Four UCLA faculty projects funded to study African ecology, internet and wireless technology, transit security, and the de-Russification of Central Asia.
The UCLA International Institute has announced the winners of the second round of its Global Impact Research grant program. This initiative supports UCLA faculty who are pursuing cutting edge research on key issues affecting the contemporary world. The Institute's Advisory Committee has selected four projects for funding from a very diverse set of proposals. Between them the four projects are to receive a total of $268,000.
The projects include plans to establish an ecological and ethnographic research station in Cameroon, Africa; research on the social impact of the internet and wireless technologies around the world; a study of ways to redesign train and bus stations against terrorist attacks; and research on backlash against Russian language and culture in the former Soviet but largely Muslim countries of Central Asia. "I am very happy that the Institute is able to support such a wide range of creative research on problems of great global importance," said Vice Provost of the International Institute Geoffrey Garrett. "I look forward to the presentation of results from this work in publications, on campus, and in the community."
The funded Global Impact Research projects and principal investigators are:
Building a UCLA International Research Node in Cameroon ($101,000 over two years), Thomas B. Smith, professor of Organismic Biology, Ecology, and Evolution, and director of the UCLA Center for Tropical Research; and Allen Roberts, professor of World Arts and Cultures and director of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center.
This project will open an office in Yaoundé, capital of Cameroon, to conduct environmental and social research in the Dja-Minkebe-Odzala Tri-National Forest, a vast rainforest area that spills over from Cameroon to Gabon and the Republic of Congo. The first study the new "node" will take on is of the hunting of wildlife for bushmeat. Some 8,000 endangered great apes are killed each year for food, both for local consumption and by commercial hunters who sell the meat to consumers in major African cities. It is estimated that at the current rate of slaughter all the wild apes of Africa will be gone in fifteen to fifty years.
The Yaoundé office will have a full-time French-speaking Africanist administrator assisted by Cameroonian staff. It will support research both on the economics of the bushmeat trade and on the social and cultural reasons for this expansion of the ecological disaster. Results will be used to try to save the endangered wildlife of the rainforest, and will be incorporated into the curriculum of the International Institute's interdepartmental degree programs in African Studies and International Development Studies.
The Center for Tropical Research has already established a similar satellite research node in Quito, Ecuador, to study the ecology of Central and South America.
The Global Social and Organizational Effects of New Information Technologies ($84,000 over three years), Professors Uday Karmarkar and Jeffrey Cole of the Anderson Graduate School of Management, and Professor Rajit Gadh of the Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
This project will assess the global impact on social life and ways of doing business of a wide range of information technologies. The principal investigators suggest that the transformation effects of the computer revolution "could be comparable to those of the automobile on urban and suburban patterns or to the effects of the modern freight system on the structure of supply chains." The effects can be profound even in countries such as the former Soviet Union and in Africa despite the relatively few internet connections, because those who are connected are the elites who have a large impact on their societies.
This new project will build upon the work of three others: The UCLA Wireless Internet for Mobile Enterprise Consortium, which has been studying wireless technologies; The World Internet Project, which has been conducting a longitudinal survey of the effects of the internet in more than 20 countries; and the Business and Information Technology project, which has been studying the changes created in business practice by on-line technologies.
The PIs write in their proposal that one effect of the new technologies is to blur the boundary between home and work "in a way that makes it difficult to separate the study of individual and organizational behavior." New technologies have also stimulated much greater personal contact between individuals across national boundaries than was the case in traditional international economic exchange.
Their study will look at implications of the new technologies for security against terrorism and and transformations in governance as government agencies go online.
Terror on Mass Transit ($35,000), Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of Urban Planning in the School of Public Policy and Social Research.
Professor Loukaitou-Sideris, with collaborators from the Urban Planning faculty at UCLA and the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at UC Berkeley, aims to study terrorist attacks on rail and subway systems around the world with the goal of designing stations that are less vulnerable to bomb or gas attacks. In 1998 transportation systems were the target of almost 40 percent of all violent terrorist attacks. Loukaitou-Sideris points out that "the volume of passengers makes it impossible for transit operators to employ many of the security tactics used by commercial aviation." Hand searches, x-ray of carry-on articles, and even metal detectors are prohibitively expensive and would slow passengers too much to be employed in such high volume settings.
The project will deal mainly with rail transit. It will include some study of planning for response to attacks and methods to speed up such responses, but the main focus of the study will be to design stations that are bomb resistant and where air circulation systems are less susceptible to the release of poison gas, as in the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway system in 1995 by the Aum Supreme Truth cult.
The study will begin by compiling an inventory of all transit terrorist incidents worldwide over the last thirty years. The researchers will then concentrate on attacks in stations, and compare the severity of deaths and injuries in different kinds of station spaces. Their goal will be to propose station designs that can minimize the effect of potential attacks.
There will be an educational component of the study, as the UCLA faculty members on the research team will teach Fiat Lux undergraduate seminars on issues of transit security, and will contribute to graduate urban planning courses.
Continental Drift: The Changing Nature of Central Asian Culture as the Basis for Curricular Development. ($47,500), David MacFadyen, Slavic Languages and Literatures.
This project will examine various cultural situations in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. Developments in this predominantly Muslim nation presage the emergence of a new national consciousness in Central Asia after centuries of imperial Russian and Soviet domination. The study, Professor MacFadyen suggests, "will redefine traditional boundaries of both Slavic and Near Eastern studies." MacFadyen and a team of UCLA graduate students will study Uzbek literature, dance, and music. "It is in today's Central Asia," MacFadyen writes, "that we see several groups competing for the boundaries of a new cultural continent. Uzbekistan is the most important battleground in this dramatic re-forging of art, affect and mores."
A difficulty for the project is the paucity of written or recorded sources on the past of Uzbek literature or performance culture. Most of what little there is was produced in the Soviet Union, and is heavily biased toward the then-party line. MacFadyen and his collaborators will seek to mine the available Russian and Uzbek materials to create a needed overview of the current state and past heritage of Uzbek culture and its place in post-imperial Muslim Central Asia.
As a result work will be done to establish an Internet connection with a major Uzbek university, a link that will be of great use not only in developing distance learning tools between the region and UCLA, but it will also allow a wide range of audio-video materials to be archived concerning literature, dance, music, and even cuisine. The databases and interactive masterclasses or lectures will be used to develop a range of classes to step beyond the traditional confines of Slavic and Near Eastern Studies.
Published: Monday, September 22, 2003
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