Texas Tech

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Fall 2011

In Short

Education to Help to Better Train Local STEM Teachers

With a $1.98 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, researchers in Texas Tech’s College of Education and other disciplines will empower elementary teachers with skills to better teach science and math to English Language Learners in the Lubbock area.

English Learner Science and Mathematics Education (Proyecto EL SMEd) will support ongoing and intensive professional development activities designed to improve classroom instruction for English Learners in science and mathematics education.

The project is a collaboration among the College of Education and faculty members in physics and math. Zenaida Aguirre-Muñoz, an associate professor of education, program coordinator for Bilingual Education and Diversity Studies, and assistant director for the Center for Research on Leadership in Education, is the primary investigator. David Lamp, associate professor of physics; Brock Williams, associate professor of math, and Rebecca Ortiz, an assistant professor of science education, are the co-investigators.


Researchers Help Iraqi Officials Rebuild Science and Technology

For the second year in a row, researchers at Texas Tech hosted a delegation of six Iraqi government officials intent on learning how to fund scientific and technological research and develop science policy in their country as they begin rebuilding its academic infrastructure.

The delegation included members from Iraq’s Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Electricity, State Board of Agriculture Research and Petroleum Research and Development Center.

The State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs selected Texas Tech to serve as host to a delegation of Iraqi government because of the university’s lengthy involvement with scientific and educational programs in Iraq.

Carl Phillips, a biology professor with Texas Tech’s Center for Environmental Radiation Studies said the meeting is in compliance with the Strategic Framework Agreement, which partly involves helping Iraq redevelop science, engineering and technology. Texas Tech researchers became involved on one of their trips to help train Iraqis to safely dismantle former nuclear facilities and map possible contamination.


Usability Researchers Develop New Eye-Tracking Device

After several years of research, software writing and prototype creation, researchers at Texas Tech’s Usability Research Lab (URL) have created a device that can track eye movement at a price point far below the industry standard.

The EyeGuide™ Eye-Tracking System is used to map the pathways of users’ eyes and give researchers an idea how viewers look at a Web page or other material. This allows researchers to follow user trends and improve design to make the page more effective.

The new eye-tracking device is created from an inexpensive camera and wireless headset. Less bulky than conventional models, it will retail for less than $1,500, and can be used by people who wear glasses.

The device can also be used to help people with hand-mobility issues use their eyes to move a mouse around the screen. Lab director Brian Still said they are working on a prototype for something called EyeAssist™, which will be ready by the end of the year, that will offer millions of disabled users who have limited or no functionality in their hands the ability to navigate the Web or use desktop software with just their eyes.


Texas Tech Participates in $4 Million Wind Research Project

Texas Tech’s Wind Science and Engineering Research Center (WISE) will participate in a $4.1 million research project from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The award, given to Alstom Wind, is part of a larger DOE effort to lower the cost of energy and shorten the timeline for deploying offshore wind energy systems in the United States. Alstom, is partnering on the project with Texas Tech, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) National Wind Technology Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Ships and Platforms Flow.

The project will research and develop advanced control systems and integrated innovative sensors that increase energy production and lower the capital cost of offshore wind turbines, especially those based on advanced floating substructures.

Building upon Texas Tech’s expertise in understanding wind and its effects on structures, WISE will contribute to the project by further advancing the knowledge base of wind as well as the loading and performance of wind turbines subjected to various wind regimes. The outcome of the research can be used directly in the design of reliable and efficient large-scale offshore wind turbines and help make wind energy become a truly viable and sustainable energy source upon which the nation can depend.

Alstom, a global leader in power generation, power transmission and rail infrastructures, has ongoing research partnerships with Texas Tech and the National Institute of Renewable Energy (NIRE) in Lubbock.


Researchers Fight Drought with Web-based Tools

In the battle against the state’s prolonged and brutal drought, Texas Tech agricultural researchers have released two new farmer-friendly computer tools that save scarce irrigation water and boost bottom lines for parched producers.

The new computer tools take direct aim at improved irrigation scheduling, by understanding evapotranspiration, or the loss of water from the soil both by evaporation and by transpiration from growing plants; and resource allocation, through an analyzer that is used during the planning season to determine which crops will maximize the profit potential of a given field. Both were developed to specifically target the needs of irrigated farmers in the West Texas and Panhandle regions. The Web-based programs are being offered free of charge through the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation.


Rivers of Fire: Red Planet Channels Likely Formed by Lava

Since the Mars Viking missions of the ’70s, humans have compared the topography of the Red Planet’s surface to their home and imagined a world that once contained flowing rivers that carved channels and canyons.

But David Leverington, an associate professor in the Department of Geosciences at Texas Tech, said what we interpret as the largest ancient riverbeds on Mars most likely were created not by water, but by massive, fast-moving, low-viscosity lava flows that ravaged the planet’s surface in a way we don’t see on Earth.

He said most Mars researchers believe these channels were created by water, and that has buoyed the belief that life on the planet may be or once was possible. But the water theory has several holes in it.

In his recent study in Geomorphology, which was published in September 2011, Leverington uses recent high-resolution photographs and mineralogical data to help lay out his theory for why lava is a much more likely culprit for creating the largest class of the outflow channels and canyons, which can stretch up to 1,800 miles. Read the article here.


Grad Student Creates Snake Identification iPhone App

Jeremy Weaver’s love for snakes began at Texas Tech. Now he’s trying to share his passion through the iPhone.

Weaver, a Texas Tech graduate student, recently created a unique iPhone application spurred from an interest in snakes that began during his undergraduate career in the Department of Biological Sciences.

Previously ranked in the top 25 of paid-reference applications in the Apple App Store, TX Snakes allows users to search every Texas snake species and narrow their search through categories, such as the entire state, region, county, pattern, venomous, non-venomous and more.

“After review of all the other reptile applications available, I noticed they focused more on providing information about snakes, but didn’t really focus on identification,” Weaver said. “Since I live in Texas and catch snakes in Texas, this state was an easy choice to begin building apps that had the qualities I saw lacking from others.”

In addition to TX Snakes, Weaver also built a snake application for Oklahoma, titled OK Snakes, and for Kansas, KS Snakes. The applications do not require a cell phone signal once downloaded, and therefore, can be used from any location.


A New Dean Brings Reform at the College of Education

Scott Ridley became dean of Texas Tech’s College of Education on June 1, 2011, and his agenda is simple – reform.

“Colleges of education are under attack across the nation,” said the Texas native. “It was important to me that if I were going to come home, I wanted to make sure we could make meaningful changes.”

Ridley grew up 40 miles west of Hereford, in the Texas Panhandle, just about two hours north of Lubbock. He spent the previous 21 years at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University (ASU), an institution heavily involved in education reform.

Ridley says no college of education can continue to turn out teachers who only have knowledge of theory and concepts; graduates now must demonstrate classroom skills.

“Every one of our programs, whether teacher education or doctoral level, will be reviewed by faculty,” he said. “We will move from simply providing our students knowledge to looking at the product we are producing. We will show that we are graduating teachers who have classroom skills to impact student achievement.”

While at ASU, he launched a network of school-university partnerships across the state of Arizona and revolutionized the way teachers are prepared. Ridley says the faculty at Texas Tech believe they can achieve even more.

He is an educational psychologist and served as chair of a foundations department, director of district-based teacher education programs, assistant and associate dean during his time at ASU. In addition to multiple ASU and national awards, his programs have attracted numerous federal grants, including a $33.8 million Teacher Quality Partnership grant awarded in 2009 and a $43.4 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant awarded in 2010. Ridley earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.


Caveman Politics: Instincts Play Role in Our Decisions

When it comes to voter preference, the issues count. But some may pull the handle for a more primal reason: Physical fitness and stature against an opponent.

Possibly hailing from our caveman instincts to ensure survival, two researchers from Texas Tech suggest that physical formidability affects preference in political leadership.

Their results were published online Oct. 18 by the peer-reviewed journal, Social Science Quarterly. Read the article here.

The paper, published by Gregg R. Murray, an assistant professor of political science, and graduate student J. David Schmitz, focuses on evolutionary psychology. This field studies universal human behaviors that are related to psychological mechanisms that evolved to solve problems faced by humans in ancient history.


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