the situation. It is the linking of two or more apparently disparate concepts to resolve either a longestablished problem or a newly arising problem. In either situation, it is typically not the case that this new application of technology creates a change in the way we view the world, as with disruptive technologies. The process of convergence is the primary engine of economic growth because convergence can be exploited with little delay. Consider, for example, how little time it took DVDs to supplant CDs. While rare and new technologies including advances such as cell phones, the Internet and new pharmaceuticals attract much of the press, it is the

steady drumbeat of new linkages being established by innumerable entrepreneurs throughout society that results in the start-up of most new companies, and it these small companies that employ most Americans. Examples of convergent technology can be found right here at Binghamton, such as recent research results from the faculty in bioengineering. Osteoporosis, or the loss of bone mass with age, is a well recognized problem. If an elderly person falls and breaks a hip, the consequences can be devastating. To that end, numerous pharmaceutical firms are working to develop drugs (new technology) to inhibit this bone loss, but this is a slow and expensive process. Yet, even if new bone-loss prevention drugs are discovered, these drugs will do nothing to reduce the risk of falling, which is primarily a result of individuals having low blood pressure while upright — a condition known as orthostatic intolerance — due to pooling of blood in the legs. In investigating muscle stimulation

methods (established technologies) for maintaining blood pressure during upright posture, the bioengineering group at the University observed that these same technologies also appear to be capable of preventing bone loss in the leg. That maintaining adequate blood and fluid flow in the legs would be essential to maintaining bone mass seems an obvious link, but it had not previously been made. It is a common situation where many individuals are separately studying bone, muscle and circulation, but few are considering the integration of these various systems. This is perhaps the most important lesson with respect to convergent technology. The only way to establish a link between two or more disparate concepts is for some person or group of individuals to become knowledgeable about the disparate concepts. Breadth of exposure, diversity and interdisciplinary teams are therefore the cornerstone to consistent innovation. And consistent innovation is what keeps our economy on the move.

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PUBLIC POLICY Research, scholarship and creative activity. Though they have sometimes been viewed as worlds apart from our daily lives — ensconced in an Ivory Tower disconnected from and inaccessible to the “real” world — these critical legs of the tripartite process of discovery are woven inextricably into the fabric of life and society. Their stamp is present in the issues we discuss, the products we consume, the technologies we employ and, increasingly, in health, governance and the related public policies we live by.

A breath of Decker research validates asthma intervention program

fresh air


cientific research is stereotyped as an activity characterized by giant leaps — big, “Eureka!” moments that expand our knowledge, save lives or answer life’s most

perplexing questions. Ask those engaged in it, however, and you’ll hear a very different story: Research seldom leaps. Mostly, it plods. And its most important contributions are fashioned not out of the heady fiber of all things new and exciting, but from a far more basic cloth — a deeper awareness and understanding of that which already exists in the world around us.

This real-world, practical approach to research is the strength of Binghamton University’s Roger L. and Mary F. Kresge Center for Nursing Research. The center has carved out an important niche for itself, helping medical institutions and governmental agencies determine whether existent treatment and intervention programs are effective. “We made a conscious decision to do program evaluation,” said Gale Spencer, director of the Kresge Center. “Those who conduct research and implement


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evaluation methods always like to see a practical application of the data. And at the Kresge Center, we know that research can be used in policy-making, which helps to address identified problems to create better outcomes.” A prime example of the kind of evaluative studies conducted by the Kresge Center involves one of the most serious and common health-related conditions in the country: asthma. This chronic respiratory disease, characterized by shortness of breath and wheezing, affects more than 20 million

people in the United States alone, more than one-third of them children. What’s worse, the numbers are dramatically on the rise. Already responsible for three times more school absences than any other chronic childhood illness, pediatric

program is currently taught in various elementary schools throughout the state and the nation. The interactive curriculum uses discussions, stories, games and role-playing to teach children how to avoid asthma episodes. The program, which can be easily adapted for children

asthma has risen from a rate of 40.1 per thousand in 1982 to 74.9 per thousand in 1995, an increase of 86.8 percent. That makes it the most frequently identified chronic disease in children, and many cases undoubtedly go undiagnosed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, school-aged children, ages 5 to 14, have the highest prevalence of asthma among all age groups in the United States. Because its causes are unknown and there is no cure for asthma, knowing what works to help manage the disease is of paramount importance. Open Airways for Schools is a school-based educational program of the American Lung Association offered to asthmatic children, ages 8 through 11. Developed in the 1980s, the

of all ages, was developed to help control asthma and its rising medical costs, which in the U.S. already exceed $14.5 billion a year. But until Binghamton’s Kresge Center for Nursing Research got involved, little could be definitively said about its efficacy. At the request of the American Lung Association of New York and the New York State Education Department, the Kresge Center tested the program’s hypothesis — that structured asthma education would provide children with the disease the necessary tools to manage it. The expectation was that participating students would improve self-management skills, increase selfconfidence and generally feel more empowered in being able to control the effect of asthma on their daily activities.

Open Airways had a secondary purpose as well — to stem the tide of lowincome families using hospital emergency room visits to manage their children’s asthma. Anecdotal evidence seemed to suggest that the program was indeed working, but by the mid-1990s there still had been no formal study to support that impression. The first Kresge survey helped definitively and affirmatively answer that question. It included 40 schools from districts throughout the state, excluding New York City, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. Questionnaires went to students, parents and school nurses. Was the program helping children manage their asthma symptoms and their feelings about asthma? Was it educating parents on how to effectively help their children manage their own asthma? The answer to both questions was a resounding “yes,” according to Spencer. “Our study showed that Open Airways was effective in both improving children’s asthma self-management and their feelings about having asthma. It also showed a significant decrease in the percentage of parents reporting emergency room visits and hospital stays,” she said. “And our findings were supported by similar reports from nurses assigned to the schools that participated in the program.” School nurses also reported a significant decrease in student absences and their belief that Open Airways was a useful program, underscoring the benefits it had in reducing the need for emergency and other healthcare services. The data gathered by the Kresge Center prompted a follow-up study to measure the program’s lasting value. In the 1999-2000 academic year, a second Kresge survey was conducted to evaluate the long-term benefits of the

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Open Airways program taught during the 1997-98 school year. Children diagnosed with asthma in grades 3, 4 and 5 who had participated in the original study were asked once again to complete a questionnaire. The follow-up study again showed that Open Airways was effective. “While there was some slide backwards, there was no significant difference between the results of the first and second studies, so we were able to recommend that the American Lung Association also develop a program for middle school students,” Spencer said. Ultimately, the success of New York state’s Open Airways program can be attributed to the unique collaboration between the American Lung Association of New York, the State Education Department and the Kresge Center for its research methodology and data analysis expertise, Spencer said. “The findings from evaluation studies such as this are used to underscore the benefits provided to children in the program and to support the use of such effective intervention programs throughout New York state and the nation,” she said. The Kresge Center routinely negotiates agreements with sponsor organizations that allow for its evaluative research findings to be made public through published materials and presentations to organizations such as the Public Health Association, Spencer said. That way, this kind of important, evaluative research can more directly and immediately affect both policy and practice. “In the Open Airways project, we can clearly see that it’s paying off,” she added.


A story to tell Exploring the oral traditions of Africa


sidore Okpewho was born and raised in Africa. But his sweeping passion for research into African oral traditions was stirred not in his native Nigeria, but at the University of

Denver, where it was the life-altering result of a scholarly disagreement. Then a doctoral candidate, Okpewho was poised to write his dissertation, a comparative study of Walt Whitman and Horace — until he opened the 1970 book Oral Literature in Africa and read author Ruth Finnegan’s startling assertion: The epic story isn’t a characteristic form within African oral tradition. “I said, ‘Wait a minute. I recall listening to storytellers telling such tales about extraordinary people doing extraordinary things that are described in extraordinary ways. From my study of the European classical traditions, they’d be called epics,’” Okpewho recalls. Whitman and Horace were left for the consideration of others as an empassioned Okpewho instead wrote the dissertation that would become his first book – The Epic in Africa: Toward a Poetics of the Oral Performance. A second book, Myth in Africa: A Study of Its Aesthetic and Cultural Relevance

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published in 1983, challenged another of Finnegan’s claims – that myth was also not a characteristic African form. More than 20 years later, Okpewho, now a distinguished professor of Africana Studies at Binghamton University, has authored 14 books and more than four dozen articles and served as president of the International Society for Oral Literature in Africa. Okpewho began his research into African oral traditions in earnest in 1976 when he returned to his native Nigeria to record oral tales from his home region in the south. Thirty years later, he’s still transcribing and translat-

ing the volumes of material he gathered. In that time, he has unearthed stories of oppression that take on broader meaning when told in a global context. Though these are stories about anything but just governance, Okpewho believes they contain powerful insights for world leaders and policy makers about how some degree of tranquility might be achieved in some of the world’s most war-torn societies. “The tales I’ve collected give me a tremendous amount of insight into what governments need to do to ensure peace and harmony in their communities by making sure that they guarantee something like an equal playing field for the various political communities within them,” he said. Governments often don’t listen to the voices of minorities, leading inevitably to political upheaval, protests and violence, he added. While giving voice to the oppressed, Okpewho’s goal is now not only to share stories from his homeland, but to make the alternatives of inclusion more apparent in the world. “I suggest ways in which people can have greater political stability, not only in Nigeria, but across Africa and the rest of the world where minorities don’t get their fair share of attention,” he said. “That’s one way of ensuring peace — establishing a just system in which people who have been marginalized are given their fair share of attention as well as proper representation, and their voices are listened to.” His collection of tales reveals age-old resentments of domination by the imperial armies of Benin, a kingdom that flourished from the 10th through the 19th centuries. “Benin had a tremendous political and cultural influence that engendered very

stressful relations between the communities and the kingdom,” he said. The same themes still exist in present day African oral narratives, he said, because many still live under the same politically oppressive conditions. Inevitably, he said, civil wars and genocide will continue until the oppression ends. Okpewho’s research uncovered another theme as well. Tales of oppression aren’t confined to Africa. Those who were taken from their homelands as slaves brought their ancient tales

ences as well. “You want to know how these transformations came to be, besides saying ‘Well, these are told in the Caribbean, these are told in the United States so they’d be different,’” he said. “Who are the people who continue to tell these stories and what had the stories meant to them in their social, cultural and political situations? If possible, what can we say about the influence of the narrators on the content and style of the tales?” In effect, such a study aims at establishing the value of oral traditions

While giving voice to the oppressed, Okpewho’s goal is now not only to share stories from his homeland, but to make the alternatives of inclusion more apparent in the world. with them to America. Adding this twist to his work, Okpewho has looked at the relationship between African oral traditions and the traditions of black societies in the Americas. “Living and working in the Americas has brought home the need for me to explore the relationships between these traditions,” he said. A natural progression would be to compare African tales with tales of oppression from around the world. “I’ve tried to bring the African traditions into some kind of a conversation with various other cultures around the world,” he said. “For instance, in Once Upon a Kingdom, I extrapolate from these tales to suggest ways that the kinds of hegemonic situations in Nigeria that my tales reflect are similar to hegemonic situations not only in Africa, but also in other parts of the world.” There are, for instance, strong similarities between tales from Africa told in the United States and those told in the Caribbean, yet there are differ-

in conveying the marks of a people’s peculiar social and cultural identity. During Okpewho’s career, and in no small part because of Okpewho’s career, African oral literature is today considered an accepted and important area of research. In the past, fueled by technological barriers, scholars simply collected spoken narratives, without including the names of those who told them. “These days we pay more attention to the art of storytelling, the singing of songs and the performance of various other kinds of oral literature, rather than to just the text,” Okpewho said. “We study the people who perform them and the situations in which they are performed as well as the text itself.” Okpewho is also a novelist. His most recent novel, Call Me By My Rightful Name (2004), is the story of an African American who is moved by urgent voices out of African oral tradition to retrace his roots back to Africa. It’s a story that Okpewho knows well — one he could speak as his own, to a world that might benefit from the listening.

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fetal alcohol syndrome


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undreds of thousands of children suffering from the leading known preventable cause of mental retardation and birth defects could see improved outcomes, thanks to a Binghamton psychology professor who is demonstrating that the manifestations of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) — until now thought to be a chronic condition — are in some cases reversible. FAS affects 1 in 100 live births or as many as 40,000 infants each year, according to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. An individual with fetal alcohol syndrome can incur a lifetime health cost of more than $800,000. In 2003, fetal alcohol syndrome cost the United States $5.4 billion; direct costs were $3.9 billion, while indirect costs added another $1.5 billion. Anna Klintsova, assistant professor of psychology, is leading a team of researchers in developing ways to help those suffering from the body- and mind-altering effects of fetal alcohol syndrome rehabilitate from the scars their mothers’ actions have left. Throughout the first few months of pregnancy, most mothers are careful about their every action. They eat healthy foods, decrease stress in their lives and moderately exercise, all in preparation for delivery of a healthy baby. The 1 percent of American children born each year facing a life filled with ailments and emotional scars resulting from fetal alcohol syndrome, however, stand as unfortunate proof that not all pregnant females share the same priorities. Research shows that taking drugs, smoking cigarettes and drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol can have detrimental effects on a fetus. “I’ll never be able to understand how or why a mother could intentionally

harm her child,” said Klintsova, who joined the University in 2002. “Females often don’t understand the detrimental effects their slight actions will have on the lives of their children.” For nearly eight years, in conjunction with researchers at the University of Illinois, Klintsova has engaged in FAS research, a confirmed ailment leading to damage to a fetus’s central nervous system during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Resulting side


exposure mimics the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome. Using what she refers to as an Olympic obstacle course, rats are timed and rated for their ability to complete different physical challenges — from crossing narrow bridges to climbing a strand of rope. The accuracy and time needed to complete the different tasks demonstrate how alcohol has altered the rodents’ brain activities. Since a rat is only in a womb for 21

they’re exposed to alcohol,” Klintsova said. “Alcohol is definitely an altering factor.” Rehabilitation to the cerebellum, the section of the brain that controls motor skills and coordination, begins immediately. The researchers then train the animals on the acrobatic obstacles, repeatedly showing them over 20 days how to correctly perform the tasks. “We train them again and again until we begin to notice improvement,” she said. “In terms of humans, it’s harder to


effects include facial malformations, developmental damage and impairment to motor skills. “The brain is rapidly developing when most of the neurons are forming those structures,” she said. “A growth spurt occurs during the third trimester of pregnancy and that’s the period where the effect of alcohol is quite detrimental.” While many people believe that alcohol would potentially kill the fetus in the early stages of development, Klintsova said many of those afflicted do survive — faced with life-altering ailments such as severe facial abnormalities, lower IQ, clumsiness, brain damage, social problems, depression and drug and alcohol problems. She has learned that FAS is high among Native American populations, especially in New Mexico, where she says evidence proves that alcoholism is an established trend. In a small laboratory in Science 4, some of Klintsova’s most active and diligent researchers are the newborn rats she feeds alcohol-milk cocktails during their first days of life. The

days, Klintsova and her researchers — six undergraduates, one graduate student and a technician — begin the rodents’ intoxication early to make it equivalent to the third trimester in a human fetus. In terms of brain development, the rats are born at approximately the beginning of the human third trimester, so the introduction of small amounts of alcohol begins within the first four days of life. “We let them sort of adapt a little and grow a bit from birth to day four,” she said. “Then through the ninth day of life, they begin to binge drink. What happens is that they’re knocked out significantly. They become really drunk.” A month later, the rats, which are now at an age equivalent to a teenager or young adult, are exposed to a complete physical challenge to test their every move, speed and motor skills. In their small containment area, they must first walk parallel bars, later running on a rotating rod and climbing a rope, Klintsova said. “We demonstrated that they’re significantly worse in their skills when

show progress in children because it’s difficult to obtain permission to work with children . . . obviously the greatest advantage would be to do that,” she said. “A child’s nervous system is very plastic and children could be very susceptible to more interventions like that.” In a world where no cure exists, Klintsova hopes her research will lead to changes. “The conclusion we can make is that the intervention must be very, very targeted,” she said. “If we want to improve a certain behavioral function, then we need to use training aimed at that particular function of the brain.” Though she thinks targeted interventions could improve outcomes for children with FAS, Klintsova said the only way to keep a fetus safe is by not consuming any alcohol or drugs while pregnant. “When the fetus is fully formed and all the parts of the body can be seen by an ultrasound, some people think it’s okay and a few glasses of wine will not harm the baby,” Klintsova said. The risk of binge drinking is just as real late in pregnancy as it is earlier on, she said.

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005


Helping to protect life as we know it — that’s what Binghamton University researchers involved in a project to improve the design and energy efficiency of data centers will be doing for the next two years.

Cool consideration of a hot issue:

Data center


hile the claim might sound extreme, keep in mind that they’ll be working with researchers at partnered institutions on what has become the

nerve center of modern life: data centers. Thousands of them. All processing vital information, critically important to much that drives our daily lives — world financial markets, government and military operations, business and industry, worldwide shipping and transportation, health and human services, entertainment — even organized athletics and religion. Keeping data centers in business by optimizing their design, energy efficiency and information processing efficacy is the goal of a $437,270 two-year project backed by a $247,533 contract from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).


Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005


Bahgat Sammakia, director of the University’s Integrated Electronics Engineering Center, has spent much of his 30-year career working to improve thermal management strategies in electronics packaging.

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005


Peter R. Smith, NYSERDA’s president, said the data center project is one of several high-tech, but fundamentally important, research projects sponsored by the public benefit corporation. “These data centers are high electric-demand nerve centers whose utility service is large. They require stable and secure electric power for machine operation and cooling. Considering New York’s prime financial center role, NYSERDA seeks to find ways to serve these centers efficiently and securely, and then replicate those designs at universities and other large computing power centers around New York.” The project, “Optimizing Airflow Management Protocols in New York Data Centers,” will team researchers at Binghamton University, Georgia Tech, Lawrence Berkeley Labs and IBM. The project will focus on surveying, modeling and testing design improvements to an existing Manhattan data center, all in hope of devising new design strategies that can be employed throughout the world.


Just now approaching their adolescence, data centers have already become the brain and central nervous system of the information age. Without these data storage and processing strongholds, the Internet would be reduced, at least temporarily, to a grown-up, digitized version of the old Campbell’s soup-can network, where end-users hunker down and share sketchy information available to few and meaningful to even fewer. Search engines would die with nary a sputter. Encyclopedia salesmen would be cruising middle-class neighborhoods by tomorrow. “Googling” someone, unless quickly redefined and with a possible jail term attached, would be out of the question. Not to worry. Data centers, like most adolescents, probably aren’t going to leave us anytime soon. They will, instead, grow stronger. Hopefully, they’ll also grow smarter. Like it or not, they’ll reproduce. And like adolescents everywhere, data centers, at least for the foreseeable future, will continue to consume fuel at rates

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005

guaranteed to raise eyebrows and empty wallets. Bahgat Sammakia, director of the University’s renowned Integrated Electronics Engineering Center, has spent much of his 30-year career working to improve thermal management strategies in electronics packaging. That means devising ways to keep computers and other electronics from spontaneously combusting the moment they are turned on. “Imagine the heat generated by a 100-watt light bulb,” Sammakia explained. “Now take that same amount of power and double it, so you have the equivalent of a 200-watt light bulb in an area the size of a computer chip. Now you have extremely high heat density. When you turn your machine on, the temperature shoots up to 200, 300 or even 400 degrees Celsius.” Sammakia’s point is this: Without adequate thermal management, the electricity coursing through your computer would reduce it to a puddle of melted solder and burnt plastic

Data centers, like most adolescents, probably aren’t going to leave us anytime soon. They will, instead, grow stronger.

before you could pull the power cord. That’s the kind of thermal management challenge Sammakia and other electronics packaging researchers have become accustomed to dealing with at the device and packaging level. The issue becomes even more heated, however, when hundreds of pieces of electronic equipment, drawing thousands of kilowatts of power 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, are housed together in a data center, he said. If the computers had their way, data center energy costs would be significantly higher. For all the heat they generate, computers actually thrive on cold. Most electronic computing devices run 30 to 40 percent faster at subfreezing temperatures, Sammakia said. Human interaction and monitoring of data center equipment, however, is an around-the-clock enterprise, so optimum temperatures in the range of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit are maintained not because they best serve the needs of the machines, but for the practical purposes of human comfort

and survival. While the computers might prefer an Arctic clime in data centers, achieving temperatures even as cool as a late spring day are a tall order, Sammakia said. “We’re talking about rooms the size of basketball courts, where you have row after row of mainframes and servers, all dissipating heat, and the entire room is designed with the sole purpose of sustaining this equipment and maintaining it at the right temperature,” said Sammakia. “These data centers, and there are hundreds of them in New York City alone, consume massive amounts of power. By making computations more cost- and energy-efficient, by reducing total energy consumption and by passing on the environmental benefits of those savings, any energy efficiency can make a very significant difference.” Simply discovering the best location for cold-air delivery vents could easily mean million-dollar savings once incorporated as a standard strategy in data center designs, Sammakia said. The research team will be striving to

achieve whatever energy efficiencies it can. Sammakia thinks improvements on the order of 20 to 25 percent are “very doable.” To reach that goal Binghamton University researchers will build numerical, computer models of the Manhattan data center during the first year of the project. Their models will then be used to enhance the team’s ability to predict the efficacy of design changes proposed throughout the remainder of the project. Researchers at Georgia Tech will confirm the accuracy of the modeling by building an actual room at scale and taking appropriate measurements. Finally, in year two, the team will send researchers to take measurements in the actual data center and will write a design guide to help improve energy efficiency in all data centers. IBM, an established leader in energy metrics, will mentor modeling and measurements, while Lawrence Berkeley Labs, already a prominent name in datacenter research and design in California, will help to benchmark the Manhattan data center.

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and-held computers made possible by tiny

electronic circuits have brought mobility to functions once tied to the desktop. Harold Ackler’s work takes aim at a similar goal: creating microsensors that can be built into portable systems to take measurements once restricted to the lab. His research could bring cancer detection to the bedside and make it easier to monitor streams for pollution or test for biohazards at the scene of a terrorist attack. An assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science, Ackler came to Binghamton University in August 2003. Together with mechanical engineer Timothy Singler, Ackler is beginning to develop a micro-scale cell analysis device. The project builds upon Ackler’s earlier work, at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, on a device to separate and identify cells in a fluid.


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P ROV I D I N G I M M E D I AT E , O N - T H E - S P OT

Ackler and Singler are talking with oncologists at Philadelphia’s Fox Chase Cancer Center and Thomas Jefferson Medical College “about developing sensors to detect small numbers of cancer cells in blood,” Ackler said. “These could be used for very early detection of cancer or monitoring patients after cancer treatment.” The device relies on the fact that certain fluorescent chemicals can be bound to antibodies, and specific antibodies bind to specific cancer cells. “The oncologists have determined that, for at least one particular colorectal cancer, there are cells that have a very specific protein on their membrane surface,” Ackler said. Adding the right fluorophor to a blood sample “tags” the cells to which this antibody clings. “After the cells are tagged, you run the blood through a device that will excite them with light that causes the fluorescent molecules to glow,” he said. When a photo detector registers a set of glowing molecules, that identifies a cancer cell. A portable system based on this technology would make it possible to diagnose a patient for cancer soon after taking a blood sample. “You can get results faster than if you had to take it out to a lab,” Ackler said. Much of the fundamental technology needed for this device is already known. But Ackler and his partners are trying to create an array of sensors, “so you can run larger volumes of blood through in a reasonable time.” The principle of diagnosis on the spot also applies to another project on Ackler’s agenda. Together with electri-

cal engineer Qing Wu, chemist Wayne Jones and environmental scientists Joe Graney and Siddartha Mitra, Ackler has applied to the National Science Foundation for a grant to develop a chemical sensor for environmental applications. Scientists could use the sensor to monitor water for heavy metals, transitional metals, endocrine-disrupting chemicals and other pollutants. One technique the partners might employ takes advantage of fluorescent polymers that grow more intense in color when they come in contact with metal ions. Specific polymers react to specific ions. A waveguide coated with one of these polymers will direct light at water as it is pumped through the sensor. If the polymer changes intensity, a photodetector registers that fact, indicating that the water contains the metal in question. Today, environmentalists generally monitor streams and wells by testing water in the lab. “That means they have people out in the field, collecting samples all over the place, all the time, and bringing them back. The costs of doing that are very high,” Ackler said. A device containing an array of microsensors, each testing for a different pollutant, could sit in the water, take measurements and periodically transmit data back to the lab via a wireless network. One major challenge in developing micro-scale devices is figuring how to build them. Engineers working in this field borrow techniques from microelectronics, but must adapt them for threedimensional fabrication. Then they have to refine their techniques to make them


Harold Ackler

robust enough for commercial production. “If it takes a PhD to make the device, it’s not a very good process,” Ackler said. Another challenge is getting multiple microdevices to work with one another, and with other components, in a system built for use in the real world. When developing a microdevice, it’s important to consider from the start how it will be packaged, Ackler said. “If you don’t, you end up with a chip you can’t work with.” Ackler is lending his expertise in this area to the University’s Small Scale Systems Packaging Center, which works with other Centers of Advanced Technology throughout New York to incorporate micro- and nanoscale devices into integrated systems. “Most academics are concerned with just the chip, which is fine, because it’s very challenging,” Ackler said. “But someone’s got to think about how to put those chips into an operating system.”

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005



C. J. Zhong spends most of his days working in the nanoworld, where structures tens of thousands of times smaller than a human hair behave in ways we’re only now learning to predict. His work, which

involves fundamental research as well as the development of practical applications, has high-stakes implications in fields as diverse as chemical and biological sensing, information storage and catalysis. And a $465,000 career award from the National Science Foundation is just the latest in large-scale support for Zhong’s extraordinary explorations at the scale of the infinitesimal.

N A N O T E C H N O L O G Y : This Small Stuff is Really One of Zhong’s specialties is catalysis, which is key to everything from the development of fuel cell vehicles to new chemicals. Catalysis refers to the acceleration of chemical reactions by materials that are chemically unchanged at the end of the reaction. It’s involved in more than 80 percent of all chemical processing, and the production of petroleum products is entirely reliant on it. Catalysis saves money by making reactions possible at lower temperatures, with smaller quantities of materials, or by generally reducing the energy requirements, Zhong said. But researchers are learning that when it comes to nanoscience, it’s not just a matter of applying what’s already known to ever-more miniature systems. The rules of engagement for catalysis in the nanorealm are very different than they are at larger scales. In fact, across the board, sensory, magnetic, electronic and catalytic properties of nanoscale particles have little or no precedent. “When you’re working at nanoscale, it’s not just that things get smaller, it’s that there are a whole different range of possible outcomes,” Zhong said.


“Nanoscale right now is an entirely new world. At the fundamental level there’s a need to better understand the complex electronic, magnetic, sensory and catalytic behaviors of nanoparticles.” That’s because even the most familiar of compounds behave very differently at nanoscale — or billionthof-a-meter — proportions. As a prime example, Zhong points to the metal gold, which has long served as a preferred model for research because it’s not easily oxidized. Many other metals tend to easily break down and degrade during experimentation. Gold, which in bulk form appears yellow, melts at over 1,000 degrees Celsius and generally hasn’t been seen as much of a catalyst in the past. “That’s why we use it for jewelry,” Zhong joked. Gold nanoparticles, however, exhibit very different properties from the metal in a more massive state. They melt when heated to only a few hundred degrees Celsius and are proving able catalysts in a broad range of reactions, where they more easily and less

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expensively lower barriers to important reactions than do more traditional competitors, such as platinum. At nanoscale, even the yellow color from which gold draws its name changes. Gold nanoparticles can appear as red, blue or a wide variety of other colors, depending on their size and spacing from each other, Zhong noted. This characteristic, first capitalized on by ancient artisans who used tiny flakes of gold to colorfully decorate everything from jewelry to vases, today offers great promise in the field of biological sensors, Zhong said. Since the visible color of gold nanoparticles changes depending on their spacing, if specific DNA strains can be made to hook up with nanoparticles of gold and thereby change the spacing of the gold particles, the visible color of the gold particles will change. Presuming the sensor is tuned to bind with anthrax DNA, for instance, exposure to anthrax would immediately be signaled by a change in the color of the gold particles in the sensor. This idea is actually being pursued by other researchers in the

Big field, Zhong said. That makes it possible to develop gold-particle biosensors that are essentially the nanoparticle equivalent of litmus paper, providing a quick, visible signal to indicate something important about the environment to which they are exposed. Similarly, by making use of magnetic and electronic properties of specific nanoparticles, which can also be very different from those associated with larger particles of the same substance, important new information storage applications will likely be developed, he said. Because of the sweeping implications of his work, Zhong receives more than $600,000 in funding from sponsors in addition to his NSF career award. Those sponsors include the NSF by means of other awards, the American Chemical Society, the World Gold Council and Honda, for which he conducts research that could prove critical to the development of fuel-cell vehicles.

As part of his NSF career award research plan, Zhong expects to develop novel mediator-template pathways as a general strategy for assembling nanoparticles, making it possible to better control the size, shape and interspacial properties of assembled nanoparticles. He also hopes to develop new design parameters in terms of size, shape and interparticle spatial properties, an approach that will allow for the electrical and binding properties of nanoparticles to be tuned for such specific applications as chemical sensors and biosensors. But Zhong’s research isn’t the only thing that should be significantly advanced by the NSF career award, which is expected to span the next five years. While the award supports Zhong’s proposed plan to address some of the most pressing problems in nanoparticle assembly in the research lab, it also places strong emphasis on curriculum development.

“Current technology is micron technology, and most students are comfortable with that,” he said. “But 10 years down the road, everything will be nanotechnology, and we have to start preparing them to live and work in that world as well. This small stuff is going to be big for a very long time.” To do that, Zhong intends to develop new graduate and undergraduate course modules centered on “nanoscale chemistry,” he said. The educational component will also involve hands-on interdisciplinary activities and outreach to area high schools. Research and education already go hand-in-hand in Zhong’s laboratory, which includes a research team comprising a senior research scientist, eight graduate students and 10 undergraduate students. The enthusiasm they bring to helping chart the limits and explore the possibilities of the nanoworld is one of Zhong’s biggest rewards, he said.

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CHEMISTRY for a safer world Supercharged “kitty litter” could attract, neutralize toxins 34

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hemists have a lot in common with MacGyver, the

Doetschman has learned the answers to these questions by merely watching unflappable hero of the 1980s hit TV show of the how the molecule vibrates, which he said has been a more informative same name. They are noted for their uncanny ability pursuit than studying the molecule’s rotation or reorientation. to achieve extraordinary things using the most common of tools. Sometimes, he says, the simplest So chemistry Professor David Doetschman’s plan to use a common solution is the best. Doetschman demonstrates use of a product to create a substance that could protect people from the glove box apparatus for handling the aluminosilicate materials in the absence deadly effects of chemical and biological weapons doesn’t sound all of oxygen and moisture. He wants these that surprising — until you learn that his amazing, but not-so-secret aluminosilicates to be more than just a clean-up crew for radiation. In fact, he ingredient is “kitty litter.” plans to transform them into a sensor by filling them with molecules or metal ions that can detect certain substances With the aid of his research team and machine, strikes the sample and the in the environment; the mere presence machine collects the light reflected off funding from Science Applications of the substances would automatically the sample,” he said. Based on the International Corporation (SAIC), trigger a defensive response by the machine’s readings, Doetschman can Doetschman is trying to create a molecules inside the aluminosilicates. determine how much light or radio substance that will not only absorb His research team has also been waves have been absorbed and how radiation or attract the toxins of a trying to alter the aluminosilicates to be their behavior changes once inside the “dirty bomb,” but also neutralize these aluminosilicate. By charting the absorp- able to neutralize toxins. “We still need dangerous materials into something better ways to deal with chemical harmless. tion of each wavelength and carefully weapons,” Doetschman said, “And controlling the test environment (the The potentially lifesaving material there’s no better substance than one vacuum box prevents dust particles, Doetschman is working with is known that’s capable of absorbing a great deal moisture or even oxygen from tainting as aluminosilicate — a very porous of material.” the results), Doetschman is able to peer combination of aluminum, silicon and Eventually, Doetschman hopes to into aluminosilicate’s secret internal oxygen. Cat owners have appreciated alter the inside of aluminosilicates so the absorbent qualities of this substance environment: He can find out the they’ll be very acidic or basic and identity of molecules inside and how for many years, and conservationists thereby have the ability to “chew up” have relied on it to help clean up some they change once they’re soaked up. anything they soak up. “They wouldn’t “These patterns tell us a great deal of the world’s most catastrophic chemibe acidic or basic to the touch; they’d cal and oil spills, including that of the about the identity of the molecule that only react to things that get absorbed the aluminosilicate is absorbing and Exxon Valdez in 1989. inside, so they’d be remarkably safe to what kind of motions the molecule is Doetschman is taking kitty litter a handle,” he said. step further, though, by studying what undergoing,” he said. “We hope the SAIC remains very interested in happens when aluminosilicates soak up research will reveal something new Doetschman’s work. With several light and other radiation. Working in about molecules in these very tight homeland security and military the most controlled environment spaces.” contracts, they’re eager to see the Doetschman is also trying to answer possible, a sterile vacuum box, results and put his findings to good and some other scientific questions: How Doetschman beams visible light, infrared light or radio waves into does the newly absorbed substance react practical use. Perhaps the war on terror will end and such defensive measures to its surroundings? Are the molecules extremely fine particles of the attracted to or repelled by the surface of won’t be necessary. Until then, aluminosilicate. Doetschman’s research continues. “Light comes from a source in the the aluminosilicate?

Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005


SOLiTUDE W linked to women’s creativity and “voice” riting, it has often been said, is a lonely

business. Jo Malin’s new book, Herspace: Women, Writing, and Solitude, examines

three closely intertwined topics: women and solitude, women

as writers and women claiming and designing their own spaces to support creativity. When it comes to literary enterprise, women have traditionally been outnumbered and outspoken by men. Malin and her contributors bring to the fore an explanation we as a society probably should have arrived at on our own long before now: Personal space and time are key to finding and raising your literary voice. And, though it remains a fantasy for many U.S. women raising young children, getting some alone time in the bathroom probably isn’t all that’s needed here. When she bought her first house in 1996, literary scholar Jo Malin was in her early 50s. It was at once the most scary and wonderful thing she had ever done — a risky personal decision with farreaching social and profes-


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sional consequences that Malin couldn’t have imagined at the time. Today those consequences help to underscore the messages of Herspace. A book of essays edited by Malin and Victoria Boynton, Herspace is “dynamic, disruptive and wonderfully emancipating,” according to William J. Kennedy, professor of comparative literature at Cornell University. “These 15 robust, timely and intellectually challenging essays explore women’s relationships to private time and space as opportunities that enable creative work, as alternatives to masculine models of creativity and

as sites of ownership and autonomy,” Kennedy writes in his cover critique of the book. Malin, a project director in the School of Education and Human Development and an adjunct assistant professor of English at Binghamton, welcomes Kennedy’s enthusiasm, particularly coming as it does from a man. As a rule, when she discusses her book, which was published last year by The Haworth Press, men don’t respond with the same sense of universal intrigue as do women. “Women are always very, very interested in the topic. I can tell the subject is striking a chord with them,” she said. “The typical response from men tends to be very different, although it also seems to derive from hitting a nerve. Whenever I discuss the book with men, when I dare to suggest that many women might be just fine with a house as a partner rather than a man, they become very nervous.” Malin’s accustomed to “That’s a depressing topic,” and similar conversation-stopping replies from men, she said. Depressing or not, Malin’s topic has been a theme relevant to feminist perspectives on creativity and literature for more than a century. It predates by 60 years or more Virginia Woolf’s bold assertions in 1929 that a woman must have money and a room of her own, that human dignity is born of “privacy and space” and that “intellectual freedom depends on material things.” Malin, who is divorced and lived in an apartment for more than 20 years while she raised her two children and then completed her doctorate, ought to know about that. Though buying a home as a single woman put her at the vanguard of a burgeoning social phenomenon in the United States, even

today her situation as the owner of “nearly 2,000 square feet of solitude” remains an unobtainable fantasy to many women worldwide. “I feel very privileged, and sometimes even guilty to have such good fortune,” she writes in her introduction to Herspace. As recently as the 1980s, in fact, even in the U.S. and even if they could afford the payments on a house, women still had a hard time buying real estate in their own names. Changes in lending standards over the past two decades have opened the national real estate market to women, and women are seizing the opportunity to own their own space in record numbers. By 2002, single women were buying homes at twice the rate of single men, with women representing a full 18 percent of all first-time home buyers in the country, up from 15 percent just the year prior. Condominiums, which generally include grounds maintenance and some upkeep for a fee, are also popular with women. The National Association of Realtors estimates that close to half of all condominium owners in the United States are single women. “Speaking for myself,” Malin writes of her own house in the introduction to Herspace, “I love my work and the freedom to write on a Sunday afternoon in blissful uninterrupted solitude. I’m in love with the house as an architectural structure as well as a protected, intimate space that nurtures my solitude.” Malin points out that many of the women who contributed to Herspace share her affiliation with higher education, and specifically with Binghamton University. But like all women in the United States, they’ve also been schooled in a “male-centered literary canon.” “There are still relatively few women writers included in English classes,”

Malin said. That’s in part why many readers of the collection will be struck by such realizations as the fact that the word “husband” actually originates with “housebond,” the holder of the bond on the house. Ultimately, though, the strength of Herspace is not limited by its examinations of the meaning and importance of solitude to women writers of the past. This is a book rooted in and rising up from the honesty and strength of the modern-day essayists and scholars who contributed to it. Still, as pointed out by former faculty member Sidonie Smith, now the Martha Guernsey Colby Collegiate Professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, in Herspace “the voices of women writers accumulate into a chorus of exemplars, models, strugglers and jugglers of the temporal and spatial pressures and pleasures of solitude: May Sarton, Virgina Woolf, Charlotte Bronte, Zora Neal Hurston, Marguerite Duras, Kate Chopin, Alice Koller.” Besides Malin, other modern-day contributors to Herspace with Binghamton University affiliations are Boynton, co-editor of the book and associate professor of English at SUNY Cortland; Anne Mamary, a contributing writer, who is an assistant professor at Monmouth College and like Boynton earned her doctorate at Binghamton in 1994; former faculty member Suzette Henke; and Kassia Fleisher and Lisa Johnson, both of whom earned their doctoral degrees from Binghamton in 2000. Malin is also the author of The Voice of the Mother: Embedded Maternal Narratives in Twentieth Century Women’s Autobiographies and co-editor with Boynton of The Encyclopedia of Women’s Autobiography to be published later this year.

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Binghamton University BINGHAMTON RESEARCH 2005

Teasing reason out of the “irrational”: Binghamton researcher looks at consumer decision-making


t’s no secret that consumers are irrational creatures. Marketing professionals know, for example, that people will drive out of their way to get an advertised 50 percent

discount on a $10 calculator, but they won’t make the same detour for a 5 percent discount on a $100 jacket. Most fail to compute that each trip offers the same $5 saving. “Our research has shown that, in many cases, consumers simply react to whatever information is put in front of them,” said Subimal Chatterjee, associate professor of marketing in Binghamton University’s School of Management. Shoppers often approach buying decisions without strong preferences, Chatterjee said. “The environment, or what we call the context, surrounding the consumer is what ultimately drives the consumer’s preferences.” Context might include the variety of brands on display, the way items are placed, the range of prices available, a friend standing by with advice or a host of other factors.

Despite the resources poured into surveys and focus groups, the influence of context makes it hard to predict what consumers will buy, Chatterjee said. But it also offers opportunities to shape consumer choice. Marketers who understand context effects can turn certain elements on or off to steer shoppers toward the products they want to sell. “My research focuses on the more descriptive aspects of consumer decision-making,” Chatterjee said. In one recent project, he and Timothy Heath of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, used laboratory experiments to explore how people make decisions that

involve risk. Their goal was to improve upon prevailing theories, finding a more accurate way to predict when people will or won’t embrace uncertainty. In one experiment, subjects were asked if they’d rather receive $5 or take a 1-in-1,000 chance of winning $5,000. Most subjects chose to gamble. One popular theory, called prospect theory, suggests people do this because they “overweight” the small probability of winning. To test this explanation, Chatterjee and Heath offered another set of subjects the choice between $500 or a 1-in-1,000 chance of winning $500,000. “If the prospect theory’s interpretation is correct, they’d still overweight 1-in1,000 and go for the riskier alternative,” Chatterjee said. But most people in this group chose the $500. When subjects explained their choices, members of the first group said that $5 is “a pittance” — too small a sum to dissuade them from trying for a higher reward. But $500 is “a lot of money” — enough to persuade the

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In one experiment, subjects were asked if they’d rather receive $5 or take a 1-in-1,000 chance of winning $5,000. Most subjects chose to gamble. second group to accept a sure gain rather than gamble on a jackpot. Working phrases such as “pittance” and “a lot of money” into a rule is difficult, but such expressions are more useful than the old mathematical formulas for explaining as well as predicting behavior in this kind of situation, Chatterjee said. And these descriptions can be useful to people who market products that involve risk, such as lottery tickets and insurance. Chatterjee says it’s still not clear whether most people buy lottery tickets because they overweight the small probability of winning or because they think the price of the ticket is a pittance to pay for the joy they get from dreaming of what they would do with untold riches. It’s also possible that this isn’t an either-or matter. It’s very possible that one perspective is more true for some people, while the other is more important to others. Both perceptions quite possibly simultaneously factor into decisions made by a third group of lottery players, Chatterjee said. Along with information gained in experiments in the lab, Chatterjee is starting to exploit the wealth of data supermarkets capture when they scan barcodes and swipe shoppers’ loyalty cards. Studying data on purchases of staple products over eight years, Chatterjee and Heath are testing whether a discount steers shoppers in a particular direction. In lab experiments, they have found that national brands of orange juice benefit from discounts more when they dominate a store’s own


lower-priced brand. Now they want to see if the same pattern holds in the real marketplace. “When a national brand is discounted, did we see a sudden spike in their market share?” Chatterjee asked. “Preliminary results show that it makes a huge difference. Deep discounts of national brands, when they create such dominance effects, help those national brands more as compared to discounts that do not create dominance.” Real-world data is also helping Chatterjee explore the economics of movie sequels. Films succeed when they exceed expectations, he explained. When a studio follows The Matrix, for instance, with The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, audiences expect more gratification with each film, making success even harder to attain. To keep attracting crowds, movies in a series must get better with each release. However, Chatterjee said, “if you believe in the regression to the mean, then successes and failures should converge to the mean quality of the Matrix franchise.” “Studio managers are very smart people. So the reason they make these sequels must be that they have figured out some way of beating the so-called regression to the mean argument,” Chatterjee said. Together with Suman Basuroy of the State University of New York at Buffalo and S. Abraham Ravid of Rutgers University, Chatterjee has assembled a database on more than 500 movies, with information on box office receipts, distribution, production budgets, positive and negative reviews

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Subimal Chatterjee, associate professor of marketing

and more. The goal is to define the characteristics of sequels that make money and sequels that don’t. “Perhaps there’s no point in thinking in terms of a mean quality level. Perhaps when studios make the sequel, they make a deliberate decision to be even more lavish” than in the first movie, Chatterjee said. An earlier collaboration between Chatterjee, Basuroy and Ravid showed that a large budget and popular stars often blunt the effects of bad reviews. Could those factors also work in favor of a sequel, no matter its quality? “We’re trying to gather the data, but our initial hypothesis is that successful sequels keep exceeding expectations” with everbigger budgets and stars. Whether the data support that hypothesis or point to a different explanation, Chatterjee welcomes the results. “It’s nice when your theories are supported, but it’s even nicer when they’re not, because then you know that the problem is more rich than you thought,” he said. “Whenever I get into my research, I try to keep as open a mind as possible. And I love these surprises.”

Binghamton University Organized Research Centers Editorial Staff Editorial Team Susan E. Barker, Denise Czuprynski, Katie Ellis Contributing Writers Susan E. Barker, Katie Ellis, Merrill Douglas, Professor Kenneth McCleod, Sandra Paniccia Design David Skyrca Photography Ashok Subramanian Copy Editing John Wojcio Illustrations/Cover Illustration Ashok Subramanian

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Binghamton University / Research Magazine / 2004-05  

researcher looks at consumer decision-making Shaping consumer preferences by understanding the environment that drives them “True love mean...

Binghamton University / Research Magazine / 2004-05  

researcher looks at consumer decision-making Shaping consumer preferences by understanding the environment that drives them “True love mean...