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Archive for Friday, May 29, 1998

KU CONFERENCE DRAWS INTEREST INTERNATIONALLY

May 29, 1998

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More than 200 scientists and engineers from around the world are in Lawrence this week for an international conference on a versatile technology.

David Smale hunts woolly mammoths.

What's that you say? Woolly mammoths died out 10,000 years ago. Well, that's true.

Actually, Smale -- led by Japanese genetics specialist Kazufumi Goto and his colleague Shoji Okutsu -- hunts the kind of woolly mammoth that has been petrified by centuries in the permafrost of northern Siberia.

These guys aren't looking for live beasts. They're looking for preserved DNA.

``The hope is to recreate a woolly mammoth,'' said Smale, a geophysical consultant with Allied Associates Ltd. of Essex, England, hired to provide the expedition's scientific equipment. ``You can find them buried frozen. Obviously if they've thawed out they'd have disintegrated.''

Smale is one of more than 200 scientists and engineers at Kansas University this week as part of the 1998 international Ground-Penetrating Radar Conference. The radar technology allows researchers to search for underground objects and structures without demolishing them or digging.

In August 1996, the Associated Press said Smale's fledgling mission was ``reminiscent of `Jurassic Park,''' the 1993 movie in which scientists clone dinosaurs by extracting genetic material from blood ingested by prehistoric mosquitoes preserved in amber.

The plan is to inject mammoth DNA into the egg of an African elephant, creating a mammoth-elephant hybrid. The group took a lay-of-the-land tour of northern Siberia last year to prepare for an eventual full exploration, using the technology of ``ground-penetrating radar'' to locate potential carcasses and fossils.

The conference has attracted participants from 24 countries -- from Brazil to China to Norway to Spain -- who work in fields ranging from archaeology to construction.

Ground-penetrating radar can be used for everything from pinpointing land mines to exploring ancient underground cathedrals. In addition, highway departments use it to evaluate roads without tearing up road surfaces, and environmental engineers use it to determine whether pollutants are endangering water tables.

Conference activities are planned throughout today and Friday, including demonstrations from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at the Lawrence Visitor Information Center, 402 N. Second St.

The last conference was held in Sendai, Japan.

KU was chosen mostly because of the Radar Systems and Remote Sensing Laboratory. The laboratory was founded in 1964 by a team of KU faculty members from various disciplines.

The lab has been involved with nearly every radar system flown in space and is used for research of microwave remote sensing.

``GPR is a very multidisciplinary field,'' said Richard George Plumb, KU associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and acting director of the laboratory. ``There are few fields of research where you'll find hard-core electrical engineers, archaeologists, geologists, physicists working together.''

Thomas Fechner, representing the German company K-UTEC, agreed.

``The varieties are so huge,'' Fechner said. ``You can use it for so many different things.''

K-UTEC employs the radar in areas replete with limestone; clients use the results to plan excavations. Fechner said he was attending the conference to see the new technology and how other companies are using it.

Vladimir Zolotarev of Riga, Latvia, was on hand to display the wares of his firm, Radar Systems Inc.

Zolotarev, who worked for the Soviet government until it was dismantled, said his new private company sells utility-detection equipment to France, Bulgaria and Russia.

-- Matt Gowen's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail address is mgowen@ljworld.com.

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