Change is a constant in life, even when it comes to “family dynamics”— the interrelationships between family members , according to Bahira Sherif Trask, professor of human development and family studies.
But today, the process is even more accelerated, says Trask, who shared examples from research around the world at the first TEDxWilmington conference, held this past August in Wilmington, Del.
Trask doesn’t pass judgment, but rather explores the impact these types of shifts have on the economy, families and relationships.
“We are in the midst of an incredible social transformation,” the UD expert explains. “It’s a radical and permanent transformation, and it’s happening very quickly. It’s accelerated now. What I’m trying to do is raise awareness, so we can put in place programs and policies that will help individuals and families with these new phenomena.”
Originating in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from technology, entertainment and design (from which its name is derived), TED is a nonprofit “devoted to ideas worth spreading.” TED events feature short presentations on a wide range of subjects to educate and spark meaningful discussions.
An over-reliance on peer group compensation benchmarking is central to the persistent issue of rising executive pay in the United States, according to research by Charles M. Elson, Edgar S. Woolard, Jr., director of UD’s John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance, and Craig Ferrere, a 2011 UD graduate and the center’s first Edgar Woolard Fellow.
Their study, “Executive Superstars, Peer Groups and Over-Compensation—Cause, Effect and Solution,” has stirred conversations nationally, in both news and practitioner outlets, from The New York Times to Financial News. The research, which was funded by the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute (IRRCi), recently was accepted for publication in the Journal of Corporate Law.
“We find that peer group comparisons are central to the CEO ‘mega-pay machine’ problem,” says Elson, who notes that even the best corporate boards will fail to address executive compensation concerns unless they tackle the structural bias created by external peer group benchmarking metrics.
“We find that boards should measure performance and determine compensation by focusing on internal metrics,” Elson notes. “For example, if customer satisfaction is deemed important to the company, then results of customer surveys should play into the compensation equation. Other internal performance metrics can include revenue growth, cash flow and other measures of return.”
Ferrere says that most companies see CEOs as transferable, and that to persuade them to stay, companies will raise compensation, but CEOs are specifically talented and not interchangeable, he argues.
According to Ferrere, peer group analysis was never intended to be central to senior management compensation. “Historically, it was designed after World War II to compare jobs such as accountants and civil engineers across companies,” he says. “In hindsight, it was an easy but misguided approach that eventually led to the application of peer grouping to CEOs and senior executives.”
The duo has presented their research from Delaware to California and will address the American Bar Association in 2013.
It was 1977. A gallon of gas cost 65 cents. The disco craze was on. And Star Wars premiered in theatres, enthralling millions with its curious characters rocketing around with the forces of good and evil in a fictional galaxy.
A real space adventure would launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., that year — NASA’s Voyager spacecraft. Today, the unmanned probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are speeding farther into the cosmos than any other object created by humankind. Soon, Voyager is expected to exit our solar system.
Norman Ness, professor emeritus in UD’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, is a principal investigator on the Voyager mission. He designed the magnetometers aboard the spacecraft, which measure magnetic fields from planets and moons. For three and a half decades, he faithfully has been analyzing the data the rockets transmit back to Earth.
Ness, now 79, flew to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., this past September to celebrate the mission’s 35th anniversary.
Referring to Voyager as “the 20th century’s robotic spacecraft,” Ness explains that the goal was to get the rockets out to the “Big Four” planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Voyager was so successful—for example, discovering volcanoes on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, and making new revelations about Saturn’s rings—that NASA decided to extend the mission.
Thanks to a technique called “successive encounter trajectory with gravity assist,” Ness says, Voyager was flung into the heavens like a pebble from a slingshot, and the twin spacecraft have just kept on going.
In December 2004, at 94 astronomical units (8.7 billion miles from the sun), Voyager 1 crossed the “termination shock,” where the solar wind slows down abruptly from 1.5 million miles per hour as the spacecraft encountered the interstellar wind.
Voyager then entered a turbulent region called the heliosheath. Next up is the heliopause, where solar and interstellar wind are in equilibrium. Once Voyager passes through this boundary, the spacecraft will leave the sun’s domain and enter interstellar space.
The 1970s technology zooms along at about a million miles per day, Ness says. Power is supplied by Radio Isotope Thermoelectric Generators (RITGs), which use Plutonium 238. This radioactive element has a half life of about 88 years, or a range of 69–99 years, enough to keep Voyager flying at least another 35 years, if not more, according to Ness.
With the limited hearing ability of current antennas on Earth, Ness says the team will only be able to listen to Voyager until 2025. In 2020, they will begin turning off the instruments, one by one. Voyager is expected to cross into the interstellar medium long before then, possibly within the next year or two.
“It’s been a hell of a good ride,” Ness says.
University of Delaware researchers have discovered that a shipwreck near the coast of Cape Henlopen, Del., is a 215-foot-long sailing vessel destroyed by a hurricane more than a century ago.
Scientific surveys and historical records indicate that the wreck is the W.R. Grace, a three-masted ship that ran aground on Sept. 12, 1889.
“It was not something we expected to be as old as it was,” says Arthur Trembanis, associate professor of oceanography and geological sciences in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.
Trembanis’ research group came upon the shipwreck two years ago while training undergraduates to use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and other ocean surveying equipment along the coast of Cape Henlopen State Park near Lewes.
This past June, Trembanis partnered with a commercial marine surveyor to revisit the site and obtain better images with side-scan sonar and video technology. They pinpointed the location, orientation and size of the wreck, which sits about 23 feet (7 m) below the surface.
Oceanography graduate student Carter DuVal cross-referenced field findings with historical clues, poring through books on shipwrecks and newspaper accounts about the ship’s fate—reportedly one of more than 30 vessels in the area sunk by the horrific storm.
The massive ship apparently had difficulty navigating the shallow waters around Cape Henlopen. After dropping anchor to ride out the storm, the vessel drifted and lodged into the sand. An account in the Baltimore Sun tells of the crew’s heroic rescue by area life-saving station staff.
The vessel was carrying 7,000 empty petroleum barrels from France to refill in Philadelphia and ship to Japan. With the W.R. Grace a loss, operator Flynn and Company sold the barrels at auction.
Although today it is covered in blue mussels and frilled anemones, forming an artificial reef, the vessel appears to have been previously buried. Trembanis says. A 1995 study did not reveal the wreck, yet the ship’s outline did appear on a 2007 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration survey (the results were not included in the public database). So either the wreck was uncovered sometime between 1995 and 2007, Trembanis says, or it has undergone periods of burial and exposure.
A scuba dive investigation could reveal more details, state archaeologist Craig Lukezic says, but there are probably no artifacts left since the contents were salvaged before the ship submerged. Such a dive would need to be conducted in cooperation with the state, as the wreck is protected by law under the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act, and the currents make diving in the area treacherous.
For now, the ROV and sonar findings can be used to better understand the ocean dynamics that impact wrecks, compare the site to other reefs and study how the ocean floor changes over time.
“We’re in an exciting time for this kind of exploration,” Trembanis says. “In our own backyard are some exciting new discoveries.”
Can new technology redefine what it means to be a citizen in a digital democracy? For the past year, Lindsay Hoffman, assistant professor of communication, has been using innovative methods to study this question, and now she is beginning to find some answers.
“Typically, scholars use methods such as surveys to ask citizens how and why they use media,” Hoffman says. “But to get a true picture of what people are doing, we need better ways to track their media use.”
Hoffman surveyed nearly 800 Delawareans about their media-use habits and political behaviors, then selected 20 to participate in a more in-depth study. She provided state-of-the-art tablets equipped to track all the websites they visited (with their explicit approval) and how long they spent on each site. After four months in the heat of the Republican Presidential Primary, the participants engaged in focus groups to talk about how they used the devices.
“Even knowing the purpose of the study, many participants didn’t use the devices for politics or news at all,” Hoffman notes. “But in talking with these citizens in follow-up focus groups, I was amazed to see that just having the devices made them feel more confident in finding political information and contacting officials.”
Embarking on this massive data collection enterprise was difficult, she says, but it has yielded unique findings and insights. Support from UD’s Center for Political Communication and the help of graduate and undergraduate research assistants made the nine-month project possible. The six students helped in a variety of ways, from analyzing tablet data to conducting interviews with participants.
Students reported gaining a lot of experience from the work, and Hoffman received the 2012 University Excellence in Undergraduate Advising and Mentoring Award.
Amanda Schechter, a senior in political science who assisted Hoffman, says the project was “the total package, because it provides tangible evidence of how Americans use technology to access political news.”
So what’s next for Hoffman?
“Multiple sources of data provide a richer picture of how citizens use technology to engage with their communities and government,” she says. “I’m confident this information will shed light on the role of technology in an ever-evolving media environment.”