May 7, 2001
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Editor: Cheryl Dybas
Contents of this News Tip:
Human activity is shaping ecosystems such that they
contain fewer species of plants, at a time when levels
of atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrogen pollution
are on the rise. A study led by scientists affiliated
with the Cedar Creek (Minnesota) Long-Term Ecological
Research (LTER) site, funded by the National Science
Foundation (NSF), has found that prairie plots with
greater plant biodiversity respond to augmented carbon
dioxide and nitrogen better than plots with fewer
plant species. If the findings hold true for ecosystems
worldwide, human simplification of ecosystems to those
with fewer numbers of species will hamper ecosystems'
ability to remove carbon dioxide and nitrogen from
Says Peter Reich, a plant physiologist and ecologist
at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis-St. Paul,
"When levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen were elevated
to those we likely will see later this century, plots
with greater numbers of plant species made better
use of these nutrients than plots with few species."
The experiment, called BioCON (biodiversity, carbon
dioxide, and nitrogen) used a unique technology to
grow plants in elevated carbon dioxide concentrations
in a natural field environment, without chambers or
greenhouses. "We need to consider the disadvantages
of decreasing diversity as we manage our landscapes,"
says Reich." [Cheryl Dybas]
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The National Science Foundation (NSF) thrives on argument
because it pushes the frontier, NSF Deputy Director
Joe Bordogna pointed out at a policy roundtable in
Washington D.C. May 3. Bordogna spoke at the 26th
Annual AAAS Colloquium on Science and Technology,
hosted by the American Association for the Advancement
"When you're at the frontier, there's very little agreement.
Everything NSF does is arguable. And that's good --
it reflects the richness of what's going on," said
However, a capacity for argument doesn't necessarily
mean a lack of direction. NSF has specific goals,
he added. "We have three strategic questions we ask
of all our work. Is this an investment in intellectual
capital? Second, does it integrate research and education?
And third, does it promote partnerships of all kinds?
That's why the President's math and science partnership
initiative [proposed for the FY02 budget] was such
a natural for us."
Bordogna also emphasized the trend toward research
across disciplinary boundaries. "New clusters will
emerge at the moving edge of discovery, and these
will inevitably transform the 'core' disciplines,"
he said. "We need to accommodate these transformations
in the design of our education and research activities."
[Mary Hanson/Bill Noxon]
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A group of high-school students showed remarkable engineering
potential in a recent race to create surgical robots.
Seven student teams competed in April at Carnegie
Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn., using special
LEGO kits and computer software to design and operate
robots that perform surgery-like functions.
The test for the robots: to insert a needle into a
grape suspended in red gelatin, simulating a biopsy
on a prostate tumor. The substances bear a surprising
resemblance to human tissue, said Jeff Jarosz, education
director for the National Science Foundation (NSF)
Engineering Research Center for Computer-Integrated
Surgical Systems and Technology. The NSF center, based
at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., sponsored
The enthusiastic students got a good introduction to
hands-on teamwork, Jarosz reported.
"The point of the competition is to distribute the
tasks so that each person does what they're good at,"
said Hopkins graduate student Oleg Gerovichev, president
of the Computer-Integrated Surgery Student Research
Society. "For the high school students, this is an
introduction to computer-integrated surgery, and for
students like me, it's a teaching experience." Gerovichev
and other undergraduate and graduate students plan
and manage the competition with support from the Hopkins
Three previous competitions took place at Hopkins,
and another is slated there for Fall 2001. [Amber
For more information, see: http://cisstweb.cs.jhu.edu/~cissrs/Activities/LEGOComp/overview.html
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