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News Tip


March 20, 2003

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

Web's "Best Meta-Search Engine" Organizes Documents from Anywhere in Any Language

Vivísimo's news demo
Vivísimo's news demo integrates and automatically clusters search results from the Web sites of CNN, New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, BBC News, Yahoo News, and World News. The folders at left show the computer-generated clusters from a search on "Iraq." The demo is available at
Credit: Vivísimo, Inc. (
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Industry experts at Search Engine Watch recently named Vivísimo the Web's Best Meta-Search Engine for its ability to instantly organize search results into a computer-generated "index." The software behind Vivísimo's search engine can also be applied to any collection of documents, in languages ranging from English and German to Arabic and Korean.

A success story from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research and computer science programs, Vivísimo's Web site was recognized for the second consecutive year for its, "outstanding performance in helping Internet users gather results from many Web search engines by using a single service."

The Vivísimo Web site demonstrates how the technology filters and automatically categorizes responses from search requests. The results resemble a human-generated index that can help guide searchers in the right direction.

"The clustering service on our Web site and the underlying software technology show how users can comfortably explore much more information in an organized way, rather than being bombarded with disorganized information dumps," said Raul Valdes-Perez, president of Vivísimo, Inc. "Our Web site shows our business customers – whether Web, government, corporate, or publishing – what they can expect by installing our software products for their own uses."

Getting answers to broad, exploratory questions can leave searchers, especially those with little knowledge about a topic, slogging through a morass of information. For example, searching for "Iraq" among the news stories on any Web news source will result in a long list of articles on global politics. Searching the entire Web can produce a similar, mostly undifferentiated list of sites about Iraq.

This is where Vivísimo steps in. Its Clustering Engine does a quick statistical, linguistic, and knowledge-based analysis of the search results which it then clusters into themes, thereby helping to identify trends or fine-tune searches without requiring users to know the correct terminology. For example, using Vivísimo to search news sites for "Iraq" might produce clusters of news articles under categories such as "weapons inspectors," "Bush," "missiles," and so on. (The categories will change depending on the latest developments in the news.)

Vivísimo is supported by NSF's SBIR program, which emphasizes high-risk, high-payback innovations that are tied to NSF's mission of advancements in science, engineering and education. All proposals are evaluated on the technical merit of their research and development, as well as their technology impact. NSF was the first of 10 federal agencies required to reserve a portion of their research and development funds for the SBIR program, which is coordinated by the U.S. Small Business Administration. [Dave Hart]

Related links:
Vivísimo News demo:
NSF SBIR Program:

NSF Program Officers:
Juan E. Figueroa, SBIR, (703) 555-1212,
Ephraim P. Glinert, CISE, (703) 555-1212,

Principal Investigator: Raul Valdes-Perez,, 412-422-2496

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Boundary Between Earth's Magnetic Field and Sun's Solar Wind Riddled with "Swiss Cheese" Holes

Aurora Australis
Aurora Australis--the Southern Lights--over the geodesic dome at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The aluminum dome has housed the main station buildings since the 1970s. The Amundsen-Scott station is one of three United States research stations on Antarctica. The National Science Foundation operates them all.

The Aurora Australis is the atmospheric phenomenon known familiarly as the Southern Lights. Like its more familiar counterpart, the Aurora Borealis--or Northern Lights, the phenomenon is caused by the solar wind passing through the upper atmosphere. But the Aurora Australis is far less frequently observed because so few people live in Antarctica during the austral winter.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Berry, National Science Foundation
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Magnetic fields explosively release energy in events throughout the universe, from experiments conducted in laboratories to huge outbursts within galaxies. On the Sun, these magnetic explosions are responsible for solar flares and ejections of material from the Sun's corona.

Similar events associated with Earth's magnetic field drive magnetic storms, and the dramatic brightening and expansion of the northern and southern lights, the aurora borealis and aurora australis. The reconnection of twisted and complex lines of magnetic force relates these phenomena to each other.

Scientists have long debated whether the fast release of energy that occurs during "magnetic reconnection" is a smooth or turbulent process. Scientists funded by NSF have now used large-scale computer simulations, combined with direct observations from satellites, to show that the energy release is likely the result of turbulent processes.

This knowledge may explain the effect of solar storms on Earth, from interruptions of satellite orbits to electrical outages in cities and towns.

According to recent research results by James Drake at the University of Maryland in College Park and other scientists, the intense electric currents generated during magnetic reconnection produce "electron holes," regions where electrons are sparse.

Satellite observations have shown that the boundary between Earth's magnetic field and the solar wind (known as the magnetopause) is riddled like Swiss cheese, with holes that may reach several miles in diameter. The holes move in the opposite direction of the prevailing electric current at speeds that can be faster than 1,000 miles per second, or 4 million miles per hour.

Says Kile Baker, program director in NSF's division of atmospheric sciences, which funded the research, "The birth and death of these electron 'holes,' and the intense electric fields associated with them, lead to strong electron scattering and energizing."

An understanding of this process is critical to explaining why magnetic explosions in space release energy so quickly, and so explosively, he adds. [Cheryl Dybas]

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Scientists Discover Effects from Rapid, Global Climate and Ocean Changes of the Past

An international team of marine geologists has just completed an expedition to an area off the coast of Surinam known as the Demerara Rise. The scientists were part of the two-month Leg 207 of the NSF-supported Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) expedition in the equatorial Atlantic Ocean. The project studied periods in Earth's history that have undergone rapid climate and ocean circulation changes and likely led to mass extinctions of plants and animals.

Three decades ago, geologists found sediments in the Demerara Rise from the Cretaceous Period (140-65 million years ago) that contained evidence of times when the equatorial Atlantic Ocean was without oxygen. These periods, known as “ocean anoxic events,” indicate that the oceans had a vastly different circulation pattern than they do today.

"Therefore, climate would have been significantly different. We don't yet fully understand the reasons for these differences," said Jochen Erbacher of the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources in Germany. "Our objective [on this cruise] was to re-core the former site to understand past ocean circulation with respect to water depth change."

Scientists also brought up sediment cores that show other periods of dramatic change in Earth's history. In these sediments are well-preserved intervals of the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary. At that time, some 65 million years ago, a huge asteroid or comet crashed into the Earth. Scientists believe the resulting cloud of debris may have blocked out sunlight, resulting in the extinction of plants and animals, including dinosaurs.

The Leg 207 team included sedimentologists, stratigraphers, paleontologists, geochemists, engineers, and geophysicists.

"It is only through the integration of all these disciplines that we can begin to understand the causes and effects of these periods of climatic and oceanographic change," said scientist David Mosher of the Geological Survey of Canada. "With a better understanding of what happened in the past, we can perhaps know more about what the Earth is presently enduring," he said.

Adds Paul Dauphin, program director for ODP at NSF, "The research team chose this area for the potentially high-resolution paleoceanographic records that could be recovered [in sediments] for the time intervals of interest, and for the important role that tropical regions play in driving ocean and atmospheric circulation."

ODP is an international partnership of scientists and research institutions organized to study the evolution and structure of the Earth. It is funded principally by NSF, with substantial contributions from international partners. [Cheryl Dybas]

photo of a drill
The National Science Foundation supports the Ocean Drilling Program. Using equipment like the drill pictured here, workers obtain geologic samples from the deep seafloor that provide scientists with new information on Earth's history. Examples of information documented by these samples include a history of the ocean basins and evidence of drastically changing climates on earth, including more ice ages than were previously known.
Photo Credit: Texas A&M University
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ocean drillship JOIDES Resolution
NSF ocean drillship JOIDES Resolution. The NSF Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) studies the portions of the earth's crust that are submerged below the ocean surface to reveal its composition, structure, and history. ODP uses the drillship JOIDES Resolution (pictured here) to log and collect geologic samples from the floor of the deep ocean basins through rotary coring and hydraulic piston coring. The logs and samples of the cores are made available to qualified scientists throughout the world for research projects.
Photo Credit: Texas A&M University
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"Raft" Down Sabino Canyon, an Ephemeral Stream in Arizona

Sabino Creek, Arizona
Sabino Creek, Arizona: An ephemeral creek at its wettest.
Photo Credit: University of Arizona.
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Called Sabino Creek, this canyon stream in the Arizona desert exists for only part of every year. The canyon receives more than one million visitors each year from countries around the world who come to see a lush desert landscape fostered by the water that periodically courses through.

Through the NSF-funded Center for Sustainability of Semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas (SAHRA), the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Forest Service, anyone with access to the Internet can visit Sabino Creek and learn about its unique attributes. To wend your way along this on-again, off-again watercourse, travel to:

The web site takes visitors to where Sabino Creek originates, floats them to where its water eventually ends, and shows what happens to the creek through the seasons — Sabino Creek flows only 293 days a year.

Ephemeral streams like Sabino Creek do not flow year-round, a result of periods of little or no precipitation or groundwater discharge. Because Sabino Creek is an ephemeral stream, flow rates fluctuate dramatically throughout the year, and during a typical year, rates during winter and spring months are greater than during the time of the summer monsoon.

Sabino Creek is fed by summer monsoon rains and winter snowmelt, and intense rain and snowmelt commonly trigger flash floods. In a matter of minutes, scientists have found, Sabino Creek can go from a trickle to a raging torrent of 25 to 10,000 cubic feet per second or more. Visitors to the web site can "raft" down Sabino Creek with a stop at what's called a "sky island": an isolated mountain range rising out of the desert below, with peaks in a cooler, and wetter, biome. The ponderosa pine forest habitat of the sky island is like that of many parts of Canada, receiving significant snowfall each winter that which melts in spring to feed Sabino Creek. [Cheryl Dybas]

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