Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Need Help With Your Writing? Try This Web Site.

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Many colleges and universities in the United States have writing centers to help students improve their skills. Some materials are available free at Web sites like the Purdue Online Writing Lab, or OWL. The site is connected to the Writing Lab at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

It includes resources that can help non-native English speakers. VOA's Art Chimes recently spoke with the director, Linda Bergmann.

LINDA BERGMANN: "The Purdue Online Writing Lab is a sizeable collection of workshops, worksheets, instructional materials in both English language and in various genres in which students and people working in the world are expected to write."

For instance, even native speakers are often not sure when to use "lie" and when to use "lay." The site gives these example sentences: "After laying down his weapon, the soldier lay down to sleep." "Will you lay out my clothes while I lie down to rest?"

The problem is that "lie" also means to not tell the truth, as in "I lied to my mother." So you would say in the past tense "I lay on the bed because I was tired."

The Purdue Online Writing Lab also explains how to use an apostrophe correctly in possessives and other cases. People often add an apostrophe to "its" in a sentence like "The group made its decision." There should be no apostrophe because what you mean is that the decision belongs to the group. "It's" with an apostrophe is short for "it is," as in "It's raining."

The Purdue Online Writing Lab also explains how to organize papers and avoid plagiarizing other peoples' work. And it provides a guide to higher education in the United States, including explanations of commonly used terms.

Director Linda Bergmann says the goal is to provide as many tools as possible.

LINDA BERGMANN: "Everything from basic language skills of agreement of subject and verb, use of commas and other punctuation, complete and incomplete sentences, so that we can move from basic writing/language skills to the more sophisticated skills that graduate students, upper level undergraduates and people in the work world use."

The Web site was started in nineteen ninety-four and has plenty of fans.

LINDA BERGMANN: "We get a lot of thank you notes from people around the world. And also some schools in other countries use it as a writing handbook, as do some schools in the United States."

In all, the Purdue Online Writing Lab offers over two hundred free resources for writing and research. The address is For a link, and to learn more about higher education in America, go to our Web site,

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Bob Gotkin.

Comments from Students around the world:

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jane Jacobs: Her Activism Helped Shape the Look and Feel of Cities.


I'm Steve Ember.


And I’m Barbara Klein with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about Jane Jacobs. She was an activist for improving cities.



Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs was an activist, writer, moral thinker and economist. She believed cities should be densely populated and full of different kinds of people and activities. She believed in the value of natural growth and big open spaces.

She opposed the kind of city planning that involves big development and urban renewal projects that tear down old communities. She was also a critic of public planning officials who were unwilling to compromise.

Jacobs helped lead fights to save neighborhoods and local communities within cities. She helped stop major highways from being built, first in New York City and later in Toronto, Canada.

Developers and city planners often criticized her ideas. Yet, many urban planning experts agree that her work helped shape modern thinking about cities.



Jane Butzner was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in nineteen sixteen. Her father was a doctor. Her mother was a former teacher and nurse. After graduating from high school, Jane took an unpaid position at the Scranton Tribune newspaper. A year later she left Scranton for New York City.

During her first several years in the city she held many kinds of jobs. One job was to write about workers in the city. She said these experiences gave her a better idea about what working in the city was like.

As a young woman, Jacobs had many interests, including economics, law, science and politics. Her higher education was brief, however. She studied for just two years at Columbia University in New York. Jacobs did not complete her college education, but she did become an excellent writer and editor. While working as a writer for the Office of War Information she met a building designer named Robert Jacobs.

In nineteen forty-four, they married. They later had three children. Her husband's work led to her interest in the monthly magazine, Architectural Forum. Jacobs became a top editor for the publication.


Experts have described Jacobs as a writer who wrote well, but not often. She is best known for her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” The book was published in nineteen sixty-one. It is still widely read today by both city planning professionals and the general public.

Experts say “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” is the most influential book written about city planning in the twentieth century.

In the book, Jacobs criticized the urban renewal projects of the nineteen fifties. She believed these policies destroyed existing inner-city communities and their economies.

She also thought that modern planning policies separated communities and created unnatural city areas. Jacobs described the nature of cities – their streets and parks, the different cultures represented by citizens and the safety of a well-planned city. Safety was an important issue in big cities that had high rates of crime.

Jacobs wrote that peace on the streets of cities is not kept mainly by the police even though police are necessary. It is kept by a system of controls among the people themselves. She believed the problem of insecurity cannot be solved by spreading people out more thinly.

Jacobs argued that a well-used city street is safer than an empty street. Safety, she argued, is guaranteed by people who watch the streets every day because they use the streets every day.



“The Death and Life of Great American Cities” became a guide for neighborhood organizers and the people who Jacobs called “foot people.” These are citizens who perform their everyday jobs on foot. They walk to stores and to work. They walk to eating places, theaters, parks, gardens and sports stadiums. They are not who Jacobs called “car people” – those who drive their cars everywhere.

Jane Jacobs also believed that buildings of different sizes, kinds and condition should exist together. She pointed to several communities as models of excellence. These include Georgetown in Washington, D.C.; the North End in Boston, Massachusetts; Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, California.

She also supported mixed-use buildings as a way to increase social interaction. Such buildings have stores and offices on the ground floor. People live on the upper floors. Mixed-use buildings are a lot more common in American cities than in the suburban areas around them.


Jane Jacobs also noted New York City’s Greenwich Village as an example of an exciting city community. This is one of the communities that was saved, in part at least, because of her writings and activism. In nineteen sixty-two, Jacobs headed a committee to stop the development of a highway through Lower Manhattan in New York City. The expressway would have cut right through Greenwich Village and the popular SoHo area.

Influential New York City developer Robert Moses proposed the plan. But huge public protests in nineteen sixty-four led the city government to reject it. Jacobs’ book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” helped influence public opinion against the expressway.



Jane JacobsIn nineteen sixty-nine, Jacobs moved to the Canadian city of Toronto where she lived for the rest of her life. Part of her reason for leaving the United States was because she opposed the United States involvement in the war in Vietnam. At that time, she had two sons almost old enough to be called for duty. Jacobs continued to be a community activist in Toronto.

She was involved in a campaign to stop the Spadina Expressway through Toronto. This highway would have permitted people living in suburban areas outside Toronto to travel into and out of the city easily.

Jacobs organized citizens against the Spadina Expressway and the politicians who supported it. One of her most important issues was this question: “Are we building cities for people or for cars?”

Today, experts say Toronto is one of only a few major cities in North America to have successfully kept a large number of neighborhoods in its downtown area. Many experts believe this is because of the anti-Spadina movement led by Jane Jacobs.


Jane Jacobs spent her life studying cities. She wrote seven books on urban planning, the economy of cities, and issues of commerce and politics. Her last book, published in two thousand four, was “Dark Age Ahead.” In it, Jacobs described several major values that she believed were threatened in the United States and Canada. These included community and family, higher education, science and technology and a government responsive to citizens' needs.

In “Dark Age Ahead,” Jacobs argued that Western society could be threatened if changes were not made immediately. She said that people were losing important values that helped families succeed.

In “Dark Age Ahead,” Jacobs also criticized how political decision-making is influenced by economics. Governments, she said, have become more interested in wealthy interest groups than the needs of the citizens. Jacobs also warned against a culture that prevents people from preventing the destruction of resources upon which all citizens depend.



Jane Jacobs had her critics. Many of them argued that her ideas failed to represent the reality of city politics, which land developers and politicians often control. Others argued that Jacobs had little sympathy for people who want a lifestyle different from the one she proposed.

Still, many urban planning experts say her ideas shaped modern thinking about cities. She has had a major influenced on those who design buildings and towns that aim to increase social interaction among citizens.

Jane Jacobs died in two thousand six in Toronto at the age of eighty-nine. Her family released a statement on her death. It said: "What's important is not that she died but that she lived, and that her life's work has greatly influenced the way we think. Please remember her by reading her books and implementing her ideas."



This program was written by Jill Moss. It was produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein. You can read scripts and download audio from our Web site, Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Science of Safety: Seat Belts and Kevlar, From Voice of America.


This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Shirley Griffith.


And I'm Bob Doughty. Today we tell about two recent inventions that have helped to save lives. We will also tell about the people who developed them.



Most cars have seat belts as part of their equipment. Seat belts protect drivers and passengers in case of accident. They also reduce the effect of a crash on the body. Safety experts estimate that the restraining devices save more than four thousand lives a year in the United States alone. Worldwide, some experts, say the devices have protected up to a million people.

Nils Bohlin

The first seat belt was said to have been created in the eighteen hundreds by George Cayley of England. He is remembered for many inventions, especially for early "flying machines."

The United States first recognized the invention of an automobile seat belt in eighteen forty-nine. The government gave a patent to Edward J. Claghorn of New York City so that others would not copy his invention. Claghorn called the device a Safety-Belt. It was said to include hooks and other attachments for securing the person to a fixed object.


Other inventors followed with different versions of the seat belt. But more than one hundred years passed before the current, widely used seat belt was developed. It resulted from the work of a Swedish engineer, Nils Bohlin. His three-point, lap and shoulder seat belt first appeared on cars in Europe fifty years ago.

Bohlin was born in Sweden in nineteen twenty. After completing college, he designed seats for the Swedish aircraft industry. The seats were built for the pilot to escape from an airplane in case of disaster. Bohlin's work with planes showed him what could happen in a crash at high speed. In nineteen fifty-eight, Bohlin brought that knowledge to the Swedish car manufacturer Volvo. He was the company's first chief safety engineer.

At the time, most safety belts in cars crossed the body over the abdomen. A buckle held the restraints in place. But the position of the buckle often caused severe injuries in bad crashes.


Nils Bohlin recognized that both the upper and lower body needed to be held securely in place. His invention contained a cloth strap that was placed across the chest and another strap across the hips. The design joined the straps next to the hip.

Volvo was the first automobile manufacturer to offer the modern seat belt as a permanent addition to its cars. It also provided use of Nils Bohlin's design to other car-makers.

The Swedish engineer won many honors for his seat belt. He received a gold medal from the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences in nineteen ninety-five. He died in Sweden in two thousand two.



Kevlar is another invention that has saved many people from serious injury and death. Kevlar is a fibrous material with qualities that make it able to reject bullets. Added to clothing, the material protects security officers and soldiers across the world.

The fibers form a protective barrier against gunfire. Bullets lose their shape when they strike Kevlar. Those bullets look like mushrooms, and do not enter the body. Most threats to police and security officers come from handguns. They wear Kevlar vests to protect the upper body. Soldiers wear more extensive clothing protected with Kevlar against heavier ammunition.


Kevlar might not have been invented had Stephanie Kwolek been able to seek a career in medicine. From childhood, she wanted to be a doctor. But she lacked the money for a medical education.

Today, thousands of people are glad that Stephanie Kwolek became a research chemist. In that job, she developed the first liquid crystal polymer. The polymer was a chemical product that formed the basis for Kevlar.

Stephanie Kwolek


Stephanie Kwolek was born in nineteen twenty-three in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. As a child, Stephanie loved science. Later, she studied chemistry and other sciences at a Pennsylvania college now known as Carnegie Mellon University.

She got a job with the DuPont chemical company in nineteen forty-six. It was the beginning of a career with the company that lasted about forty years.


By the nineteen sixties, Dupont already had produced materials like nylon and Dacron. The company wanted to develop a new fiber. Stephanie Kwolek was part of a DuPont research group that asked to work on its development.

At the time, she was searching for a way to make a material strong enough to use on automobile tires. If tires could be improved, automobiles would need less fuel. Miz Kwolek needed a new way to make stiff, resistant fibers for the job.


Her experiments for the project were supposed to produce a clear substance similar to a thick syrup. Instead, what Stephanie Kwolek produced was unexpected. It was a liquid that looked cloudy or milky. She said she might have thrown it out. But she decided to let it sit for awhile.

Recently, she told VOA that she was warned the liquid could never complete a required process. The process calls for the chemical to be pushed through the small holes of a spinneret. She remembers that the man operating the device at first refused to accept her material. He probably suspected it had solid particles that would block the holes. However, after awhile he said he would try it. She says she thinks he was tired of being asked, or might have felt sorry for her.


That person must have been surprised when the substance passed the test. It returned from the laboratory with more firmness than anything Stephanie Kwolek had made before.

Mizz Kwolek did not tell anyone that she had produced something new and strong. She said she was afraid there might have been a mistake. Repeated testing, however, did not find anything wrong. She and her group worked to improve the discovery. DuPont first manufactured large amounts of Kevlar in nineteen seventy-one. The material is found today in hundreds of products from sports equipment to window coverings.

Over the years, Stephanie Kwolek has received many awards. Her honors include membership in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Today she says she loved her long career in chemistry. She says that considering the times, she was lucky to get the job.



Getting Kevlar placed in protective clothing resulted mainly from the work of Lester Shubin and Nicholas Montanarelli. Mister Shubin was educated in chemistry. He worked for the United States Army in the nineteen seventies. At the time, Mister Montanarelli was an Army project director. He was trained in engineering and psychology.

The two Americans were working at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. They were searching for a way to protect people in public life from gunfire. Mister Montanarelli knew about DuPont's recently developed fiber, and the two men decided to test it.


The men fired handguns at several materials protected by Kevlar. The material changed the shape of the bullets. It seemed a good candidate to help defend police officers and soldiers.

Mister Shubin was able to gain financial help for a field experiment. Thousands of police officers in many cities began to wear the vests. But Mister Montanarelli said it was difficult to get companies to make them. The companies feared legal action if the vests should fail.


Then came December, nineteen seventy-five. A gunman shot at a policeman in Seattle, Washington. One bullet hit the officer's hand. But a bullet fired very close to the policeman struck his chest.

The officer survived. The bullet did not enter his body. He felt good enough to protest being kept in a hospital that night to make sure all was well. The incident helped get manufacturers to stop worrying about legal action. They began making the vests.


Today, about three thousand people are members of the Kevlar Survivors' Club. DuPont and the International Association of Chiefs of Police organized the exclusive club. All the members have escaped injury or death because long ago, a chemist named Stephanie Kwolek produced something unexpected.


This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Jerilyn Watson. Our producer was Brianna Blake. I'm Bob Doughty.


And, I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.