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Business & technology: Making advances in Florida

BUSINESS

» Socialized
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A study of 200 online shoppers indicates that Facebook-like buttons, the Twitter symbol or other social media icons on a website influence buyers’ decisions. The study by the University of Miami School of Business Administration, Empirica Research and StyleCaster Media Group found that consumers were 25% more likely to buy status-reinforcing goods like sportswear or a fragrance if the icons were present. With products viewed as more intimate — Spanx or Clearasil, for example — consumers were 25% less likely to buy with icons on the site. Other research by UM’s business school:

Sale
Retailers can make more money by bumping up sale prices gradually.
» Sticker Shock
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Retailers can substantially increase sales and profits if they raise the price of a sale item back to its original cost gradually rather than in one move.

» Color Barriers
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Investors think firms with colorful annual reports have revenue at least 1% higher than those that put out drab reports.

» Short Leash
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CEOs with fewer than five years on the job are five to six times more likely to be fired for poor performance than longer-tenured CEOs. Additionally, each negative quarterly report increases the likelihood of being fired by 34% to 43% for shorter-tenured CEOs but by only 4% to 11% for CEOs who’ve been around longer.

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Engineering

Daniel Yeh
USF professor Daniel Yeh is working on a system to harvest nutrients, energy and water from human waste.

» Poop Power
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Daniel Yeh, an associate professor of engineering at the University of South Florida, received $100,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the development of a generator that harvests nutrients, energy and water from human waste using microorganisms and filters to turn sewage into products like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and water suitable for crop irrigation or other household uses, such as in cooling systems or for flushing toilets. The process also creates methane gas, which can be captured and used as a clean-energy source.

» Solar Roll
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Solar Cell
Prototype rolled solar cell
A University of Florida team of researchers including chemistry professor John Reynolds and Franky So, a professor in the department of materials science and engineering, has developed a prototype solar cell that could be manufactured using a roll-to-roll process, much like printing a newspaper. In theory, the photovoltaic sheets could be incorporated into the exteriors of buildings, automobiles and even personal accessories such as clothing and purses.

Computer Science

» Bandwidth Bandits
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When it comes to watching movies online, you don’t need to get what you don’t see. Hari Kalva, an associate professor in Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, is working on ways to whittle down the bandwidth needs of video services. Netflix alone eats up nearly a third of the internet’s bandwidth during peak viewing hours from 7 to 10 p.m. daily. Kalva’s research focuses on not transmitting all the data that comprise a movie without affecting the viewer’s perception of quality. “It turns out, when you’re watching a video, you’re not seeing everything that’s on the screen,” says Kalva. When a movie cuts from one scene to another, for example, viewers experience “temporal masking” — for a fraction of a second before and after the transition, they can’t perceive any reductions in video quality. Such moments create opportunities for bit-rate decreases without degrading the viewer’s experience, says Kalva.

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Agriculture

Fly Baiter
Florida Fly Baiter
» Fly-Baiting
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Flies like blue. University of Florida researcher have found out that flies prefer to fly toward it more than other colors and react to it more. Application: A new, blue, insecticide-laced fly control device called the Florida Fly-Baiter.


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Physical Education

» Exercise and Learning
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Scientists who investigate how the brain responds to stimuli have found connections between “thinking” activities and physical activities. Research has shown, for example, that spinning stimulates the same part of the brain as learning math; skipping stimulates a part of the brain that’s also linked to reading.

Nancy H. Cummings, chair of the physical education department at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, is trying to use that knowledge to determine whether physical activities can help children with dyslexia improve their reading and literacy scores with a “movement and performance” curriculum for elementary school children with dyslexia. “If a child has difficulty skipping by a certain age, then we also know the way the brain is wired they’re most likely struggling with reading as well,” she says.

“We are finding with certain activities that jumping jacks, balancing and fine motor coordination with the upper extremity is correlated to the reading and the literacy test scores,” says Cummings. “You can trick the brain into learning because it does not know the difference between a physical stimulus or a cognitive stimulus, and if we can create a stimulus through a physical activity, then that pathway is open when they go into the classroom.”

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Astronomy

» Double Suns
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Double Suns
UF’s Eric Ford and other astronomers have recently discovered planets that orbit two suns.
Star Wars aficionados may recall that Luke Skywalker came from a planet called Tatooine that orbits two suns. Using data from NASA’s Kepler telescope, researchers including UF astronomer Eric Ford recently discovered two new planets each orbiting twin suns. In addition to the novelty of the discovery, it also contributes to “our understanding of planet formation,” says Ford. “This is another example of a completely different type of solar system where the planets orbit a pair of stars that orbit each other in an even more compact orbit than the planets’ orbit.” Kepler-16b, the first discovery of a Tatooine-like planet last year, is 200 light years from Earth. The two newly discovered planets, Kepler-34b and Kepler-35b, are 4,900 and 5,400 light years away, making them among the most distant planets discovered. Ford says the planets were detected by virtue of their silhouettes when they passed in front of the stars and temporarily blocked a portion of the star’s light.


» Acidic Moon
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Iced-over Europe
Iced-over Europa
Jupiter’s moon, Europa, is roughly the same size as Earth’s moon but far smoother because its surface is composed of ice. While scientists have theorized for decades that some form of life might exist in the saltwater ocean believed to lie underneath Europa’s crust, Matthew Pasek, an astrobiologist at the University of South Florida, says that’s highly unlikely. By feeding data collected from the Galileo probe into computer models, Pasek and University of Arizona researcher Richard Greenberg were able to conduct a chemical analysis of Europa that showed that moon’s ocean is likely too acidic for life. Their computer models predicted that the high levels of oxygen in Europa’s crust would likely combine with sulfur and other materials from the rocks at the bottom of the ocean to generate sulfuric acid. That would produce water with a pH of about 2.6 — about the same as your average soft drink, Pasek says. “Fish, corals, whales or other large animals would find it difficult to live within the ocean of Europa.”

History

» Fat Chance
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Heather Parker
Heather Parker
Heather Parker, a history professor at Saint Leo University in Pasco County, says she got interested in researching the history of obesity in this country from 1850 to 1960 because of her physician husband’s experience treating numerous patients with weight-related health problems. What Parker found was that Americans have always worried about being fat but saw it as an aesthetic issue rather than a health issue until the 1940s and 1950s. Since the late 1800s, she says, health care professionals have counseled that the only way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more. But people have continuously looked for easier ways, and diet “charlatans have continued to take advantage of them.” In the late 19th century, Parker says, the so-called “summersault cure for obesity” became the rage and caused one woman to end up “stuck between the wall and a door.”

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Psychology

Eye Tracking
An FAU study can help detect autism earlier.

» Lip Readers
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Watching how infants respond to speech over time could lead to earlier diagnoses of autism. Research by David Lewkowicz, a psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University, and FAU doctoral student Amy Hansen-Tift reveals that when infants enter the “babbling stage” at around 6 months old, they shift their focus of attention from the speaker’s eyes to the speaker’s mouth and continue to do so until about 1 year old, when they begin to shift their gaze back to the speaker’s eyes.

“In other words, infants become lip readers when they first begin producing their speech-like sounds,” says Lewkowicz.

Autistic children, by contrast, are still focused on a speaker’s mouth by 2 years of age. Lewkowicz’s findings suggest that if the shift does not occur by the time an infant is 14 months he may be at risk for developing autism. “If so, this would provide the earliest behavioral confirmation of impending developmental disability and would give clinicians an early start on intervention procedures.”


Michael McCullough
» Religious Experience
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A study by Michael McCullough, a psychology professor at the University of Miami, finds that religious people are better able to forgo immediate rewards in order to gain larger rewards in the future. Some 277 students who participated in the study were given a “monetary choice questionnaire” in which they were offered a small immediate monetary reward today or a larger reward later. By a wide margin, more religious students were willing to receive more money later.


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Politics

» A Vote for the Voice
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UM Voice pitch
Winners have lower-pitched voices.
University of Miami and Duke University researchers have confirmed conventional wisdom among political consultants that voters prefer candidates who have lower-pitched voices. Casey Klofstad, an associate professor of political science, teamed up with colleagues at Duke University who are experts in acoustic analysis and recorded “candidates” saying, “I urge you to vote for me this November.” The recordings were then manipulated to create a higher-pitched version and a lower-pitched version. Regardless of gender of the listener or the gender of the speaker, the “voter” preferred the “candidate” with the lower-pitched voice.

Marine Science

» Hello, Old Chum
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In 2001, after a spate of highly publicized shark attacks, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission banned shark feeding on the basis that it was altering the animals’ natural foraging behavior. But research out of the University of Miami suggests otherwise. Neil Hammerschlag and his team monitored the movement of tiger sharks along the coast of Florida, where feeding is banned, and in the Bahamas, where dive operators use chum to attract sharks. Hammerschlag expected the tiger sharks in the Bahamas to hang around the chumming sites year-round. “But it’s not influencing their long-term migrations,” he says. “The take-home message of this study,” Hammerschlag says, “is rather than rushing to make conclusions based on fear, we should actually do the science and base our policies on fact and the data.”

Shark
[Photo: Jim Abernathy]

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Music

» Preemie Pacifier
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One of the biggest hurdles that premature babies face is learning the breathe-suck-swallow reflex. A device invented by Jayne Standley, a longtime researcher and professor in the Florida State University College of Music, helps speed the process. Stanley invented a musical pacifier that encourages babies to learn this reflex through a pacifier that plays a soft lullaby every time they successfully suck on it. FSU has licensed the PAL (Pacifier Activated Lullaby) device to a startup in St. Johns County called Powers Device Technologies. The company expects its first units to begin reaching hospitals in the next couple of months.

Musical Pacifier
A musical pacifer helps premature babies learn the breathe-suck-swallow reflex. [Photo: Bill Lax/Florida State Universiy]