Researchers share magic
of their creative work
and artists take pleasure in the discovery and the meaning of
the inner working of things. Although they use different tools
and methods adapted to their particular craft, they share the
need to deal with uncertainty, to interpret reality, and ultimately
to nourish the soul, said Dr. Ariel Gomez, interim vice president
for research and public service.
their search, the most precious tool that they have at their disposal
is creativity. Without it, the successful generation of new knowledge
and beauty would be virtually impossible, he said.
discovery process is filled with creativity, and, contrary to
common belief, does nothing to take away the magic of it. In fact,
every new discovery brings a fresh sense of awe and beauty, followed
by a renewed quest for knowledge. Scientists and artists search
for patterns, signs and threads that allow them to piece together
a better understanding of the universe that we inhabit and that
follows are a few examples of the creative work of scientists
and artists from U.Va.s faculty. Whether dealing with a
molecule or a musical note, there is beauty and knowledge embedded
in each of them, Gomez said. The magic lies in between.
change into real-time computing
by Tom Cogill
Jack Stankovic, solving a difficult problem in computer science
is like picking a lock. Its not until you have aligned and
ordered your assumptions about the problem that the solution can
be released. You start by selecting a problem that seems
interesting and important, he says. The next step
is to think about your assumptions to give you a way into the
problem that will reveal a solution. This is where the creative
the BP America Professor and chair of the Department of Computer
Science, has been highly successful at making just this kind of
creative leap. He is an internationally respected specialist in
real-time computing, building machines that interact with their
environment within very specific time constraints.
systems are everywhere, from nuclear power plant control and medical
monitoring to antilock braking and burglar alarms. An example
of a hard real-time system is a digital fly-by-wire system in
an airplane; catastrophes can occur when such systems fail. A
(fee-based) Web service is an example of a soft real-time system.
If the service doesnt perform in a timely manner, the worst
that can happen is that youll gradually lose revenue and
of Stankovics interests is creating real-time computer operating
systems. Traditionally, real-time operating systems had
been built to work in well-defined environments, he says.
When the environment becomes complex and highly dynamic, this
approach becomes both unwieldy and unworkable, especially if real-time
interaction is your goal.
challenged the assumption that real-time operating systems must
be independent of specific information about the application.
Instead, he built a reflective operating system that could incorporate
changing information and application semantics. Other people
had begun to move in this direction, but I saw that this principle
should be at the heart of any dynamic real-time system,
tools that Stankovic uses to unlock solutions like these are inherently
collaborative. When I approach a problem, I look carefully
at the ways other investigators have approached similar challenges,
he notes. I read papers, identify their underlying assumptions,
and see how they map to the problem Im working on. Then,
many times, by challenging key, almost implicitly accepted assumptions,
a better solution emerges.
also finds it helpful to get out of the office and get together
with a colleague or two to test ideas and brainstorm. In
a small group, you tend to listen to each other more intently,
he observes. If you do this well, the excitement builds
as you exchange ideas.
Stankovic makes it a matter of intellectual discipline to try
new approaches. Its all too easy to be a perfectionist
and to focus on making incremental changes, he says. I
try to encourage my students to invent, rather than to refine.
more about Stankovics work
on the threshold of disorder
Orr quite naturally has thought carefully about the nature of
lyric poetry, having written lyric poems for more than 38 years.
He has considered it as a cultural artifact present in virtually
every culture, a fact that suggests the lyric serves some fundamental
human need. And he has observed the way it has functioned in his
own life, initially as he struggled to deal with the shock of
having killed his brother in a childhood hunting accident and,
later, through the inevitable crises of adolescence and adulthood.
His views are collected in a forthcoming volume, Three Strange
Angels: Trauma and Transformation in Lyric Poetry.
have a deep personal need for order, Orr explains. The
lyric poem, which could be described simply as a poem about experience
that features an I, contains within it many of the techniques
such as story, symbol, and the rhythmic presentation of sound
that can order personal experience. In a sense, a lyric
poem is an external scaffolding or framework of language that
counters, and to some extent contains, the disorder the poet is
experiencing. As Orr sees it, its a way to dramatize and,
in the process, stabilize the self.
people ignore or resist the disorder they feel. The role of the
lyric poet is to move to the threshold of disorder and dramatize
the encounter with it. Both disorder and order are real, and the
poem is an arena where both realities can be powerfully present.
In the course of acknowledging disorder, the self masters it by
assimilating it into the ordering process of the poem.
own technique requires a good deal of patience and, in some cases,
a good cup of coffee. I wait until an image or phrase appears
in my mind that seems to bring with it a sense of emotional or
intellectual confusion, he says. The effort is to
align yourself with the phrase and follow it as quickly as possible
toward more language. The skill, partly innate and partly
learned over time, is the ability to discern whether the initial
fragment possesses the necessary emotional resonance. When
I write prose, Orr explains, Im interested in
how one associative idea leads to another. When I write poetry,
I look for phrases that are saturated with emotional content,
but I initially dont know exactly what that content is about.
Orr begins to discover this during the process of revision, often
going over a poem 50 to 100 times before he is satisfied.
an image lies at the root of When I was alive . . . ,
a poem in Orpheus & Eurydice, a sequence of lyric poems Orr
published in 2001. The poem ends with the sentence, How
could he know how free I felt as I unwound the long bandage of
my skin and stepped out? Orr recalls struggling with this
image for more than 20 years. It was looking for a place
to explain itself, Orr says. I sensed in this phrase
the anguish of embodiment, of being a body in the world. Placed
at the end of this poem, the image proposed a vision of death
as release, transcendence, even a kind of fulfillment.
reads two of his recent poems online at: www.virginia.edu/researchandpublicservice/explorations/W2002/Orr/index.html
common language for patients and physicians
who has glanced at a prescription pad knows that a doctors
language can be arcane.
too often, patients find their doctors spoken words equally
difficult to understand and hard to relate to their situation.
This realization motivated Dr. Margaret Mohrmann to pursue a doctorate
in religious ethics at U.Va., with the idea of finding a language
in which to communicate with patients. The medical director of
the pediatric intensive care unit and residency program in pediatrics
at the Medical University of South Carolina, Mohrmann was looking
for a new language and a new way to view the experience of healing
had a very good medical education, she recalls. It
was an education in how to describe experience and to think about
it in a very specific, dispassionate way. Within its experiences
of suffering and to make medical constructions intelligible to
patients and their families, she says.
found a solution in the language of theology, drawn by what she
sees is its ability to encompass paradoxes without having to resolve
them. She wrote her dissertation on Ambrose of Milan, a fourth-century
bishop who played a key role in the development of Christianity
in Europe and who was known for his pastoral writings. Mohrmann
decided to study religious ethics rather than anthropology or
sociology because she found that families tended to speak of suffering
in religious terms. She was also drawn to it because of her personal
sees in theology a way to help people integrate the experience
of pain and suffering into their lives. As she describes it, the
medical care of children in an intensive care unit is an
encompassable challenge compared to the care of their families.
As director, her job was to focus her resources and knowledge
to help each patient. Helping families she found to be a much
less tangible and less finite problem. She needed to give them
a way to be heard and to help them come to terms with their experience.
Theology is designed to address experience from the largest
possible perspective, she says. It also encourages
the kind of self-examination and introspection that is a prerequisite
for helping others.
creative tension in Mohrmanns work comes not simply from
couching medical experiences in theological terms, but also from
moving back and forth between the language of medicine and the
language of spirituality. As the Harrison Medical Teaching Associate
Professor of Generalist Medicine, she teaches her students both
religious studies and medicine. In the Religious Studies Department,
she helps students ground theological concepts in real, complex
situations that occur every day in hospitals and clinics. In the
Medical School, she helps students appreciate the ethical and
spiritual dimensions of their practice and to recognize how important
it is to assist patients and their families to live with the experience
of pain, suffering and healing.
learn more about Dr. Mohrmanns research and publications,
from the Winter 2002 issue of Explorations,
produced by the Office of the Vice President for Research
and Public Service and the University Development Office of
Corporate and Foundation Relations.