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Scholarship & Creativity

Composer's work to make premiere with Ailey Theatre

"Na Razie, Bez Ciebie," the newest composition by Christian Matjias, associate professor of music and dance, has inspired acclaimed choreographer Uri Sands to create "Existence Without Form," a featured dance in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre's New York season, which kicks off its North American tour.
Matjias (Photo by Thomas Ritter)

The national premiere of this four-movement collaborative work is Dec. 8 at the New York City Center.

"Few dance companies can effectively articulate so many styles, or perform such a breadth of repertoire as does the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre," Matjias says.

The tour, which runs through April, includes performances in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Toronto, Montreal, Memphis, Chicago, Charlottesville, Va., Boston and Newark. "Existence Without Form" already has played in the company's fall European season, which opened in Copenhagen, Denmark, in September.

"They can embody whatever style or technique they are called upon to perform as if it were their sole, primary language," Matjias says. "(The Ailey Theatre) honors and preserves their past for succeeding generations of dancers while simultaneously being dedicated to charting new paths, engaging choreographers, dancers, composers and others committed to preserving our relatively young traditions while also supporting the creation of new artworks."

The collaboration with Sands—named one of the top 25 choreographers to watch by Dance magazine—marks one of the high points in his career, Matjias says. Sands danced previously with the Ailey Theatre and Philadanco.

Colleagues say the piece offers a glimpse into Matjias' creative process whereby he follows the direction of feeling and the way of the heart, often showing the defiance of his rock 'n' roll roots and the inquisitive mind of moving among major and minor keys in search of authentic, complex harmonies —an unconventional approach for an artist in the academic world.

His love of dance began with a job playing piano in a studio, and in the last few decades, Matjias has worked with dancers from companies around the world. In addition to teaching, performing and composing, he has developed an original line of dance scholarship, reconstructing musical scores for landmark choreographic works.

To listen to Matjias' music, go to

Telemedicine improves breast screenings for rural Indian reservations

Native American women in North Dakota and South Dakota can get a mammogram from the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center without ever leaving the reservation.

U-M radiologists sought to improve delivery of traditional mobile mammography, in which a large truck equipped with the diagnostic machines travels to various sites. Using digital mammography instead of films and adding satellite capability, they found the breast images could be beamed to radiologists in Ann Arbor.

"Mobile mammography is a critical way for Native American women to get a mammogram," says Dr. Marilyn Roubidoux, professor of radiology at the Medical School.

"But what happens when a woman needs to be called back for more images? By transmitting the mammograms by satellite, a radiologist could read them on the spot and three-quarters of the women who needed more images had those done immediately or within fewer than three days," Roubidoux will present the results of this pilot program at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

From March to July 2006, a mobile mammography unit owned by Indian Health Service visited seven American Indian reservations in North Dakota and South Dakota and performed 515 digital mammograms. The digital images then were transmitted via satellite to radiologists in the Breast Imaging Division of the U-M Radiology Department. The average time between sending the images and obtaining a report for these women was 50 minutes. In ideal technological and weather conditions, it was as quick as 30 minutes.

Of the 58 women who needed additional images, 72 percent were able to get those tests done immediately, or returned within three days for more scans. For logistical and other reasons only about 10 percent of Native American women over age 40 get a yearly mammogram. Receiving results and follow-up care also have proven problematic.

Radiologists have found the images transmitted via satellite to be of excellent quality, on par with the digital mammograms they read daily in the Breast Imaging Clinic.

Paying off mortgage early may be the wrong choice

Nearly four in 10 households that pay off their mortgage early are making a mistake, says a researcher at the Ross School of Business.

At least 38 percent of U.S. households that currently accelerate their home mortgage, either by making extra payments or by taking out a mortgage for less than the standard 30 years, would be better off investing the extra money in tax-deferred retirement accounts, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), says Clemens Sialm, assistant professor of finance.

"In particular, when faced with the trade-off between paying off an extra dollar of mortgage and saving that dollar in a tax-deferred retirement account, households often choose an inferior strategy leading to large aggregate losses," Sialm says.

Using data from the Federal Reserve System Surveys of Consumer Finances, Sialm and colleagues from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and the University of Texas at Austin investigate household choices between mortgage prepayments and retirement account contributions.

They found that households that make the wrong choice by prepaying their mortgage could gain 11-17 cents per dollar, on average, simply by redirecting these "misallocated savings" into tax-deferred accounts. This could save U.S. households as much as $1.5 billion annually—nearly $400 per household a year.

While there may be numerous reasons why households prepay their mortgage and decide not to contribute to retirement accounts—interest rate risks, liquidity and default risks, credit constraints, risk aversion and fixed costs of participation—it is difficult to rationalize this "inefficient behavior or forgoing the substantial tax benefit," the researchers say. Sialm and colleagues say the reason may be simple, however—people just don't like debt.

For a copy of the study go to

Size and age of forests contribute to biodiversity

Why do tropical areas teem with species? The question has intrigued naturalists and ecologists since the early 1800s, when naturalist Alexander von Humboldt first documented the increase in biological diversity from polar to equatorial regions, but explanations for the phenomenon still are being debated.

Using trees as an example and employing a new approach that combines two previously proposed mechanisms, researchers from U-M and Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History have shown that the size and age of forests interact to contribute to current patterns of diversity. Their research findings appear in the December issue of The American Naturalist.

"Geographic area and time are both ideas that have been invoked for over a hundred years to explain the extraordinary species richness of the tropics, but these hypotheses have often been dismissed because they were deemed untestable," says Paul Fine. "We came up with a simple way to quantify area through time and see if it correlated with current diversity."

Ecological and evolutionary theory argues that larger areas should promote higher speciation rates and lower extinction rates than smaller areas, resulting in greater species richness. Because the processes of speciation and extinction generally encompass times in the range of millions of years, the researchers decided to incorporate history of Earth's biomes (major life zones, such as European temperate forests, Asian tropical forests and North American boreal forests) in their test of the role of area.

Researchers mapped the fluctuating areas of 11 biomes on six continents over geological time, from 55 million years ago to the present.

"We found significant correlations with current tree diversity," says Fine, a postdoctoral Michigan Fellow and assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, "whether we tested area-time measures from the Eocene, the Oligocene, or the Miocene to the present. We concluded that both size and age of biome are important factors in explaining current species richness, but only when combined into a single measure."

The results help explain why most lineages have tropical origins and why tropical forests are more diverse than forests outside the tropics.

The Michigan Society of Fellows provided funding.

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