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News Tip


January 22, 2002

For more information on these science news and feature story tips, please contact the public information officer at the end of each item at (703) 292-8070. Editor: Josh Chamot

Graduate S&E Enrollments on the Rise Again

U.S. collegiate enrollments in graduate-level science and engineering (S&E) fields rose in Fall 2000 for the second year in a row following several years of declines, according to a new National Science Foundation Data Brief from the Division of Sciences Resources Statistics. However, the entire 2000 increase, and then some, was due to the largest-ever, single-year increase in foreign student enrollees who held temporary visas.

The 2000 graduate S&E enrollments rose a modest 0.8 percent over 1999, reaching 414,570 - the highest number since 1996. The all-time high was in 1993 when more than 435,700 enrolled as full time graduate students. But the numbers declined for the next five years. In 1998, less than 405,000 students enrolled in S&E graduate programs U.S.-wide, representing the lowest total for the decade.

In 2000, S&E graduate students with temporary visas reached an all-time high of more than 121,800. From 1998 through 2000, their numbers jumped by more than 19 percent, far exceeding the overall increase of the last two enrollment years.

"In the mid-1990s, the numbers of students with temporary visas went down fairly sharply when the Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992 made thousands of Chinese students eligible to receive permanent resident visas," Joan Burrelli, author of the data brief, says. "The recent increases, we believe, are tied to more foreign students coming to the U.S. to study computer science and electrical engineering." [Bill Noxon]

For more information, see:

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Researchers Compile Dictionary of Endangered Northwest Mexican Language

Researchers from the University of North Dakota will develop the first comprehensive dictionary of an indigenous language of northwest Mexico, called Seri, and compile a body of texts as part of a two-year, $94,000 NSF-supported project.

Stephen Marlett and Mary Moser, both adjunct faculty at the University of North Dakota, will be working with three generations of native speakers in the community, and will consult with experts in the field of ichthyology, ornithology, herpetology and botany. The material will be available in Spanish and English translations so that international linguists and anthropologists can draw on it.

Seri is the sole surviving language of a family of languages. The Seri people were living in traditional hunting and gathering communities until the mid-twentieth century. Since the language contains references to characteristics of native plants and animals, it will also prove valuable to ecologists and other scientists. [William Harms]

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New NSF Grants Go to Diversity-Enhancing Education Programs in the Geosciences

A diverse group of Hartford, Connecticut, high school students will soon help design and implement environmental monitoring of the Connecticut River, the longest in New England.

The students who will document the physical processes and biological health of the river come from ethnic backgrounds not widely represented in the geosciences: 51 percent are Hispanic, 42 percent are African-American and three percent are Asian.

"Connecting these students with the river provides an ideal opportunity for them to learn about earth science processes, and to develop a toolbox of skills that will allow them to understand the relevance of earth science to their lives," says Suzanne O'Connell of Trinity College, the project's principal investigator.

The Connecticut River project is one of 16 new projects receiving grants since funding began Jan. 1, 2002, from NSF's Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (OEDG) program, explains Jewel Prendeville, NSF’s program director. "Our primary goal is to increase participation in geosciences education and research by students from groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in geoscience disciplines," Prendeville explains. [Cheryl Dybas]

For a full listing of current OEDG projects, see:

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Scientists Find Underground Environment on Earth That Supports Ancient Life Forms

Deep below the surface of the Beverhead Mountains of Idaho, a research team led by microbiologists Derek Lovley of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Francis Chappelle of the U.S. Geological Survey has found an unusual community of microorganisms that may hold the key to understanding how life could survive on Mars.

"The microbial community we found in Idaho is unlike any previously described on Earth," says Lovley, whose work was funded by a grant from NSF's Life in Extreme Environments program. "This is as close as we have come to finding life on Earth under geological conditions most like those expected below the surface of Mars."

Lovley believes that this study demonstrates for the first time that certain microorganisms can thrive in the absence of sunlight by using hydrogen gas released deep within Earth's surface as their energy source. Now that such a microbial community has been discovered, he says, scientists can use it to test hypotheses about hydrogen-based subsurface life, and use these findings to develop strategies for searching for similar microbial communities on other planets. [Cheryl Dybas]


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