Maryland Moments, December 2006
(New Programs, Research)
Biologist Sarah Tishkoff's research earns international attention. Washington Post: "Through most of human history, there was no need to be able to digest milk after the age of weaning. Cows had not been domesticated. And Mom was busy with your little brother and sister. So humans evolved as creatures that, as adults, lose the ability to digest lactose, the major sugar in milk. A well-known exception is people of Northern European descent, most of whom have inherited mutations that grant lifelong lactose-digesting skills; less well known is that several African populations share this capacity. Now, researchers have evidence that the domestication of cattle thousands of years ago was the key to lactose tolerance emerging independently in Europe and Africa. Sarah Tishkoff and Floyd Reed of the University of Maryland, College Park, and co-workers, took blood from 470 individuals from 43 ethnic groups in Tanzania, Kenya and Sudan. Those groups are mostly cattle herders and can digest lactose, but they lack the European mutations. Blood tests showed that these people harbor one or another of three previously unknown mutations that -- as with the European ones -- keep the lactose-digestion enzyme active throughout life." The importance of Tishkoff's research was underlined in a New York Times editorial: ""A team of scientists has now discovered that an important human genetic trait � a tolerance in adults for the milk sugar called lactose � might have developed in several East African ethnic groups 2,700 to 6,800 years ago. That is astonishingly recent. It may also be the first genetic example of what researchers call convergent evolution in humans."
The IRIS Center, a non-profit policy research and advisory center at UM, was awarded a five-year, $6 million grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to assess the impact of six grants the foundation made in the area of microfinance. IRIS will work in conjunction with Microfinance Opportunities, a Washington, D.C.-based microenterprise resource center to conduct the assessment. This research will measure the impact of a range of financial products and services and delivery systems with the aim of identifying those that are most promising.
The University of California System spends $500,000 researching what people think of its schools and how California schools can improve their public perception. The San Francisco Chronicle: "The University of Maryland faced the same kind of image problem and in 2001 began its own campaign. It was a success, according to university officials in Maryland, and resulted in a rise in enrollment and a marked increase in fundraising and alumni participation. Officials hired an outside consultant to explore the university's public image and learned that perceptions didn't reflect its character and quality. Their response was to develop the 'Zoom' campaign to convey four themes -- quality, discovery, impact and momentum -- representing the speed with which the institution emerged as a major national research university, according to Terry Flannery, the school's executive director of marketing and communications.... The effort was a hit, Flannery said. Wording from the advertisements was used in speeches on the governor's campaign trail and by legislators during budget hearings. 'It received a great deal of recognition regionally and nationally,' she said. 'It was well received by the internal campus environment and alumni.' "
International Herald Tribune: "President Traian Basescu of Romania has formally condemned the Communist dictatorship that ruled his country for more than four decades, the first time a Romanian head of state has officially denounced the Soviet-era system.... The condemnation came just two weeks before Romania joins the European Union on Jan. 1 and represents a belated attempt to make a more complete break with the Communist past than was possible in the managed revolution of 1989.... In late March, he (Basescu) formed the Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship with young historians, psychologists and anthropologists to provide him with such a report. He named a University of Maryland professor, Vladimir Tismaneanu, to head the effort. The work was not without its challenges because much of the Communist-era nomenklatura, or elite, remain embedded in Romania's structures of power."
Science & Technology
Through two Maryland Industrial Partnerships Program (MIPS) projects, A. James Clark School of Engineering faculty members Ashwani Gupta, mechanical engineering, and Kenneth Yu, aerospace engineering, along with graduate student Ram Balar, successfully designed and tested a combustor for the Astrox space plane, which uses something called an inward-turning scramjet engine. Such a plane would not only shorten flights � designers estimate a flight to Australia could one day be as short as two hours � but also provide travelers with a bird's-eye view of the earth as the plane orbits around the globe during the flight. The collaboration, with College Park-based Astrox Corporation, is part of a tech transfer through MIPS, which was designed to accelerate commercialization of technology by funding joint research projects.
Northrup Grumman wins a $46 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, to develop what's being dubbed the 'Underwater Express' to move both people and specialty cargo. UM, Penn State and Minnesota contribute expertise to the project.
National Public Radio's 'All Things Considered': "Not sure what to do with Grandma's leftover fruitcake? Professor Thom Castonguay has an idea. As part of our Science out of the Box series, we visit a lab at the University of Maryland's Department of Nutrition and Food Science, where Castonguay demonstrates bomb calorimetry -- the science of calculating calories by blowing up food."
Indo-Asian News Service: "The Haryana Agriculture University, Hissar, Monday tied up with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the University of Maryland to conduct joint research for developing a vaccine to combat bird (avian) flu. The research between both universities will also be for other poultry-related diseases. Announcing the tie-up, the minister for economic development of the government of Prince George's County, Patricia Hayers-Parker, said that the patent of the vaccine developed by the joint research would be held by both universities. She said that a Japanese company would be associated for mass production of the vaccine to save people from the deadly bird flu virus. Scientists from both universities have already worked on plans for future research, she said."
IT Management on computer storage advances: "The storage world is abuzz with the potential of open source storage projects such as Cleversafe and Amanda. What could they mean for enterprise storage? Could this spell the end for high-margin storage sales? Could they revolutionize backup and disaster recovery? The answer is maybe yes, and � once the vendor community wraps its wits around the threat � probably not.... Amanda is an open source alternative to enterprise backup and recovery. There is also Zmanda, a commercially packaged version of the Amanda (Advanced Maryland Automatic Network Disk Archiver) backup utility, originally developed by the University of Maryland. It already has tens of thousands of customers."
Maureen Storey, research professor at the Center for Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Policy, and colleagues release a study on popular drink habits in the U.S. The findings, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association: White Americans are the most frequent consumers of carbonated soft drinks, while fruit drinks are favored by African Americans and Mexican Americans.
Applied Media Analysis, a Technology Advancement Program tenant (Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, Clark School of Engineering), wants to make your cell phone much more than just a phone. Maryland Daily Record: "Applied Media Analysis Inc. released its V-Code technology, which would use the cameras found in cells and other handheld devices to wirelessly download programs from Web sites or product barcodes.... Using the V-Code technology, any handheld with a built-in camera would be able to read these barcodes and wirelessly download an encoded program, from ring tones to critical software updates.... The technology could also be used to scan and translate foreign text, or to show a user information, or coupons about a specific product.
The Baltimore Examiner: "Online support groups can help smokers and other addicts kick their deadly habits, according to a study recently released by researchers at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. After analyzing the behaviors of more than 400 Quitnet.com users, university researchers found 62 percent of survey respondents successfully stopped smoking due to their relationships with other site members.
Society & Culture
The Program on International Policy Attitudes released a poll on the same day the Iraq Study Group released its recommendations to President Bush. PIPA's WorldPublicOpinion.org poll found that a majority of Americans believed that the way the United States had been using the threat of military force has actaully diminished US security. Sixty-three percent believed that countries around the world have grown more afraid that the United States will use force against them, and the same number thinks this is bad for US security. The poll was developed in conjunction with the December conference, "Leveraging US Strength in an Uncertain World," held by the Stanley Foundation at the Ronald Reagan Building on Pennsylvania Ave.
Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, releases a poll showing deep divides among Lebanon's religious communities. Agence France-Press: "A wide gap exists between Lebanon's Shiite and other communities in their opinion on a number of issues including the outcome of the recent war with Israel and the situation in Iraq and Iran, according to a survey." The Zobgy International poll, commissioned by Telhami, "shows that more than 70 percent of the country's Muslim Shiites believe that Israel was the biggest loser in the war with the militant group Hezbollah this summer. That's in contrast to Sunnis, Christians and Druze in the country who overwhelmingly believe that the Lebanese people were the biggest losers."
ABC News: "Working women might be gaining acceptance from both their colleagues and their children, but the same kids who say it's OK for Mommy to work full-time away from home might think it's not OK for Daddy to take on a stay-at-home role, says new research. University of Maryland researchers Melanie Killen and Stefanie Sinno asked 121 children � boys and girls, ages 7 and 10 � if they thought it was all right for dads to stay home and take care of kids, while moms work full-time outside of the home. While few children had negative stereotypes about moms working, many more children had negative stereotypes about dads taking care of them."
Baltimore Sun: "Maryland should consider changing its three-year-old charter school law to get rid of some of the barriers to opening new schools and keeping them in business, according to a study done for the state. In the past two years, 22 schools have been chartered in Maryland, but they are hindered by limited funding and difficulties in finding buildings. They also are chafing under local school system rules that don't give them enough independence, the report said. If school districts are approving charters, they also have some responsibility to ensure that they are creating conditions for the schools to succeed, said Lauren Morando Rhim, the University of Maryland faculty research associate (special education; Education) who was the lead author of the report."
TV reality shows rarely touch academia, but ABC News features an on-air contest based on Thomas Schelling's Nobel Prize-winning game theory. From the network: "The notion of credible threat is part of what won the Nobel Prize for Thomas Schelling of the University of Maryland. According to Schelling, for a threat to work, there must be absolutely no doubt it will happen...Schelling believes that what applies in international geo-political circles, can also apply in everyday situations. Thus, with the help of Barry Nalebuff, a professor at Yale University's School of Management, Primetime created a credible threat for weight loss."
Press Trust of India: "Laxity at work and lack of responsibility have often been cited as major drawbacks of call centre workers here, but now an Indian-American plans to teach BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) employees a thing or two about work ethics and delivering quality. Payal Tak, CEO of Telesis Corporation, a U.S.-based company providing information technology services to the Federal Government, plans to start academic courses for call centre employees in association with the University of Maryland and the Indraprastha University here."
Ruth Fassinger, professor in the College of Education's department of counseling and personnel services, was among the experts speaking out before the question of gay marriage came before Maryland's Court of Appeals, the state's highest judiciary. Washington Post: "Laws that limit marriage to heterosexual couples 'provide a state-sanctioned stigma against children and families,' said Ruth Fassinger, professor of psychology at the University of Maryland." Baltimore Sun: " 'There is absolutely no scientific basis for legal discrimination against gay and lesbian couples and families regarding their rights to parent and marry as everyone else does,' said Ruth Fassinger... during a news conference held at the Baltimore headquarters of the Maryland chapter of the National Association of Social Workers."
Scientific American: "Taking physical education (PE) class every school day for a full year improves high school girls' cardiovascular fitness, a new study shows. But daily PE class has become a rarity at U.S. schools, Dr. Deborah Rohm Young (kinesiology) of the University of Maryland in College Park, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health<. 'More and more schools are getting rid of it,' she said, noting that many require just a year or a single semester of PE throughout the four years of high school."
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