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 At Rensselaer

YOU CAN CALL ME ALBY!

Its face is seen on dozens of Web sites, proliferating the way only rodents know how.

It’s the albino squirrel, expert image hacker and popular campus inhabitant.

The little white squirrel has become the centerfold of Jameel Akari’s Web site, where the Rensselaer student has been featuring the exotic fauna that’s made its way to campus in recent years.

Clicking on Akari’s Web site, fans can view close-up photos of the critter scampering around campus (this site no longer exists).

It seems white squirrels are not all that uncommon. According to a Web site maintained by the town of Marionville, Mo., which claims to be the official home of the albino squirrel, the furry white rodents arrived in the town during the Civil War after escaping from a traveling circus. The townspeople accepted the squirrels as a way of life. The squirrel is also popular in Olney, Ill., where policemen wear patches with an albino squirrel logo (it’s true!).

The little white critter here on campus grew to popularity in 1995, according to Geoffrey Featherstone ’98, former president of the men’s rugby team.

During an early fall practice, a rugger named Christopher “CC” Cramer spotted a white squirrel along the tree line at the back of the team’s practice field. He quickly dubbed the critter “Killer Albino Squirrel.”

The name stuck. The rugby team adopted “Killer” as its mascot throughout the season—even if it was unofficial, says Featherstone.

“CC found a small stuffed animal squirrel (which he painted white) with blinking red lights for eyes. He brought the toy to every game,” Featherstone says. “Killer Albino Squirrel was with us, at least in spirit, every weekend we played.”

That same year, the rugby team for the first time won the Division II State Championship. Adds Featherstone: “I think it was the team’s first time even entering the championship.” Who knows where the white squirrel will take its fans next!
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SCHOOL OF HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES
GLOBALIZATION GONE AWRY

In a new book, Paradise for Sale: A Parable of Nature published by University of California Press, Rensselaer biologist Carl McDaniel and economist John Gowdy use the tiny Pacific island of Nauru to illustrate “the ruinous course of our global market culture.”  

 “Nauru is a story of power, exploitation, greed, and the selling of the future for short-term gain,” write McDaniel and Gowdy. “Although we have all witnessed countless examples of habitats and ecosystems being disrupted or destroyed . . . we have difficulty seeing any cumulative negative consequences resulting from these many acts. The fate of Nauru highlights a global trend: the loss of ecosystems and the extinction of species.”   

For several thousand years, a sustainable civilization inhabited Nauru, a remote Pacific island halfway between Australia and Hawaii. But, over the past century, phosphate mining turned the central 80 percent of the island into “an ugly, barren moonscape,” according to the authors. Ecologists estimate it would take more than 1,000 years for the mined areas to undergo any significant level of restoration by natural processes.

Annual profits from mining made Nauruans among the richest people in the world in the 1980s. However, the island has limited potable water and minimal natural resources. Many may be forced to evacuate the island in the coming years as it may no longer be able to sustain the current level of human habitation.  

 “We need to rethink our relationships with each other and with the natural world in the coming century if we wish to maintain our global civilization that is dependent upon the biological diversity we are now impoverishing,” say McDaniel and Gowdy.
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SCHOOL OF HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES
LOW EQUALS SLOW

Cognitive scientists at Rens-selaer have found that a driver’s perception of speed and how likely a vehicle is to tip over can be vastly different depending upon how high the driver is in the vehicle. This research, which could lead to the design of safer cars, will be presented at the Design of Information Systems 2000 conference in New York in August.   

“In a smaller car that is lower to the ground, for example, it is perceived that you are traveling faster—therefore you will be more cautious while making a turn and drive more safely,” says Ron Noel, assistant director of the Minds and Machines Lab and assistant professor of philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science. “In a sport utility vehicle, however, because you’re sitting much higher and the car is much larger, you perceive it as traveling more slowly and being safer, so the tendency is to overdrive into turns.”   

Using toy trains with cameras mounted at different heights, Noel and graduate student Claudia Hunter concluded that when the camera was mounted at its lowest point, the perceived speed going into a turn was fastest and there was a sense that the vehicle was more likely to tip over. The opposite was true with cameras mounted at the highest point.   

The research has application in space science and military intelligence. The Mars Rover, for example, used a number of remote cameras to convey data back to Earth from Mars. An armored tank carrying an Army crew through darkness uses night-vision cameras to navigate.   

“These are what we call ‘remote sensing’ environments,” Noel says. “In these types of environments, physical speed is subjective. Those cameras are our eyes to new worlds. From a cognitive perspective, this research can help us understand how camera angles affect our perceptions of those worlds and in understanding that we can better represent reality.”

DOT COM FEVER

If you avoided the malls this holiday season and opted to click-and-shop online at any one of the dot coms, you’ve already had a taste of e-business.   

Now MBA students in the Lally School of Management and Technology can harness the principles of e-commerce and e-business through a new set of course offerings.   

“What we try to stress is that e-business is not about technology—it’s about business,” says Jack Wilson, co-director of the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship in the Lally School. “We are attempting to combine the standards of business with information technology and engineering. This will allow our graduates to leverage the connectivity of the Internet, but be grounded in the principles of business.”

Courses will focus on the consumer side of e-business (marketing, customer relations, direct marketing, and database issues); the supplier side of e-business (business-to-business, logistics, supply-chain management, and operations issues); the technologies of e-commerce; and networking and database issues.   

Students at Rensselaer benefit from practical experience in working with a faculty of corporate executives and practicing entrepreneurs and the technological tools of the trade, says Greg Hughes ’67, clinical professor of economics and management. Hughes is launching an Internet start-up called EnterNet with a group of faculty and graduate students.   

“We’re connecting the dots in a unique way that allows students to graduate ready to start their own e-business or make a difference in a bigger company,” says Hughes.
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NEW FITNESS CENTER NAMED FOR MUELLER

The new fitness center has been named the Mueller Center in recognition of a multimillion-dollar gift from Rensselaer Trustee Nancy Mueller to the university’s unrestricted endowment.   

Mueller made the contribution in honor of her late husband, Glenn M. Mueller, former trustee and 1964 Rensselaer graduate.   

The multipurpose center, adjacent to the Alumni Sports & Recreation Center (the Armory), is expected to be completed later this month. Mueller said it was fitting that her contribution is being recognized through this new facility, which will allow student life to flourish on campus.   

“The Mueller Center will be a longstanding tribute to Glenn’s deep love for Rensselaer. Glenn was very active in student affairs and this is a fitting memorial to him,” Mueller said. “It’s my hope that this center will serve to create balance among intellectual pursuit, social responsibility, physical health, and emotional well- being.”

Mueller, who earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Russell Sage College in 1965, is also chair of the School of Science Advisory Board. The founder and former president of Nancy’s Specialty Foods, Mueller was honored last fall as Entrepreneur of the Year by the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship in the Lally School of Management and Technology. Acquired by a national food company last July, Nancy’s is the largest processor and marketer of frozen quiche products in the world.   

As a result of her longstanding generosity to Rensselaer, Mueller will join other Rensselaer philanthropists as a member of the university’s most prestigious giving society, the Stephen Van Rensselaer Society.
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LIGHTING RESEARCH CENTER
DASHBOARD LIGHTING

In about three years, if you buy a car manufactured by DaimlerChrysler, you’ll be spending a lot of time glancing at, and relying upon, the product of John Van Derlofske’s research.   

Van Derlofske, senior research scientist and head of transportation lighting in the Lighting Research Center, is developing the next generation of lighting for automotive instrument panels.   

“Society is going toward more and more information. Within a few years you’ll be able to get navigation systems, faxes, e-mail—and there are no metrics to define these things in a car. How do you display it so people can understand it quickly and safely?” says Van Derlofske, who joined the LRC a year ago after working three years for Chrysler.   

Van Derlofske and two graduate students have conducted hundreds of Chrysler-funded dashboard lighting tests. In a black-curtained room in the LRC, subjects are asked to watch two lights, each measuring three millimeters square, on a radio control panel—the kind you see on a dashboard—and to compare their relative brightness.   

“DaimlerChrysler wants to quantify how people see displayed information,” Van Derlofske says. Although the tests involve radios, the results can be applied to the rest of the dashboard— speedometer, tachometer, odometer, and other gauges.   

“They want the dashboard to be quick, easy, and efficient. A lot of things go into readability—color, size, distance, brightness. They’re concerned with safety, of course—they don’t want people taking their eyes off the road for very long—but they’re also concerned with aesthetics. They want it to look good.”
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SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING
ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY DESIGNS

A team of Rensselaer engineering students has invented a “smart” parking lot system that tells drivers where available spaces are, saving them time and fuel.   

The “smart” parking lot system and other projects were on display in December as more than 200 students from Introduction to Engineering Design (IED) demonstrated their design projects. In IED, student teams are given a theme—this year’s was lessening human impact on the environment—and must design innovative projects to fit the theme.    

Another team created a smart showerhead that will adjust the water flow based on the location of the bather. When the bather is away from the water lathering up, flow decreases. As the bather moves back under the water, flow increases.   

Other IED projects this semester included one-stop waste disposal and recycling appliances for the kitchen that will reduce the need for frequent recycling pickups; a solar-powered clothes dryer that mixes convenience with energy-saving efficiency; and a bridge warming system that will eliminate the effects of road salt on the environment through an integrated pavement heating coil that prevents the formation of “black ice” on bridges and overpasses.
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SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING
FLYING HIGH!

RP-3, the largest student-engineered aircraft in the world with a 57-foot wingspan and 1,150-pound take-off gross weight, made its maiden flight Dec. 9 at the Schenectady County Airport. More than 1,000 Rensselaer students have studied aircraft design and engineering via RP-3 since its conception in 1988.   

Test pilot John Mahoney of the U.S. Aerobatics Sailplane Team described the 21-minute flight as “uneventful—the best kind of first flight.”   

The RP-3 Sailplane Project a product of Department Mechanical EngineeringAeronauticaland Mechanics (MEAEM) and the Center for Composite Materials and Structures, provides students with laboratory experience, knowledge of aircraft and education in aircraft engineering, and the application of composite materials. “The Aircraft Design Studio presents students with the very bread and butter of engineering,” says Brian Thompson, associate professor of MEAEM and chief engineer of the studio.   

More than 1,500 students have worked on the three versions of the aircraft, since 1976. This spring, students will begin work on designs for a possible RP-4 aircraft.
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