New Hopkins dean promoting researchFTCThe new associate...


September 14, 1992|By Leslie Cauley

New Hopkins dean promoting research


The new associate dean for research at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Engineering has his work cut out for him, to say the least.

Theodore O. Poehler, who succeeded Vice Provost Jared L. Cohon on Sept. 1, has taken over the task of promoting commercialization of Johns Hopkins-based research, looking for support in the business community.

That's a tall order in the current economy, which has found many businesses, including long-term industrial friends of Hopkins, looking for ways to trim costs. Fortune 500-sized friends Westinghouse Corp. and Martin Marietta Corp., for example have undergone painful downsizing in recent years.

But every crisis offers new opportunity, and the current economic environment is no different, Dr. Poehler says.

"I think there is an issue of timing here," says Dr. Poehler. "Industry is effectively looking for new kinds of businesses . . . so there are opportunities to develop new things. With traditional sponsors leveling off funding, one has to seek new sources."

According to Dr. Poehler, some of those potential new sources aren't waiting for Hopkins to knock on their door. They're knocking first.

The associate dean says he has requests for meetings from several defense industry companies that have never before taken much of an interest in the school. It remains to be seen if those companies, which he declined to name, will pan out as new funding sources for the school.

And old friends like Westinghouse, he said, are also looking for new ways to work with the school.

Dr. Gilbert V. Levin, president of Biospherics Inc., the Beltsville-based company that has been developing no-calorie sugar for the past decade, is trying to bring the world proof of what has been the stuff of fiction: life on Mars.

Nobody is suggesting that green men with antennae on their heads run rampant on the Red Planet. But Dr. Levin, who professes a lifelong fascination with the subject of life on Mars, believes Martian soil contains microbes -- sure proof that life exists on our sister planet.

The Russian Space Research Institute has allocated space aboard its 1996 Mars Rover for a Levin experiment that could help answer the question which has fueled science fiction buffs and serious scientists alike for decades. Providing he can obtain funding to cover his expenses, Dr. Levin intends to work with Russian scientists to interpret experiment results of that mission.

Dr. Levin believes the question of life on Mars was answered affirmatively during the U.S. Viking mission in 1976, when a Levin-designed experiment produced results indicating the existence of microorganisms in the Martian soil. But a second experiment by another scientific party didn't find organic material, leaving U.S. space officials in a quandary over how to interpret the results.

But Dr. Levin claims the instruments used in the second experiment weren't sensitive enough to detect organic matter in Antarctic soil, let alone on Mars. So now he wants to replicate and extend his first experiment to prove once and for all that life on Mars does exist.

If his hypothesis again proves correct, that will be only the beginning of a planetary scientific search that will last for generations.

Dr. Levin, who has worked with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration since the 1950s on the subject of extraterrestrial life, also wants NASA to include his experiment on the next U.S. mission to Mars, now scheduled for 1994.

Cellular phone users jamming the airways

Yak, yak, yak.

Driving while talking continues to gain favor as one of America's most popular pastimes, as evidenced by the 17.7 percent growth in new cellular subscribers during the first half of 1992.

According to the semiannual survey of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, the Washington-based trade group that tracks the industry, 1.3 million users were added during the first six months of the year, pushing the national subscriber count to 8.9 million. The jump translates into the addition of 222,000 new cellular users every month -- or 7,300 new subscribers a day.

"This is the largest number of subscribers ever added during a six-month period, and the equivalent of an almost 40 percent annual growth rate," said Thomas E. Wheeler, the association's president.

The survey found that the average monthly bill continues to drop, from $72.74 in December to $68.51 as of June 30.

A number of cellular service providers, including those in the Baltimore-Washington area, now offer cut-rate evening and weekend plans, which have no doubt contributed in part to the increase in overall subscriber numbers. Those plans typically offer unlimited calling for a flat fee during off-peak hours when network usage is lowest.

Another driver of subscriber numbers: cost. Wireless phones are much cheaper than they were years ago, prompting some people to take a second look at cellular.

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