October 2002
Popular Science: Writing About S&T for the Public

Making Faster Computer Chips

When Galaxies Collide

Understanding Life by Understanding Proteins

Summer at the Bench

The Roundabout Path

S&T Briefs

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Please send us your comments on this issue, ideas for future issues, and news about your professional interests and accomplishments.

Al Dorof, Editor

© 2003


Bryn Mawr College
A quarterly newsletter on research, teaching, management, policy making and leadership in Science and Technology

S&T Briefs

Generation S

To the popular labels of today’s youth as Generation X and Y, we can now add Generation S — Sedentary. A study led by Sue Y.S. Kimm ’60, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, which tracked 2,379 girls (1,213 African American and 1,166 white) from ages 9 or 10 to 18 or 19, documented an alarming decline in leisure-time physical activity — biking, playing sports, taking dance lessons or just walking, for example. At age 9 or 10, most girls reported doing some physical activity outside of school. By ages 16 and 17, 56 percent of African American girls and 31 percent of white girls said they did no physical activity. By ages 18 and 19, the sedentary population increased to more than 70 and 29 percent of African American and white girls, respectively.

The study, "Decline in Physical Activity in Black Girls and White Girls During Adolescence," was published in the Sept. 5 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (volume 347, issue 10, pages 709-715). It has been widely reported on in newspapers and broadcast media.

Career Development

Michael Noel, assistant professor of physics, received a Faculty Early Career Development Grant of $400,629 from the National Science Foundation, the most prestigious award NSF offers to new faculty members. The NSF Career Program is designed to recognize "the teacher-scholars who are likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century."

Noel’s award will support a five-year plan that combines research with education and outreach. His research project focuses on Rydberg atom crystals, a new type of "designer solid" that is produced by reducing a vapor to ultracold temperatures. The project will provide research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students and, with the help of undergraduate science majors, Noel will also develop a conceptual physics course that will introduce nonmajors to important ideas in contemporary physics. In addition, Noel plans to reach an even broader cross-section of secondary and elementary students through a "show" designed to demonstrate physics concepts at local schools.

Noel’s career and research were featured in the January 2002 issue of Bryn Mawr S&T ("Trapping Atoms to Observe Their Interactions").

Thinking Big (and Light)

Associate Professor of Physics Elizabeth McCormack has received a grant from the NASA Institute for Advance Concepts to explore, with an international team of physicists and astronomers, the feasibility of creating laser-trapped mirrors (LTMs) in space. The result could be the development of very large, ultralightweight mirrors for astronomical research.

The LTM concept was first proposed in 1979 by one of the team members, Antoine Labeyrie, College de France and Observatoire de Haute Provence. Recent progress in laser technology and new capabilities for trapping atoms and particles promise to make the LTM concept a practical reality.

Building an LTM involves emitting laser beams in opposite directions, which strike two deflectors. The reflected light produces a series of parabolic fringe surfaces. Dielectric particles in space are attracted toward bright fringes and metallic particles toward dark fringes. The particles can be swept to the central fringe by tuning the laser wavelength, thereby creating a reflective surface in the shape of a mirror. An LTM as large as 35 meters would have a mass of just 100 grams and be only a few microns thick.

A space-based LTM is still a long way off. In the meantime, McCormack’s team will focus on modeling the behavior of the trapped particles and exploring ideas about how to stabilize LTMs in a space environment.

Symposium Proceedings

The proceedings of the Bryn Mawr College national symposium, "Women in Science — Opportunities in a Changing Landscape," held on Oct. 26-27, 2001, are now available online. More than 120 participants in the two-day symposium discussed opportunities and barriers for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, and recommended actions to drive the advancement of women in these fields.

The proceedings include the opening panel discussion moderated by Catherine Didion, executive director of the Association of Women in Science, the keynote address by William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering, summaries of education and workplace workshop discussions and recommendations, and the closing address by Congresswoman Connie Morella (R-Maryland).

To review or download the proceedings, go to http://www.brynmawr.edu/wis. The symposium was also featured in the January 2002 issue of Bryn Mawr S&T ("Women in Science: Examining Opportunities and Barriers").

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