en español: El Innovador de Texas
Texas Faces Major Challenges in Education
When I was sworn in as Comptroller in 1999, I set 10 principles for this century; the first three were all education related. My priorities have not changed. My goal is crystal clear—I want Texas to have the most educated work force in the nation.
Nothing is more important than education. Our state’s future tax base and fiscal well-being depend directly on a highly educated work force.
Last month, I updated my report, Texas Where We Stand: Education, which showed Texas is facing major challenges in education today. The people of Texas need to know where we are in education so that in the upcoming special session we can have a healthy debate about where we are—and where we can and should be—when it comes to preparing our most precious resource—our children—for the future.
Since 1999, Texas has dropped from 25th to 40th in the nation in per-student spending, which includes an ever-increasing gap between Texas teachers’ salaries and the national average. Our Texas teachers are underpaid and underappreciated. Texas ranks 33rd in teacher salaries, down from 26th in 2001. Texas teachers are being paid 16.6 percent less than teachers nationally.
More than 37,000 Texas teachers are leaving the classroom each year, taking their skills to better paying jobs or simply quitting. Turnover is highest where teacher pay is lowest. In December 2004, I recommended a $3,000 across-the-board pay raise for all Texas teachers, with a competitive automatic increase every two years—just to get us to the midway point in these United States. And we ought to be number one.
In 2005, Texas ranked 49th in average verbal SAT scores and 46th in average math SAT scores. We are dead last in these United States in the percentage of adults who have a high school diploma, and it is only getting worse.
My report reveals that since 2002, average fees and tuition increased 61.4 percent at public universities and 51.3 percent at community colleges. Further, in real dollars, per-student funding for universities was cut 19.92 percent and state funding in real dollars for community colleges was cut 35.29 percent from fiscal years 2002 to 2007.
And after my report was released, I received information from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching that shows Texas has fallen even further behind in the number of nationally recognized research institutes. Now California has 11 nationally recognized research institutes; New York, nine; Massachusetts, six; Pennsylvania, Illinois and Florida have four each; and Texas, the second most populous state in the nation, has only three.
As a former school teacher, and as a mamma and a grandmamma, these statistics break my heart. This state’s government has failed our children and failed our teachers; and in failing our children and in failing our teachers, we are putting a failing grade on our future.
Carole Keeton Strayhorn
Anthrax, a bacterial disease that sheep and cattle can transfer to humans, could make a deadly terrorist weapon—particularly if terrorists design a strain resistant to antibiotics.
Researchers from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin and the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (SFBR) hope to combat possible threats with a new treatment.
UT chemistry professor Brent Iverson and chemical engineer George Georgiou developed a successful anthrax treatment in 2002 and licensed it to a biopharmaceutical company. The research team later reformulated the antitoxin to make it last longer and produced it in a less-expensive bacterial culture.
“The earlier version was as effective, but it is much more expensive to produce on a large scale,” Iverson said. “We are gearing up to begin the next round of testing within a month [of January 12]. A great deal of care is required to do these tests correctly, so there is a great deal of planning and preparation required ahead of time. We should know much more about the relative success of our tests in two or three months.”
Speak in any language
Imagine speaking in English and being understood by someone who only speaks German or Chinese.
It’s now possible, with a cross-lingual translation system developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Karlsruhe in Germany.
Alex Waibel, a faculty member at both universities, developed the technology and said it surpasses current systems that translate speech in limited situations, such as making hotel reservations or shopping. The new technology fills the gap by enabling translation in larger domains like lectures, television broadcasts, meetings and telephone conversations.
The system tracks and measures electrical currents on the surface of a person’s cheek and throat as they mouth words instead of speaking aloud. Electrodes attached to the person’s face recognize muscle movement, and the system translates and delivers the movement as audible sound in another language.
“By moving our articulators in English, we can demonstrate the generation of speech in Spanish, German or other languages,” Waibel said. “In the future, such transducers could be implanted, enabling a speaker to produce any language at will.”
Waibel’s research team is developing other applications for the technology, including a pocket-sized interpreter for medical relief or military operations. He also is developing a video translator for European parliamentary sessions.
For more information, contact Anne Watzman,
Carnegie Mellon University, 412-268-3830
Play at the pump
A new kind of water pump is bringing relief to thousands of Africans facing serious water shortages. The Play-Pump, developed by South African company Roundabout Outdoor, combines a merry-go-round with a water pump, cashing in on children’s boundless energy to tap water resources deep below the ground.
The pump is a working merry-go-round. As children play, they power the pump, which drills up to 100 meters deep and produces as much as 1,400 liters of fresh water per hour. Unlike a traditional water pump, which only one person can operate at a time, the Play-Pump can be powered by as many as 20 children at one time.
Roundabout Outdoor reported 700 units operating in late 2005, helping about 1,000 to 2,000 people. Many of those people live in villages that previously had no water source, and village children and women had to travel miles to fetch water. Since Roundabout Outdoor installed Play-Pumps in the villages, the company said the villages report increased school attendance, more agriculture and fewer stomach ailments.
The company is developing versions of the pump that will reach more remote villages, drill deeper and also create electricity.
For more information, contact Trevor Field,
All the buzz
Microplitis croceipes, while not quite a household name, has shown remarkable abilities to recognize scents it associates with food. Researchers at the University of Georgia say the parasitic wasps’ keen sense of smell could help locate everything from drugs and explosives to missing persons.
Researchers there have developed the “Wasp Hound,” a small, plastic pipe with a fan and Web camera at one end and a cap on the other. The cap has a pinhole-sized opening. Inside the cap, a small tray holds several of the tiny wasps.
The lab-bred wasps can be trained to respond to a smell they associate with food in as little as five or 10 minutes, according to Glen Rains, a scientist with the research group. The fan blows air through the hole and, if the right scent is present, the wasps gather around the hole. If not, they mind their own business.
The lab can produce thousands of the wasps per week. Their life span runs up to three weeks, but once trained, they cannot be retrained. They are, however, beneficial to farmers and can be released, according to Rains.
For more information, contact Glen Rains,
Researchers with the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha are developing robots that one day may allow surgeons to perform operations on patients thousands of miles away—on the battlefield or even in space.
The computer-controlled robots are roughly the size and shape of a lipstick case. Some come equipped with lights and cameras, others with surgical tools. Once placed in an incision, surgeons can guide them in various procedures. The research team hopes that the robots could be used to deliver on-the-spot surgery to soldiers injured on the front lines of battle.
Another potential application would be to operate on injured astronauts in space, although delays in radio communications over such distances would mean that spaceship personnel would have to be trained to give the proper commands to the robots.
Researchers conducted successful animal tests and human testing should begin in spring 2006. The research project head, Dr. Dmitry Oleynikov, is an expert in minimally invasive surgery. Oleynikov said the robots can perform internal surgery with much less trauma to the patient, speeding recovery times, and he hopes that one day they may replace traditional surgical techniques entirely.
For more information, contact Dr. Dmitry Oleynikov,
University of Nebraska Medical Center, 402-559-5508
Gum helps heartburn
There’s no need to reach for antacids to help with heartburn; instead, researchers say reach for gum. Along with walking, research has shown that chewing sugarless gum after dinner lowers acidity in throats.
Chewing gum stimulates the production of saliva, an alkaline that neutralizes the acid in the esophagus.
“When you swallow the saliva, it tends to wash and cleanse the esophagus of everything, including acid,” said Dr. Bennett Roth, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
A study of 36 volunteers, 12 with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and 24 who were healthy found that walking and gum chewing reduced acid levels after a meal.
Further monitoring found that while walking was beneficial, the effect was short-lived. The effects of chewing gum, however, lasted as long as three hours.
While these tricks might work for those with occasional heartburn, people with more frequent heartburn might need something stronger, Roth said.
For more information, contact Dr. Bennett Roth,
Bacteria gets bling
Researchers at the University of Nebraska (NU) at Lincoln embedded bacteria with gold nanoparticles, creating the first living electronic circuit, or “cellborg.”
Scientists first coated a silicon chip with live bacteria, then washed the chip in a solution of tiny gold particles. The gold particles attached to proteins on the bacteria, transforming them into gold-plated bridges that completed an electronic circuit.
The cellborg can detect humidity and is at least four times more sensitive than purely electronic humidity sensors, said chemical engineer Ravi Saraf. The cellborg expands as humidity increases, pushing the gold particles apart and making it harder for electricity to flow through the circuit.
Although the bacteria can survive for only two days, they can respond to humidity for months after they die. If researchers could keep the bacteria alive while coating them with gold nanoparticles, they might be able to create a cellborg sensor that could power an electronic circuit as well, Saraf said. The researchers also hope to alter the bacteria to respond to certain gases or hazardous chemicals.
For more information, contact Ravi Saraf,
University of Nebraska, firstname.lastname@example.org
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign developed a stretchable form of silicon that can be used to build electronic circuits on rubber. High-performance, bendable electronic chips could be used as implants for biological tissues or monitoring devices to be wrapped around airplane wings.
For more information, contact John Rogers,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, email@example.com
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine are experimenting with a two-person “bicycle,” called the Space Cycle, to counter the loss of muscle by space travelers. A recumbent bike hangs on one side of the device; a platform for a person to stand hangs from the other. Like a centrifuge, as the person pedaling the bike picks up speed, both the rider and the person on the platform begin to feel artificial resistance created by the spinning.
For more information, contact Vincent Caiozzo,
For our readers,
By state law, we cannot continue to send you Texas Innovator unless you return the reply card attached to the January issue. Please return the card with your mailing label attached and include your full ZIP code by adding the "plus-4" digits.
If this is a renewal, enter your address as it appears on your current mailing label on the back of the publication. Please indicate if you are renewing your current subscription or if you are a new subscriber. If you prefer, you may subscribe or renew your subscription electronically at www.window.state.tx.us/comptrol/fnotes/fnmail.html.
Editor: Angela Freeman
Contributing to this issue: Magdalena Hamner, Ann Holdsworth, Karen Hudgins, Greg Mt.Joy, Edd Patton, Clint Shields, Suzanne Staton, and Bruce Wright