It's not even technically summer yet, but Heard on the Hill is already back from its summer vacation. Over the past couple of weeks, this blog worked on its tan, finally made time to read some of those books sitting on the shelf and made some blog friends at Blog Summer Camp with whom it sincerely plans to keep in touch.
But enough about that. Here are a few KU tidbits from around the Internet to get you caught up:
• The New York Times spoke with Jim Butler, a senior scientist at KU's Kansas Geological Survey, about the decreasing water levels in the High Plains Aquifer.
• KU physicist Adrian Melott, who's frequently quoted on the subject of gamma-ray bursts, is at it again in this story from Forbes.
• Wayne Sailor, a KU professor of special education, shared his thoughts on a new accessible parking symbol being adopted by New York City with the Chronicle of Higher Education.
• A writer for The American Lawyer decided that Stephen Mazza, the dean of KU's School of Law, deserved a "Commendable Conduct Award" for the decision to reduce the school's class sizes after the legal job market took a serious tumble. (I'm not sure if this is a regular honor or one the columnist made up just for this occasion. Can I win one?)
The law school's switch to smaller class sizes actually came shortly after Mazza became dean in 2011. The school's next graduating class, in May 2014, will be the first that was affected by the decision to reduce class sizes by about 20 percent. That might mean good things for the school's employment statistics, which already took a big jump for its class of 2012.
• A lecture by KU's Shawn Alexander, an associate professor of African and African-American studies, will be broadcast on C-SPAN3 this coming weekend. It's part of the channel's "American History TV" weekend programming, for a program called "Lectures in History" that shows, well, lectures by professors about history. Alexander's lecture will be about the era between the end of slavery and the dawn of segregation in the United States. You can catch it at 7 and 11 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday.
Submit your KU news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org and you could qualify for the Heard on the Hill Terrific Tipster Award, which is given out whenever I feel like it based on whatever criteria I might choose.
More LJWorld KU News Coverage
As you may have noticed in a short item sent out over the Associated Press wire recently, KU physicist Adrian Melott is spreading a theory that a huge solar flare happened some 1200 years ago — at least 10 to 20 times bigger than any solar storm scientists have known of before.
Melott, who in the past has also theorized that a gamma-ray burst caused a mass extinction on Earth about 440 million years ago, was the lead author on an article published in the journal Nature in late November that put forth the solar-storm theory.
The idea came from a discovery made earlier in 2012 by some Japanese physicists who studied some really, really old trees. Inside some Japanese cedars, they found a spike of carbon-14 in rings that correspond to around the year 775. Carbon-14 is something that results when high-energy radiation hits the Earth's atmosphere.
Those Japanese scientists ruled out a solar storm as the cause, but Melott is making the case that they were incorrect about that. He noted that other possible explanations for the carbon-14 spike seem unlikely; for instance, a supernova explosion could have done it, but an explosion close enough would have caused a "blindingly bright" light in the sky lasting for months — not something that would have gone unnoticed.
If a solar storm happened, it apparently did go unnoticed. But if such a storm happened today, the result could be catastrophic. A solar storm in 1989 caused a nine-hour power outage in Quebec; the storm that may have happened 1200 years ago was about 60 times stronger. Throw in our increased reliance on electricity, and the results could be dire. "A lot of people could die," Melott says in this blog entry from Nature (Melott's actual article is available online too, but it requires a journal subscription).