Clemson research creates companies, jobs

Technologies created by researchers at Clemson University have led to a dozen new companies, which have created 50 new high-tech jobs.

Four of those companies started up last year–a record year for university technology spinoffs, according to a survey by the Association of University Technology Managers released last week.

The University of South Carolina had six startups last year and the Medical University of South Carolina had three, according to the report.

Universities are required to look for ways to commercialize inventions that resulted from federally funded research. “It benefits the university and the community at large,” said Vincie Albritton, interim director for Clemson’s Office of Technology Transfer and associate director of the Clemson University Research Foundation.

Albritton said Clemson has 84 active patents available for licensing and commercialization.

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High school students take on college early

The first bell hasn’t yet rung at Georgia’s Kell High and a dozen seniors have logged another class in Calculus II taught by a Georgia Tech professor. The class is in progress miles away on Tech’s North Avenue campus. The north Cobb high school students join through video conferencing.

Five of the students in Kell math teacher Sara Griffin’s class will be getting college credit as well as earning grades toward high school graduation in the distance learning classes.

These are Kell’s super advanced math students, a handful who relish the challenge of multivariable equations. Most will go on to Calculus III next semester.

High school students are increasingly taking advantage of programs to earn college credits, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. One report showed that half of all colleges and universities in the nation enrolled high school students in courses for college credit in 2002-03.

Kell is one of only 12 high schools in Georgia–all in Cobb or Fulton–taking part in Tech’s distance learning classes for dual credit.

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Google working on internet encyclopedia

Google Inc. is working on a new, freely accessible internet encyclopedia that will consist of material submitted by people who want to be identified as content experts and possibly profit from their knowledge.

The concept, outlined last week in a posting on Google’s web site, poses a potential challenge to the nonprofit Wikipedia, which has drawn upon the collective wisdom of unpaid, anonymous contributors to emerge as a widely used online reference tool. But whether Google’s effort will produce a resource that is more reliable than Wikipedia—which many educators do not allow as an authoritative source for student research papers—is open for debate.

Google is calling its alternative “knol”—the Mountain View, California-based company’s shorthand for a “unit of knowledge.”

For now, submissions are by invitation only as Google fine-tunes the system, but the internet search leader said it eventually will publish articles by all comers.

“There are millions of people who possess useful knowledge that they would love to share, and there are billions of people who can benefit from it,” Ubi Manber, Google’s vice president of engineering, wrote in the company’s posting about the new service. “We believe that many do not share that knowledge today, simply because it is not easy enough to do that.”

Since it was founded on the same knowledge-sharing premise six years ago, Wikipedia has compiled 2.1 million English-language articles, as well as millions more in dozens of other languages. The topics cover everything from Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity to video games like “Beavis and Butt-head in Virtual Stupidity.”

Wikipedia attracted 56.1 million U.S. visitors in October, making it the eighth most popular web site, according to comScore Media Metrix. Google’s properties, which include the video-sharing site YouTube, drew 131.6 million U.S. visitors, second only to Yahoo Inc.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales downplayed Google’s latest move. “Google does a lot of cool stuff, but a lot of that cool stuff doesn’t work out so great,” he said.

Google’s flops include a service that used to hire researchers to track down hard-to-find answers for befuddled web surfers. The feature never took off in its four-year existence, prompting Google to pull the plug last year.

While Google tinkers with its encyclopedia, Wales already is poised to invade Google’s turf with a Wikia search engine scheduled to debut later this month. The search engine will be operated by Wikia Inc., Wales’ for-profit venture.

The Googlepedia, as some observers are already calling Google’s new offering, will differ from Wikipedia by identifying who wrote each article and striving to reward the authors by giving them a chance to make money from Google’s lucrative advertising network.

Critics say Wikipedia’s cloak of anonymity has made its articles more vulnerable to mischief and other abuses that have led to inaccuracies.

Citizendium, an internet encyclopedia that launched earlier this year, also insists on identifying the writers of its articles. But, unlike Google, Citizendium relies on a collaborative editing process to verify the accuracy of its articles.

“Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content,” Manber wrote. “All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors.”

Google is hoping to keep the contributors honest by allowing visitors to rate the entries and leave comments.

That won’t be enough, predicted Larry Sanger, Citizendium’s editor-in-chief, who also helped start Wikipedia.

“Knol is apt to produce precisely the same sort of uneven content, with many of the same abuses, that Wikipedia has,” Sanger wrote in a posting on Citizendium’s site. “Without actual editors, the same sort of problems about misleading and damaging information are apt to plague knol.”

Google, which is expected to earn more than $4 billion this year, also wants to make money off its encyclopedia. Although the resource will be available free of charge, just like Google’s search engine, the company wants to place ads related to the topics covered on each page.

The advertising is an option being left up to the person submitting an article. Google is trying to persuade the writers to participate by guaranteeing they will receive a “substantial” share of the revenue.

The profit incentive could turn Google’s encyclopedia into a magnet for articles about highly commercial subjects instead of more academic topics, Wales predicted: “You may see an awful lot of articles about Viagra.”

Even if it’s not considered an authoritative source, Google’s new internet encyclopedia could prove useful as a classroom tool, for the same reason some educators already have embraced Wikipedia as a tool for learning.

Though many educators cringe when students turn to Wikipedia as a reference for term papers, University of Washington-Bothell professor Martha Groom has taken more of an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach to the popular internet site.

Instead of asking students in her environmental history course to turn in one big paper at the end of the semester, she requires them either to write an original Wikipedia article or to do a major edit on an existing one.

The inspiration came to her as she prepared teaching materials for her class.

“I would find these things on Wikipedia” and would think, “Gosh, this is awfully thin here. I wonder if my students could fill this in?” she said.

For her students, the Wikipedia assignment reportedly was “transformative,” and students’ online writing online reportedly proved better than the average undergraduate research paper.

Knowing their work was headed for the web, not just for the eyes of one harried professor, helped students reach higher, Groom said—as did the standards set by the volunteer “Wikipedians” who police entries for accuracy and neutral tone. The exercise also gave students a taste of working in the real world of peer-reviewed research.


Google Inc.




Google gets ready to rumble with Microsoft

A cerebral computer-scientist-turned-executive, Eric E. Schmidt has spent much of his career competing uphill against Microsoft, quietly watching it outflank, outmaneuver or simply outgun most of its rivals.

At Sun Microsystems, where he was chief technology officer, Mr. Schmidt looked on as Scott G. McNealy, the company’s chairman, railed against Microsoft and its leaders, Steven A. Ballmer and Bill Gates, as “Ballmer and Butthead.” During a four-year stint as chief executive of Novell, Mr. Schmidt routinely opined that it was folly for any Microsoft rival to “moon the giant,” as he put it; all that would do, he argued, was incite Microsoft’s wrath.

Then, six years ago, Mr. Schmidt snared the C.E.O. spot at Google and today finds himself at the helm of one of computing’s most inventive and formidable players, the runaway leader in Internet search and online advertising. With its ample resources and eye for new markets, Google has begun offering online products that strike at the core of Microsoft’s financial might: popular computing tools like word processing applications and spreadsheets.

The growing confrontation between Google and Microsoft promises to be an epic business battle. It is likely to shape the prosperity and progress of both companies, and also inform how consumers and corporations work, shop, communicate and go about their digital lives. Google sees all of this happening on remote servers in faraway data centers, accessible over the Web by an array of wired and wireless devices — a setup known as cloud computing. Microsoft sees a Web future as well, but one whose center of gravity remains firmly tethered to its desktop PC software. Therein lies the conflict.

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Indianapolis students plan virtual rescue

Brownsburg sixth-graders traded in their textbooks and desks for laptop computers, calculators and compasses this week to go on a rescue mission at a small Caribbean island. Though the mission was a simulation of a volcano disaster that occurred on the island of Montserrat 10 years ago, to the students the work seemed as real as the day it happened.

Hosted by the Brownsburg Challenger Learning Center, every sixth-grade class participated in the second-year program designed to give students real-world experience in math, communication and problem solving.

“The teachers tell us that some of the students who don’t perform as well in the classroom really get caught up in an exercise like this,” said Mary Patterson, director of the learning center.

Twenty-four missions are needed to involve every sixth-grader at Brownsburg’s two middle schools. The learning center has hosted two missions a day since Dec. 4, and the missions will conclude Wednesday. The experience is made possible through money provided by the Brownsburg Education Foundation and the Indiana Space Grant Consortium.

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With new technology, N.J. students reach peers abroad

On a recent morning, students at Rider University watched a 52-inch LCD television screen showing a college classroom in Cairo filling up with students dressed mostly in T-shirts and jeans, though several young women wore headscarves.

At the same time, the Egyptian students from the American University in Cairo could see and hear their American counterparts at Rider, kids wearing jeans and shirts with Greek fraternity letters.

Bringing together these students from two different continents and many backgrounds was a new high-tech videoconference technology gaining popularity at schools across New Jersey.

NJEDge.Net, a higher education nonprofit group, operates a fiber-optic network that connects more than 50 colleges and many public schools to Internet 2, an international super computer network that can blast data through cyberspace more than 100 times faster than commercial Internet.

“It brings the world into the classroom,” said George Laskaris, executive director of NJEDge.Net, a consortium of the state-funded New Jersey (University and College) Presidents’ Council. “We’re connected 24 hours a day.”

NJEDge.Net receives most of the roughly $5 million it needs each year to operate the network through dues and fees from 53 colleges.

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School, orchestra play together via cyberspace

The Internet today has more than 1 billion users congesting cyberspace, with information flying across the globe in a matter of seconds. The information superhighway has become so busy that a new road had to be built to handle the increasing traffic.

The result: Internet2, a robust fiber connection, separate from the regular Internet, connecting more than 200 higher education institutions and a growing number of researchers, scientists and government agencies — anyone with the need to send large amounts of data, uncompressed, without delay. The original idea focused on applications such as long-distance surgeries, but once the performing arts world heard word of this technology, it wanted in.

The Eastman School of Music, through the University of Rochester’s subscription, has been using Internet2 since 2004. So far, the school has offered long-distance master classes, lectures and just recently, live interactive concerts.

In September, Eastman experimented with a live Internet broadcast, called a multicast, of the Philadelphia Orchestra from Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center to a giant screen in the Eastman Theatre. Students were able to watch the world’s top musicians up close and see how they interact with one another and the conductor. Additionally, they heard interviews with orchestra members during intermission, where questions were sent via e-mail.

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Green school buildings making a surge

School systems nationwide are beginning to realize the benefits of “going green” when building new schools, according to experts who follow school construction trends. Though the initial building costs can run higher, schools are seeing a return on their up-front investment through a reduction in monthly energy costs. Another important (and often unexpected) side benefit has been a boost in student achievement resulting from more healthy, productive, and comfortable learning environments.

John Weekes, an architect who is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on Architecture for Education, says “green,” or environmentally friendly, school buildings aren’t just a West Coast concept anymore.

“Of course, places like California have been thinking green for a while, but it’s really all over now–the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest, and the Northeast,” he said. “Recently, it’s also been [occurring in] the Southeast. It’s certainly [a] mainstream [concept], but not entirely even across the board. Every region has its own rate.”

There are many levels of “green,” and each green building can vary in its degree of energy efficiency. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has its own set of measurements, called the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, which measures design, construction, and operation of green buildings. To date, the LEED certificate-available in bronze, silver, and gold-has been given to 55 schools around the country. However, another 370 reportedly were waiting for certification as of press time.

LEED also has a special certification for green schools, which takes into account joint-use agreements that allow other groups to use the facility and also has stricter requirements for features such as minimum acoustic standards.

According to Deane Evans, a research professor and executive director of the Center for Architecture and Building Science Research at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, a high-performance green school has “healthy, productive, and comfortable environments for students and teachers that provide high levels of acoustic, thermal, and visual comfort.”

Features of green schools include windows and skylights that admit generous amounts of daylight; buildings that are safe, secure, and cost-effective to own and operate, because they use durable products and systems; materials that are chosen using life-cycle cost analysis, rather than the cheapest first cost; and availability to non-students during hours when the school is not in operation. (Community participation during design also is encouraged.)

Already, many states and school systems are using LEED guidelines to structure future school design. For example, in September the Ohio School Facility Fund passed a requirement that all new schools and major renovations in the state be certified LEED Silver, using $4.1 billion in state money to help cover the costs. The plan will create at least 250 more green schools in Ohio in the next two years.

In California, 23 school districts, including San Francisco and San Diego, have pledged to meet criteria for the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), a system similar to LEED. Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, Washington, and New Hampshire also are using measurement processes based on CHPS building standards.

Pennsylvania even provides up to $500,000 in state funding to school districts for each new building that is LEED certified.

Green school examples

Dave Burns, design principal for Burns Wald-Hopkins Architects, says geographical differences “are the foundation” for effective green-school construction.


Homework Help NJ has tutors online

When classroom time and after-school hours aren’t enough, New Jersey students can now turn to the Internet for free one-on-one tutoring.

“Homework Help NJ,” a new State Library program sponsored by PSE&G, was unveiled this week at the Newark Public Library and given a test run by a sixth-grade class from Burnet Street School in Newark.

The program will allow students from grades 4-12 with a library card to receive real-time help from a tutor on math, science, social studies and English assignments. The online tutoring help is available to students in Camden, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark, New Brunswick, Paterson and Willingboro.

Students who don’t have computers at home can access the on line help through the library or at after-school classes offered by NJ After 3, a statewide nonprofit organization whose programs serve more than 15,000 children.

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