Volume XXIX Number 2
New Music, New Dynamic
Erich Stem wants you to know that classical music is alive and well. An assistant professor of music at Indiana University Southeast, Stem’s passion is to bring contemporary classical music to a broader audience, and he’s created a record label to do just that. In 2005, Stem launched The New Music Project at IUS in an effort to discover, preserve, and disseminate new music by composers of the 21st century. Shortly after that, with the help of students, he developed New Dynamic Records. In late 2005, New Dynamic Records released its first CD, Influence, named for the "influences" of Chinese folk music, jazz, Stravinsky, pop music, and more that can be heard on it. A second release, featuring the Aurelia Saxophone Quartet, is scheduled for May. Future recordings include the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and the Prism Quartet from New York. Intent on making IUS a leader in new music, Stem is reaching out to younger listeners at www.myspace.com/iusnewdynamic and hopes to make future tracks available to iPod users. "Today’s classical music is not your father’s classical music," Stem says. "We just have to get people to listen and explore." Learn more at www.newdynamicrecords.com.
You may be yelling at your kids to turn off the video games and do their homework, but increasingly, researchers are finding that video games can make excellent instructional tools. "When we think about games and learning," says Sasha Barab, "we think about negative games, but we’ve found that there are many valuable games that get kids to think about issues." Barab is associate professor of learning sciences and director of the Center for Research on Learning and Technology at the Indiana University School of Education in Bloomington. With funding from the National Science Foundation and most recently, a $500,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Barab is inventing an "academic play space." Building on a 3-D virtual environment called Quest Atlantis (http://QuestAtlantis.org) that he has already created, Barab (and Douglas Thomas from University of Southern California) are making a virtual world to help students learn about issues in science, technology, and ethics--issues that Barab calls "exceedingly difficult to teach in brick-and-mortar classrooms." Inside the virtual world, a student might visit a 3-D park where logging is raising an environmental issue. After making a decision on the problem, students will be able to see consequences unfold for the virtual characters in the game. If kids kick the loggers out, for example, the park may go bankrupt. Barab believes digital media and simulated worlds have "revolutionary" power to educate children to be knowledgeable and responsible adults. ",Schools have to be focused on content acquisition, so it’s hard to enlist larger narratives," he says. "This program helps. Educating students for the 21st century requires us to think beyond standard, traditional pedagogical practice."
'Tis the Season?
When winter sets in and daylight wanes, Siberian hamsters lose their sex drive because of a kiss--the KiSS-1 gene, to be precise, which encodes a recently discovered neuropeptide called kisspeptin. In the March issue of Endocrinology, scientists from Indiana University Bloomington and University of California at Berkeley report evidence that kisspeptin--a hormone that influences the onset of human puberty--regulates the decline of libido and reproduction in male Siberian hamsters when daylight grows short. In the study, one group of hamsters was housed in summer-like conditions with long periods of light, and one in wintry conditions with much shorter light. After eight weeks, the hamsters in wintry conditions experienced sharp reductions of kisspeptin in a brain region involved in reproduction and sex behavior. "Ours isn’t the first study to link the peptide to reproduction, but it is the first to connect kisspeptin to how animals interpret seasonal cues, including day length," says IUB Professor of Biology Gregory Demas, a co-author of the study. "Kiss-peptin likely plays an integral role in coordinating seasonal reproduction in a wide range of animals." IUB graduate student Timothy Greives, lead author of the study, adds that the data "show that the disappearance of kisspeptin in the brain is likely critical in turning off reproduction during winter." Graduate student Melissa-Ann Scotti and Ellen Ketterson, IUB Distinguished Professor of biology, also contributed to the research.
The Religion of O?
Is Oprah a religion? Not exactly, but "there is something rather religious" about her, says Kathryn Lofton, assistant professor of religious studies at Indiana University Bloomington. Lofton, whose research focuses on religious classification, explored the religious dimensions of Oprah Winfrey’s multimedia empire in a recent article for the Journal of Popular Culture. Oprah’s spirituality is the consumerist kind, says Lofton. "Every product of Winfrey’s empire combines spiritual counsel with practical encouragement, inner awakening with capitalist pragmatism," she writes. Noting Oprah’s mid-1990s shift to a "change your life" message, Lofton says the talk-show diva is "someone committed primarily to spiritual change through material means." In Oprah’s cosmos, Lofton writes, "as long as you can spend, feel good about yourself, and look good, your religious belief will be tolerated. The Religion of Oprah is the incorporated faith in late-capitalist America."
Cretaceous Climate Change
Dramatic climate change isn’t only a topic of contemporary debate and popular documentaries. According to Indiana University Bloomington geologist Simon Brassell, "it appears clear that climate changes were taking place on a global scale" during the dinosaur-dominated Cretaceous Period some 120 million years ago. Brassell and other geoscientists collected data from rock at the Shatsky Rise, an ocean site east of Japan known to have formed at the end of the Jurassic Period, just before the Cretaceous. Analyzing the carbon and nitrogen content of the ancient rock, the scientists found new evidence that ocean surface temperatures varied as much as 6 degrees C (about 11 degrees F) during the Cretaceous. "The data we collected suggest significant global fluctuations in temperature," Brassell says, adding that the findings could influence our understanding of climate change today. "If there were big, inherent fluctuations in the system, as paleoclimate studies are showing, it could make determining Earth’s climatic future even harder," he says. "We’re learning that our climate, throughout time, has been a wild beast." Brassell and his co-investigators published their findings in the October 2006 issue of Geology.
New Frontiers Awards
Now in its third year, Indiana University’s New Frontiers in Arts & Humanities program has funded new projects that explore topics from Senegalese culture to Shakespeare to studio art. The program is supported by a gift from the Lilly Endowment Inc. and administered by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. The principal grant recipients for spring 2007 are:
Earliest Animal Life
More than 550 million years ago, primitive animals were capable of some of the same processes seen in today's embryos, according to researchers from Indiana University Bloomington and nine other institutions. Reporting in Science, an international team of scientists including Elizabeth Raff and Rudolf Raff of the IUB Department of Biology provide details of their study of 162 embryo fossils taken from the Doushantuo Formation in China. Using various imaging techniques, the research team inspected the rare fossils inside and out. They found the embryos still encased in a protective fertilization envelope and located specialized structures inside. The ancient embryos--which predate the dramatic Cambrian Explosion during which animals became bigger and more diverse by 10 million years--also show evidence of asynchronous cell division, a process common in modern embryos that allows them to form unique structures. "We’re learning something about how the very earliest multicellular animals formed embryos and how the embryos developed," says Rudolf Raff. "This gives us an enormous and entirely surprising look at half-a-billion-year-old embryos in the act of cleaving. What a window on the past. We had no prior idea what they might have done." James W. Hagadorn of Amherst College led the collaborative study. IUB research associate F. Rudolf Turner also contributed.