Friday, July 29, 2011

Expo exposes students to graduate research, the UAB way

Standing next to his research poster, UAB biophysics major Kuni Scissum appeared anxious. The 20-year-old Huntsville native was waiting for a judge to take a look at his presentation, which represented months of hard work studying a binding that helps with bone formation.

Scissum was on one of 61 students who participated in the 2011 Summer Research Expo at UAB. Undergraduate researchers from 12 states and 20 institutions, including UAB, displayed their projects as part of the expo on July 28 in the UAB Recreation Center.

Students came to UAB in May and were partnered with mentors in their field of study. They got a firsthand experience of what it would be like to be graduate students, working in labs and as part of research teams. Their final projects included everything from gene expression in breast cancer cells to differences in computer and Internet usage among the elderly to research on coronary stents.

“It’s fun to see their enthusiasm on the work they have done,” says Jeff Engler, Ph.D., associate dean for UAB Academic Affairs.

Nathaniel Wolanyk, a 21-year-old rising senior from Illinois Wesleyan University, said he was “mind-boggled” by the research and extensive materials available at UAB. He got to work with diamonds during his research of the superconductivity of iron-selenium compounds at high pressures.

“I walk away from this experience more confident in myself and have a larger appreciation of research,” said Wolanyk, who now plans to attend graduate school at UAB.

Yogesh Vohra, director of UAB's graduate program in physics, walked around the Expo like a proud dad.

“It brings out the best in UAB,” he said. “If you walk around this room it is truly interdisciplinary.”

Mentoring camp gives three tiers of students the skills they need to compete

The clicking sounds of fingertips pecking on computer keyboards fill a classroom on a recent Monday afternoon at a Birmingham middle school. Bright-eyed tweens lean in towards their computer monitors while their screens light up with animations that they have created.

It’s all a part of the UAB M3 computer camp, a three-tiered mentoring program of students from UAB and Birmingham high- and middle-schools. This year’s weeklong camp, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is at Phillips Academy. Students learn to create computer game and animation, and get more than a basic knowledge of computing so they can compete.

This past fall, UAB computer science and education undergraduates taught Ramsay High School students a course in computer programming. Then, this summer, both the high school and UAB students served as teachers and mentors for the Phillips Academy middle school students.

“We want to educate different levels of students and let those students educate the level down,” says Michael Wyss, Ph.D., director of UAB’s Center for Community Outreach Development, the program facilitating the camp.

Alabama falls close to the bottom in rankings among states with students who pass the Advanced Placement computing class, says Wyss.

“Even lower-level jobs require computer literacy. It is extremely important that we get our students up to levels in computer sciences,” he says. “If these students are going to be competitive for the workforce and we are going to have a viable workforce in Alabama for industry, we have to get them better educated in computing.”

Twelve-year-old Jasimine Cunningham and her two girlfriends said they would be home sleeping all day or talking on the phone for endless hours if not for the camp. Cunningham shows off her creation of a computer program that puts two ballerinas in a face-off in the game of Simon Says.

High school mentor Kanard Sanders says he is now considering a career in computer science. “I wouldn't mind having a job like this,” the 14-year-old said.

Dalorian Johnson, a recent UAB graduate in computer science, serves as the student coordinator for the camp. As she teaches computer concepts to the African American students, she knows her presence, as a black woman, means a lot.

“Seeing someone you identify with demographically and who is teaching you, makes you feel that you have a place here,” she says. The camp has helped Johnson come out of her shell of shyness and given her the leadership experience she needs for career success.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why people phone hack; a look into the psyche of wrongdoing

Phone hacking. It doesn’t even sound ethical. Neither does phone spying, nor my favorite — phreaking.

So how does management at a best-selling newspaper approve this and everyone else play along?

“Some people may have remained quiet because they believed that this was acceptable practice — perfectly normal for the non-naive,” says UAB social psychologist Rex Wright, Ph.D. “Some people consider you to be naive if you abide by conventional rules of ethics.”

The first allegations of phone hacking against News of the World came in 2005 when the British royal family accused the paper of intercepting voice mails. The investigation led to two resignations and two guilty pleas in January 2007. Many believed the violations extended beyond the royals but the investigation ended.

Four years later to the month the Metropolitan Police announced a new investigation into the phone hacking scandal. The new investigation revealed the phone hacking continued despite the 2007 convictions.

“People might have felt that this was a small price to pay for a very lucrative activity,” says Wright, professor in the UAB Department of Psychology. “They also might have believed the odds of getting caught twice were small, especially if police officials were turning a blind eye. They might have had some arrangement with officials that allowed them to continue if they had resignations and convictions on occasion.”

There is a lot more to this scandal than we know or may ever know. We know phone hacking went on for years. We know a lot of people knew, yet nobody stopped the behavior. “People can become convinced that something is okay as a result of watching others,” Wright says. “Consider a boy watching an uncle sell drugs. If the uncle is admired, the kid could come to believe that selling drugs is in fact okay and ethical.”

It is likely people did recognize phone hacking is wrong but remained silent. To stand up against a group, especially management, means you must be willing to suffer consequences. History is littered with people who paid an exorbitant price for taking a stand. When that cost affects yourself and your loved ones harshly, you better be correct.

"Life is complicated and people are not always right just because they think they are right," says Wright. "Wise people tend to have a strong measure of modesty about the conclusions that they draw, including ones relevant to ethics."

Friday, July 22, 2011

New protection agency can’t fully protect yet, UAB prof says

The federal government's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) opened yesterday. Their website says their central mission “is to make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans.”

One thing the website fails to tell you is they do not have a director. So what happens now?

“Obviously, the agency needs leadership and a public face, but at the same time it is also an enforcement agency that looks to enforce rules that have already been established. For that, they do not need a director,” says Andreas Rauterkus, Ph.D., corporate government expert with the UAB School of Business.

The agency has oversight of more than 100 of the nation’s largest banks. They have no oversight over nonbank financial institutions such as payday lenders. The CFPB cannot make any rules concerning nonbank financial institutions without a director

“The legislation that is currently being discussed would curb the fees and would limit the annual interest to 36%,” says Rauterkus. “Given the current economic conditions any legislation that would protect consumers from those lenders would be very helpful.”

If you think 36% sounds high, here is an example of a payday loan today: a payday lender will charge the consumer $15 per $100 of a two-week loan. To calculate the APR you multiply 26 x 15. In this case, the payday lender’s APR is 390%. If you can’t cover that check on time and you’re charged another $15 the APR is now 780% so the consumer pays $30 to borrow $100.

“Payday lenders are preying on the people that do not qualify for loans from banks or do not have a bank,” says Rauterkus. “The people that go to payday lenders are desperate and are being taken advantage of.”

The slang definition of treading water is “to make efforts that maintain but do not further one’s status, progress or performance.” It is a fitting description of the consumer who relies on the murky ocean that is nonbank lending. If the current system remains they will tread water until they drown or they are eaten by a shark.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

When having the blues is a good thing: blueberries and cancer prevention

Blueberry season is in full swing, with several blueberry farms located right here in Alabama. Now is the perfect time to stock up on this delicious and nutritious fruit.

What makes blueberries so healthy? They're full of antioxidants, flavonoids and other vitamins, which are involved in the prevention of cell damage.

"Antioxidants protect cells by stabalizing free radicals and can prevent some of the damage they cause," explains Laura Newton M.A.Ed., R.D., L.D., an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at UAB.

Cellular damage is one of the factors in the development of cancer, leading many to believe that a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables may help to reduce the risk of developing cancer. Cellular damage is caused by free radicals, atoms that contain an odd number of electrons and are highly reactive. "Some studies have shown that antioxidants may help prevent the free radical damage that is associated with cancer," explains Newton, a licensed dietician who often works with cancer patients.

Consuming fresh, raw blueberries ensures the most nutritious benefits. Blueberry juice and other products may be nutritious, but be aware that they often contain sugar or corn syrup and other products that may decrease their nutritional value.

And how many blueberries do you need to eat to reap the benefits? The average serving size of blueberries is one-cup raw, which contains about 80 calories, and Newton says, "the latest guidelines are to make half your plate consist of fruits and vegetables. Getting a variety of fruits and vegetables insures you will get an array of antioxidant nutrients."

Blueberries and other nutrients-rich foods are continually being studied at places like the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center where investigators are researching the link between cancer and nutrition.

Grab some blueberries before the season is over! Get them fresh at local farmers markets, fruits stands or even pick your own at a local blueberrry farm!

Check out this recipe for a Healthified Blueberry-Lemon Tart, provided by UAB Eat Right.

Arts lovers can see the show or be the show with UAB's Alys Stephens Center and ArtPlay

UAB’s Alys Stephens Center and its new arts education house, ArtPlay, have created a fantastic lineup for the coming season. ArtPlay will offer more than 30 different classes for their second session this fall, and while they’ll present acting, musical theater, drawing, painting and poetry classes, they’ll also present exciting new classes and workshops that fit perfectly with the Alys Stephens Center’s 15th season.

A sure favorite is the Alys Stephens Center’s unique residency Nov. 7-11, “Common Threads: Quilters of West Alabama Meet Mud Cloth Makers of West Africa.” In turn, ArtPlay will offer “Quilted, a Community Art project,” a Thursday night quilt-making class. The class even has an option for parents or grandparents to take the class with a child.

ArtPlay and the ASC will indulge local Latin dance lovers with a flamenco dance class and a Nov. 11 performance from international dance company Noche Flamenco. Everyone registered for the class will receive a ticket to the show. Fans of Indian dance won’t be left out— ArtPlay has planned an Indian dance workshop with Notinee Indian Dance Group for all ages over 8 years next spring, and will present a show for children and families, “The Bollywood Experience.”

Ballet aficionados can choose from ballet dance classes or ballet fitness, and see Alabama Ballet perform a special engagement with the ASC, “Ovation,” the culminating performance of Alabama Ballet’s 30th anniversary season as the state’s premier professional ballet company.

ArtPlay’s jazz history class, to be taught by guitarist, ArtPlay Teaching Artist and ASC staffer Eric Essix, goes with the new ASC Jazz CafĂ© series, featuring Charlie Hunter, Lalah Hathaway and Essix’s own show with Five Men on a Stool. Also on offer at ArtPlay: how to create an app, “upcycle” fashion, dance hip hop and more.

ArtPlay is housed in a beautifully restored Victorian home at 1006 19th St. South. It is a sister complex for the Alys Stephens Center, made possible through a gift from Jane Stephens Comer. A full listing of all ArtPlay classes is online at Check out the Alys Stephens Center’s season at

Check out the video below to see the fun students had during ArtPlay's first semester this year.

Ballet, creative movement, improv, and more at UAB's ArtPlay from uabnews on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

UAB students seek to unearth treasure in struggling area

The unemployment rate in Camden, Alabama is more than double the national average. A staggering 47 percent of households earn less than $25,000 per year.

The Wilcox County area needs help. The UAB School of Business is providing some.

“This all started because I was chatting with my friend Ed Partridge (Dr. Edward Partridge, director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and president of the American Cancer Society Inc.) about the health disparity in Wilcox County,” says Mickey Gee, executive-in-residence in the UAB Department of Marketing, Industrial Distribution and Economics. “It is not a delivery problem, it is an economic problem. So I hand-picked six School of Business students to find and implement a solution that will generate tourism and revenue to this area so desperately in need.”

The student volunteers are Olu Dosunmu-Ogunbi, Calvin Burchfiel, Daniel Owens, Gabrielle Hood, Eboni Thomas, Lewinale Harris and Derrick Strong. They were each chosen because of individual skills in marketing, industrial distribution, management, web work and web design.

The students will develop a marketing strategy for the Wilcox Area Chamber of Commerce. They will help develop the brand and tag line the chamber will use to promote the county. They will also work with Black Belt Treasures, a non-profit organization promoting the arts of the Black Belt region, on their point-of-sale system, bar coding, inventory management and website support.

The School of Business students will mentor a group of students from each of the two local high schools. They will be assisted by faculty volunteers Jacob Gelber and Nathan Oliver in addition to Gee. They are calling the project “One Tank Treasures” because it only takes one tank of gas to reach the Wilcox County area from most of Alabama’s major cities. Plus, the area offers so many treasures for tourists and retirees.

You can follow the students’ journey daily by visiting their One Tank Treasures Blog.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Thrill-seeker Barbie" teaches girls engineering and mathematics

Thrill-seeker Barbie!

Death-defying Barbie!

Adrenaline-rush Barbie!

They sound so much more fun than “Engineering-mathematics Barbie” don’t they?

And that is the hidden intent of the Girls, Inc. Eureka! Teen Achievement Program. Surprise! You just had fun learning science, technology, engineering and math!

Girls Inc. and the UAB School of Engineering have brought Eureka! back to UAB’s campus for the first time in three years. The two-week summer camp is for 8th and 9th grade girls from Birmingham and Jefferson County who want to explore careers in these areas.

The current lesson is linear regression. Wait – did we just hear you groan? So did the kids! That is why the lesson is not actually called linear regression. It is called Barbie bungee jumping.

The goal is to see how close they can get “Bungee Barbie” to the floor without knocking her head off. The girls’ task is to predict how many rubber bands Barbie needs to safely bungee one flight of stairs. They conduct an experiment, collect data and use the data to make their prediction. Then they throw Barbie over the edge. If she hits the floor they collect more data, make more adjustments and try again. They are learning the essence of engineering.

Eureka! began on the campus of UAB in 1993. It is a balance between the mind (mornings are hands-on experiences) and the body (afternoons are health activities). The girls learn about different career opportunities and meet quality female role models.

This is a good point to mention there is most definitely irony in the fact that Girls Inc., a program that sets high expectations for young women, uses the often criticized Barbie dolls to teach a lesson. Then again, they are not asking the girls to emulate Barbie; they are asking the girls to throw her head first down a stairwell.

Monday, July 18, 2011

UAB staffer and former soccer pro sees World Cup and muses about the 'good old days'

American soccer fans watched with bated breath on Sunday as the US soccer team battled Japan for the Women's World Cup championship. It was a hard-fought battle and neither team was willing to give in. In the end, however, Japan was victorious.

“It was heartbreaking to watch,” says Lauren Whitt, Wellness Coordinator for UAB. “To come so close to victory that you can touch it and then see it slip away. …They fought hard and represented their country well.”

Whitt is not the typical soccer fan and her twice-injured ACL can attest to that. She was a goalkeeper for Vanderbilt and Clemson universities and then played in the semi-professional league (before there was a professional league to join). Three of Sunday’s players were former teammates.

“Ahh…the good old days,” she says with a chuckle and sigh.

Whitt, a Birmingham native, has been playing the sport since she was 4. She played at Briarwood Christian School and was there with soccer superstar and ESPN commentator Catherine Reddick Whitehill.

She knows what it’s like standing on a soccer field with a whole country cheering you on. She represented the United States in the 1999 Pan American games in Canada.

“There is nothing more spectacular than to play for your country,” she says. “We represented something bigger than ourselves and our family; we represented a country.”

In the aftermath of Sunday’s defeat, Whitt suspects that the women are likely looking back at yesterday’s game and saying, ‘What if.’ But then, after a few days, they will reflect upon the entirety of the competition and be proud of what they have accomplished, she said.

“They will bounce back,” she says. “Their motto is: pressure makes us.”

Whitt, who also coaches soccer at Briarwood and for the Alabama State Olympic feeder team, says that although playing for an athletic team is now behind her, she feels like she is now a part of a new kind of comraderie. She leads UAB's wellness program and partners with campus experts to create employee programs that incorporate nutrition, exercise, stress management, etc.

“It was an honor to wear the crest of the USA National team on my jersey as an athlete, and I feel the same sense of integrity now being part of the UAB team leading employee wellness initiatives,” she says.

Friday, July 15, 2011

UAB ArtPlay drama campers flashmob Birmingham's Five Points South

Teen drama campers from Alys Stephens Center’s ArtPlay flash-mobbed Southside’s Five Points intersection today, with a choreographed performance set to “We’re All in This Together” from Disney’s insanely popular “High School Musical.”

The campers’ enthusiasm brought a ray of exuberant sunshine on an otherwise overcast day to curious crowds. A smiling UAB police officer on a Segway escorted the campers as they walked the block from the ArtPlay house at 1006 19th St. South. Jumping and shouting, the 43 teens gathered in three groups in front of and flanking each side of the landmark fountain. Amused joggers, workers on lunch break and befuddled onlookers watched alongside proud parents, and the action drew people outdoors from inside nearby restaurants.

The campers, ages 12-18, are participating in the third of three ArtPlay drama camps held this summer. The campers, led by ArtPlay Teaching Artist Alicia Johnson, have practiced singing, dancing and acting for two weeks, and will perform their production, “High School Musical Jr.” tonight at 6 p.m. onstage at the Alys Stephens Center on UAB’s campus, for their friends and family.

“We thought this would be a fun way for the kids to perform for the community and to promote the show that they’ve worked so hard on,” said ArtPlay director Kimberly Kirklin. “We wanted to do it just for fun.”

Kirklin watched with a smile from the sidewalk as the kids boogied and bopped to the beat, then departed swiftly with a few whoops and giggles, back to rehearsal just as quickly as they had arrived. For anyone interested, ArtPlay will present an intro to musical theatre class for ages 10-14 in their new, just-announced fall session. Break a leg, campers!

Friday, July 8, 2011

As Atlantis launches, UAB prof remembers his ride on Space Shuttle Columbia

For Larry DeLucas, it was quite a ride. DeLucas, a UAB professor of optometry and director of the Center for Biophysical Sciences and Engineering , was an astronaut on the 1992 flight of the space shuttle Columbia. Now, on the eve of the end of the shuttle program, he looks back with fondness and some trepidation.

He thinks it remarkable that we created a fleet of vehicles that could go into space (135 times, in fact) and return, landing like an airplane, and then go back up again. The advances in science, engineering and materials technology that are associated with the shuttle program are profound.

There's disappointment, though. The next generation of American space delivery vehicles, manufactured by private enterprise, are not yet ready. Until they are operational, only Russia has vehicles capable of going to space and to resupply the International Space Station. If there's a mishap in the Russian program, there is no fall back plan....and that could have hard repercussions for those serving on the space station, and on the experiments underway now.

But mostly DeLucas remembers looking back on earth as the shuttle went into orbit. You don't see national boundaries from space, he says. There are no borders. The world seems small, and close, and peaceful. Yet he could see the fires burning from Kuwaiti oil wells in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's invasion. He knew there was a war being waged.

"You know that there's wars going on, but you look down and there's no lines and everybody's together," he told the Birmingham News in an interview. "I don't know how to describe the feeling I had. That feeling made me realize how we're all connected."

Read about coolers on the International Space Station, students earning NASA awards, using satellites to study disease outbreaks and discover pyramids and students doing NASA-funded research.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

UAB students and professors today begin "trip of a lifetime" to Nepal

Today, a group of UAB students and professors boarded a plane headed to the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. There, they have a date with faith healers, Buddhist priests and Nepalese scholars. They will travel to goddess temples, a cancer hospital and holistic centers; all in hopes of getting what no textbook can provide -- a face-to-face encounter with beauty, pain, healing and inspiration.

“This is a trip of a lifetime,” said Cynthia Ryan, Ph.D., an English professor, who, with art history professor Cathleen Cummings, Ph.D., is leading this study-abroad trip to Nepal.

For the next 20 days, the group will examine a marriage of art, religion and healing that exists like no other place on earth. Nepal is the only country where Buddhism and Hinduism thrive side by side, both Ryan and Cummings said.

The group, which includes four UAB students and two from the Virginia Commonwealth University, will keep journals of their experiences and also submit writings to The Pravasi Herald, a Birmingham-based online Indian-American newspaper.

In Ryan’s course, “Writing Science, Medicine and Culture in Nepal,” she plans to teach the students about eastern approaches to the body and also get them to question western approaches. “In the western culture, we treat the body as if it is a machine,” said Ryan, a two-time breast cancer survivor. “We find a problem and fix it. In the eastern culture, the body and spirit are all bound up in a package.”

Cummings, who teaches “Art and Culture of Asia – Buddhist and Hindu Nepal,” hopes the students will come away with a better understanding of the Nepalese people, she said, “how people integrate ideas about healing and the body into their day-to-day life.”

“It’s a big world,” Cummings said. “Not everyone does things the way we do in America. We hope the students will be able to discover who else lives in the world and how they live and function.”

You can follow the group on their journey via their blog at

High schoolers design, build, launch rockets at UAB

You read that right. High school kids. Launching rockets. They designed and built. On UAB’s campus.

The pre-4th of July fireworks were part of the first-ever Materials Camp hosted by the UAB School of Engineering’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

The camp is designed to launch engineering careers and spark an interest in the materials field. Let’s call it a crash course (hopefully not literally) since the high schoolers are given four days to do what undergraduates have all semester to accomplish.

The rockets are based on model kits but the students built them strictly using composite materials.

Every rocket launched at least once. No rockets caught on fire. Nobody was hurt. Everybody had a, um, blast.

We had our video camera on the scene and only once did we hear “Birmingham, we have a problem.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

“365 Days on a Budget” ends – the blog, not the budget

Her blog has hosted 900 visitors each month for the past year. Her expert advice has been read by people from 99 countries around the world. But all that ends today when Stephanie Rauterkus posts her final “365 Days on a Budget” blog post.

July 5 – this day in history:
  • 1865 – The Salvation Army is founded
  • 1946 – French designer unveils the bikini
  • 2010 – “365 Days On A Budget” blog is born
I know – today is July 6. A counting glitch in the blog system means 365 days of blogging began July 5, 2010 but ends July 6, 2011.

So what did we learn over the past 365 days?

“My number one piece of advice is to be aware,” says Rauterkus with the UAB School of Business. “Writing this blog meant I had to focus every day and that is what people need to do with their budget. You will make mistakes – we are human – but if you are aware you can recover and learn from those mistakes.”

Rauterkus says in the last half of the past year people would say her writing was more personal and less finance. Her response: how you live is how you finance.

“My top accomplishment was understanding my relationship with my money and taking over that relationship. My advice is to know yourself, know your management style and choose what best fits your needs to make your budget work. ”

So how will it end?

We can tell you there will be no gifts, no splash and nothing over the top. Rauterkus believes small can be just as meaningful and thoughtful as big. She wants her blog to end the same way it began – quietly.

To see her goodbye check out the final “365 Days on a Budget” blog post.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Casey Anthony case is a window into Americana

Whether you agree or disagree with the jury's verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, UAB Psychologist Josh Klapow, Ph.D., says one thing the three-year ordeal highlighted is the great dysfunction and psychological problems that can exist in a family.

"This is a window into Americana," Klapow says. "There are a lot of disturbed, dysfunctional families out there, not just this one."

The lesson this teaches us, Klapow says, is to get your act together or you, too, could wind up like the Anthonys.

And what about all of the people who have been following the case for the last three years and are outraged at the not-guilty verdict? Could there be responses to this verdict like there were in the Rodney King trial in the 1990s?

"Frustration, anger, cynicism -- even potential violence -- are all possible responses from members of the public who are unhappy with the verdict," Klapow says, "but I doubt there will be the response that the King or even the O.J. Simpson verdict since this case lacked the racial tones those two did."

Something case watchers have likely forgotten, Klapow added, is the rule of law and reasonable doubt.

"In the drama of all of this, people have lost site of the fact that there are legal definitions that have to be met before someone can be convicted of a crime," he says. "This is an instance where our emotional attachment to a case can overshadow our logical, rational minds."