CLEMSON – The College Football National Championship Game isn’t the only place where Clemson University and the University of Alabama compete. Both schools are major public universities who compete, with other research universities, for research funding in an increasingly competitive environment.

According to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, Clemson is among the universities receiving “highest research activity” status, while Alabama comes in as a “higher research activity” school.

But researchers from each school have teamed up for two important projects: one seeks to understand what causes war, the other looks to the sky for answers.

Studying the winds of war

Steve Miller, assistant professor of political science at Clemson, and Doug Gibler, a professor of political science in the University of Alabama’s Institute for Social Science Research, have collaborated on research about war since Miller was a doctoral student at Alabama, and Gibler was his adviser.

Funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, their work currently seeks to understand how, exactly, wars begin.

Academics and security and military analysts view war through a “bargaining model,” Miller said. They see war as “equivalent to haggling over goods in a marketplace. If the parties disagree, and there’s no common ground, you walk,” Miller said. “In the context of international conflict, walking means war.”

Miller and Gibler, along with their collaborators, have collected primary and secondary data for all international disputes from 1816 to 2010, and have significantly revised international relations’ most widely used international conflict reference materials. Their next project will examine the bargaining model in the context of these disputes.

The idea, Miller said, is to better understand the positions that states take early into disputes and how demands from these positions evolve during the dispute. “We understand conflict as bargaining but don’t have data to understand the conflict bargaining itself,” he said.

By gathering and analyzing original data about demands in disputes, Miller said their results could inform how policymakers and scholars understand which conflicts escalate to war or are resolved short of it.

Coincidentally, Miller also knows a thing or two about football conflicts, as he’s associated with each of the four teams in this year’s college football playoff.  “I graduated from Ohio State, got my doctorate at Alabama, now I teach at Clemson and my girlfriend is a (University of) Washington alum.”

But on Monday, Miller said he’ll be pulling for Clemson.

Star-crossed research

Dieter Hartmann, a professor of astronomy at Clemson, and Bill Keel, a professor of astronomy at the University of Alabama, are teammates on a consortium that continually reaches for the stars. In 1988, the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy (SARA) launched their consortium with a 1-meter telescope in Arizona that was being decommissioned. Over the years, they’ve added one in Chile and another on the Spanish island of La Palma.

An observatory in Arizona against a night sky.

Orange (Clemson orange?) light shines through the original SARA telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory.

The universities use the telescopes remotely, with controls at their respective institutions that connect with computers at the telescopes, thousands of miles away. Each university involved has relatively small astronomy departments, but together, SARA is a fairly large group that uses the telescopes for research and education.

From Clemson, or Tuscaloosa, faculty can dial in to one of the telescopes for a class lecture. The telescopes have also participated in significant research projects, including tracking the occultation of Pluto in 2015, observing pulsating white dwarfs and tracing star formation in distant galaxies. They also provide community events, like overnight viewing during DragonCon in Atlanta.

For Clemson students, having access to telescopes around the world is important for their current work, and it prepares them for post-graduate work at facilities with larger, more advanced equipment, Hartmann said.

“Before one can use a big telescope it is good to establish ones skills on a smaller one,” Hartmann said.”I had students who collected the date needed for their (master’s) theses, and we have postdocs who support their research with SARA (e.g., novae in nearby galaxies).”

Undergraduates have observed star clusters to learn how to determine the stars’ ages; graduate students have followed the optical afterglow of gamma ray bursts, one of the most energetic explosions in the universe; and postdoctoral fellows support their research with SARA to observe novae in nearby galaxies.

“SARA provide connectivity to ‘local’ astronomers, and offers real observing experiences – with three telescopes in Arizona, Chile and off the north east coast of Africa. It’s pretty cool.”

Other American schools participating in SARA are Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Valparaiso University, East Tennessee State University, Florida Institute of Technology, Agnes Scott College, Ball State University, Florida International University, Butler University and Texas A&M University-Commerce.