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Chipping away the Ivory Tower Research partnerships expand electronics packaging frontiers



am pleased to share with you this issue of Inside Research at Binghamton

University. In these pages you will learn of some of the exciting research initiatives underway on our campus. Binghamton University offers the unique combination of a world-class undergraduate program in a research setting. Named one of the four university centers in the State University of New York in 1965, Binghamton has grown into a highly regarded research university while retaining the collegial qualities of a smaller school. Undergraduate and graduate students are taught by one faculty, many of whom are recognized leaders in their fields. Our 14 specialized research centers attract scholars from around the globe. You will learn about some of the exciting work by those scholars here. Thank you for your interest. Lois B. DeFleur President


his annual report brings to you some of the exciting research and scholar-

ship underway at Binghamton University. The examples of faculty research span a broad range of interests, from fundamental inquiry to joint projects with Southern Tier industry. The University has completed another successful year of research, one of the best ever in terms of funded research and increases in funding per faculty member. With the large number of new faculty hires the last two years and planned for the next two, the University is poised for another jump in funding toward attainment of Research II status. This progress is being made whilst maintaining our strength in undergraduate education. We are proud of the role undergraduates play alongside graduate students in our research endeavors. A stronger research presence builds a stronger undergraduate educational experience. Our Organized Research Centers continue to flourish, and new centers in health care and environmental systems have been formed. These centers are the focus of much interdisciplinary research on and off campus and allow students and faculty to readily interact across departments and schools and with the external community. The Research Office welcomes reader comments, and thanks all faculty, staff and students for a very fruitful year. M. Stanley Whittingham Vice Provost for Research

CONTENTS IN S ID E R E S E A R CH Binghamton University 1998 PUBLISHER Lois B. DeFleur President, Binghamton University, State University of New York





Unleashing nature’s computing power

M. Stanley Whittingham Vice Provost for Research and Outreach John Hachtel Associate Vice President for University Relations

Chimie Douce: Turning down the heat

Electronic surveillance EDITORIAL STAFF


Using soft chemistry to synthesize new oxide ceramics

Neural networks help detect breast cancer


Anita Knopp Doll Editor Susan E. Barker Writer/Editor Evangelos Dousmanis Photographer David Skyrca ’85 Designer Inside Research is published annually as a joint project by the Office of University Relations and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs Postmaster: Send address changes to Inside Research, Office of University Relations, State University of New York at Binghamton, PO Box 6000, Binghamton, New York 13902-6000.

Bulletin of the State University of New York 1998-99 Volume 51, Number 4 1998 Publication # 886-280 The State University of New York at Binghamton Bulletin is published four times a year, in March, June, August and September by the State University of New York at Binghamton, PO Box 6000, Binghamton, New York 139026000. Periodicals postage paid at Binghamton, New York.

Chip power


Research partnerships expand frontiers of electronics packaging

Killing machine Portia — one of nature’s most versatile predators


On the wing Redwing mothers may identify babies earlier than expected


Nature’s laboratory 117 acres of wild habitat provide diverse research opportunities

Getting the lead out Program targets rural lead exposure

Land values



Flood watch The price of development

Reality check On the trail of memory illusions

State University of New York at Binghamton, PO Box 6000, Binghamton, New York 13902-6000. 607-777-2000/TTY 777-2628.

Taste tests

The State University of New York at Binghamton is strongly committed to affirmative action. We offer access to services and recruit students and employees without regard to race, color, sex, religion, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or national origin.



Exploring the mysteries of one of our most basic skills

Crossing the disciplines to understand disease

Cover photo courtesy of Universal Instruments Corp.







GRANT BOOSTS NURSE PRACTITIONER PROGRAM The Decker School of Nursing last fall was awarded a three-year, $800,000 federal grant to expand its innovative and successful family nurse practitioner program, one of three graduate nursing tracks offered by the school. The grant, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Nurs-

ing, was the latest showing of federal support for Decker School programs. The school has enjoyed almost continuous support from federal grants since its opening a quarter of a century ago. The school’s family nurse practitioner program began in 1976, years before similar programs got underway at other regional schools. The grant will allow the

school to enhance student recruitment for the family nurse practitioner program; increase the program’s flexibility, making it more attractive to both full- and part-time students; strengthen the curriculum; and, eventually, help ease a regional shortage of health care providers in many rural communities in upstate New York and northern Pennsylvania, said Joyce Ferrario, associate


A team of four Binghamton University professors have received a $249,851 two-year National Science Foundation grant to design and develop technologies that could dramatically alter the face and the pace of the computing world within the next several years. The Binghamton team, consisting of Sudhir Aggarwal, Kanad Ghose, Vipul Gupta and Dhanajay Phatak, is working to develop highspeed local area networks or LANs by synergistically harnessing the power of multiple PCs. Such highspeed LANs are expected to make the computing power of milliondollar parallel supercomputers available at a fraction of the cost and to increase by 10 times or more typical PC-network speeds. Today’s networks, for instance, generally operate at a rate of a couple of hundred megabytes per second. High-speed LANs are expected to increase that rate to a few gigabytes per second. The technology, which has enormous commercial implications, could be developed and mainstreamed within the next five years, said Ghose, acting chair of the computer science department. Once perfected, high-speed LANs will allow computer users, particularly in fields where dataintensive computing is the norm, the kind of brute computing power that was heretofore available only to those with access to parallel supercomputers.

That will likely mean major changes in the day-today operations of such industries as banking and finance, communications, pharmaceutical development, and medical, scientific and engineering reKanad Ghose, acting chair of the computer science search the department, heads the Binghamton team competing with world over. leading universities to develop LAN technology that will Binghamton’s change the face and the pace of the computing world research team within the next five years. is competing with researchthat if one machine dies, the other ers at top universities like Berkeley, machines pick up the slack, Ghose Stanford and Princeton, all of whom said. are working to come up with the The cards will allow a user to best commercially applicable solubuild a high-speed network of tion. 10 PCs for less than $50,000, Already the team has come up generating the same computing with a unique product that has power as a $500,000 to $1 million tremendous potential, Ghose said. “What we have is a network card supercomputer, Ghose said. The team plans to continue its on which we can change the characresearch by experimenting with teristics of the hardware on the fly. Technically, it’s called reconfigurable small networks and looking at ways to increase network speed at the hardware,” he said. level of the user. “One of the things we can do is Not surprisingly, the effort is hook up a number of PCs and make attracting the attention of vendors them serve as a single, unified like Sun Microsystems and Xylinx, machine.” which are discussing ongoing reThat means users can use the search support with the team in the disk on one machine from another form of cash or hardware. machine and can replicate data so

dean and coordinator of the Decker School’s graduate programs. The Decker School’s graduate programs include the family nurse practitioner track and programs to prepare geriatric and community health nurse practitioners, nurse educators and nurse administrators. National health care trends suggest nurse practitioners will be increasingly important in the provision of preventive and primary health care into the next century. In keeping with those trends, 68 percent of Decker’s 125 graduate students are enrolled in the family nurse practitioner track. PROGRAMS TRACK EARTH’S RUMBLING A Binghamton University adjunct geology professor is helping to explain the earth’s dynamic nature to thousands of visitors to the new Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Alan Jones, who joined the University faculty in 1990 after taking early retirement from IBM, designed two interactive computer programs that demonstrate seismic eruptions and seismic waves for the nation’s museum. His programs are an integral part of the Smithsonian’s Plate Tectonics Gallery, where exhibits focus on the forces that cause the earth’s crust to move, including earthquakes, volcanoes, folds and faults. Jones’ seismic/eruption program, which runs in a repeating loop, begins simply by displaying a map of the world on a 40-inch monitor. But, then, in 60 seconds of sound and fury not unlike a fireworks display, the program displays as flashing dots and musical sounds earthquakes of magnitude 5 or more on the Richter Scale and all the volcanoes recorded in the world from 1960 to present.

As each event is recorded, a small red dot is left on the screen as a marker. Eventually, after all 51,212 earthquakes and 1,199 volcanoes are recognized, the red dots left in their wake display a pattern that outlines the earth’s tectonic plates. His other program demonstrates the occurance of seismic waves after a seismic event by giving users a rare cross-sectional view of the earth and a three-dimensional perspective on how body and surface waves radiate from the epicenter of a seismic event. SOFTWARE DONATIONS EXPAND STUDENT ACCESS For the third year running, the Binghamton University Talent Search program has received a windfall in free software from Microsoft for use by low-income students. Binghamton’s Talent Search program was one of 55 TRIO programs in the nation chosen to participate in the Microsoft program three years ago when Microsoft formed a national partnership to improve technological access for low-income students. Because the software is donated license-free, any approved borrower can copy the disks and use the software on any computer that is available to low-income students. The software deals with a wide range of educational topics including creative writing, history, social sciences, music, art, science and reference materials. The collection includes age-appropriate selections for students from fourth grade to the sophomore year of college. Other local TRIO programs include the McNair Scholars, Student Support Services, Upward Bound.



magine a five-day commute on the Indian Ocean to get to work, two straight months on duty with no days off, and tons of rock and mud instead of a paycheck. Imagine too that you want this position so badly that you began applying for it three years ago. That’s what Dick Naslund, a Binghamton University professor of geological sciences, did to land a spot aboard the oil-drilling vessel turned scientific probe, JOIDES Resolution last fall. Scientists vie for 10 years or more for the right to book the vessel, which, at 500 feet long, 70 feet wide and several stories high, is about the size of Binghamton University’s Science I building. As part of a select team of 25 scientists from around the world, Naslund spent October 10 through December 10, 1997, on board the Resolution. During a similar expedition in 1991, he participated in an ocean-drilling project that sank a hole 2 kilometers through the earth’s crust to obtain core samples of the earth’s oceanic mantle.

Analyzing ocean mantle samples could provide important clues as to “how the earth works,” Naslund said. The project, which involved drilling about 1,500 nautical miles off the southeastern tip of Africa, was a scientific success, producing substantial quantities of core samples for analysis and achieving 88 percent of the project’s drilling goal. Previous expeditions averaged only 5 to 10 percent of their goals. For all its success, however, the expedition came to an unfortunate end when a drill string broke and dropped an additional 80,000 pounds of core samples back into the hole. All efforts to retrieve the samples by the expedition’s end failed, and the hole was sealed before the ship returned to port. Last year, as a Fulbright scholar, Naslund studied controversial iron ore deposits 17,500 feet above sea level. His active participation in such dynamic research projects is crucial to his performance in the classroom, he said. “There’s no way to get students excited if the teacher isn’t excited.”

Geology Professor Dick Naslund looks at a core sample of the ocean’s crust extracted during a 1991 trip. Naslund was selected to make a repeat trip aboard the JOIDES Resolution as it obtained core samples off the tip of Africa last fall.

KUDOS The State University of New York Trustees awarded distinguished professorships to three Binghamton University faculty members during 199798. Distinguished professorships, which constitute a promotion above a full professorship, are conferred on individuals who have achieved national or international prominence and a reputation within a chosen field. Binghamton faculty members receiving the honor are: Political scientist Richard Hofferbert, recognized for his pioneering work in the field of public policy and the application of empirical techniques to analyze political phenomena. Anthropologist Michael Little, recognized for his work in biological anthropology and the study on human adaptation to conditions of physical stress. Biologist Anna Tan-Wilson, recognized for her innovations in undergraduate science curriculum development, student enrichment and outreach efforts. Immanuel Wallerstein, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and director of the Fernand Braudel Center, was among 145 distinguished scholars elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. D.C. Sun, professor of mechanical engineering was named a fellow by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in recognition of his contributions to engineering. Richard Culver, professor of mechanical engineering, was named a fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education. Gladys Jimenez-Munoz, assistant professor in the School of Education and Human Development, was one of 24 recipients of a Ford Foundation fellowship to pursue her research on women and race in Puerto Rico in the period between the world wars.



Unleashing nature’s computing power


n interdisciplinary team of

Binghamton researchers is exploring the potential of DNA—the very stuff of life—to solve some of life’s intractable math and data management problems. Their work, along with the work of others in the field, suggests that DNA might someday be computing solutions to complex problems that have confounded electronic computers, storing and managing data bases in a single drop of water, and correcting genetic abnormalities in vivo—that is, within a living organism. Binghamton mathematics professors Tom Head and Dennis Pixton are working with molecular biologists to help make that happen. The Binghamton team is operating under an umbrella grant titled “Prototyping Biomolecular Computations” from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The grant follows on the heels of an earlier National Science Foundation grant that funded the Binghamton group’s preliminary research. The DARPA grant is also supporting work at Princeton University, New Tom Head, a mathematiYork University, Duke University and cian, collaborated with K.J. the University of Reddy, a molecular Southern California, Mt. Sinai Medical biologist, to develop College, the Univerprototypes of biomolecular sity of Rochester, the computations. University of Delaware, the University

of Wisconsin and the University of Pennsylvania. Researchers from the 10 schools get together every several months to go over their findings. Ever since James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the molecular structure of DNA in 1953, researchers have been confirming that DNA is key to the myriad and complex computations that define each and every life form in existence. Still, at first blush, the notion of using DNA to break secret codes, solve complex math problems or medically intervene with DNA strings related to genetic defects seems like science fiction. After all, where else could life be made first to think about itself and, then, in a sort of biological workfare program, be put to work to solve its own problems? Far from being science fiction, however, DNA computing is exciting the minds and imaginations of the scientific community across all disciplinary and national boundaries. Just four years old, the field is growing at a rate that belies its age. It is based on relatively simple but amazing principles, not the least of which is that DNA, because it comes replete with its own alphabet, meets the kind of formal language requirements necessary to permit mathematical computations. This was proven in 1994 when Leonard Adleman published his landmark paper showing DNA capable of solving one example of a classic math problem, the Directed Hamiltonian Path problem. Since then, some researchers have come to believe that, given proper handling or “programming,” DNA might prove capable of computing “anything and everything” that can be computed, Head said. “I am a little more conservative than some on this question,” Head said. “My attitude is a little more ‘Let’s wait and see.’” It certainly does appear, however, that researchers, including Head and the Binghamton team, are making geometrically pronounced strides in DNA computing. Adleman showed in 1994 that DNA could solve a particular Directed Hamiltonian Path problem. Now, less than four years later, Head has developed a DNA prototype to solve any Directed Hamiltonian Path problem satisfying a bound (or limit) on the

number of nodes, or the points to be addressed in the solution. In much the same way that electronic computers rely on strings of 1’s and 0’s for their computations, living organisms rely on the vital information stored by DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, in the form of coded strings. These coded strings are built on what amounts to a four-letter alphabet. The letters of that alphabet are C, G, T and A—shorthand for the nucleotide bases cytosine, guanine, thymine and adenine, which, when linked together end-to-end comprise a DNA strand. DNA sequences of C-G-T-A or any combination of those letters are polarized and pair up in the double-stranded DNA helix with their complementary base—T’s with A’s and C’s with G’s. This, like the four-letter alphabet, is key to DNA computing because it allows for accurate coding and understandable translation of DNA sequences produced in a DNA “computer.” Basically DNA computing is accomplished by putting synthesized polynucleotide strands—or oligonucleotides—into a test tube and allowing them to react. Then, by adding enzymes of known effect, the “oligos” can be directed to behave in certain ways, including bonding together, separating by length or replicating themselves. Then, because they know the value and meaning of resulting DNA sequences, scientists are able to fish those strings that represent solutions out of the pool of non-solution oriented results. In certain types of computations, it is hoped DNA will outstrip electronic computers, Head said. Electronic computers are good at solving long, thin problems that require a lot of sequential operations. Molecular computers, on the other hand, are best suited to short, wide problems that can be broken down into a huge number of parallel tasks, each requiring just a few steps. “With DNA, in a single drop of water we can have a parallel computer with 10 trillion processors,” Head said.

Given access to that kind of parallel computing power, some researchers maintain that DNA computing can break in just four months time the data encryption standard system, or DES, that most computer scientists had thought to be a major challenge facing computing power. The DES system, originally invented by the National Security Agency for government use, is now widely employed by banks and other companies. Without having insider information, finding the key to break the system using an electronic computer would be impractical. A computer capable of 100,000 operations per second, for instance, would take 10,000 years to test all the possibilities. With DNA, however, another team of researchers from Princeton has demonstrated—at least on paper—how all of the possibilities could be tested simultaneously, and how the sequence representing the solution could be filtered out, all in fourmonths time in the laboratory. Adleman has predicted that when DNA computers are fine tuned, they might run far faster than today’s supercomputers, consume much less energy and store information at much greater density than is currently possible. If DNA computing lives up to the expectations it has quickened in some of the world’s best and brightest mathematicians and molecular biologists, it could change the face not only of computer science, but of the world as we know it. Head, who developed an interdisciplinary interest in molecular biology in the early 1980s while teaching at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, said he has a hard time keeping his enthusiasm in check when he talks about DNA computing. His contribution to the field has already been formally recognized by the naming of a DNA splicing model he developed in 1987. “The Europeans named it the ‘H’ system, after me,” he reluctantly acknowledged. “I don’t like to make too much of that.” Fellow researchers Elizabeth Laun and Edwin Park have been carrying out experiments in microbiology laboratory that are confirming the “cut and paste” splicing model that Head proposed. Pixton and Head continue to develop the associated mathematical aspects of the model. A self-proclaimed “computer-klutz,” Head is as apt to cover the monitor on his office PC with little yellow Post-its as he is to turn it on and run a program. “That’s why I need DNA computing,” he said with a laugh. “I’m a real klutz with electronic computers.” ■


Chimie Douce: C H I M I E



fter taking a cue from nature

eight years ago, a team of Binghamton University research chemists is today producing important new compounds that could improve by half or more the energystoring potential of batteries for electric cars, computers and telecommunications equipment, among other things. Under the leadership of M. Stanley Whittingham, director of the University’s Materials Research Center and vice provost for research and outreach, the materials chemistry group has been using soft chemistry—also known as Chimie Douce—to synthesize new oxide ceramics. Oxide ceramics are used for cathodes in batteries that power a host of electromechanical devices, including electric cars, heart pacemakers and SONY Walkmen, as well as certain sensors. The Binghamton researchers are forming the oxide ceramics in water solutions heated to between 100- and 200-degrees centigrade as opposed to the traditional “heat and beat” approach that requires heating substances to more than 1,000-degrees centigrade, grinding them up, and reheating them, two and three times over, Whittingham said. “With ceramic solids, invariably you had to heat them to a very high temperature to get the elements to react together,” he said. The “heat and beat” approach also causes atoms to be stacked tightly together like or-

— U S I N G


anges or apples in a supermarket bin, Whittingham said, limiting what can be done with the materials. The soft chemistry approach, on the other hand, allows researchers to form materials with a looser distribution of atoms, creating a more porous or sponge-like material, with empty spaces or “void volumes.” “You can almost look at it like a building,” Whittingham said. “We want to build the walls and ceilings and leave the inside empty. That way we can do the chemistry and put other atoms and molecules inside the rooms within the material.” These porous new materials, then, can be used to build the cathodes of lithium intercalation batteries, allowing the batteries to store more lithium—hence, more energy— per kilogram. The materials research group operates with about $200,000 a year in grants from the federal Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Materials Center also receives separate equipment grants from the NSF on a regular basis. The Department of Energy is keenly interested in the research because it is expected to lead to compact, light-weight electric car batteries that can go 100 miles on a single charge. At present, electric car batteries go only about half that distance in good weather and a quarter or less that distance when temperatures drop below freezing, Whittingham said. The government’s goals are one thing, but the auto industry is unlikely to completely forsake internal combustion engines, Whittingham predicted. “In reality, what the auto industry is doing is going to hybrid vehicles, which means they have a regular engine in them—a very small one—plus a battery. The regular engine, running at constant revolutions, keeps the battery charged, and then you can go almost forever,” he said. The federal government has set a goal for


a fuel-efficiency rating of 70 miles per gallon for hybrid vehicles, which Whittingham thinks is probably attainable. “The question is at what cost,” he said. “Technically, I think we can do it.” Given the potential, it’s not surprising that chemists across the globe are working in this area of materials research. The Binghamton researchers most notable competition comes from research teams in France and Japan. Even though the Binghamton group was the first to develop for laboratory use the cooler temperature hydrothermal process, the main components of the process had been in use for millions of years outside the laboratory. “Mother Nature uses this technique all the time,” Whittingham said. “A lot of the minerals in the earth are made under the same conditions. It just takes thousands of years to do it.” Using the Binghamton process, materials can be made in a day or two. “In some cases, it takes one or two hours,” Whittingham said. “It’s a fairly short process.” When the Binghamton team discovered how to adapt nature’s hydrothermal process for use in the lab in 1990, they weren’t clear on the significance of the breakthrough. As time went on and it became clear that the process would allow them to make a whole set of materials that never before existed, Whittingham still took a conservative approach to the project’s importance. “Even if you make something that never existed before, until somebody finds a really good use for it, it’s really an esoteric scientific discovery,” he said. But now, it seems, Whittingham and his associates are finding some really good uses for the materials they are developing using Chimie Douce. In addition to decreasing the length of time required for the synthesis of oxide ceramics, they have refined the process and found innovative ways to produce ever more useful materials.

turning down the heat T O


For one thing, as they continued to refine the hydrothermal process, the Binghamton researchers discovered that when they added an organic template—the tetramethyl ammonium ion—to the water, the inorganic oxide ceramics formed around it, allowing the chemists to alter at will the oxide ceramic’s molecular arrangement. Afterwards they could, in theory, “knock out” the organic template, leaving an additional space for the storage of lithium. Later, they also discovered that changing the pH of the water solution by just half a number totally changes the arrangements of the oxide ceramic’s atoms, Whittingham said.



“So instead of having cubic building blocks, we can have octohedral ones, tetrahedral ones or square pyramids,” he said. Changing the structure of the compound results in more or less porousness, something the team relies on Binghamton crystallographer Peter Zavalij to map. Using equipment here and at Syracuse University, Zavalij and several of the students involved in the project x-ray the materials and determine where every atom is located, helping the rest of the team to understand where lithium ions can and cannot be stored in the structure. Ultimately, the process helps all involved to determine the potential energy volume


of the material and to devise different arrangements that could increase its energy volume. At this point, Whittingham says the team is probably about “two-thirds of the way there” as far as developing a material that can meet government goals and private industry needs. While the team continues to work on perfecting the materials they are developing, another benefit of their work is already being realized, however. At least one student who worked on the project found employment with a major battery manufacturer last year, and several more students are expected to follow that career path this year. ■

M. Stanley Whittingham, director of the University’s Materials Research Center, is coordinating a research group that is exploring the use of lower temperatures to form new materials.

Binghamton University INSIDE RESEARCH 1998



Electronic Surveillance Software helps detect breast cancer


hen Walker Land began talk-

ing about spending his nights and weekends stalking a killer, most people thought he was ill-equipped if not plain crazy. But an arrest seems close at hand as a direct result of his efforts, and countless women could soon have Land to thank for their lives. The arrest Land has worked so hard to bring about is in the alarmingly high incidence of breast cancer, a killer second only to lung cancer as a tumor-related cause of death in women. Now, neural network software designed and evolved by Land and his research group seem poised to significantly improve early and accurate diagnosis of breast cancer, most immediately in cases involving fine needle aspirate (FNA) tissue samples. In 40 laboratory experiments, the software has proven itself to be among the most accurate means available for diagnosing malignancies in FNA tissue samples. The groundwork is currently being laid to arrange for field testing of Land’s software by several local physicians, who will help to corroborate Land’s laboratory findings by using the software in real-life applications. Affiliated with Binghamton University’s Watson School as a lecturer and researcher since his early retirement from IBM eight years ago, Land has been thinking “outside of the box” for the better part of his career. Currently, he is involved in at least six innovative research projects, all involving computational intelligence and neural networks. None of the projects is as close to his heart, however, as the one designed to undo the killer, breast cancer In the United States alone, more than 180,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed annually and about 45,000 people die of the disease each year.

Walker Land, who retired from IBM eight years ago, says he has been thinking ‘outside the box’ for years. Land’s work with computational intelligence is being used to facilitate more accurate breast cancer diagnoses, as well as a wide range of other life-saving and life-enhancing advances.

“If we can develop adequate screening techniques,” Land said, “it’s estimated that 25 percent of those—or more than 11,000 people—can be saved.” Land, whose mother died of cancer 40 years ago, looked at those kinds of numbers and felt called to action, he said. “We can save, in this country alone, more people than the combined populations of Endicott and Johnson City,” he said. “This is something I needed to do. I’m driven by trying to help people.” Working towards that end, Land spent nights and weekends for three years pouring over his research and pondering ways to bring theories of computational intelligence to bear against breast cancer.

“My original thesis was that I could design a paradigm that I could put into a computer and that the computer would then diagnose whether a tissue sample was malignant or benign,” Land said. “People thought I was crazy.” The harder he worked, the more certain Land became that neural networks could play a key role in saving lives. Similar to the brain, neural networks are massively parallel distributed processors that have a natural propensity for storing experiential knowledge and making it available for use. Other ways that neural networks resemble the brain are that knowledge is acquired by the networks through a learning process and synaptic weights—or interneu-


Walker Land comes by his intellect naturally. But it’s artificial—or computational intelligence—that really gets him thinking. Land, a computer science lecturer and researcher at Binghamton University, is actively involved in no fewer than six research projects that focus on the use of computational intelligence or neural networks to accomplish everything from the diagnosis of breast cancer to the optimum allocation of a local company’s resources. Land, who designs and evolves neural networks along both biological and statistical paradigms, is working with IBM, Endicott-Johnson, Lockheed-Martin, the local medical community and other local businesses to improve the quality of life and business through the application of computational intelligence.

• to help Endicott-Johnson better allocate its resources and improve its sales through new-technology sales forecasting; • to help Lockheed-Martin design control systems for high-performance aircraft; • to increase the speed and accuracy of fine needle aspirate tissue samples in breast cancer diagnosis; • to detect defects in underground utility transmission cables, avoiding the need to risk the lives of inspectors; • to use an Oracle network that can deliver a synergistic output optimizing the combined value of different breast cancer tests. “I didn’t develop the generalized regression neural network,” Land

Currently, Land and a research team of about 20 Watson School graduate and undergraduate students are working with associates in business and industry to design and evolve neural networks for the following applications:

points out. “And I didn’t invent evolutionary programming. But I have done a lot to extend both of these technologies.” Land, whose work is beginning to receive international attention, has also helped to further enhance the already fine reputation of Binghamton

• to attain a major reduction in IBM’s annual travel expenses through

ron connection strengths—are used to store the knowledge. So how is it that Land came to believe that he could use neural networks to mitigate breast cancer’s high mortality rate? When pathologists examine FNA tissue samples in breast cancer diagnosis, they consider nine characteristics: clump thickness, uniformity of cell size and shape, marginal adhesion, single epithelial cell size, bare nuclei, bland chromatin, normal nucleoli and mitoses. Each of these characteristics is assigned a number from 1 to 10 by the pathologist. The larger the number the greater the likelihood of malignancy. No single measurement can be used to determine whether a sample is benign or malignant. The diagnosis requires consideration of all available data. Land looked at that information and theorized that he could evolve a neural network design that was based on a modification of Fogel’s evolutionary programming paradigm. The resulting architectures could learn to recognize the significant criteria in FNA tissue samples and then accurately predict whether a given sample was malignant or benign based on those criteria. Working with an anonymous data set consisting of information gleaned from FNA tissue samples from 699 people, Land worked his way through 500 generations of networks, selecting only those that proved able to accurately recognize and analyze significant criteria. Using confidential design modifications, Land charged each generation to improve upon itself through its progeny, ending up with optimized architectures

improved buying and scheduling;

University’s computer science program.

at about the 300th generation. Since nothing in life is perfect, Land also needed to take into consideration the mistakes that the networks could make. What he decided was that Type 1 mistakes, or occasions when a benign sample might be diagnosed malignant, were more acceptable than Type 2 mistakes, calling a malignant sample benign. With that in mind, he evolved a network that is able to accurately differentiate between benign and malignant samples at least 96 and up to 98 percent of the time, and to drive down Type 2 errors at the expense of Type 1 errors. In other words, since the network is not given complete and foolproof information and therefore can’t achieve perfection, it is instead designed to ensure that mistakes, when they do occur, are not catastrophic. In this case, that means the chance that Land’s software will call a malignant sample benign is less than 0.2 percent. “Not only is the network adapting itself to the environment, it is making a judgment such that if that judgment is going to be wrong, it is going to be wrong in the right direction,” Land said. Land’s basic theoretical research is funded through the Binghamton University Research Foundation, while his efforts to develop practical and commercial applications for his technology are supported by the Watson School’s Strategic Partnership for Industrial Resurgence (SPIR). SPIR, which is in its fourth year on campus, is a SUNY engineering extension service to small and mid-size New York compa-

nies with engineering and technology problems. It provides such companies access to University resources, including faculty, students and facilities, said C. Michael Mercincavage, MS ’80, director of the program. SPIR also assists SUNY developers in their efforts to commercialize high-potential technology like Land’s neural network software. “We want to help existing companies and help to create new ones that are based on promising technologies,” Mercincavage said of SPIR’s involvement. Now that Land seems to have tackled the problem of FNA tissue samples, he hopes to work with colleagues to refine the work. By gathering mammography and digital cartography data and using a generalized regression neural network oracle, Land thinks he can achieve a synergistic output that makes the most of all available data. He might even be able to design a network that will evolve and teach itself to find new significance and new indicators in existing data. “Maybe the indicators we have aren’t the best,” Land said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could design a neural network that would extract its own indicators and give us an even more reliable diagnosis?” Land’s software requires no new hardware, operates on the average PC and presents a cost-effective way for pathologists to maximize their time, he said. “I am not trying to replace pathologists,” he said. “I’m trying to provide a diagnostic tool that can help them to provide better patient care, which is a goal we all share.” ■


Research partnerships expand frontiers of electronics packaging



f you’ve driven a car, taken a plane, used a computer, a pager,

or cell phone, watched cable or satellite television, placed a longdistance phone call, or spent any time attached to medical monitoring equipment, you’ve probably benefited from the work of Binghamton University electronics packaging researchers. Like the stone that felled Goliath, in the hands of Binghamton University researchers, a little thing called the silicon chip is helping to slay that old myth that university scholars spend their days cloistered from the world, pondering esoteric, theoretical problems. The University’s innovative and expanding partnerships with local, regional and national electronics packaging companies are helping to fund more than $1 million a year in sponsored, real-world research with implications in the fields of telecommunications, finance, transportation, education, medicine and more. Gerhard D. Meese, president of Universal Instruments Corp., credits Binghamton University with helping his $500 million company more than double its size in the last five years. “There is no question in my mind that Binghamton University has been instrumental in helping us to accomplish this turnaround,” Meese said during testimony before the New York State Senate Committee on Higher Education last year. According to Meese, Japan displaced the United States as the leader in worldwide electronic manufacturing during the 1970s and ’80s by paying close attention to manufacturing processes, particularly automated assembly. Today, because of major strides made possible by research partnerships with the University, some of Japan’s best-known electronics manufacturers, including SONY, NEC and Fujitsu are buying surface mount technology (SMT) assembly machines from Universal, Meese said. SMT refers to the way components are attached to printed circuit boards. Universal is the leading U.S. manufacturer of equipment that relies on SMT to automatically assemble components on the surface of boards.

Left to right, Binghamton University graduate research assistant Jeffery

Photo courtesy of Universal Instruments Corp.

Schake, Professor Hari Srihari and Wilhelm Prinz von Hessen, manager of process support for Universal Instruments Corp.’s Surface Mount Technology Lab, check out a printed circuit board during testing in the state-of-the-art Universal laboratory.

The University has helped Universal grow by providing research support for the three major electronics packaging consortia Universal has organized since 1992. The consortia, each of which was designed to last about 18 months and to fit the availability of graduate research assistants, enroll interested companies, which pay a membership fee. The collected fees support University assistantships, purchase equipment and cover related project costs. The first consortium was organized by Universal in 1992. With a membership of 17

companies, it produced about $1.5 million to fund research involving ultra-fine pitch (UFP) component manufacturing processes. As soon as the first consortium ended, a second was organized to focus on ball-grid array (BGA) and direct chip attach (DCA) technologies. It attracted 32 companies and produced $2.5 million in research funding. By the end of the consortium, member companies were each provided more than 6,000 pages of reports and 3,700 graphics assembled on compact disc as well as a halfhour video on BGA and DCA technologies.

A third consortium focusing on DCA and chip-scale packaging (CSP) began in 1996 and, though it is expected to conclude soon, is still attracting new members. It, too, has raised in excess of $2.5 million. While industries like Universal clearly benefit from access to the fresh minds and research capabilities of the University, these kind of academic-industry partnerships provide cross-pollination in the most dynamic sense of the term. They are mutually beneficial and offer unique rewards to all concerned.


When Hari Srihari joined the faculty of Binghamton University’s Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science in 1988, he knew a lot about process planning for machined parts but “next to nothing” about printed circuit board (PCB) assembly. Ten years later, Srihari has amassed an impressive $3.75 million portfolio of funded, cutting-edge PCB assembly research in partnership with local industries. He has accomplished this as the head of Watson’s Team for Research in Electronics Manufacturing, a research group that currently comprises Srihari and about 30 graduate research assistants and operates with additional funding support from the University’s Integrated Electronics Engineering Consortium. The aim of Srihari’s team is to increase the yield, “through-put” and reliability of PCB-assembly processes. To achieve this goal, team members engage in research and testing and software development. The metrics of yield, reliability and through-put are interrelated. That is, gains purchased in one arena aren’t truly gains if they come at the cost of losses in either of the other two arenas. Yield is determined by how many boards reach the end of the line defect free; through-put refers to the time it takes to move a board through the line, start to finish;

Physics Professor Eric Cotts is leading a research group investigating ways to speed the underfill process in chip making.

and reliability is measured in terms of the unit’s ability to function under and beyond expected levels of stress.

sions used to underfill the space between chips and boards in direct-

“If you have a printed circuit board that operates the computer in

chip-attach processes. Their work, which is being conducted in league

your car, it’s got to work early in the morning in December,” Srihari said.

with Universal Instruments Corp. of Kirkwood, is funded by a three-year

“And it’s got to work five or ten minutes later when your engine is heated

Department of Defense grant in excess of $750,000.

up to a high temperature.”

As it currently stands, the underfill process is like watching wet sand

Harsh “under-the-hood” conditions are also encountered by PCBs used

flow, Cotts said. In a process in which all other assembly functions are

in aircraft engines and military applications, in smart cards like the E-Z

completed in split-seconds, “sitting around waiting for wet sand to flow

Pass, which is used to pay tolls in the metropolitan New York area, and

in is nuts,” he added.

sometimes by boards in laptop computers, medical monitoring equipment and ventilators. Reliability is key, but in an industry in which price pressures are paramount, the need to balance reliability and yield with through-put is press-

To address this situation, Cott’s team is defining the factors that make a difference in the flow of underfill materials and offering suggestions to industry about how those factors might be manipulated to improve the speed of the underfill process, without cost to yield or reliability.

ing. Enter Binghamton University researchers like Srihari and Eric Cotts

To date, the team has determined that smaller particles work better

and company. Cotts is a physics professor who along with several asso-

than larger particles in underfill suspensions, as long as a repulsive par-

ciates is investigating the flow dynamics of the densely filled suspen-

ticle-to-particle interaction is maintained to prevent flocculation or clumping.

Graduate students in the Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Harpur College physics department, for instance, enjoy unparalleled opportunities to gain industry experience, which invariably builds upon and improves their theoretical studies, said Hari Srihari, professor of systems science and industrial engineering. According to industry experts, the master’s theses being completed by Binghamton students who work as research assistants are often equivalent in scope and complexity to doctoral dissertations. In a field where yesterday’s expertise is about as desirable as day-old bread, the kind of cutting-edge experience Binghamton University graduates are bringing to the marketplace, then, is a pricey and sought-after commodity. First-time job offers in the range of $55,000 to $60,000 per year, with signing bonuses of $10,000 or more and stock options worth the equivalent of an additional year’s salary, are becoming the rule for Binghamton graduates who accumulate both academic and practical electronics packaging experience during their master’s program. “Typically students realize a couple of things when they start hunting for or get jobs,” said Lavanya Gopalakrishnan, a former member of the research group who completed her master’s in industrial engineering at Binghamton University last May. “They realize that industry expectations are different and that what they studied has little to do with what they are expected to do in their work.” Gopalakrishnan, who received and accepted a lucrative offer from Bay Networks in California immediately after her graduation, said she and other Binghamton graduates are spared this unpleasant realization. “What I studied in school has a direct correlation to my work,” she said. In fact, Gopalakrishnan’s employer viewed her research assistantship as two years of work experience, so she was not treated as a “fresh grad.” As sponsored University research paves the way for industry gains, companies see the advantage of providing more funding for academic research. Such research, in turn, offers more students the chance to conduct cutting-edge experiments, using state-of-theart facilities. That, in turn, helps the University attract more graduate students and to become more selective in its admissions decisions. Meanwhile, the best and brightest students become available to work as research assistants in industry, bringing fresh minds and strong personal motivation to their research, all of which works to make it more desirable for industry to sponsor Uni-

According to industry experts, the master’s theses being completed by Binghamton students who work as research assistants are often equivalent in scope and complexity to doctoral dissertations.

versity research programs. For students, the University, and industry, such success sets up a win-win cycle that is exceeding expectations. George Westby, director of Universal Instrument’s $5 million Surface Mount Technology Laboratory, first approached Watson School Dean Lyle Feisel about working with the University in 1987. At the time, he told Feisel he expected Universal to be able to support eight research assistantships within 10 years. By last year, the University averaged more than 30 sponsored research assistantships at Universal. While Binghamton faculty members and graduate research assistants involved in electronics packaging projects do much research on campus, as a group they also spend thousands of hours a year working off-campus to improve flip-chip technology and printed circuit board assembly processes at places like Universal, Dovatron Manufacturing New York, U.S. Assemblies at Hallstead, Pa. and MATCO Electronics Group. “However, much of this collaborative work would not be possible without the support the University receives from the federal government to build the underlying scientific foundation of understanding,” said M. Stanley Whittingham, vice provost for research and outreach. Binghamton University garnered significant support, for example, from the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense, including a $754,000, three-year grant supporting current research by physics professor Eric Cotts and mechanical engineers Gary Lehmann and Timothy Singler. Cotts and his associates are working to

better understand the variables involved in the process of underfilling the infinitesimal gap between silicon chips and the printed circuit boards on which they are mounted. The underfill process is critical in directchip-attach packaging, where underfill improves the reliability of the package as well as its ability to withstand shock and thermal changes. Another grant, through the State Industry University Cooperative Research Center, partners the National Science Foundation with New York state and industry to support research that contributes to national and local economic development. A new $200,000 extension will allow the University to work with Rainbow Industries in Endicott on improved packing/manufacturing of flat panel displays, Whittingham said. “These close connections between the University and industry allow the traditional research performed in academia to be targeted toward real-life problems that both students and faculty can see reach fruition,” Whittingham said. “Simultaneously the frontiers of knowledge are moved forward, scholarly publications are published, graduated students are educated and trained in areas where jobs await them, and economic development occurs with job growth and more competitive industries.” Because Binghamton University is located at the hub of electronics packaging and materials industries in the Southern Tier these interactions are all the more effective, he added. ■



t takes the lead in the often ma-

cabre predator-prey dance with breathtaking cunning and relentless efficiency and will do whatever it takes to see the union end in grisly death, seldom its own.

Portia is one of nature’s most versatile predators

It is one of nature’s most efficient serial killers, and it is no larger than a button on a man’s dress shirt. It is Portia, a member of the Salticidae or jumping spider family, a creature that for 10 years has been the focus of research by R. Stimson Wilcox, a Binghamton biology professor, and his collaborator, New Zealand biologist Robert Jackson. The genus Portia contains 15 species of African, Asian and Australian spiders. Still, despite its diminutive size and the remoteness of its habitats from Binghamton, Wilcox has spent thousands of hours in the lab and in the field stalking, studying, recording and writing about these “smart” little spiders and their amazing abilities. What Wilcox is discovering is that when it comes to the morbid traits of the predator, Portia isn’t just a jack of all trades; it Biology Professor R. is the master—a tiny killer with a bag of Stimson Wilcox points to a deadly tricks that ritiny Portia spider on a leaf val predators hunon a plant in the University’s dreds of times its size and apparent greenhouse. Wilcox has evolutionary combeen studying the arthropod, plexity. Portia is known which is native to Africa, to use its legs, palps, Asia and Australia, for more body movements or various combinathan 10 years.

tions to make vibrations mimicking everything from a trapped insect to an interested suitor on the web of its intended victim. These signals lure the prey spider closer to its fateful demise, giving rise to the label “aggressive mimicry” for Portia’s predatory behavior. Like all jumping spiders, Portia has eight eyes. A large pair up front demonstrates excellent visual acuity and the ability to see color. Three smaller, less obvious pairs, aligned in rows from front to back along the top of its head, appear only to sense light and motion, Wilcox said. All those eyes come in handy, however, because Portia, like other salticids, stalks its prey visually. Unlike some of its colorful jumping cousins, Portia is cryptically colored or camouflaged and looks a lot like a small piece of bark or dried up vegetation. All the better to eat you, if you happen to be amongst its favorite prey. “Portia is among the most formidable invertebrate predators and almost certainly is the most formidable arthropod,” Wilcox said. Even when stacked up against sharks, creatures whose predatory reputation is legendary, Portia appears to be far more intelligent, Wilcox said. “When we talk about ‘intelligence’ with Portia, we’re talking about genetically based ability,” Wilcox notes. “It’s all built in. The versatility of these animals, with their tiny neural systems, is almost unbelievable.” Portia, in fact, is very much like a jungle cat in its stalking abilities and style, he said. In contrast to most other spiders, Portia prefers eating spiders over other insects. That often means risking its own life with forays into other spiders’ webs, but Portia has developed an impressive array of behaviors to increase its success at conducting such raids. Individual Portia spiders occasionally fall prey to their intended victim, but such miscues are the exception to the rule, Wilcox said. Even if bitten by other spiders, Portia demonstrates a high tolerance for or immunity to most prey-spider venoms. Among the myriad ruses employed by the cunning Portia is the selective use of environmental smokescreens. In other words, when the opportunity presents itself, Portia uses wind, dropping leaves, or environmental “noises,” including movements by other animals, to disguise its own stalking motions on the web of a prey spider. Given the presence of an environmental smokescreen, the stalking Portia moves farther and more quickly on a prey spider’s web than in still conditions, Wilcox said. The use of environmental smokescreens

is not uncommon in predator-prey interactions, but Portia is the first arthropod described as using this strategy. Even more exciting, however, is the compelling evidence that Portia is capable of initiating its own smokescreen signals, a behavior never before reported in any predator, Wilcox said. Portia also produces signals that seem to mimic such environmental “noises” as a leaf or raindrop falling on the web of a prey spider. The signals do two things: They mask Portia’s presence on the web and provide a smokescreen for Portia’s predatory advances. Studies by Wilcox and Jackson indicate that 86 percent of Portia’s forward movement on the web occurs during these signals, making it apparent the signals are purposeful. For Portia, trialand-error learning is part of what appears to be a dynamic feedback system between predator and prey. “Portia is so versatile in ferreting out in trial-and-error fashion what works to kill another spider that we’ve never put Portia up against any web-spinning spider that Portia hasn’t been able to kill, whether that spider was one Portia had ever before been associated with in nature or not,” he said. In field and laboratory experiments, Portia has demonstrated an incredible ability to “figure out” how best to sneak up on prey. Even when to do so demands that the spider create a three-dimensional cognitive map of where it plans to go and maintain that map for an hour or more, Portia has proven itself capable of “detour behavior”the ability to successfully execute, with a high degree of flexibility, pathways that require it to lose sight of and at times even travel away from its prey in order to improve its chances for a kill. When Portia intends to dine on such nonthreatening prey as insects or spider egg sacks, however, it doesn’t waste its energy on stalking, signaling or smokescreen behavior, demonstrating an intriguing variation that again seems to involve something akin to reasoning: No threat, no guile. To be “eaten” by Portia, by the way, could make being devoured by some other preda-

tor seem almost civil. When Portia pounces on its victim, sometimes after hours of almost imperceptible stalking, it injects a broad-spectrum venom capable of killing virtually any arthropod. It then injects its own digestive juices, perceptibly deflating its own abdomen in the process. After a few minutes, Portia then sucks the juices back out of the prey animal and continues this process cyclically until the prey animal has been completely “digested,” leaving behind a fragile, hollowed out exoskeleton as the only evidence of the kill. Portia, in fact, is such a formidable predator that, in a sort of “evolutionary arms race,” some prey spiders have actually “learned” through natural selection to recognize its walk on their web, Wilcox said. When Portia’s presence is sensed, these particular prey spiders panic and abandon their web—a drastic response no other spiders tested could provoke in them. The response is aptly termed “Portia panic” by Wilcox and Jackson. Wilcox has devised an “ingenious” system to record the full range of web vibrations in Portia’s repertoire and to turn the tables on Portia with some mimicry of their own. Wilcox’s recording system involves placing a voltmeter pointer on a web, in a sort of mechanical version of the linesperson’s hand on the net cord in tennis. When the spider moves, the web vibrates the pointer, triggering an electrical signal that is recorded on tape, eventually to be digitized for computer analysis. By attaching a tiny, one millimeter-sided magnet to Portia’s head and placing an electrical coil above the spider, Wilcox is able to play back the computer-generated signals, which vibrates the magnet, simulating Portia’s signaling on the web. In this way, Wilcox can explore in even greater detail how Portia uses its cloak of vibratory disguises and smokescreen “nonmessages” to control the behavior of the prey spider. “What most people don’t understand is that we have only scratched the surface,” he said. “The majority of fundamental biological insights that have ultimately helped people came from this kind of basic research.” ■




Redwing mothers may be able to identify babies earlier than expected

esearchers who for years have

relied on “baby-switching” in their studies of birds and bird behavior might have to reconsider the implications of the practice in light of a Binghamton researcher’s findings. It has long been held that many birds, redwinged blackbirds included, cannot distinguish their own young from others until at or near the fledgling stage. As a result, “baby-switching,” which allows researchers to establish sample nests controlled for gender or age, has been used in hundreds of bird studies with the belief that “what you don’t know, won’t hurt our findings.” But last year, Binghamton biologist Anne Clark, who also uses baby switching in her research, caught on tape one of nature’s more disturbing wake-up calls. Long before they should have known the difference, some female redwing mothers returned to their nests after researchers swapped a baby, grabbed the switched baby by the leg and tried to dump it from the nest. Before Clark witnessed the first baby-tossing, she and her research assistants had noticed some “strange events...a broken leg here or there” in some switched babies.

The size difference between male and female baby redwings is apparent in these siblings, each 10 days old. The smaller baby at left is a female. Though she was the same size as her brother at birth, she is already and will remain about 30 percent smaller than him, even as an adult.

Clark successfully set the legs while muttering to herself about the carelessness of field assistants. Though some of the switched babies actually disappeared from the nests, predators, which take large numbers of redwing eggs and babies, were blamed. Then, one female redwing’s forcible eviction of a switched baby was caught on tape, and though the baby was rescued, the broken legs were quickly explained. “The way she threw it out was to grab it by the leg, and so I think the broken legs resulted from other attempts to throw them out,” Clark said. “All the broken legs we’ve seen were on larger males, who would have been difficult to throw out.” Clark is in the process of writing about her findings on the baby-tossing redwings for publication. Further research by Clark and a colleague suggests that female redwings might only be able to discern babies switched by sex, that is when a male is replaced with a female or vice-versa. It also appears that if a switched baby isn’t ejected in the first 24 hours, it will be accepted by the female, Clark said.

“One way or another, this will be big news to people who are doing this kind of research,” Clark said, “because it means that there may be subtle effects of the transfers going on, at least initially, and that they can’t just presume that the transfers are completely benign.” Clark, you might say, is perched at a favorable crossroads in her own career with redwings. After nine years studying the common but enigmatic birds in the field, her familiarity with the species allows her to observe and appreciate the subtle nuances of their individual behavior and relational interactions. Yet Clark is still a relative newcomer to the arena in which the much-studied redwings have been dubbed “the white rats of the bird world.” Perhaps as a result, her profound curiosity seems unfettered by traditional lay and research “folklore” about the birds. This doubly charmed vantage point has afforded Clark the opportunity not only to catch mother redwings dumping switched babies out of their nests, but to observe male

and female redwings relying on “wingflip” signals, when all extant research suggests the behavior is limited to females. She continues to explore the meaning of this signal, which appears as if it might be a call for help. For the redwing, like most migratory species of birds and mammals, not much is known about the crucial developmental stages between leaving the nest or lair and adulthood. In her work, Clark is resigned to the fact that she probably won’t be able to change that. “It’s a critical stage, this post-very dependent stage (equivalent in people to the 8- to 17-year-old range). As a number of my colleagues have pointed out, for many mammal and bird species, it’s a black box. “It’s as if you put birds and mammals of a certain size and age in one side of the box and eventually adult birds and mammals come out the other side, and who knows what is happening in the box.” Because of the inherent limitations in studying birds who migrate as far away as South America, much of Clark’s redwing research is focused on earlier development. How is it, she asks, that parents deal with two important and conflicting needs: the need to fly about foraging for food for themselves and their young, and the need to protect their nests from predators, which take 70 percent of all started nests, nests with at least one egg. When it comes to natural enemies,

redwinged blackbirds have more than their share. Foxes, owls, grackles, blue jays, weasels, raccoons, cats and hawks are all likely to eat eggs, babies or both. Even Canada geese make the enemies list possibly because of their propensity to tip over the nests of redwings, which are usually made in the same reeds and cattails of marshy areas that also attract geese. “These girls are try-try-again girls,” Clark said of the female redwings. “I know of just one female who got two broods off in a single year. Everyone else just wipes her brow and says ‘Whew, we got one (baby) to fledge.’ And that may be after four or five tries. “But hope springs eternal. At some level, that’s what we’re actually studying: the evolution of hope. There is no objective reason why these girls would try again after some of the things that happen,” Clark said. Like many species including man, redwinged blackbirds are sexually dimorphic, which means that the males and females look different. Though there are no differences at the time they hatch, from that moment on male redwings grow faster and for a longer period of time than their female siblings. Perhaps as a result, their feathers grow more slowly and they learn to perch later than females. In the adults, differences in plumage, size and coloration are well known. Males are shiny black with bright red epaulets. The smaller females are a cryptic, striped brown. Some females also carry the red epaulets

more commonly ascribed to male redwings, Clark said. Because of their different maturation rates, Clark is also looking at the evolutionary cost of last-born male babies, which almost certainly extend the nests’ exposure to predators, she said. A youngest male further delays when all can fledge. Redwings take just 11 days “to go from something just-hatched and pink to something with feathers that can perch,” Clark said. “That means that the 1.5 day difference on average between the last-hatched and the first-hatched baby is developmentally equivalent to having a 1.5- to 2-year difference in the age of your kids,” Clark said. How parents accommodate the differing needs of their individual young is also a subject of Clark’s research, as is the question of the evolutionary cost of males feeding one or more nests in their polygenous territories. “While some males feed and some don’t, we should not underestimate the value of the non-feeding males,” Clark said, “or ignore the fact that a female might not want a male to feed unless he absolutely has to help her out.” Given the reality that predators can make easy pickings of an unprotected nest, Clark’s findings suggest that one alert male redwinged blackbird in the bush might well be worth two at the nest. ■

Harbingers of spring may have stayed the winter If you count on the appearance of redwinged blackbirds or robins to

range due to a combination of fac-

signal the arrival of spring, you might have been sorely misled by your

tors, including global warming.

feathered friends this year. “This has been a record year,” according to Anne Clark, associate professor of biology. “The male redwings are already back and a number of people have reported flocks that never left.

“Certainly there were limits to their range that are no longer limits,” she said. Another possible explanation of

“This is the first year that I’ve heard of redwing flocks that may have

the early return of the redwings

spent the winter here, with ‘here’ meaning Ithaca, Binghamton and ad-

may be that they didn’t go that far

joining areas. The same phenomenon is being seen in the robins. There

away to begin with, said Clark, who

are a few flocks that just don’t leave.”

has been involved in redwing re-

Later falls, earlier springs and higher nighttime temperatures that

search since 1989.

accompany global warming might all play a part in bringing redwings

“It’s perfectly conceivable, par-

and robins back sooner or keeping them from traveling as far afield for

ticularly in flocks that have a lot of

the winter, Clark speculated.

later young and may not want to leave as quickly, that they just start

“To the extent that global warming really is happening, one big effect is on nighttime temperatures. It may be that the really stressful thing for these birds is incredibly low night-time temperatures and that those are being ameliorated by global warming.” Cardinals are another species Clark thinks might be expanding their

moving down to Pennsylvania and only go as far south as they need to.” But whatever the weather, Clark thinks the proliferation of birdfeeders in the northeast is affecting migratory patterns of some bird species. “If you start calculating all the feed going out there, we’re supporting a lot of birds,” she said.


Nature’s Laboratory

The largest and best-used laboratory on the Binghamton University campus has no workstations, sinks, meters or computers. It lacks probes, Bunsen burners, test tubes and petri dishes. Large enough to be measured in acres not square feet, this laboratory, in fact, has neither walls nor a ceiling-unless you count the firmament itself. What’s more, people hike through it with their dogs, jog through it alone or with companions and picnic in it at will. The laboratory in question is the University Nature Preserve, 117 acres of mixed forest and wetland habitat that serves as home to and way station for an expansive variety of flora and fauna. Deer, beaver, fox, mink, muskrat, porcupines and other mammals, a diverse amphibian and reptilian population, and 172 bird species, the broadest range to be sighted in any one place in the Southern Tier, live in or migrate through the Nature Preserve throughout the year.

One of the area’s most biologically rich ecological swatches, the University Nature Preserve each year provides thousands of people—student and faculty researchers, University staff, community residents and campus visitors—with the chance for personal and intimate encounters with nature. “I don’t know of anything comparable on any college campus in the country,” said environmentalist Richard Andrus, an associate professor at the University. “Essentially, this is an urban nature preserve with 5,000 people living within a five-minute walk.” While Andrus’ characterization of the preserve is based on its physical setting, there’s another way in which it might be considered an “urban” nature preserve. A large percentage of Binghamton University’s students were born and raised in cities. For

some of these urbanites, a visit to the Nature Preserve is doubtless a more foreign and expansive experience than traveling abroad. “Binghamton,” concurs biology professor Anne Clark, “is the only university I’ve been to where you can walk a class out the door to a place where the students are actually scared that they’re going to get lost and where the shoes they wore to school that day are so completely out of place and inadequate. It is an amazingly accessible way of getting our students—many of whom are essentially derived from city backgrounds— in touch with something real, wild and complicated.” Like many faculty members, even some in disciplines like art and English, Clark uses the Nature Preserve regularly in her teaching and research. Its biological complexity, she says, is probably most apparent in the diversity of its habitats. Though relatively small as far as nature preserves go, it includes a hemlock forest, oak woodlands, a pond, streams, wetlands, shrubbed meadows and lichencovered dry sites. The natural complexities of the preserve make possible its simultaneous use for rec-

“It’s an irreplaceable resource…”

reation, education and research with minimal conflict or tension. Last spring, for example, more than 100 seventh-grade students from a local public school broke up into five groups and spent about six hours in the preserve working on interdisciplinary activities in life sciences, math and language skills. Meanwhile, Clark and a graduate student traipsed through the preserve looking for a redwinged blackbird nest with eggs in the “pipping” or initial hatching stage so that they could test a new piece of high-tech equipment designed to monitor intra-shell activity. Through all of this, the preserve remained open and accessible to the public, while the cryptic lives of animal and vegetable inhabitants of the preserve went on virtually undisturbed. Even putting the intrinsic value of the pristine aside, the proximate and plentiful research opportunities provided by the Nature Preserve make it an invaluable asset say many University faculty members. “One of the commitments of this Univer-

sity is to involve undergraduates in research,” Clark said. “But no one person has enough ongoing research all of the time to provide a research project to every undergraduate who wants one. “Because of the Nature Preserve, for those of us involved in ecology, behavior and evolution, undergraduate projects abound right out the back door.” Julian Shepherd, an entomologist/biologist and member of the University faculty for close to 25 years, is also a tremendous fan of and active friend to the Nature Preserve. Shepherd uses the preserve for projects with biology majors and non-majors alike. “It’s an irreplaceable resource,” he said. Victor Lamoureux heartily agrees. Lamoureux, a doctoral student who came to the University 10 years ago as an under-

graduate biology student, has spent much of his college career exploring the Nature Preserve and researching one of its denizens—the green frog. “When I was thinking about where to go to school and heard there was a Nature Preserve here with actual beaver living in it, that was a big selling point,” Lamoureux said. “I’d never seen a beaver in my life at that point.” After completing his bachelor’s in biology, Lamoureux earned a master’s in teaching and in 1995 secured a part-time post as an educational specialist working with fifth through eighth grade students and teachers in local schools. As a result of his work in that position, when many public school teachers or community groups think about using the Nature Preserve for classes or activities, Lamoureux

…a biologically-rich ecological swatch.

tends to be the first person they call. That’s serendipitous because another of Lamoureux’s ties to the Nature Preserve is as a founder of Friends of the Nature Preserve, a loosely woven volunteer organization that has become the practical caretaker of the preserve. Lamoureux, who spent the past three years conducting groundbreaking research into the pre- and over-wintering habits of the green frog, said the convenience and accessibility of Binghamton’s preserve help to make it a standout research resource. “A lot of universities have major research areas, but they’re usually fenced-in areas, often an hour’s drive from the main campus.” Friends of the Nature Preserve, which every few years sells T-shirts to fund the preserve’s minimal operating budget, also organizes two to three work parties a year to groom and maintain the preserve’s trails, erect and maintain signs, and generally watch out for the well-being of the area. Thanks to their efforts, the Nature Preserve has withstood significant increases in use during the past few years without serious damage.

“The University provides us with free wood chips, and we spread inches of them along the trails every year, pushing wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow up and down the hill,” said Andrus, another founder of Friends of the Nature Preserve. “If we didn’t put the wood chips down, people would start to walk everywhere, and everything could end up trampled.” Signs advising visitors that camping, fires, unleashed dogs and bicycle-riding are prohibited in the preserve have sometimes been the targets of minor vandalism or theft and from time to time are ignored. But the messages they convey are by-and-large respected. “Most people are pretty good about not disturbing things,” Lamoureux said. More formal conservatorship of the Nature Preserve falls to the Faculty Senate Committee for the University Environment (CUE). Currently chaired by Shepherd, CUE’s charge is to act as a consultative body that “participates broadly in the physical planning of the University and its environs.” Among other things, that means CUE re-

views all proposals for research or development projects that would affect the Nature Preserve or any of the University’s 80 additional acres of natural areas, as well as the overall campus environment. The Nature Preserve was carved out of the southern end of the 606-acre campus in 1969 after faculty and students laid down in front of bulldozers to prevent planned development of the area. Following the protest, the University designated the area to be preserved in its natural state. Still, the preserve has been significantly changed by construction since its creation. The building, however, has been consistent with the charge and purpose of the Nature Preserve. The builders, after all, are beavers. When the beavers first arrived in the mid1980s, they dammed the outlet to the pond and made the main path from one side of the preserve to the other impassable. Worries about possible downstream flooding in case their dam broke led University environmentalists to think about relocating the beaver. But after state environmental officials said the glut of beaver in the state made

LABORATORY DENIZENS Green frogs. During a recently completed

Salamanders. The Nature Preserve supports

Blackbirds. The redwinged blackbird, one of

three-year study, doctoral student Victor

stable populations of two species of sala-

the most abundant of the 172 bird species

Lamoureux surgically implanted small, wax-

mander, the red-backed salamander,

living in or traveling through the Binghamton

coated radio transmitters into 35 green

Plethodon cinereus, and Ambystoma

University Nature Preserve, is the focus of

frogs, formally known as Rana clamitans, and

maculatum, more commonly known as the

ongoing research by evolutionary biologist

tracked them day and night through the

spotted salamander. Both species are the

and animal behaviorist Anne Clark.

Nature Preserve to study their pre- and over-

subjects of ongoing research by Binghamton

wintering behavior.

biology professor Dale Madison.

Her research focuses on parenting behaviors, specifically on how parents resolve their conflicting needs to forage for food and

What Lamoureux discovered is that

Among the interesting facts Madison has

common assumptions about where frogs

discovered is that older spotted salamanders,

spend the winter—most people think they

which can live 18 or more years, seem to

bury themselves in mud at the bottom of the

abdicate the best

all nestlings, leading

pond—are mistaken.

feeding and breeding

Clark to the belief that

grounds to younger

they are actually a

generations, risking their

stronger selective force

own lives in dangerous

for redwings than food

little oxygen,” Lamoureux said. “Green frogs

migrations to territories


simply can’t tolerate that kind of environ-

further away from the


pond. The ramps along

In fact, the bottom of the pond is actually a very inhospitable environment for frogs. “It’s like a big compost heap with very

to protect their nests from predators. Predators claim more than 50 percent of

If her hypothesis is correct, redwing parents

the access road that borders the Nature

should make every effort to feed each

winter, Lamoureux has learned, is something

Preserve were installed to assist spotted

nestling what it needs, even if it is smaller

many Upstate New York residents wish they

salamanders in their annual migrations.

than its siblings.

What green frogs actually do for the

could do: they migrate. Not far. Usually no

Madison also researches the less fragile

Among other things, Clark is trying to

more than 500 meters from the pond, to a

red-backed salamander. His research

determine which of the many nestling

stream where, because it is moving, water

suggests that red-backs are capable of

characteristics, including such things as size

will not freeze and so will remain well

making “informed choices” about where and

and begging behaviors, trigger being fed and

oxygenated and relatively free of decompos-

when to forage, thereby increasing their

how the parents determine and respond to

ing organic material over the winter.

chances for survival and reproduction.

the age and needs of the individual nestlings.

their relocation unfeasible, six beaver were killed in a controversial move to protect downstream properties. The following year, more beaver arrived, proving that they are at least as persistent as they are eager, and quickly repaired the dam. This time, state officials and University representatives acquiesced. “By then we had determined that there was less water than we first thought behind the dam,” said Shepherd. “We also decided that the dam was actually providing some flood control.” Today the beaver have consumed all the easily accessible aspen trees and are going to increasingly desperate lengths to find food. They will probably leave the preserve soon of their own accord. After the beavers’ dam expanded the pond and wetlands in the preserve, the Class of 1987 donated $12,406 to build a bridge to allow easier access to the most southerly portion of the Nature Preserve. The University kicked in additional money to complete the project when it turned out state require-

ments would boost the cost of the project to about $20,000. “What we ended up with was far beyond what any of us intended,” Shepherd said of the bridge. “But it’s an excellent bridge, and now you can easily take a whole class out there at once.” Another construction project related to the preserve involved the installation in 1978 of curb ramps along the access road bordering the preserve. The ramps were installed to facilitate the spring migration of spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum), which maintain a stable population in the preserve and are the subject of ongoing research by Dale Madison, an associate professor of biology. Without the ramps, the amphibians dropped off the curb and became trapped in the roadway, where many died of dehydration or were killed by traffic. Clark, Shepherd, Andrus, Madison and Lamoureux are all outspoken in their praise for and readiness to defend the sanctity of the Nature Preserve. All recognize that its

future could be threatened by any number of forces, some of them natural. Excessive deer populations within the preserve, for instance, are responsible for a significant diminishing of wildflowers. “They are very, very bold, and very, very abundant,” Shepherd said of the deer. “They are a tremendously negative ecological force in these kinds of numbers,” Andrus added. Also, as the University grows, pressures to expand facilities, substantial increases in the foot traffic through the preserve or vehicular traffic around it, or even changes in the use of private property surrounding the preserve could all have catacylsmic consequences. That, many voices echo, would be a shame. In a world in which the sound and fury of technology seems to demand ever more attention, the Nature Preserve provides a hushed but powerful reminder of the worth and wonder of the world of natural creation—and a practical, plausible opportunity to explore it. ■


Getting the lead out Program targets rural lead exposure


Binghamton University re-

searcher is working to help keep rural families safe from a thief and potential killer that is not, as some mistakenly think, confined to the slums of the inner cities. The culprit is the heavy metal, lead, a substance found in more than 100 common household items and in house paints produced before 1977. Lindsay Lake Morgan, an assistant professor in the Decker School of Nursing and the recent recipient of a $127,200, three-year grant from the Gerber Company Foundation, is conducting a study that will help spread the word on the dangers of lead as well as teach participating local families what they can do to minimize their exposure to this dangerous metal. In Binghamton, where up to 96 percent of available housing was built before 1980, there’s good reason for people to be aware of their living environment. Significant quantities of lead can likely be found in at least nine out of 10 homes, Morgan said. Lead makes its way into the human body through ingestion and inhalation. During childhood, it is stored in the critical organs, including the brain. It may also be stored in bones, so that in adulthood it may be released into the bloodstream during such times of bone loss as pregnancy, old age or during periods of nutritional stress. When it reaches toxic levels in the blood, lead can rob children of their wits, their senses and, in the extreme, their lives. High blood pressure, infertility and kidney damage are some known effects of lead toxicity in adults. In children, its specific effects even at moderate levels include decreased intelligence, developmental delays, behavioral dis-

turbances, decreased stature, anemia, premature birth and low birth weight. When concentrated at high levels in the mother’s blood, lead can cause miscarriage or stillbirths. At high levels in children, lead can cause seizures and coma. What’s more, the neurological damage sustained by children with elevated blood lead levels is irreversible. So how much lead are we talking here? A one-centimeter piece of lead paint could, if ingested by a poorly nourished child on an empty stomach, result in poisoning severe enough to require hospitalization. That’s because a poorly nourished body tends to mistake lead for iron and absorbs it more quickly into vital organs, Morgan said. Before its use in paints was regulated in 1977, lead was regularly used as an agent to increase the durability and color-fastness of house paint and in a myriad of household items including ceramics, pottery and dishes. Lead-containing pipes remain in many older homes, and even in newer homes with copper plumbing, chances are good, that lead solder was used on joints, Morgan said. In such cases lead may leach into water left sitting in the pipes. “That’s why it’s always a good idea to run the water for a minute or two before you drink it,” she said. Lead is also found in many other items including vinyl mini-blinds, imported canned goods, fishing sinkers, curtain weights and lead crystal. Less known sources of lead being investigated by researchers include stained glass windows, some calcium supplements and many imported cosmetics, particularly lipsticks. “In a recent study, they tested 28 lipsticks and 22 had lead in them,” Morgan said. Lead exposure can be minimized or avoided by restricting access to the item or removing it from the home. But it is often impractical—both financially and healthwise—to try to remove lead from homes with lead paint, said Morgan. For one thing, simply trying to get it out of a house increases one’s exposure.

Decker School researcher Lindsay Lake Morgan has begun work on a three-year project to identify lead levels in three local counties and help residents reduce their exposure to the toxic metal. Here she displays several sources of lead—cans with lead seams, a foreign-made tube of toothpaste, and a package of curtain weights.

“Scraping the paint off the walls creates dust and paint chips,” Morgan said. “That’s why we worry about pregnant mothers getting involved in peeling wallpaper and scraping paint. They end up breathing in the dust and babies can actually be poisoned by moms who are just trying to make a nice nursery.” Although lead should be removed from homes only by professionals wearing protective gear, few families can afford that kind of an investment. Morgan’s study will focus on showing people how to live more safely with the lead already in their homes, while minimizing their exposure to new sources. Morgan is using her Gerber Foundation grant to monitor lead levels in the blood of a group of 175 pregnant rural mothers and their babies in Broome, Tioga and Tompkins counties over three years. She will also attempt to identify lead-exposure risks and quantify the efficacy of education in reducing lead exposure in rural families. ■ Binghamton University INSIDE RESEARCH 1998



L A N D Flood watch Federal policies may not reduce risk


hen Burrell Montz’s colleagues tease her about

being the “ambulance chaser of geography,” she just smiles, packs her bags and waits for the heavens to unleash their next deluge. Usually she doesn’t have to wait long.

Geography Professor Burrell Montz has been interested in the subject of flooding since her parents’ Wilkes-Barre home was flooded by Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Today, her work focuses on the efficacy of the National Flood Insurance Program.

For more than two decades, Montz, a Binghamton geography professor, has been traveling—sometimes on just a few day’s notice—throughout the United States and beyond to conduct research into floods. Her work is important because floods, which every year cost billions of dollars and hundreds of lives in the United States alone, are increasing in frequency and severity. Montz thinks that’s due in large part to such controllable factors as urbanization and economic development. “We need to know what’s going on with floods because they’re incredibly expensive, and they are getting worse,” Montz said. “We have a hydrologic system that should end up working so that we can generally know the amount of water to expect in an area at different times. But if we’re paving and developing and not allowing water to seep into the ground, then it has to run over the land.” Before the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was established in 1968 and strengthened by the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973, the country’s informal approach to flood management was “to keep the water away from the people,” Montz said. That wasn’t terribly successful because flood control measures like dams, levees and flood walls tend to give people a false sense of security, without lasting protection. continued on page 26

Values The price of development Mall boosts neighbors’ property values


hough many people might resist construction of

a shopping center in their neighborhood fearing that it would drive down property values, a Binghamton University economics professor says that in at least one case—that of the Town Square Mall—nearby homes actually increased in desirability and value after the shopping center was built. The research supporting this finding is unique. Most studies that deal with the impact of specific types of development on property values focus on “noxious” development like the construction of foundries, incinerators or airports, said Edward Kokkelenberg, chair of the University’s economics department. continued on page 27

Professor Edward Kokkelenberg found that land values around Town Square Mall in Vestal, NY, fluctuated at different stages in the mall’s development.

Flood… continued from page 24 “Next thing you know people would be “In other words, you can’t just build on places like Louisiana, there are neighborbuilding right on the opposite side of them fill, because that will just displace the water hoods that get damaged 20 percent this year, because it seemed so safe—until they onto everyone around you,” Montz said. 20 percent the next year and 20 percent the broke—and then you had worse flooding and Though many presume that the term year after that, so that in three years, they’ve more damage than before,” Montz said. “100-year floodplain” refers to an area that been damaged well over 50 percent of their Traditionally many cities, towns and vil- is likely to be flooded once in 100 years, it pre-flood value. But the NFIP provision isn’t lages were built in floodplains because physi- actually refers to the flood level that has a cumulative, so people keep getting flood incal and economic realities made the land at- one percent chance of happening in any surance to rebuild in the same place.” tractive. Well-drained and fertile flatlands given year. Similarly, a 500-year floodplain Another huge issue, Montz said, is that situated so close to open waterways were refers to the flood level that has a 0.2 per- every time development takes place uphard to pass up, despite the risks. cent chance of happening in any given year. stream from any mapped community, the Even if existing communities could be re“You could actually have three 100-year existing floodplain maps are no longer aclocated out of the floodplain, the move floods in the same year,” Montz said. curate. wouldn’t be the autoAccording “What might have been a 100-year floodmatic solution it to FEMA, the plain, probably now becomes the 10-year might seem, Montz $1 billion un- floodplain,” she said. “The National Flood Insurance Program said. dertaking to Montz hopes to secure a National Science is based on the presumption that ‘if we “It’s really hard to Foundation grant to get away from floodexplore the efficacy of provide a carrot—that is, flood insurance— then we can give ing,” she said. “Yes. the NFIP. She has been You can be on top of a hill. But then turned down by them the stick—that is, land-use management,’” Montz said. you’re probably creating flooding FEMA, which she says for someone downhill. As things doesn’t favor the study stand today, it’s environmentally impossible identify and map the nation’s floodplains has because “they already have all the answers.” to ‘keep water away from the people.’” helped “increase public awareness of the Montz’s interest in the topic of floods was As a result, the idea upon which the NFIP flood hazard, and has provided the data nec- piqued when her parents’ Wilkes-Barre is founded is exactly the opposite of its his- essary to actuarially rate flood insurance and home was flooded by Hurricane Agnes in toric predecessor: that is, to keep people develop community floodplain management 1972. away from the water. programs.” In the wake of that “Noah-like flood,” How is it that the NFIP is meant to supMontz isn’t so sure. Montz began to wonder at the varied report that goal? After spending many years looking at the sponses people had to the flood. “The National Flood Insurance Program impact of floods on real estate values, she Montz said she observed that there were is based on the presumption that ‘if we pro- thinks it’s time to expand her focus to the “movers,” “shifters” and “stayers.” vide a carrot—that is, flood insurance—then bigger picture: is the National Flood InsurWhile anyone could understand why we can give them the stick—that is, land-use ance Program working to mitigate the eco- someone might move from a property that management,’” Montz said. nomic costs of flooding? had been seriously flooded, Montz found the The NFIP “carrot” is attractive because it’s “Floods,” Montz said, “are relatively easy reasons that people stayed were generally the only flood insurance available in the to deal with compared to other disasters be- social or cultural. United States. Property owners in more than cause for the most part you know where “People either had extended families in 18,700 flood-prone communities are eligible they’re going to occur. They’re going to oc- the neighborhood and couldn’t move withto buy flood insurance, even up to a month cur along rivers and streams, or in storm out breaking up the family,” she said. “Or before a flood. surge areas along coastlines. It’s not like an maybe the synagogue was in the neighbor“It’s so easy to buy,” Montz said. “If you earthquake that you can’t predict, or a tor- hood and the Orthodox Jews couldn’t move saw that a particularly rainy spring was pre- nado that can occur anywhere. But look at and still walk to synagogue.” dicted and you lived in the 100-year flood- what a hard time we have with floods anyMontz’s original line of research was into plain, you might just say to yourself, ‘I guess way.” the economic impact of flooding on propI’ll buy some flood insurance this year.’” Montz sees several big problems with the erty values. What she found was that dependTo be eligible for the insurance, commu- NFIP. First, the program has attracted only ing on many factors, including demand for nities must map their floodplains and pass minimal participation. Just 28 percent of housing and the type and frequency of floodregulations that meet the minimum criteria qualified property owners, presumably most ing, the effects of flooding on property valestablished by the Federal Emergency Man- in areas of extremely high risk, have the in- ues varied. agement Agency (FEMA) on what can and surance. In some cases, severely flooded houses cannot happen in floodplains. Second, irregular enforcement of local or- became briefly more desirable because of the Basically, the criteria prohibit new devel- dinances and FEMA criteria leads to repeti- extensive repairs and remodeling required opment or substantial improvement without tive claims, draining the system of billions to make them habitable. Overall, however, flood-proofing to any existing development of dollars. Montz learned the impact of flooding on within the 100-year floodplain. Development “There’s a provision in the national flood property values needs to be considered over that increases the flood levels around it is insurance that if a house is damaged more the long haul. likewise prohibited. than 50 percent of its pre-flood value, then “It’s a longitudinal thing, and not a matFEMA can tell you that you can’t rebuild ter of simple ‘before’ and ‘after’ comparithere,” Montz said. “What’s interesting is in sons,” she said. ■ 29

Binghamton University INSIDE RESEARCH 1998

Development… continued from page 25 “There really isn’t too much out there on shopping centers,” he said. Kokkelenberg’s landmark research actually began as an assignment to a class of his undergraduate students: collect the data and apply the econometrics necessary to determine the impact of the Town Square Mall on surrounding property values. In the end, his students’ conclusions covered the gamut of possibilities: some said the mall had no impact, others said it had led to decreased values, and still others said it increased values. “That’s the sort of thing you would expect from students who are really just getting their feet wet with this kind of thing,” Kokkelenberg said. But despite their differences, what all the students had in common was that they had gathered lots of accurate and worthwhile data that piqued the interest of their professor. After reviewing the student assignments, Kokkelenberg decided to expand on the data, complete more research and analyze it more thoroughly. What he discovered was that until plans to build the mall were announced in 1988, homes in the neighboring Lynnhurst area of Vestal enjoyed a 13 percent price premium over the rest of Vestal, which itself enjoyed a small price premium over Binghamton and Johnson City. At the time, the Lynnhurst premium was explained by the fact that homes in the area were generally situated along attractive curvalinear streets on well-landscaped lots, were close to the African Road elementary and middle schools, and tended to be larger and more solid than homes with comparable appointments and amenities elsewhere in the community. When word of the mall first began to spread in the community, the size, character and actual location of the shopping center was uncertain. “There was some thought about putting it further west on the parkway,” Kokkelenberg said. “There was discussion, too, about the size of the mall, the number and types of stores it was going to have; all of these things were kind of up in the air.” Despite the uncertainties or because of them, shortly after the initial announcement, the Lynnhurst price premium began to erode. That continued for the next two years. By the time construction began, the premium had completely evaporated. Once constuction began, of course, un-

certainties about the size, nature and loca- and sales taxes generated by a busy shoption of the mall were clarified. Almost si- ping center, a burden can actually become multaneously, Lynnhurst property values an asset. began to recoup, Kokkelenberg said. “If a big plant or a big shopping center is By 1993, two years after construction was built in a community and starts paying a lot completed and the mall opened for business, of property taxes, that’s a real gain for the Lynnhurst properties were enjoying an 18 homeowner,” Kokkelenberg said. “If you’re percent premium—5 percent more than going to pay $1,000 a month in a mortgage their pre-announcement premium—over and tax payment, you’d like more of it to go comparable Vestal properties, Kokkelen- to your principal and less to taxes. If the taxes berg’s research concluded. don’t go up as fast, or indeed go down, you “This was all confounded or made more can afford more house or pay off your mortdifficult to discern because we were suffer- gage quicker.” ing a general decline in housing prices in Whether the Town Square Mall has had this area during that period of time,” he said. that kind of impact is hard to tell. “So if you sold your property during that “That becomes a very complex accounttime, what this unfortunately meant was that ing problem, and we just don’t have that you lost less money because of the Town data,” he said. Square Mall than you would have if it hadn’t Kokkelenberg, who began teaching at been built.” Binghamton University in 1980 after earnKokkelenberg doesn’t pretend to know ing his PhD at Northwestern University, is why the Town Square Mall had such a posi- looking at the idea of doing a follow-up study tive effect on property values or whether that to see what, if anything, has happened to effect will continue, he said. property values in the Lynnhurst area in the “Shopping is a recreational undertaking past five years, particularly in light of the for many, many people,” he said. “When the overall improvement in the local economy, going gets tough, the tough go shopping. So he said. it’s possible that if a new toy opens up, a “At the time the Town Square Mall was new recreational attraction, people will go built, it was a real lift to the area,” he said. there.” “It was somebody building something inUntil and unless that happens, however, stead of closing something down, for the first Kokkelenberg offers several possible expla- time in 10 years.” nations for the increased desirability and However the results of his research might value of Lynnhurst homes. “One such explanation is that By 1993, two years after construction was the mall truly is a convenience, reducing shopping time for nearby completed and the mall opened for business,

Lynnhurst properties were enjoying an 18 percent be changed by today’s economic environment, Kokkelenberg ment premium—over comparable Vestal properties, said his original findings are based on solid Kokkelenberg’s research concluded. econometrics and contain information that residents,” he said. “Another possibility is could help provide developers and municithat the town was more of a successful ne- pal officials important insights. ■ gotiator than we sometimes credit town governments with being.” While most shopping centers are “a burden impinging directly on the public purse” because of the extra demands they place on municipal water and sewer systems, police and fire protective services and roadways, shrewd negotiating could relieve that burden, Kokkelenberg said. If a municipality is able to negotiate concessions—things like using the shopping center parking lot as an impoundment area for storm run-off—in addition to the property

premium—5 percent more than their pre-announce-



On the trail of memory illusions

In his search to discover the truth about the root of all human

cognition, memory itself, a Binghamton University professor is discovering that memory can be every bit as fickle as vision.

In the same way that visual illusions are capable of turning a stretch of desert into a shimmering oasis, memory is capable of convincing us that we experienced things that didn’t and couldn’t have happened, says David Payne, chair of Binghamton’s psychology department. Payne, who early in his career concentrated his research on malleability in eyewitness memory, in recent years has enlarged his view to the controversial field of false and recovered memories. “Just as visual illusions tell you a lot about the rules that the visual system uses to interpret the world, false memories—or memory illusions as we prefer to call them— tell you a lot about how the memory system uses rules to interpret what we’ve retained from past experiences,” he said. In the laboratory, memory illusions or false memories are proving easy to obtain and are undeniably “robust,” Payne said. They are, in other words, easily initiated, difficult to distinguish from real memories and every bit as compelling to the rememberer as real-life experiences. Findings like these seem to have some far-reaching implications, all of which Payne is quick to acknowledge. Our entire legal system, for example, is based on the presumption that historical truth can be obtained through eyewitness testimony, and that such testimony is generally reliable and accurate, weeks, months or even years after the fact. Now, although he is quick to caution against inappropriate extrapolation of his

laboratory findings, Payne steps forward to suggest that this and the rest of our commonly held beliefs about how memory works are questionable at best and, at worst, completely wrong. Throughout history, scientists and lay people alike have relied on “storehouse” memory metaphors, which, in their attempt to characterize memory as the repository of historical truth, compared it to everything from wax tablets to computers. Even memory errors have routinely been explained away through memory metaphors involving the technology du jour. “In the wax-tablet metaphor, memory errors were the result of writing some new experience over something already written on the tablet, making one or both memories difficult to decipher,” Payne said. Likewise, in the early days of the telephone, memory processes were regularly compared to a switchboard, and memory errors were likened to the switchboard operator putting the plug in the wrong hole, making the wrong connection, Payne said. The current storehouse memory metaphor likens memory to a VCR. Some even suggest that people, whether on their own or with the help of a variety of techniques ranging from hypnosis to traditional psychotherapy, are capable of “rewinding the tape” to any given point and accurately recalling their experiences. But Payne’s research suggests that when it comes to the real-life processes of memory, these storehouse models are inaccurate and misleading.

People’s narrative histories, including their memory illusions, are probably regularly and intricately woven into and around the historical truth of their lives. As a rule that really isn’t a problem, he said. “We probably experience these memory illusions very frequently. It’s just that we are seldom in a situation where we can go back or are forced to go back and check the accuracy of our memories,” Payne said. “Once you get outside of a formal educational setting and some legal settings, in general you don’t have to have perfectly accurate memory. You can generally remember the gist of things and get along just fine,” he added. To really understand memory, however, Payne thinks we need a more accurate memory model. The model he proposes is one he developed with Jason Blackwell, a graduate student and research assistant. It is called the “perception–reperception” model, and it suggests that the only real difference between the way we perceive immediate experiences or reperceive memories is temporal, that perception and reperception happen at different times. “In both cases you need to take in information from the external world, evaluate or interpret that information and respond on the basis of it,” Payne said. Payne’s laboratory experiments seem to suggest that perception remains just as subjective whether it takes place around present or “reperceived” past experiences. Because his studies are ongoing, Payne is hesitant to reveal the details of his experiments. Essentially, however, the scenario is this: two or three experimenters each read portions of a list of related items—let’s say a list of hand tools—to the subject. During three five- to seven-minute recall tests conducted minutes, hours or days later, subjects are again presented with a list of items. This time, however, the list is altered to include related items that did not appear on the original list. For instance, given a list of hand tools, “hammer” might be added to the recall list though it was not included on the original study list. What Payne is finding is that people are just as likely to recall “hammer,” which was not on the list, as they are to recall “screwdriver,” which was. What’s more, subjects are not just guess-

CHECK ing that hammer might have been on the list because of its obvious association with the category hand tools. They are convinced about the accuracy of their false memories. They claim to remember hearing the word “hammer” read during the study phase; they recall the specific moment when they heard the word; and are often able to identify some thought or feeling they say they experienced as they heard the word read. Some of Payne’s subjects have been so convinced that their memory illusions were real, in fact, that when shown a videotape that proved them wrong, they accused the experimenters of switching the tape. According to Payne’s findings, even giving subjects warnings that they might experience memory illusions doesn’t stop the production of false memories. In fact, the false memory effect is so robust that it actually increases over time, he said. “We’ve gone out as far as a week later with these experiments.” Payne said. “Memory for the studied items, the items actually on the list, deteriorates over that week, while memory for the false-memory items increases.” Payne’s experiments also address a question key to the social and legal controversy over false and recovered memories. Subjects were warned that remembering which experimenter read the false-memory word would be difficult and were encouraged not to guess, Payne said.

“It turns out the subjects are very, very willing to say which of the two or three experimenters who read the list of items actually said the non-presented words,” he said. “If you look in the legal setting, when a person says, ‘I’m absolutely certain that’s the person who committed the crime,’ Payne said,“and in our experiments where people are saying ‘I’m absolutely certain that experimenter said hammer,’ when we know for a fact that they didn’t, it really causes you to say, ‘Wait a minute. How much confidence should we place in people’s confident assertions?’” Not surprisingly, Payne has received multiple requests to appear as an expert witness in criminal proceedings where, arguably, his research could be used to create reasonable doubt about eyewitness testimony. He said he has declined to testify, however, because his work is in its infancy. “How well you can generalize the results of these relatively antiseptic laboratory experiments to real world events is in question,” Payne said. Those who would attempt to extrapolate his research to fuel one side or the other of the false-memory debate around childhood abuse issues find no ally in Payne, either. Even though false memory research pokes holes in any notions of the infallibility of memory, it can’t and shouldn’t be used to say that recovered memories are always false, Payne said.

David Payne, chair of Binghamton’s psychology department, is finding that memory illusions may last longer than the real thing.

“It’s certainly the case that some memories of childhood events that people report later in life unfortunately do correspond to horrific events that occurred to that person,” he said. “But it’s also the case that it is possible that some of these reports are reflecting things that did not occur in reality.” Finding new and more accurate ways of distinguishing and flagging false memories from veritable memories will be the focus of future research. Payne also expects to continue exploring the fuzzy trace concept of memory, which suggests that memory has multiple aspects with different “shelflives.” The theory, which is consistent with Payne’s findings that false or “gist” memories tend to grow stronger over time, suggests that after our relatively short-lived verbatim memory expires, it is replaced by gist memory or a general sort of idea of what we experienced. Another facet of memory—the one that may have the longest-lasting effect—is its affective or emotional aspect, Payne said. “The emotional content of a memory may stay for quite a long period and may guide your behavior for a long period of time even though you may not be aware of it,” he said. In other words, affective memories of situations in which we felt such emotions as fear, disappointment, happiness and love may exist and guide our life choices without any real memory of the experience during which we first perceived the feelings. Though he is consistently dealing with questions of truth and falsehood, Payne brings to his research no moral judgments. To him, false memories are simply another piece in a cognitive puzzle that continues to fascinate him. “For information storage and retrieval, the human cognitive system pales in comparison to modern technology,” Payne said. “But in terms of using that information, the human cognitive system vastly exceeds any technology out there.” ■




aving it is like holding an ex-

press ticket to pleasure, losing it would set you on the fast track to depression, and the choices you make because of it help to determine everything from your general health and longevity to what you’ll be having for dinner tonight. So what is it that plays such a pivotal role in your life? Love? Sex? Money? Politics? Religion? No. It’s taste—the simple ability to detect the flavor of something in your mouth. Easily taken for granted despite its importance in our lives, taste is the focus of Binghamton University Professor Patricia DiLorenzo’s study “Interneuronal Dynamics in the Neural Code for Taste in the Brain Stem,” a three-year research project supported by a $200,000 National Science Foundation grant.

DiLorenzo, the director of the psychobiology program, is using the taste system as a model to study sensory systems in general. She hopes to learn more about how the interaction of cells determines our reactions to sensory information, in this case different tastes. The sense of taste could be considered one of nature’s most basic life-support systems. Because of it we are able to make positive choices when we encounter very fundamental life-and-death decisions about what to eat. “Taste determines what you think of as food and what you think of as poison,” said DiLorenzo. “That’s a very important decision for any animal.” It is also a decision that would become the dietary version of Russian roulette if not for our ability to discern between the four major classes of taste—salty, sweet, sour and bitter. “Most poisons are bitter and most people reject bitter things,” DiLorenzo said. “Even infants. “But also as a newborn, even hours old, you accept sweet things. You’re hard-wired to accept sweet things.” Our preference for sweet tastes is one of the reasons taste has such a powerful and far-reaching impact in our lives. “The fact that we prefer sweet things mixed with fat can determine the proportion of fat in our diets and so influence our risk for various diseases like cancer and heart trouble,” she said.

From the evolutionary perspective, however, that preference is important and beneficial. It seems, in fact, to be tied to such important human accomplishments as the creation of civilizations. “In animals, the search for food is a major deal,” DiLorenzo said. “If you ask what does a rat do all day, it looks for food.” The free time that is permitted humans because they have the ability to use fat stores as energy, on the other hand, has enabled us to build civilizations, DiLorenzo added. “Because we can eat food and store what we don’t use right away as fat and, in the inter-meal intervals, use those stored nutrients, we don’t have to spend all our time looking for food,” she said. Perhaps because taste is so key to our experience of pleasure and well-being, losing it is a terrible drag, both emotionally and physically. Taste disorders, in fact, are linked to a variety of health problems, particularly in infants and the elderly. “One of the biggest risks for infants is a condition called failure to thrive,” DiLorenzo said. “There is a lot of work being done to enhance tastes as a way of enhancing appetite in infants.”

Professor Patricia DiLorenzo, director of Binghamton’s psychobiology program, is researching how the brain processes and reacts to different tastes.

Likewise, diminished appetite in the elderly is linked to a reduced ability to taste foods. “Have you ever noticed how quickly you lose your appetite when you have a cold and can’t taste your food?” she said. Researchers also know that there is a strong link between depression and taste. Though it isn’t certain which comes first, the loss of taste or depression, people who are unable to distinguish tastes are far more likely to be depressed than the average person, and many people with depression experience loss of or impairment in their sense of taste, DiLorenzo said. Taste disorders like dysgeusia, a condition in which the sense of taste is “off” and foods may taste bitter, metallic or just plain “funny,” leave people feeling very depressed, DiLorenzo said. “In fact, people with dysgeusia have trouble enjoying anything in their lives,” she added. By studying two structures in the brains of rats—the nucleus of the solitary tract and the parabrachial nucleus of the pons— DiLorenzo is gaining insights into the two ways in which cells interact to transfer sensory information: excitation and inhibition.

Though humans don’t have a synapse for taste in the parabrachial nucleus of the pons, DiLorenzo thinks the nucleus of the solitary tract in humans does what both structures do in rodents. Most people would probably guess that the kind of “judgment” used in deciding whether a food is delicious or disgusting might be made in higher centers of the brain, perhaps the cortex. But like the structures that are responsible for hedonic decisions in rodents, the structure that determines whether humans like or dislike tastes is buried in the brain stem near such basic, primitive functions as heart beat and respiration. “We’re finding that these structures are specially designed to tell you about whether you like something or not, whether you’re going to spit it out or swallow it,” DiLorenzo said. “They don’t actually do the swallowing, but they determine whether the stimulus is wonderful or yucky. “In fact, if you cut off the rest of the brain from those sites, you can still make those decisions.” DiLorenzo is particularly interested in the inhibitory reaction that keeps one cell from “exciting” another, a phenomena that makes it possible to distinguish one taste from another. By using strategically placed microelectrodes, DiLorenzo is able to measure and digitize these interactions for later analysis. “What our research is suggesting is that all the cells are capable of responding equally well to all the tastes, but that it’s the inhibitory interactions that mold the actual response profile,” she said. “Without inhibition, a cell would respond equally well to everything, which means everything would taste the same.” This is important because for taste to work as a truly viable “life-support system” we need to be able to modify our tastes based on experience. We need to be able to recognize that even though something tastes good, it might make us terribly ill.

“The fact that every cell can potentially respond to everything and is molded by inhibition means the brain has the capability to adapt to different circumstances,” DiLorenzo said. “Just by changing the patterns of inhibition, in other words, you can change the patterns of taste.” Another line of research that DiLorenzo is involved in supports that conclusion. By changing the temporal patterns of electrical pulses to their brains, rats can be fooled into thinking they are licking sucrose when they are really drinking water her research has shown. So what is the most likely application for DiLorenzo’s research findings? Weight loss? Finding new or better ways to intensify taste to improve appetite in infants or the elderly? Perhaps all of the above or more. But it will be someone other than DiLorenzo who decides that. “It’s not for me as a basic research scientist to dream of applications,” she said. “It’s my job to lay the foundations, and the applications come later.” And that’s fine with her; she finds basic research totally engrossing. “It’s like you have a big problem, and you think of it as a puzzle. In order to solve the puzzle, you have to ask deeper and deeper questions and, after a while, the puzzle isn’t as important anymore as the answers to the deeper questions,” she said. In her own quest to answer deeper and deeper questions, DiLorenzo eventually expects to move her research up the evolutionary scale by looking at sensory functions for taste in higher centers of the brain, she said.■

PROFILE Crossing the disciplines to understand disease IN S ID E R E S E A R C H


alph Garruto’s curiosity, be-

fore proving to be his passport to a world of travel, intrigue and professional prominence, almost got him killed. “Unlike some people, as a young boy, I really didn’t know what I wanted to be,” said Garruto, who last year joined the faculty of Binghamton University as a research professor of anthropology and neurosciences. “But I do recall having a chemistry set and almost killing myself off melting sulfur on the stove,” he said. Garruto had been hoping to see how a solid melted and vaporized but instead almost saw a promising career go up in a pall of smoke and smelly, toxic fumes. “It wasn’t one of my better ideas,” he said. “My main interest quickly shifted to airing out the kitchen before my mother found out.” Fortunately for the world, Garruto, who last year was elected to the nation’s most prestigious science organization, the National Academy of Sciences, wasn’t put off by his early dabblings in the sciences. Far from it. For the past 25 years, Garruto has been working for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), traveling to distant corners of the world to conduct ground-breaking research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, as well as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases of unknown etiology or cause. Garruto defines himself as a human population biologist, “representing a transdisciplinary science, with human variation, evolutionary biology, genetic, biobehavioral and human life-cycle perspectives.” As such, much of his work has involved field research among isolated populations living in remote regions with an overabundance of disease. 35

Binghamton University INSIDE RESEARCH 1998

Population-based biobehavioral studies have to date resulted in the discovery of a new neurotoxin, a new retrovirus variant with implications for studying evolution and the peopling of the Pacific, demonstration of gene-environment interactions and adaptive responses to environmental stress, and the development of new experimental models for studying pathogenic mechanisms, Garruto said. At Binghamton, Garruto continues his ties to the NIH-initiated research by focusing on microbial diversity and models of infectious diseases, cellular and molecular mechanisms of neuronal degeneration in late-onset neurogenerative disorders and molecular genetic studies of ALS and Parkinson’s disease on Guam. Overall, however, Garruto is shifting his focus from active research to passing both knowledge and opportunity on to the next generation. “After all, I guess that’s what we need to be around for, to just sort of open those doors and let students explore,” Garruto said. Garruto’s own explorations began locally. He was born and raised in Binghamton and spent many summer vacations tramping the woods and fields of rural Oxford in Chenango County. His childhood ramblings in the country helped to prepare him for the field work that has kept him away from home for an average of two to three and up to nine months a year most of his adult life. As a result of high school and college jobs in hospitals,Garruto’s interest in health and disease in the lives of individuals began to broaden into a fascination with the “diversity of biological forms and functions at the human population level,” he said. Garruto earned his BS in zoology, his master’s in anthropology and his PhD in human biology/anthropology from Pennsylvania State University. While still in graduate school, Garruto began work with the NIH. A summer internship found him studying the high incidence of goiter and cretinism in West New Guinea in order to understand how populations adapt to chronic nutritional stress. Cretin-

Ralph Garruto, research professor of anthropology and neurosciences, has crossed disciplinary lines to study how environmental and genetic factors affect the ability of different populations to cope with disease.

ism is a condition resulting from a lack of iodine in a mother’s diet during pregnancy. Its symptoms include drooling, uncontrollable eye movements, floppy musculature, an inability even at several years of age to stand or walk unassisted and varying degrees of mental retardation and deaf-mutism, he said. Correctable for just a few pennies by adding iodine to the mother’s diet, its effects are often irreversible after the birth of the child. This, like many of the conditions Garruto has studied, demonstrates how important an anthropological perspective is to understanding the causes of disease, he said. “How humans behave determines to an enormous degree their disease burdens or health outcomes,” he said. “Anthropology has known this for years, and anthropologists have been the unsung heroes in bringing this population-based biobehavioral perspective to science. “My opinion is that it is not biological reductionism but an evolving holistic approach that ultimately produces significant contributions.” ■

Binghamton University Research Centers Center for Cognitive and Psycholinguistic Services Center for Computing Technologies Center for Developmental Psychobiology Center for Intelligent Systems Center for Leadership Studies Center for Learning and Teaching Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies Center for Research in Translation Center for Research of Environmental Systems Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems and Civilizations Institute for Materials Research Institute of Global Cultural Studies Institute for Primary and Preventive Health Care Integrated Electronics Engineering Center

Binghamton University / Research Magazine / 1998