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Historic comet landing highlights Space Law mission

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

The Philae probe’s touchdown Nov. 12 on the surface of a comet more than 300 million miles away gives heightened purpose to the mission of the University of Nebraska’s space law experts.

“It is the first time a space agency has successfully landed on a small asteroid or comet-type of celestial body,” said Frans von der Dunk, an internationally recognized space law expert and faculty member in the University of Nebraska’s Space, Cyber and Telecommunications Law program.

With the landing, long-debated questions about the legal status and property rights for celestial bodies move from hypothetical to reality.

After 10 years of travel across the solar system, the 220-pound Philae lander separated from its Rosetta mother ship at about 2:30 a.m. central time to begin a seven-hour descent to Comet 67P. It landed at about 10:05 a.m. central time. The probe is to photograph and test the comet’s surface, measuring its density and thermal properties, as well as identifying any complex organic chemicals that might be present. Other tests will measure the comet’s magnetic field and its interaction with solar wind.

Von der Dunk, who divides his time between his native Netherlands and Lincoln, was to appear Nov. 12 on the Dutch public radio program De Kennis van Nu (Knowledge Now) to discuss the Philae landing.

As an intergovernmental organization, the European Space Agency is a public body. Yet the successful landing on a comet makes it more imperative that the international community resolve how to handle commercial mining of materials found on comets and asteroids, as well as the potential for near-Earth objects to threaten the Earth, he said.

Both questions have been the subject of in-depth study by von der Dunk and other space law experts at UNL. The ASTEROIDS act, a current bill before the U.S. Congress, is a unilateral initiative to address asteroid resource exploration and utilization. In addition, there are largely U.S.-led activities of the Association of Space Explorers to address potential threats by near-Earth objects. The United Nations has become involved in those efforts.

Contact von der Dunk at (402) 472-1240 or fvonderdunk2@unl.edu

For general legal analysis on space property rights and Near Earth Objects, visit:

http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/spacelaw/25/

http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/spacelaw/15/

http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/spacelaw/57/

http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/spacelaw/49/

Poker players: American heroes for the 21st Century?

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Nine players players from six countries are to battle over a $28 million pot in the Main Event of the Word Series of Poker beginning Monday Nov. 10 in Las Vegas.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s  Aaron Duncan, a communication studies lecturer and the director of the speech and debate program, can offer insights about why the World Series of Poker resonates so deeply with Americans.  The author of an upcoming book, tentatively titled “Gambling with the Myth of the American Dream,”  Duncan has studied the imagery and mythology of poker and how it fits with the American ideal of the “self-made man.”

He has analyzed in-depth how ESPN’s sports-style coverage of the 2003 World Series of Poker transformed the image of the gambler and poker player to become an heroic figure for the 21st Century.

For a more detailed description of Duncan’s thoughts:

Poker: Gambling with the myth of the American Dream? | UNL Newsroom | University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Duncan is available for interviews at 402-450-7830 or at aduncan3@unl.edu

UNL experts can help media make sense of the 2014 midterms

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

What do the 2014 midterm elections bode for the future? These University of Nebraska-Lincoln experts are available to help reporters analyze the rhetoric, campaign tactics and issues of the 2014 congressional and statehouse races, both in Nebraska and nationally.

John Hibbing, Foundation Regents University Professor of Political Science: Nebraska’s U.S. Senate, House races, statewide campaigns and campaign trail developments.  Hibbing is a nationally known expert in political psychology, biology and politics, political behavior, public opinion and legislative politics. His research has shown how people’s biology can influence their political orientation, an important perspective in a campaign season when Ebola fears came to the forefront. Reach Hibbing at 402-472-3220 or jhibbing1@unl.edu.

-  Kevin B. Smith, professor of political science, department chair: Nebraska’s U.S. Senate, House races, other major races, political messaging. Smith focuses on public policy, public administration, American politics, and biology and politics. He can discuss the dynamics of this year’s U.S. Senate race and other major races. He can analyze broad aspects of these campaigns, including the effectiveness or lack thereof of political advertising. He also can discuss differences between liberals, conservatives and moderates in the context of the 2014 election, and how developments on the campaign trail may be interpreted by these different groups of voters.  Smith, who is available Wednesday morning only, can be reached at 402-472-0779 or ksmith1@unl.edu.

-  Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, Willa Cather Professor of Political Science: Public opinion, political behavior, political psychology. Theiss-Morse researches Americans’ attitudes about numerous aspects of the American political system and about their fellow Americans.  Her research analyzes politicians’ use of heated rhetoric and how it affects the effectiveness of democracy. Reach Theiss-Morse at 402-472-3221 or etheissmorse1@unl.edu.

- Dona-Gene Barton, associate professor of political science: Public opinion, effects of campaign information on voters over time. Mitchell’s expertise is in American political behavior, public opinion and political psychology. She researches and teaches in the areas of how opinions are formed via information, campaigns and time, and the lifespan of information effects. She can discuss the effectiveness over time of campaign messaging on voters or how long unfavorable information may affect politicians and elected officials. Reach Barton at 402-472-5994 or dbarton4@unl.edu.

-  Damien Smith Pfister, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies: Political rhetoric, culture, digital media in politics. Pfister researches the impact of digital media on public deliberation and culture, including how blogging and social networking has challenged traditional patterns of communication during political campaigns and controversies. His new book, “Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics: Attention and Deliberation in the Early Blogosphere,” examines how political battles are fought in the digital world. Reach Pfister at 402-472-0646 or dpfister2@unl.edu.

- Sergio Wals, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Ethnic Studies: Political attitudes and behaviors, immigration and politics, the Latino vote.  Wals’ research agenda is centered on American political behavior, with a focus on topics related to race and ethnicity both in the United States and Latin America. He has paid particular attention to the study of political attitudes and behaviors of Latino immigrants to the U.S. He can comment on how the immigration issue affected the election, as well as on the Latino vote. Wals is best contacted via email, at swals2@unl.edu. His office number is 402-472-5704.

_ Aaron Duncan, Director, Speech & Debate, Lecturer, Communication Studies: Election outcomes and communication strategies in statewide races.  Duncan’s research focuses on popular culture and political communication. Reach Duncan via his cell phone, 402-450-7830, or aduncan3@unl.edu.

Nebraska space law professor talks about legal fallout from rocket explosion

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Matthew Schaefer is director of the Space, Cyber and Telecommunications Law Program at the University of Nebraska College of Law.

He discusses the legal and political implications of Tuesday’s explosion of an unmanned commercial rocket headed for the International Space Station. The Antares rocket was suppled by contractor Orbital Sciences, which blew up six seconds after liftoff from NASA’s space launch facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

To interview Professor Schaefer, dial 402-472-1238 or email mschaefer@unl.edu

Some of Schaefer’s observations:

“This incident emphasizes that rockets are tricky. We do have accidents, it’s not 100 percent fool-proof.  You’re dealing with technology that has 20 times more fuel versus the weight of the rocket itself. When something goes wrong, there’s likely to be an explosion. That’s why you have those fire-clouds.”

“Accidents do occur, albeit very infrequently. You have to have a liability and insurance regime in place to prepare for them, and the United States does.”

In the case of commercial cargo space flights, the regime includes cross-waivers of liability so that participants – NASA, its contractors and their subcontractors and even schools that provide materials and equipment for a space-station experiment – cannot sue one another. In addition, Congress requires insurance coverage up to a maximum possible loss (MPL) for damages and injuries for innocent bystanders.  The MPL amount is based on a massive catastrophic accident so rare that it would be exceeded only once in every ten million launches.  Though the dollar figure differs by launch, it averages about $82 million. The federal government has promised to indemnify commercial space operators in case of an incident with third-party damages exceeding the maximum possible loss amount.

“We’ve never had an MPL-exceeding event and have never even come close. We launch these rockets from areas close to the ocean, from launch pads that have significant buffer zones.  It’s highly, highly unlikely to have any third-party damage and if you did, it’s even more unlikely to have an MPL-exceeding event.”

Some expect Congress next year  to reconsider existing insurance requirements and indemnification provisions.  Schaefer maintains that Congress should not increase the maximum possible loss requirement. Rather, it should consider capping third-party liability at the MPL so that the U.S. commercial space industry is put on equal footing with competitors in several other nations, including France, Russia and China.

“The incident also demonstrates the importance of creating redundancy by encouraging the existence of multiple space operators. With Orbital Sciences out of commission while the incident is investigated, a second carrier, SpaceX, can handle cargo flights to the space station. We don’t want to lose a space operator in the exceedingly rare chance of massive, third-party damages and that is one reason in favor of third-party liability caps.”

University of Nebraska Press launches academic journal focusing on Midwestern history, identity

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Midwesterners often bristle at their region being dismissed as “flyover country.”  Recently there’s been  increased scholarly interest in the region, its culture and history.  As part of that revival, in early September the University of Nebraska Press published the first issue of Middle West Review, said to be the only academic journal to focus on the region.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction by editor Paul Mokrzycki that explains the journal’s aims. It’s a sort of manifesto of what the endeavor should be:

A Revival and a Burial

Since about the midpoint of the twentieth century, the study of the American Midwest has steadily lost appeal, while the scholarly subfields of the US South and West have boomed. Today, no fewer than ten institutions of higher learning boast centers dedicated to the historical study of the American West and Southwest, and numerous universities in southern states support comparable institutes focused on the US South.

Conversely, only three such centers exist for the study of the Midwest, none of which have the esteem or the historiographical influence enjoyed by institutes for southern and western studies.  . . . Further, while colleges and universities in the western US, for instance, regularly offer courses in the history of the West, few— if any— academic institutions in the Midwest train their students to think critically about the region in which they live.

Recently scholars from various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences have endeavored to redress these discrepancies in regional treatment. Earlier this year, the Humanities Without Walls (hww) consortium, comprising fifteen major research universities throughout the Midwest, received a generous $3 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund inter-institutional research on the “global Midwest” and its economic and cultural salience. Scholars at the hww schools are now in the midst of developing projects about the region in which they reside—and its international impact.

Historian Jon K. Lauck has garnered attention from renowned historian Richard White and others for his new book “The Lost Region,” which seeks to stimulate a “revival” of midwestern history.

Further, the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Iowa hosted a symposium in 2012 on the Latino Midwest, and faculty at the university are presently working to develop a Latino/a studies minor to reflect the population’s expanding imprint on the state of Iowa. To proffer just one more example, a recent special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, entitled “Queering the Middle,” interrogates the subjectivities of lgbtq individuals living in the American Midwest. Its diverse essays— which touch on everything from Chicana lesbian activism in Chicago to masculinity and gender nonconformity on the Great Lakes— seek to queer the Midwest and challenge pervasive conceptions of the region as “normative.”

The Middle West Review belongs within this broader project of reenergizing and reimagining the study of the American Midwest. But we must be wary of what we purport to be reviving.

A renewed emphasis on Midwestern studies should not replicate the silences and omissions that marred some earlier scholarship on the region. It should not privilege the privileged or depict a romantic past ostensibly disrupted by rabble rousers from below. It should not obscure the racial, class, gendered, and religious tensions within the Midwest or shy away from difficult questions about identity, historical memory, and oppression both past and present.

It should not treat the Midwest as a site of uncontested progress,a region invariably on the “right side of history.” It should not pretend that Jim Crow never reared his ugly head in Wisconsin or Iowa. It should not hesitate to interrogate what it means to be black, Latino/a, Muslim, queer, Asian American, Native, or white in the Midwest. It should not recapitulatethe myths that cast the Midwest as a yeoman’s dream, a blank rural canvas. It should not valorize conquest. It should not paper over the violent colonialism that gave the region its color and shape. But, at the same time, it should not ignore the region’s virtues— which have contributed to its unique character— or the “dailiness” of midwestern life.

We therefore seek a broad and inclusive field, one that serves as an open forum for scholarly and deliberative discussion from various points of view; one that focuses on the history and contemporary experience of the American Midwest as a region ; one that dares to innovate; and one that transcends the limitations of prior writing and thinking about the Midwest.

To learn more about the Middle West Review, visit http://uimiddle.wordpress.com/

To subscribe to the journal, visit  http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/Middle-West-Review,676024.aspx

For more information: contact Leslie Reed, national news editor, University Communications, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, lreed5@unl.edu or (402) 472-2059.

Chief Justice Roberts discusses Washington gridlock during visit to Nebraska College of Law

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Chief Justice John Roberts visited the Nebraska College of Law Sept. 19 for a conversational-style talk that generated coverage in local and national media outlets.

Most reports led with Roberts’ remarks on partisan gridlock. Among other things, Roberts lamented that Elena Kagan was confirmed by the Senate in a near party-line vote — and he added that he doubted that fellow justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg could survive a confirmation vote in today’s highly partisan environment.

Roberts spoke about the life of a Supreme Court chief justice with some humor — saying, for example, that justices ask “too many” questions of the lawyers appearing in court. Sometimes attorneys are prevented from making their own case when justices use questions to the lawyers as a way to argue legal points among themselves.  He said he sympathizes with the nervousness lawyers feel when they appear before the high court — he said he thinks the sides of the lectern probably have grooves from his fingernails from the days when he was a lawyer arguing before the nation’s highest court.

Roberts confided that the administrative duties of overseeing the court system probably are his least favorite aspects of his job. Shortly after he became chief justice, he said, a colleague came to him and complained that it was too hot in his chambers.  Roberts said he was commiserating with the other justice, when he suddenly realized “he expects me to do something about it!”

Here is a sampling of news articles published about Roberts’ appearance.

ABC news coverage:

http://go.unl.edu/39v7

WABC – New York:

http://go.unl.edu/wnvh

WLS-AM – Chicago:

http://go.unl.edu/jiuv

The Associated Press (Kansas City Star):

http://go.unl.edu/7rh7

Omaha World-Herald:

http://go.unl.edu/7rh7

Lincoln Journal-Star:

http://go.unl.edu/akzt

KETV:

http://go.unl.edu/0ujy

KOLN/KGIN:

http://go.unl.edu/j67w

Sensor with “human touch” could improve breast cancer detection

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

UNL scientists Ravi Saraf and Chieu Van Nguyen have developed a nano particle-based device that emulates human touch.

It can detect tumors too small and deep to be felt with human fingers.  It’s a sort of electronic skin that can sense texture and relative stiffness.

Saraf, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, thinks the thin-film could be used in a stethoscope-like device that family doctors could use to conduct quick and painless breast exams.  The beauty of the device is that it would be more sensitive than a manual breast exam, cheaper than a mammogram or MRI, and it would provide a visual record of the lump so the doc could more accurately monitor it during future visits.

Saraf says the next step is to find $1 million or so to develop a prototype.

This research was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (No. R21EB008520-01) in National Institutes of Health.

Nebraska Law Prof: Hobby Lobby ruling opens door to more companies using religion to avoid legal mandates

Monday, June 30th, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday in favor of Hobby Lobby, which had argued religious beliefs prevented it from providing certain birth control insurance coverage to its employees. The Affordable Care Act requires such coverage.

University of Nebraska law professor Eric Berger describes it as an important decision that will attract a good deal of attention.

Some quotes from Berger:

– “The Court held that the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate as applied to closely held corporations like Hobby Lobby violates the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.”

–”Justice Alito, writing for a five-member majority, took paints to paint the decision narrowly but, as Justice Ginsburg argued in her dissent, the opinion can and will be used to say that corporations (and others) can cite religious beliefs to try to exempt themselves from all kinds of legal requirements.”

– “Only time will tell whether those efforts will succeed, but there probably will be a good amount of litigation of this sort, with corporations citing religion to try to avoid legal obligations with which they would otherwise have to comply.”

UNL Experts: Rare mix spawned Pilger’s twin tornadoes

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Tornado experts at UNL say “twin tornadoes,” such as the deadly pair that struck Pilger Monday, are unusual but not unheard of.

  • Contact: Matthew Van Den Broeke, assistant professor, earth and atmospheric sciences,  402-472-2418 or mvandenbroeke2@unl.edu
  • Adam Houston, associate professor, earth and atmospheric sciences 402 472-2416 or ahouston2@unl.edu
UNL’s Adam Houston (third from left) stands with members of the Vortex 2 unmanned aircraft system group and the Tempest unmanned aircraft. Houston is an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at UNL.
Matthew Van Den Broeke
Al Dutcher

However, such tornadoes may happen more frequently than weather observers realize, because the second funnel often is obscured by rain, said Adam Houston, associate professor of atmospheric sciences. Houston’s research involves using unmanned aircraft, commonly called drones, to observe tornadoes.

Houston said he has seen twin tornadoes twice in his career, once in June 2010 in Colorado and another instance in 2004 in southern Kansas. In both cases, the second funnel had been “wrapped” in rain and became visible only when the rain cleared.

The Pilger tornado, which left two people dead and leveled most of the town of 360, was a rare instance where both funnels were visible in broad daylight, Houston said.

Matthew Van Den Broeke, an assistant professor of atmospheric sciences who specializes in severe weather, said he needs more data to get a better sense of how the Pilger storm differed from other tornadoes.

“At this point I can say the storm was the type that typically produces strong tornadoes and the double-tornado event was unusual — quite unusual, in fact to have two tornadoes of that strength in close proximity,” he said.

State climatologist Al Dutcher, who also is on the UNL faculty, told the Associated Press Tuesday that it’s fairly common to have major storms with more than one tornado — but in most cases, one twister grows stronger and larger while the other weakens and shrinks. He said the strength of both funnels likely increased because they had no nearby storms competing for wind and moisture and the atmosphere was highly unstable.

The National Weather Service was on the scene Tuesday trying to measure each tornado’s strength. A preliminary review confirmed that two tornadoes formed southwest of Pilger and traveled together, about a mile apart. The northern tornado struck Pilger before the two twisters merged, Van DeWald, lead meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Valley, said in a Lincoln Journal-Star report. The storm is estimated to be a “monster” EF-4, near the top of the scale that rates tornado strength.

According to Houston, when a storm produces two tornadoes, one typically is older and losing strength, while the other is new and building strength. It is rare for two twisters to form simultaneously. Usually when they do, they are two vortexes embedded in a larger-scale vortex.

Houston, on sabbatical to conduct research at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said he has only seen photos and videos of Monday’s tornadoes. He said he is eager to see the National Weather Service’s data on the storm.

Houston said there is much more to learn about how tornadoes develop and move. In 2010, his research team successfully demonstrated that drones could be used to gather atmospheric data about the storms. He seeks additional funding to continue using unmanned aircraft to investigate the powerful and often devastating storms.

Van Den Broeke, whose research has focused on the radar structures of tornadoes and supercell storms, said his brief review of radar data during the storm revealed it had some unusual structures, such as a large central precipitation core and a relatively small echo appendage where a tornado would usually be located.

UNL film studies professor Wheeler Dixon enthusiastic about new Godzilla movie

Monday, May 12th, 2014

A quote from Wheeler Winston Dixon’s blog “Frame by Frame:”

http://blog.unl.edu/dixon/2014/05/09/godzilla-2014/

“No pun intended of course, but this new version of Godzilla, a carefully calculated reboot of the entire franchise by director Gareth Edwards, is going to be one of the biggest films of the summer. I really think this film will restore the much-damaged franchise to its original vitality and intensity, just as Christopher Nolan did with the Batman reboots. Add in Bryan Cranston in one of the leading roles, and who is going to stay away? Not me!”

Contact Professor Dixon at  402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu