Plants Link to Climate Focus of World Study

Understanding how plants breathe is helping scientists make more accurate predictions about the Earth's climate systems and global warming. Until a few years ago, it was assumed that the relationship between plants and the Earth's climate was relatively minor. FSU researchers in meteorology are participating in an international study called BOREAS, one of a growing number of studies challenging that assumption.

BOREAS, which stands for The Boreal Ecosystem-Atmosphere Study, is the forth of five international, interdisciplinary studies examining how specific ecosystems, in this case boreal (or northern) forests primarily found in Canada, northern Europe and Russia, interact with the atmosphere. The first study in France targeted mixed agricultural and forest zones, the second in Kansas studied undisturbed, natural prairie, the third in the Sahel area of Africa looked at mixed agricultural/savanna and the fifth, planned to begin 1998, will look at the Amazon rainforest.

To understand boreal forests better, BOREAS has been looking at how they interact with the atmosphere, how much carbon they store, and how climate change will affect them. Toward that end, scientists collected a wide variety of data from 1993 to 1996, measuring levels of heat and solar radiation, carbon dioxide, water and trace gases.

The FSU group, led by meteorologist Dr. Eric Smith, research associates Dr. Harry Cooper and Ms. Jiujing Gu, along with graduate student Gary Hodges, is one of 85 science teams selected from 229 proposals for participation in BOREAS, funded primarily by NASA. The team's principle responsibility has been to provide calibration and quality control for measurements of thermal and solar radiation, particularly for the part of the light spectrum that drives photosynthesis.

Smith said that in recent years scientists began to recognize that the mechanism being used in their models to get water from the surface to the atmosphere, "had nothing to do with the basic process that takes place, which is involved with photosynthesis."

Photosynthesis is the fundamental process whereby plants convert sunlight into chemical energy. Plants soak up sunlight and use it to synthesize a variety of organic compounds used to drive the plant's metabolism. In the process, plants give off oxygen and water, a process akin to breathing. Called transpiration, this excretion process plays an essential role in balancing atmospheric gases and moisture, and thus in the dynamics of global climate.

Hauling equipment up to Manitoba and Saskatchewan in 1994 and '95, the FSU team placed measuring devices called radiometers on towers in the forest canopy to determine exactly how much light was reaching the tops of the trees where most photosynthesis occurs. These devices were placed alongside those of other researchers as one way of checking how accurately the instruments were measuring ambient radiation levels.

As part of the calibration process, a number of radiometers have also been placed at the Tallahassee Regional Airport where they are monitored by Hodges, whose work has turned up some interesting anomalies among techniques used for measuring radiation. As it turns out, natural radiation is hard to measure because almost everything gives off some amount of radiation, including the instruments themselves.

Although BOREAS has completed its data collection, scientists will continue to learn from the study as the data are assimilated and new, more accurate, models are designed. One surprising result that has already surfaced is that boreal forests, once thought to be huge reservoirs of readily available moisture, in fact behave more like arid landscapes.

The amount of water transpired into the atmosphere depends mostly on how much water is ultimately delivered to the surface of leaves by trees' root systems. Although not completely understood, deep layers of moss and peat found throughout boreal forests apparently inhibit the movement of water from the ground to trees. This finding challenges fundamental assumptions that have been built into current global warming models, says Smith, and in fact may be one of the reasons why the Earth's climate undergoes detectable variations.

Toward a Cosmic Rebirth

No one will ever know for sure exactly what happened in the first few fractions of time after the birth of the cosmos. Theory has it, though, that it was one phantasmagoric show of primordial nature, never to be seen again.

Outside a physics lab, that is. A new $616 million project--funded primarily by the U.S. government--aims to recreate the enigma early next century, and with substantial help from Florida State. The experiment seeks to reproduce--in a flash of colliding subatomic particles--events that may have occurred in the first one-millionth of a second after the "Big Bang," the prevailing theory of creation itself.

A team of FSU physicists and engineers led by Dr. Anthony Frawley is building a massive instrument--called a particle detector--that will be a key element in the international experiment to be based at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. If all goes well, the device will be installed in 1998 in time for testing to begin a quest physicists have eagerly anticipated for years.

Frawley's team won a share of the $75 million, design-and-build detector project, which when finally assembled in Brookhaven will include a cluster of detectors designed for analyzing various aspects of the experiment once it gets under way. When it does, scientists will be firing accelerated streams of nuclei from heavy elements, such as gold and uranium, directly into each other, forcing head-on collisions that they hope will produce instantaneous glimpses of the cosmos' earliest beginnings.

The FSU-built detectors (two are being built) form the heart of a larger detector called PHENIX (for Pioneering High Energy Nuclear Ion eXperiment). When fully assembled, the PHENIX will act as a microscope of sorts, studying subatomic debris produced by thousands of particle collisions to find evidence of a theoretical state of matter called quark-gluon plasma, or QGP. Physicists believe QGP was what momentarily existed before such things as electrons, protons and neutrons--standard components of most atoms--congealed. All that existed beforehand was a ferociously hot, soup-like matter made up of atomic building blocks--mainly quarks and gluons. No traces of QGP have ever been found, but astrophysicists speculate that it may very well be the stuff that makes up the core of dense, neutron stars.

Although the detectors could have been made at a national lab such as Brookhaven, Frawley successfully argued his case that FSU has the know-how and resources to design and build the machines and for less money. So far, with the help of Robin Chappell, an engineer who runs the physics department's machine shop in the Nuclear Research Program, and a crew of 10 welders, machinists and other engineers, Frawley said the project is well within schedule and budget.

Being assembled off campus largely because of their size, when finished the detectors will stand about 20 feet high and weigh nearly six tons each. Frawley expects to ship one of the machines to Brookhaven before this summer. If it proves out, the PHENIX project (even without the "o") may live up to a mythic association with rebirth, only this time on a cosmic scale.

Cyber School for Science

Every year teachers across the nation are being asked to do more with less, a problem that has adversely affected education in science and mathematics. Given fewer resources, teachers are being forced to teach almost entirely from books without the involvement of hands-on activities that can bring science and math to life for a broader range of students.

"In this case science becomes a matter of 'let's read this book about bees and write a report on it,' says FSU physicist Dr. Larry Dennis. "While there's nothing wrong with that, it shouldn't be what everybody does all the time to learn science."

When it comes to discovering different ways to learn about science and math, Dennis is proving that less can be more, at least when you're dealing with the Internet's World Wide Web. During the summer of 1994 he and two middle-school science teachers created an Internet web site designed to provide resources about hands-on science and math activities for teachers and students from grades six through nine.

Dennis and teachers William Weldon from Florida's Santa Fe county and Terry Smith from Moultrie, Georgia, were participating in a special program for middle school teachers called Science Feat. Through this program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the team put in more than 500 hours creating the site.

By September 1994 it was ready for publication and, at the click of a mouse, the Cyberspace Middle School (CMS) was born. Since that time it has become probably the biggest and least expensive education outreach program undertaken by FSU with 1,500 or more hits (visits by browsers) being made at the site every week.

Spurring the number of weekly hits has been the recognition received by the virtual school room. It has received several web awards, including the Parents Choice award, and has been written up in Good Housekeeping and presented in two Discovery Channel programs.

Most visitors to CMS are from the United States and Canada, but the site attracts a world-wide audience. Dennis has gotten e-mail from students in the Australian outback--100 miles from their school, expressing their gratitude for the online resource, and has even received a request from the Korean Ministry of Education for permission to translate the site into Korean.

CMS has 11 different areas that visitors can explore, such as lists of resources, links to science museum web sites, pages of activities, and FAQs (answers to frequently asked questions). By far, the most popular area is the Science Fair page. Every spring Dennis is inundated with e-mail from students and parents desperate for project ideas ("Help! My daughter's science fair project is due tomorrow!") and advice for students with ongoing experiments.

Dennis has had a long-standing interest in interactive science/math education. He's been a regular contributor to FSU's Saturday Morning Physics program and is one of the founding members of ODYSSEY Science Center in Tallahassee, currently under construction.

Middle-school students are a particular concern to him. "If you look at the demographics, that's where you really start to lose kids in science and math," he says. "You have to find a way to keep them motivated and interested through those middle school years. If they're behind when they go into high school, they're in trouble in terms of a science or math career. "

One way to do that, he believes, is to create web-based education resources. After years of watching teachers struggle to develop hands-on resources for their students, Dennis feels that easier access to information on the web can make that effort much easier, for teachers and students alike.

Dennis has continued to maintain the site single-handedly since the teachers returned to their regular teaching duties in the fall of 1994. Most of his time has been spent answering thousands of e-mail messages, which hasn't left him much time for further site development. He's optimistic that CMS will continue to grow and develop as the World Wide Web grows, sparking the scientific curiosity of even more young people as increasing numbers of schools go online.
Editor's Note: To visit CMS, point your web browser to http://www.scri.fsu.edu/~dennisI/

For Jerry's Kids

For fans of National Public Radio, his commentaries on everything from the marvels of childhood to the wacky banalities of popular culture made Jerry Stern a treasured presence on the airwaves. When he succumbed to cancer at age 57 last year, Stern--a member of FSU's English faculty since 1966 --was eulogized for his urbane wit, his poignant sensibilities about life and learning and his almost quaint devotion to his students and the art of teaching.

Stern's storied allegiance to his profession produced multitudes of faithful former students, several hundred of whom convened in Tallahassee last fall for a memorial fund-raiser. The event raised the necessary $10,000 to create the Jerry Stern Creative Writing Fund, now administered by the FSU Foundation. Expected to grow, the fund is designed to be a permanent source of support for Stern's favorite charity--writing students. The fund will help underwrite various projects, from formal readings featuring outstanding writers to prizes for budding authors, all aimed at nurturing an atmosphere for creative writing which Stern helped develop both on and off campus in Tallahassee.

"Jerry simply loved to help talented students, and he certainly had a way of attracting them," said Dr. Hunt Hawkins, Stern's long-time colleague in the English department. "He believed a professor should be a sort of lodestar to students, with feet eternally propped on a desk, a steady point in an uncertain universe."

Stern's professorial legacy includes a number of published novelists and non-fiction authors as well, among them Pam Ball, Catherine Lewis, Jesse Lee Kerchival, Allan Woodman, Yvonne Sapia, Dianne Roberts, Steve Watkins and Claudia Johnson.

His teaching lives on, too, through the well-received Making Shapely Fiction, a writing text published by Norton in 1991 that is much more than that. The book is distilled Stern, a delightful compendium of "Sternisms"--a concept familiar to both his radio listeners and a legion of former students and literary friends. Last fall, Norton published Microfiction, a collection of the best short (250 words) short stories drawn from Stern's annual contest that attracted thousands of entries from around the world. Most recently, Norton also produced Radios--a collection of Stern's NPR pieces--edited by Carol Houck Smith.

Contributions to the fund may be directed to The Jerry Stern Creative Writing Fund, c/o The FSU Foundation, Hecht House, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306.

Research Complex Expands

FSU's Don Fuqua Research Complex at Innovation Park is about to become moreso, thanks to a $4.4 million, two-story addition readied this winter.

The first tenants of the spanking new Shaw Building--named in honor of Frank Shaw, a Tallahassee businessman and an instrumental leader in the founding of Innovation Park--were scheduled to arrive in late December. The building is the newest addition to the complex since a spring 1996 dedication introduced the Johnson Building.

The building will add 40,000-sq.-ft. of work space to the park, already one of the fastest-growing research parks in the Southeast. Among the businesses slated to set up offices are a large telecommunications marketing firm, a technology development company and the first high-tech firm to set up shop at Innovation Park as a direct result of FSU's successful bid to establish the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at the park in 1991.

Sprint Telecenters, Inc., a subsidiary of Sprint Centel, will occupy the entire top floor of the building. The company will operate as a call center, marketing Sprint products and services, and reportedly with the help of FSU students. Through an agreement with FSU's College of Business, the company is committed to hiring business students for part-time work. Sprint also has agreed to let business faculty members conduct telephone surveys via the center, says Dr. MelvinStith, dean of the College of Business.

Downstairs, Eurus Technologies, Inc.--a small international company with offices in New York and Spain--will share space primarily with Florida North Shore Technology Centers, Inc. The latter is a non-profit company that offers advice and expertise to start-up, technology-driven companies throughout North Florida and the Panhandle.

Eurus has a direct interest in the NHMFL primarily because the lab represents what may be the finest proving ground in the world for some of Eurus' technologies. Eurus holds a patent on a process that minimizes heat loss in the development of high magnetic fields. The company plans to use its new proximity to the NHMFL (the $200 million facility is directly across the street) to develop and test the patent for commercial application.

Scheduled to move into its new quarters in January, Eurus plans to eventually hire a total of 19 employees, a team that will include executives, scientists and technicians. Although the park now is home to 28 organizations employing roughly 1,100 people, Eurus is the first business attracted to the park because of the magnet lab and its unique mission in advanced science and technology.

Administratively, the Shaw Building will be operated by the FSU Research Foundation, housed in the Johnson Building. The foundation is leasing the building from the Leon County Research and Development Authority, which sold the necessary bonds for construction, and is subleasing space to tenants.

Cheering the Big Five-O

Exactly 50 years ago this spring, Florida State College for Women, in business since 1905, ceased to exist. In its place, the Florida Legislature established the state's second university, a move that proved to be as much a tribute to the worthy traditions of FSCW than to political expediency in a rapidly growing state.

Florida State University's 50th year arrives with much fanfare planned around campus. April is the designated celebratory month, with golden anniversary themes tied to a growing list of events. A campus-wide "Ten Days of Gold" begins Friday, April 4 with a ceremony and musical gala set at the new University Center, the campus' $122 million showpiece, destined to encircle Doak Campbell Stadium by 1997 and viewed as a symbol of the dramatic changes five decades have wrought on campus.

A special tribute to 50 years of academic achievement, under the banner "Research & Creativity Expo," will run April 4-6 and will feature live music, exhibits and demonstrations by dozens of campus academic units, lab tours, a book fair, and more. The Expo kicks off at noon April 4 at the University Center, with a feature attraction--a "Jazz Under the Stars" musical gala, planned to be headlined by FSU's most popular music alum, jazz sensation Marcus Roberts.

Sponsored by the university's Office of Research and the Division of Academic Affairs, the Expo is shaping up to be the most comprehensive showcase of the university's academic wares in school history. Alumni and the public at large should find plenty to appreciate, as should prospective students. A key objective of Expo planners is to create an attractive opportunity for middle-, high-school and community college students from around the state and region to visit campus and learn the A to Z of what FSU offers besides the most exciting football on the planet.
For more information on the FSU Research & Creativity Expo, call Frank Stephenson at (904) 644-8634 or send him e-mail at frankstp@res.fsu.edu