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8 1/2 x 11 Newsletter - January 10, 2008

January 10, 2008
Vol. 18, No. 23

In this issue:

Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration is Monday, Jan. 21

Carnegie Mellon will celebrate the life and work of the late great civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Jan. 21 with an afternoon of activities and programs in the University Center. All classes after 12:30 p.m. are canceled to allow students, faculty and staff to participate in the celebration. Many of this year's events focus on environmental justice, which examines how corporate and government policies disproportionately impact disadvantaged and minority communities.

The day's events include the annual State of Diversity Address by President Jared L. Cohon, the MLK Writing Awards program in which high school and Carnegie Mellon students read personal narratives about racial discrimination, and a Community Conversation among Pittsburgh civic leaders.  The keynote address, "Martin Luther King for the 21st Century: Hip Hop, Environmental Justice and The State of Black America," will be given by acclaimed author and Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson at 5 p.m. in Rangos Hall.

For more:

Student Affairs Sponsor Personal Development Programs

More than 300 students returning to campus this week will participate in several personal development programs (Jan. 10-12) sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs. Summit ( provides non-credit courses on topics students have the desire — but perhaps not the opportunity — to explore during the regular academic year. More than 40 courses will be offered and include learning to use Global Positioning System (GPS) technology; cooking with the chef of Seviche, a tapas restaurant in the Cultural District; and mastering the art of kick boxing.

A select group of sophomores are participating in the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships' first Odyssey program. The program helps students to strengthen their decision-making skills and learn to make the most of their undergraduate experience. For more information, contact Stephanie Wallach, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, at 412-268-5566 or

During the first week of classes, the Student Development Office also is sponsoring JumpStart, a series of workshops and information sessions focused on academic success, wellness and community engagement. Faculty and staff will present practical information and strategies for getting the most out of a lecture, managing stress, getting involved in student activities and setting goals. For more:

How the Nose Knows What It's Smelling

A new, biologically inspired algorithm allows scientists to explain how the brain quickly sorts through input after detecting a scent in order to determine what exactly that smell is. Nathan Urban, associate professor of biological sciences, and his colleagues introduced this theory of dynamic connectivity in this month's issue of Nature Neuroscience.

The lateral inhibition process, which helps to filter out unnecessary information when many neurons fire simultaneously, is at the heart of this new theory. Urban and his colleagues examined the olfactory bulb, which is responsible for sense of smell, and determined that the key neuronal circuits are able to rewire "on the fly" in response to certain stimuli and enhance lateral inhibition.

For more:

Researchers Determine Why Practice Makes Perfect

Led by Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Allison Barth, neuroscientists from Carnegie Mellon and the Max Planck Institute have discovered the mechanism that enables practice to produce perfection. This new mechanism sheds light on what previously seemed to be a paradox in neuroscience. Neurotransmitter receptors that initiate synaptic plasticity — a process critical to initial or short-term learning — prompt the degradation of those same synapses shortly after material is learned, which would seem to counteract the repetitive practice that is known to strengthen learning. However, this study, which was published in the Jan. 4 issue of Science, showed that a second category of receptors steps in to facilitate learning over longer periods of time.

For more:

MRI Scans Turn Researchers Into Mind Readers

By combining methods of machine learning and brain imaging, a team of Carnegie Mellon computer scientists and cognitive neuroscientists has found a way to identify where people's thoughts and perceptions of familiar objects originate in the brain.  An article in the Jan. 2 issue of PLoS One discusses this new method, which was developed over two years under the leadership of neuroscientist Marcel Just and Computer Science Professor Tom M. Mitchell.

Study participants enveloped in an MRI scanner were shown line drawings of 10 different objects — five tools and five dwellings — one at a time and asked to think about their properties, which allowed the researchers to examine the patterns of brain activity associated with the objects. Based on participants' characteristic whole-brain neural activation patterns, Just and Mitchell's method was able to accurately determine which of the 10 drawings a participant was viewing.

For more:

News Briefs

  • Tartan Racing's Boss, the robotic SUV that won the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, has been quite busy. This past Monday (Jan. 7), Boss appeared on NBC's Today Show and on CBS' Early Show from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where GM CEO Rick Wagoner featured Boss during his keynote address. Later this month the Urban Challenge champ will be at the Detroit and Washington, D.C., auto shows.
  • A new, interactive educational game for children created by graduate students at the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), is now available at all 18 Carnegie Library locations in Pittsburgh. The game, called "My StoryMaker," allows children to create, print and share their own unique stories, and through that cultivates a love of storytelling and reading. Developed exclusively for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the game aims to increase literacy rates in children during their formative learning years. For more:

Personal Mention

  • Romel Mostafa, a Ph.D. student in Social and Decision Sciences, has received a $20,000 Kauffman Dissertation Fellowship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Mostafa's dissertation title is "Economic Growth One Industry at a Time: Entrepreneurship in the Bangladesh Garment Industry." Mostafa and 15 other fellowship recipients were honored Jan. 4 at the American Economic Association's meeting in New Orleans.
  • James Smith II and Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Thomas Brandt of the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) have been elected Associate Fellows of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Smith investigates issues pertaining to acquisition in a system of systems environment for the Dynamic Systems Program of the SEI. Brandt is associate director of the SEI.  Paul Nielsen, SEI executive director, is president of the AIAA.
  • Franco Sciannameo has been named director of the Bachelor of Humanities and Arts (BHA) and Bachelor of Science and Arts (BSA) programs. Sciannameo has served as interim director of the programs for the past 18 months. Sciannameo is a College of Fine Arts Distinguished Scholar in Multidisciplinary Studies. For more:
  • David Dombrosky has been named the new executive director of the Center for Arts Management and Technology (CAMT), an applied research center in the Institute for the Management of Creative Enterprises (IMCE), a joint program between the Heinz School and College of Fine Arts. Dombrosky is a former program director for contemporary arts and new initiatives at the Southern Arts Federation. For more:

Calendar Highlights

  • Wednesday, Jan. 23: Center for the Arts in Society Brown Bag Series presents Professor of Art History Edith Balas, who will discuss her project titled "The Hoka-Néni Symphony." Noon - 1 p.m., CFA 303. For more:
  • Thursday, Jan. 24: The University Lecture Series presents Risë Wilson, founder of The Laundromat Project (TLP), who will discuss "Innovations in Funding and Access to the Arts." TLP is an innovative nonprofit venture consisting of self-service laundries that double as community arts centers in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Harlem in New York City. 4:30 p.m., Kresge Recital Hall, CFA.