Research Notes

From the wild blue yonder to the deep blue sea, UH scientists innovate

January, 2004

Doing The Windward Drop

Sometime in the late winter or early spring of 2004, Windward Community College students will get a chance to run experiments in conditions of zero gravity. That novel opportunity comes courtesy of a $40,000 NASA grant. The space agency is installing this specialized system at WCC’s Aerospace Exploration Lab, the only one of its kind in the state. It is the first in the nation to be installed at one of the dozens of designated NASA Flight Training Centers around the country. The phone-booth size system, measuring 11 feet in height, simulates weightlessness for a period of about a second. It does this by rapidly dropping an enclosure the size of a microwave about five feet. Rapid drops such as this simulate gravity; NASA’s legendary “Vomit Comet,” a KC-135 transport craft modified for use as an astronaut training tool, plunges thousands of feet nearly straight down to create 20- to 30-second stretches when human passengers feel no weight. According to WCC physics professor and Aerospace Exploration Lab director Joseph Ciotti, the new system will allow students to run experiments on fluid dynamics and study how flames behave in zero-gravity situations, among other possibilities. “It might also allow our students to run an experiment in our facility and then write a grant for a more extensive test at a bigger NASA research facility and maybe even a test on the Space Shuttle,” says Ciotti. High school and other UH-system students will also have access to the experimental facility, which is slated to enter the regular curriculum as part of course work in the fall of 2004.

Anchors Aweigh

The University of Hawaii’s School of Oceanic and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) blessed a new research vessel, the $54-million RV Kilo Moana, in September 2002. Owned by the U.S.Navy and managed by SOEST, the Kilo Moana replaced a much older ship. For the state, however, the Kilo Moana is a windfall, according to Brian Taylor, acting associate dean of research at SOEST. The school ponies up $750,00 per year to pay for ship operations and student cruise support, among other things. The federal government, in turn, will pay SOEST $7.5 million in 2004 to cover operating costs of the Kilo Moana, which carries a crew of 20 and 28 researchers, and sports 3,000 square feet of lab space. Another $7.5 million to $8 million will support scientific research conducted on the vessel, which has state-of-the-art instrumentation and a stable, submerged, double-hull structure unique in the research-vessel universe. As the host institution, SOEST gets one-quarter of that research funding, the other three-quarters goes to Mainland investigators. In turn, SOEST receives another $10 million for research conducted on ships operated by mainland institutions. All told, the Kilo Moana creates dozens of jobs, either directly working on the vessel or through Hawaii companies servicing the ship, and at least $20 million to $25 million worth of economic activity for the state. According to Taylor, about half of all funds going to the Kilo Moana will end up as salaries for Hawaii workers. She may have an anchor, but the Kilo Moana is anything but economic dead weight.

Survey Says

When teachers around the world log into the Quiz Center at the Discovery Channel’s Web site for schools, they are getting the Wright answer. As in Thomas Wright, an instructor in Maui Community College’s computer science department. Wright and UH computer science student Ritchard Shadian created software behind Quiz Center. Used by 500,000 individuals and institutions, the software lets educators easily and quickly set up online, interactive quizzes with multiple-choice, true-false, short-answer, essay or mixed-answer formats. Discovery stores the quizzes on its site and offers the service at no charge.

The site’s automatic correction system significantly reduces teachers’ pop-quiz workload. The software can also send the quiz answers directly to the teachers’ e-mail in-boxes, streamlining the test-taking process. That explains why 150 organizations have purchased permanent licenses for $250 to host and run the software on their own networks, including the entire community college system of Texas, says Wright.

The Univerity of Hawaii’s Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development (OTTED) provided $14,000 from its Software Development Fund for the cost of programming the software, which has taken about 600 hours between first launch and the upgraded version. Wright accepted a royalties-only agreement for future sales of the software. The original $14,000 loan was repaid from sales income in the first year of license sales. Since then, Wright has donated $25,000, or about one-third of his royalty earnings, to an endowed scholarship for MCC computer science students. Thus far the UH has accrued $120,000 in revenues from the project. Next on the agenda are international versions of the software using Spanish and other foreign languages. All told, it’s a promising product.

Says Wright, “Every school that has a network with access to the Internet is a potential licensee. The software is an excellent first step for teachers wishing to introduce technology in a traditional classroom.”

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