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Notes from the Lab

Antisubmarine warfare after the Cold War

Antisubmarine warfare (ASW) remains an essential mission area for the US Navy even in this post-Cold War era. One reason: "modern non-nuclear submarines��������������������������� will increasingly populate the navies of potential aggressor states," according to a recent report on an ASW conference organized by Professor Harvey Sapolsky and Dr. Owen Cote of the MIT Security Studies Program.

However, "it has proven difficult for the Navy to sustain its investment in ASW," the report says. Among other things, ASW monies "are harder to justify because it is difficult to compare the threat of a few Iranian Kilo-class diesel/electric submarines to that posed less than a decade ago by more than 100 Soviet nuclear submarines��������������������������� It is also difficult to compare the interests at stake in a global conventional war��������������������������� versus a lesser regional contingency."

A major conclusion of the conference: "The US Navy needs to do a better job of explaining [the] difference between the Cold War ASW challenge and the post-Cold War one. No opponent threatens to contest our ability to gain command of the seas as the Soviet Union did��������������������������� but many potential opponents are developing the capability��������������������������� to extract a price of admiralty that might be unacceptable."

The conference, "Antisubmarine Warfare after the Cold War," was sponsored by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology.

Interactive films for the classroom

Nature documentaries play an important role in high school biology classrooms, yet they deliver a passive account of the behavior of organisms. To engage students in more active problem-solving around behavioral topics, MIT and Northwestern University researchers created an interactive video system called Animal Landlord.

Part of a week-long curriculum designed to introduce concepts in behavioral ecology, Animal Landlord presents film clips of the Serengeti lion hunting its prey. Students select and annotate video frames with explanations of their significance to the hunt, compare annotations across films, and ultimately generalize a qualitative model of predation behaviors.

"Traditional nature films can be useful observational tools. But the film itself is simply a starting point for further discussions and integration with other curricular materials," said Professor Brian Smith of the Media Lab, who is working on Animal Landlord with Brian Reiser of Northwestern. "Without complementary activities, students may simply view the film as a novel relief from their textbooks. We have students essentially create their own documentaries using video as a primary data source." The work is sponsored by the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 11, 1998.

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