Star Cluster Project Shines Light On Galaxy
Our Milky Way Galaxys star clusters could shed light on how the galaxy was formed, its age, where it might be hiding planets and more.
The problem is there are 1,200 clusters. Many have hundreds or even thousands of stars. And what scientists really need is detailed information on every clustera sort of cosmic dictionary.
The sheer scope of such a project has deterred many research teams. But after three years Sac State astronomy professor Randy Phelps and his students are about halfway finished. Their numerous observation trips to Southern California and Chile, and countless hours of analysis in the computer lab, have yielded data on almost 600 clusters.
Phelps hopes to have the project completed in the next four years.
Astronomers are really pretty ignorant about these clusters, Phelps says. But with enough information about them, it should be possible to see how the galaxy has evolved. This catalog will be a great service to the astronomical community, because it will be a tool to help people approach many kinds of questions.
The oldest clusters may have formed about the same time as the galaxy and are often at the galaxys outer edge, where they arent ripped apart by the gravitational pull of other stars and gas. The youngest clusters are still forming, while some clusters have disrupted and appear as single stars. Our sun shines all alone, although it probably was once part of a cluster.
Phelps came to Sac State three years ago from the Observatories of the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Pasadena, where he was with a team studying the expansion of the universe.
This is the type of project you can really get undergraduate students involved in, which is one reason I like it, Phelps says. Providing opportunities for undergraduates to do meaningful research is an educational advantage of CSUS, and this project exploits that advantage.
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Another Side of AIDS
Since the early days of the epidemic, HIV/AIDS has been perceived as a disease that targets gay males. Thats no longer the case, particularly among American women for whom HIV infections tripled between 1985 and 1999.
Along with the multiple difficulties that come with having a fatal disease, women with HIV/AIDS face specific legal, psychosocial and health issues, says Patricia Clark-Ellis, a Sac State social work professor and interim associate dean of the College of Health and Human Services. She made her findings while working with a womens HIV-positive support group.
For example, many women with HIV are single parents. As a result, they must plan for their childrens futures in case they become incapacitated or die.
If there is no guardianship in place, their children could be placed in foster care or with relatives that the mother would not prefer, Clark-Ellis says.
In addition to custody concerns, women with HIV/AIDS often are caregivers for an older family member or spouse, and as a result they tend to not take care of their own medical and physical needs. A diagnosis of HIV infection is a devastating, life-changing experience that forces a woman to deal with a number of issues that she has never had to face, Clark-Ellis says.
Sources of stress include fears of infecting others, possible ostracism, preparing for loss and the need to redefine familial roles, she says. The women are often confronted with sociocultural issues such as poverty and inadequate health care and social services, and legal issues such as confidentiality and discrimination.
AIDS carries a stigma, particularly in the African American community, because of the association with intravenous drug use, risky behavior and homosexuality, she says. The fact is, most of the women Clark-Ellis interviewed contracted HIV through their sole partner or spouse and not through drug use.
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Smarts for Computers
become a pathetic cliché, paralyzed by a failed effort to program
your new VCR. Red-faced anger is getting you nowhere. So you get online,
track down the website for the Fortune 500 company that sold you the thing,
and shoot off an e-mail.
Pesticides Accused In Amphibian Assault
A possible suspect has emerged in The Case of the Disappearing Frog. In his search for clues in the staggering population declines of the California red-legged frog, environmental studies professor Carlos Davidson has uncovered important new evidencethe
culprit may be pesticides.
The red-legged frog has disappeared from most of its former range in California. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added it to the threatened species list in 1996, and last spring it earned sweeping federal protection from habitat destruction.
In the first-ever study to link a known declining frog species with pesticides, Davidson and colleagues mapped out the disappearance of red-legged frog populations throughout California.
When those geographic patterns were analyzed for possible causes, Davidson says, We found there is a very strong association between declines of red-legged frogs and the amount of agricultural land use upwind from the site. It strongly suggests that windborne agrochemicals may be contributing to the decline.
To identify historic concentrations of red-legged frogs, they compared museum records of habitats, dating back to the mid-1800s, with recent survey data.
From the museum specimens we know where the frogs used to be. Recent survey data tells where they are now, Davidson says. Of the 237 sites they looked at that once had frog populations, 48 percent no longer do.
Several possible causes of the declines were consideredglobal warming, ultraviolet radiation, pesticide use and habitat destruction due to urbanization and agriculturewith pesticide and urbanization emerging as important factors.
In fact, in areas where the red-legged frog has disappeared, the percentage of land being used for agriculture upwind of the site was found to be six-and-a-half times greater than in areas where the frogs still exist.
If it turns out pesticides are the cause, well have to do more than set aside habitats to protect the species, Davidson says. Well have to do something about the types and amounts of pesticides that are used and how they are applied.
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Can You Teach an Old Doll New Tricks?
Barbie, queen of the unrealistic body and frivolous lifestyle, is trying to change her image from fashion model to role model. But even after the makeover Barbie remains plastic, says communication studies professor Virginia Kidd.
Kidd presented her findings at a pair of academic conferences last spring and summer.
They are trying to make Barbie more acceptable, Kidd says, pointing to ethnic Barbies and Barbies dressed for careers as a veterinarian or U.S. President. Unfortunately, Kidd suggests, Barbies greatest power is not what she stands for, but that she helps to divide the world.
Barbie Pink is a trademark splashed across the earth proclaiming that a gender is a legitimate division. There are no boys in the Barbie world and Ken is an accessory, Kidd says.
Barbie has become a way to isolate girls from the big picture, to train them to imagine themselves in a career, but not help them develop the skills they need to get there.
Its hard to overestimate Barbies influence. Every second, 2.5 Barbie dolls are sold around the world. And, Kidd says, the message isnt being sent by just the Barbie doll, but by Mattels Barbie.com website and its Barbie-brand personal computer.
Barbie was recruited to bring little girls to the computer, she says. But when they get there, theyre designing clothes.
For example, the Barbie PC and the Hot Wheels PC came out about the same time, yet the Barbie computer had about half the educational software found on the Hot Wheels computer. And many of the games it included were narrowly fashion-focused.
Barbie.com doesnt fare much better, Kidd says. For all its possibilities for introducing young females to the computer age, Barbie.com is overwhelmingly stereotypical, she says. Certainly Mattels goal is to sell, but surely they could sell science lesson packets as well as ball gowns.
Whats missing from Barbies world is a meaning for life that cant be found at the mall and a vision of beauty other than Barbie. Whatever else she may represent, Barbie is a consumer, Kidd says.
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When Schools Dont Fail
When faced with similar challenges, why do some schools soar while others struggle? The first step may be refusing to allow an acceptable number of students to fail.
Kids dont drop out in elementary school but it can set the stage for them to drop out later, says Rosemary Papalewis, a Sac State professor of educational administration and policy studies.
Papalewis and Rex Fortune, superintendent of the Center Unified School District, recently completed a study of high-performing California schools with large populations of low-income Latino and African American students, and found unexpected similarities among the institutions. The results are the subject of a book, Leadership on Purpose: Promising Methods for Educating African American and Latino Students, which will be released in early 2002.
We found a surprising number of practices that were being done at each site, Papalewis says. Two stood out: manipulating the length of the school day and school year to allow more time for students who need it, and having structured high expectations for every student.
These schools didnt view breaks in the school year as vacation, she says. They found ways to keep learning going. They sent home packets of work, and teachers, principals and vice principals volunteered to hold special classes during the breaks for students at risk of falling behind.
And the results made the extra effort worthwhile. There was no learning loss. Students stayed fresh and focused, Papalewis says.
Another unexpected universal practice was individualized placement of students, instead of automatic admission based on age. The principals of these high-achieving schools conduct basic diagnostic testing, with the students parents present, for every child that enters their elementary school. It was one thing to see it in one school, Papalewis says. Then we saw it in another and by the third we figured there was something to it.
These werent schools with lots of resources. These were large, primarily inner-city schools where from the looks of the outside, you would not expect much learning to occur inside, Papalewis says.
But perhaps the most important common denominator they saw was the commitment from all parties at the school not to let any student fall through the cracks. There was a sense of responsibilitynot just among the principals, teachers, students and parentsbut the groundskeepers, the maintenance workers and the secretarial staff.
Contracts on the Rise