June 21, 1996
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and feature story tips, please contact the public information officer at the end of each item at
(703) 292-8070. Editor: Beth Gaston
Contents of this Tipsheet:
Graduates Encouraged to Broaden Career Track
This year's college graduates in science and engineering should
celebrate their many career options and should resist a narrow
definition of their role in society, emphasized NSF Deputy Director
Anne Petersen during a recent commencement address at the University
of Maryland College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences.
"People may say to you, physicists don't go into finance,
mathematicians don't enter management, and meteorologists don't
pursue public policy. (But) that's exactly where we are most needed," said
Petersen and NSF Director Neal Lane have been vocal proponents
of a broader career track for S&E graduates which takes into account
not only the changing job market, but also society's needs for their
skills. In her recent speech, Petersen referred to a Cornell
University survey that found that fewer than half of managers
in Fortune 1000 companies were viewed as technologically literate
by their colleagues. "It's hard to believe...that a corporate
manager could get away without knowing the difference between quantum
mechanics and auto mechanics, or between a potato chip and a computer
chip," said Petersen. "More and more jobs now require
technological expertise -- not just skills, but in-depth expertise."
While acknowledging that the new graduates face career uncertainty
and constant change, Petersen encouraged them to test their new
wisdom. "We display wisdom when we look beyond the limits
that others try to place on us," she said.
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Scientists Study Long-Term Effects of Hurricane Opal
On October 5, 1995, after causing heavy damage along the Gulf
of Mexico shoreline, Hurricane Opal moved inland. Damage at NSF's
Coweeta Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site near Franklin,
North Carolina, involved extensive tree falls and washed-out roads,
a result of heavy rains and gale-force winds. Effects were most severe
on sites with thin soils and poorly rooted trees.
Though local utilities were out-of-order for more than a week
in some locations, Coweeta's main administrative building and most
major research locations at the site experienced no significant damage.
One research area, however, was decimated by extensive tree falls.
But research on the plot, where biologists study rhododendrons, is
continuing. Temperature sensors continued to operate beneath
the fallen trees, and access to instruments in the soil has been
"More than two years of extensive measurements on the
plot will allow for unique comparisons between pre- and post-hurricane
conditions," said Scott Collins, director of NSF's LTER program.
Research on-going at Coweeta, an Eastern deciduous forest site,
involves studies of the long-term dynamics of forests, including
the ecosystems of forest streams. [Cheryl Dybas]
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"Wheelesley" Software Helps
with Wheelchair Navigation
When you walk down a hallway and turn left into a colleague's
office, you don't consciously think of the pace of every step,
or of avoiding the box outside her door; nor do you worry about bumping
into the doorjam -- you just do it. However, a person operating a
wheelchair must be very conscious of every maneuver, which takes
intense concentration and fine motor control.
In research supported by the National Science Foundation, five
undergraduate students developed software for a wheelchair robot
to assist with navigation. The user gives general commands such
as "forward" or "turn left at next corner," and
the robot executes the commands while taking over "low-level" control such
as obstacle avoidance and speed control.
Wheelesley was developed at Wellesley College by a team of
women under the direction of Holly Yanco. (Yanco is now at MIT.)
Wheelesley was the only system that could navigate doorways without
being steered in a competition at the International Joint Conference
on Artificial Intelligence last year.
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