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Undergrads Discover Rare Eclipsing Double Asteroid

January 7, 2014
Contacts: 

Heather Dewar 301-405-9267
Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Students in a University of Maryland undergraduate astronomy class have made a rare discovery that wowed professional astronomers: a previously unstudied asteroid is actually a pair of asteroids that orbit and regularly eclipse one another.

This artist's rendering shows an impending eclipse of the binary asteroid 3905 Doppler as the larger asteroid begins to pass in front of the smaller one, as seen from a vantage point on Earth. University of Maryland undergraduates discovered that 3905 Doppler is one of fewer than 100 known binary asteroids in the main asteroid belt. Illustration: Loretta KuoFewer than 100 asteroids of this type have been identified in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, said Melissa Hayes-Gehrke, who teaches the hands-on class for non-astronomy majors in which eight students made the find in the fall semester 2013.

The students' discovery that 3905 Doppler is an eclipsing binary asteroid will be presented in a poster session Jan. 7 at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in National Harbor, Md., and published in April in the Minor Planet Bulletin.

"This is a fantastic discovery," said UMD Astronomy Professor Drake Deming, who was not involved with the class.  "A binary asteroid with such an unusual lightcurve is pretty rare. It provides an unprecedented opportunity to learn about the physical properties and orbital evolution of these objects."

"Actually contributing to the scientific community and seeing established scientists getting legitimately excited about our findings is a very good feeling," said Terence Basile, a junior from Beltsville, Md., majoring in cell biology.

One of hundreds of thousands of pieces of cosmic debris in our solar system's main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, 3905 Doppler was discovered in 1984, but over the coming decades it attracted scant attention. In September 2013, Hayes-Gehrke's students picked it and two other asteroids from an astronomy journal's list of asteroids worth observing because they were well positioned in the autumn sky and were scientific enigmas.

Student teams studying 3905 Doppler met over four nights in October 2013. Each four-person team observed and photographed the asteroid, using a privately owned telescope in Nerpio, Spain, which they accessed and controlled over the Internet. Their main task was to photograph changes in the intensity of each asteroid's reflected light and turn those images into a lightcurve.

A lightcurve is a graph of a celestial object's brightness over time. Variations in brightness are often due to the object's shape, with spherical objects like planets yielding lightcurves that do not vary, and asymmetrical objects like asteroids producing peaks and valleys as the amount of reflected light varies. By measuring the time between maximum light intensities, planetologists can tell how fast an asteroid is rotating. Most asteroids complete a rotation in a few hours to a day.

"When we looked at the images we didn't realize we had anything special, because the brightness difference is not something you can see with your eyes," Hayes-Gehrke said. But when the two teams studying 3905 Doppler used a computer program to chart its lightcurve, they found the asteroid's light occasionally faded to nearly nothing.

"It was incredibly frustrating," said Alec Bartek, a senior physics major from Brookeville, Md. "For some reason our light curve didn't look right."

It was as though the rotating rock had suddenly gone dark – and Hayes-Gehrke suspected that's exactly what was happening. She thought 3905 Doppler was actually two asteroids orbiting one another. When one of the two asteroids blocked the telescope's view of its companion, the result was an asteroid eclipse – and a sharp dip in the light curve.

An amateur astronomer in Italy who was viewing 3905 Doppler at about the same time shared his data with the students. Observations by the Italian, Lorenzo Franco, confirmed the lightcurve came from a binary asteroid.

"Even then I was not fully aware of how special the discovery was," said sophomore economics major Brady Bent of Arbutus, Md. "I thought it just meant we would have to do more work. As we continued to analyze our data, other professors in the Astronomy Department came over to view our work. At this point I understood just how rare our find was."

The two asteroids are probably roughly potato-shaped and pocked with impact craters made by strikes from other space debris, Hayes-Gehrke said. The smaller one is about three-quarters the length of the larger one. They orbit each other end to end. Each orbit takes 51 hours – an unusually long time and one the student researchers can't explain. Now that the students have shown how unusual the asteroid is, it's likely that other astronomers will study it.

"Picking the asteroid was luck," Hayes-Gehrke said. So was the fact that the students' camera happened to record an eclipse. But then the students used the same problem-solving techniques a professional astronomer would use to explain an unexpected finding.

"That's the whole point of the class," Hayes-Gehrke said. "I'm hoping they'll keep in mind, when they read about scientific results, that it's not a cut-and-dried process, but the scientist probably had to go through some kind of struggle to get results."

 

For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

Racism May Accelerate Aging in African American Men

January 7, 2014
Contacts: 

Kelly Blake 301-405-9418

UMD-led study is first to link racism-related factors and cellular age

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - A new University of Maryland-led study reveals that racism may impact aging at the cellular level. Researchers found signs of accelerated aging in African American men who reported high levels of racial discrimination and who had internalized anti-Black attitudes. Findings from the study, which is the first to link racism-related factors and biological aging, are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Racial disparities in health are well-documented, with African Americans having shorter life expectancy, and a greater likelihood of suffering from aging-related illnesses at younger ages compared to whites. Accelerated aging at the biological level may be one mechanism linking racism and disease risk.

“We examined a biomarker of systemic aging, known as leukocyte telomere length,” explained Dr. David H. Chae, assistant professor of epidemiology at UMD's School of Public Health and the study’s lead investigator. Shorter telomere length is associated with increased risk of premature death and chronic disease such as diabetes, dementia, stroke and heart disease.  “We found that the African American men who experienced greater racial discrimination and who displayed a stronger bias against their own racial group had the shortest telomeres of those studied,” Chae explained.

 
  Telomeres are repetitive sequences of DNA capping the ends of chromosomes. Shorter telomere length is associated with increased risk of premature death and chronic disease such as diabetes, dementia, stroke and heart disease.

Telomeres are repetitive sequences of DNA capping the ends of chromosomes, which shorten progressively over time – at a rate of approximately 50-100 base pairs annually. Telomere length is variable, shortening more rapidly under conditions of high psychosocial and physiological stress. “Telomere length may be a better indicator of biological age, which can give us insight into variations in the cumulative ‘wear and tear’ of the organism net of chronological age,” said Chae. Among African American men with stronger anti-black attitudes, investigators found that average telomere length was 140 base pairs shorter in those reporting high vs. low levels of racial discrimination; this difference may equate to 1.4 to 2.8 years chronologically.

Participants in the study were 92 African American men between 30-50 years of age. Investigators asked them about their experiences of discrimination in different domains, including work and housing, as well as in getting service at stores or restaurants, from the police, and in other public settings. They also measured racial bias using the Black-White Implicit Association Test. This test gauges unconscious attitudes and beliefs about race groups that people may be unaware of or unwilling to report.

Even after adjusting for participants’ chronological age, socioeconomic factors, and health-related characteristics, investigators found that the combination of high racial discrimination and anti-black bias was associated with shorter telomeres. On the other hand, the data revealed that racial discrimination had little relationship with telomere length among those holding pro-black attitudes. “African American men who have more positive views of their racial group may be buffered from the negative impact of racial discrimination,” explained Chae. “In contrast, those who have internalized an anti-black bias may be less able to cope with racist experiences, which may result in greater stress and shorter telomeres.”

The findings from this study are timely in light of regular media reports of racism facing African American men. “Stop-and-frisk policies, and other forms of criminal profiling such as ‘driving or shopping while black’ are inherently stressful and have a real impact on the health of African Americans,” said Chae. Researchers found that racial discrimination by police was most commonly reported by participants in the study, followed by discrimination in employment. In addition, African American men are more routinely treated with less courtesy or respect, and experience other daily hassles related to racism.

Chae indicated the need for additional research to replicate findings, including larger studies that follow participants over time. “Despite the limitations of our study, we contribute to a growing body of research showing that social toxins disproportionately impacting African American men are harmful to health,” Chae explained. “Our findings suggest that racism literally makes people old.”

“Discrimination, Racial Bias, and Telomere Length in African-American Men” was written by David H. Chae (University of Maryland, College Park); Amani M. Nuru-Jeter ( University of California, Berkeley); Nancy E. Adler, Jue Lin, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, and Elissa S. Epel ( University of California, San Francisco); and Gene H. Brody (Emory University) and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging, the University of California, and Emory University.

 

For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

Bioentrepreneurship Leader Joins UM Ventures Team

January 6, 2014
Contacts: 

Pamela R. Morse 301-405-6266

Martha ConnollyCOLLEGE PARK, Md. — University of Maryland Ventures (UM Ventures) announced today that Dr. Martha J. Connolly has been named director of bioentrepreneurship, a new program supported by the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech) and the A. James Clark School of Engineering, designed to enhance collaboration between the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) as part of the MPowering the State initiative.

"UM Ventures creates an integrated innovation ecosystem that includes entrepreneurial support resources," said James Hughes, chief economic development officer and vice president at UMB. "Experts like Martha help turn novel ideas into sustainable businesses, and I'm pleased to have her as part of our enterprise."

Connolly joins the UM Ventures team whose goal is to foster entrepreneurship among faculty and students. She will lead the first-ever course in entrepreneurship on the UMB campus starting this month. Students from the schools of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, law, social work, dentistry and the UMB graduate school are eligible. Connolly is also working closely with 16 teams of engineering students from College Park who are paired with UMB clinical faculty to define problems in healthcare, then developing products to improve patient health and clinical outcomes. Increasingly, students look at careers beyond the traditional academic research path and these courses will prepare them for careers in private industry.

"Martha Connolly is a highly regarded and proven professional in technology-based economic development in the state of Maryland," said University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan. "As one of the state's first biotechnology advocates, she helped lay the foundation for the state's now-thriving bioscience economy."

Connolly has served as director of the Mtech Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) program since 2003. MIPS is a grant program that funds and connects Maryland companies with University System of Maryland faculty to develop commercially promising technology products.

As head of MIPS, where nearly 40 percent of funding is awarded to bioscience-related projects, Connolly connected faculty with companies such as MedImmune, CSA Medical, WellDoc, PharmAthene, GenVec, Innovative Biosensors, 20/20 Gene Systems, Alba Therapeutics, A&G Pharmaceutical and Gliknik to foster development of new products.

Previous to MIPS, Connolly directed business development activities at a publicly traded biopharmaceutical company, and co-founded a startup technology development and commercialization firm.

Before that, Connolly was the first-ever biotechnology advocate hired at the state level at the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) to foster the state's then fledgling bioscience industry. During her time at DBED, she helped grow the Maryland bioscience community from 300 to 450 businesses.

Connolly was the first woman to graduate from The Johns Hopkins University's biomedical engineering doctoral program and was among the first class of co-eds at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

Connolly worked on funded research from both the National Institutes of Health and the American Lung Association as a faculty member and director of an independent research laboratory at UMB for 11 years. She has authored 37 full-length, peer-reviewed publications in the area of cardiovascular systems physiology and bioengineering.

In 2007, the Daily Record named Connolly one of Maryland's 50 Most Influential People. In 2010, she received the President's Award from the Greater Baltimore Committee's Bioscience Alliance. In 2013, she was elected a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering.

About UM Ventures
UM Ventures is an initiative to channel the tremendous technical resources and research expertise of the University of Maryland, engaging partners in industry and social ventures to expand real world impact. By encouraging students and faculty, providing expert advice and business services, more discoveries will reach the market. By engaging directly with external partners UM Ventures brings new investment, expanded markets and more start-up ventures.

About MPowering the State
The University of Maryland: MPowering the State brings together two universities of distinction to form a new collaborative partnership.  Harnessing the resources of each, the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore will focus the collective expertise on critical state-wide issues of public health, biomedical informatics, and bioengineering. This collaboration will drive an even greater impact on the state, its economy, the job market, and the next generation of innovators.  The joint initiatives will have a profound effect on productivity, the economy, and the very fabric of higher education.

 

For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

UMD to Collaborate on Unmanned Aircraft System Research

January 2, 2014
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it has selected the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) as one of six unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test sites to support integration of UAS into the national airspace system. The University System of Maryland, through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with Virginia Tech and Rutgers University in September, will collaborate and partner on the FAA UAS test site, providing coordinated research and testing. The MOU highlighted the cooperative UAS research conducted by the three institutions, the research and testing proficiencies, and the potential for an efficient integration effort.

In collaboration with MAAP, a team from the University of Maryland will work closely with the FAA to define research outcomes and processes that will lead to the safe, efficient and robust integration of unmanned systems. That integration will be in stages over several years, with the FAA’s rulemaking process guiding the way.

“Maryland is home to the world’s leading center of UAS activity – the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River – and an array of other assets. At both the university level and among federal facilities, Maryland has been performing testing and development of UAS for more than two decades,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “The selection of MAAP as one of the UAS test sites leverages the unparalleled capabilities of three world-class educational institutions to create jobs and generate a significant economic boon to the state, the region and the nation.”

Designation as an FAA test site under the 2012 federal law requiring integration of UAS by September 2015 carries with it requirements to support research and testing efforts that lead to future regulations governing the use of UAS, especially in the commercial arena, as well as features protecting privacy under such operations.

“The combined resources of the Mid-Atlantic states represent a majority share of the UAS research and testing assets in the United States,” said Patrick O’Shea, vice president for research at the University of Maryland. “As a collaborative unit, our significant resources offer tremendous opportunity to satisfy the efforts envisioned by the FAA and the larger UAS community related to this important project.”

“From research activities to innovation and economic development, we look forward to significant advances in unmanned vehicle technology in Maryland,” said Darryll Pines, University of Maryland Clark School of Engineering Dean and Farvardin Professor.

Maryland’s prowess in UAS research, testing and development is reflected in the University System of Maryland and other renowned educational institutions, federal facilities such as the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division at Naval Air Station Patuxent River and NASA Goddard Flight Center, local airports, and numerous industry partners to support research and testing efforts. The full support of the delegation representing Maryland was mobilized as well to reinforce the critical capabilities that are being brought to bear.

Sens. Mikulski and Cardin along with Congressman Hoyer of the Maryland delegation added in a joint statement, “With a number of premier federal assets, outstanding higher education institutions, and strong industry partners, our region leads in the area of autonomous systems. We appreciate all the resources that came together to partner on this effort, which will increase the safety, efficiency, and reliability of our nation’s airspace and will support job creation in the region. We will maintain our nation’s preeminence in these highly technical areas only by this kind of collaborative approach and look forward to partnering with all stakeholders as this effort moves forward."

“We have the safest airspace in the world thanks to the FAA and its supporting structures,” said Matt Scassero, Director of the UMD UAS Test Site. “This will be an evolutionary process, implementing new technologies with time-tested methodologies to evaluate them, and a proven regulatory environment to enact the rules that will necessarily govern this new industry. We look forward to being a part of this exciting endeavor.”

 

For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

UMD Professors Honored with Presidential Award

January 2, 2014
Contacts: 

Ted Knight 301-405-3596

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – President Obama has named three University of Maryland faculty members as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Sarah Bergbreiter and Aerospace Engineering Associate Professor Derek Paley, both part of the Clark School of Engineering with joint appointments with UMD's Institute for Systems Research, and Gretchen Campbell, a fellow of the university's Joint Quantum Institute and adjunct assistant professor, were selected for the PECASE award, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

“The impressive achievements of these early-stage scientists and engineers are promising indicators of even greater successes ahead,” President Obama said in a White House press release. “We are grateful for their commitment to generating the scientific and technical advancements that will ensure America’s global leadership for many years to come.”

Sarah BergbreiterBergbrieter, whose PECASE nomination was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, received her B.S.E. degree in electrical engineering from Princeton University in 1999. After a short introduction to the challenges of sensor networks at a small startup company, she received the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California, Berkeley in 2004 and 2007 with a focus on microrobotics. Her research aims to bridge work in systems and control with research in microsystems and fabrication.

She has received the DARPA Young Faculty Award and the NSF CAREER Award for her research on engineering robotic systems down to sub-millimeter size scales, and she was recently selected by the robotics website Robohub as one of the top "25 women in robotics you need to know about."

Derek PaleyPaley, whose PECASE nomination was sponsored by the Department of Defense, is the founding director of the Collective Dynamics and Control Laboratory and a member of the Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center, the Maryland Robotics Center, the Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science, and the Applied Mathematics and Statistics, and Scientific Computation Program. Paley received the B.S. degree in Applied Physics from Yale University in 1997 and the Ph.D. degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University in 2007. He has received the National Science Foundation CAREER award and is co-author of Engineering Dynamics: A Comprehensive Introduction (Princeton University Press, 2011).

Paley's research interests are in the area of dynamics and control, including cooperative control of autonomous vehicles, adaptive sampling with mobile networks, and spatial modeling of biological groups. His research is based on support by the U.S. Army, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Science Foundation. Paley is an Associate Fellow of AIAA and a Senior Member of IEEE.

"I am very proud of both faculty members and delighted to see this outstanding recognition of their research and educational activities," said Clark School Dean and Farvardin Professor Darryll Pines.

Campbell currently runs two experiments on ultracold atoms. One currently focuses on using a toroidal shaped Bose-Einstein condensate to build atomic analogs to electron-based superconducting circuits--so-called atomtronics. Her other experiment, currently in the building phase, will use strontium atoms to perform quantum simulations. - See more at: http://jqi.umd.edu/news/jqi-fellow-gretchen-campbell-receives-pecase#sth...

Campbell, also a NIST scientist, currently runs two experiments on ultracold atoms. One focuses on using a toroidal shaped Bose-Einstein condensate to build atomic analogs to electron-based superconducting circuits--so-called atomtronics. Her other experiment, currently in the building phase, will use strontium atoms to perform quantum simulations. Campbell received a Ph.D from MIT in 2006.

The PECASE awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.

 

For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

With Fewer Hard Frosts, Tropical Mangroves Push North

December 30, 2013
Contacts: 

Heather Dewar 410-268-7695

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Cold-sensitive mangrove forests have expanded dramatically along Florida's Atlantic Coast as the frequency of killing frosts has declined, according to a new study based on 28 years of satellite data from the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md.

Photo caption: A newly established black mangrove grows amid salt marsh plants north of St. Augustine, Florida, near the northern limit of this cold-sensitive tropical tree. Mangroves are expanding into North Florida as killing frosts become rare there. Photo courtesy of Kyle C. Cavanaugh.Between 1984 and 2011, the Florida Atlantic coast from the Miami area northward gained more than 3,000 acres (1,240 hectares) of mangroves. All the increase occurred north of Palm Beach County. Between Cape Canaveral National Seashore and Saint Augustine, mangroves doubled in area. Meanwhile between the study's first five years and its last five years, nearby Daytona Beach recorded 1.4 fewer days per year when temperatures fell below 28.4 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 degrees Celsius). The number of killing frosts in southern Florida was unchanged.
 
The mangroves' march up the coast as far north as St. Augustine, Fla., is a striking example of one way climate change's impacts show up in nature. Rising temperatures lead to new patterns of extreme weather, which in turn cause major changes in plant communities, say the study's authors.

Unlike many studies which focus on changes in average temperatures, this study, published online Dec. 30 in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that changes in the frequency of rare, severe events can determine whether landscapes hold their ground or are transformed by climate change.

The mangrove forests are edging out salt marshes, said University of Maryland Entomology Professor Daniel S. Gruner, a study co-author.  "This is what we would expect to see happening with climate change, one ecosystem replacing another," said Gruner, who co-leads an interdisciplinary research project on mangrove ecosystems, along with Ilka C. Feller of the Smithsonian. "But at this point we don't have enough information to predict what the long term consequences will be."

One valuable ecosystem replaces another – at what cost?
"Some people may say this is a good thing, because of the tremendous threats that mangroves face," said the study's lead author, Kyle Cavanaugh, a Smithsonian postdoctoral research fellow. "But this is not taking place in a vacuum. The mangroves are replacing salt marshes, which have important ecosystem functions and food webs of their own."

Mangrove forests grow in calm, shallow coastal waters throughout the tropics. Salt marshes fill that niche in temperate zones. Both provide crucial habitat for wildlife, including endangered species and commercially valuable fish and shellfish. Some animals use both types of habitat. Others, like marsh-nesting seaside sparrows or the honey bees that produce mangrove honey, rely on one or the other.

Both provide valuable ecosystem services, buffering floods, storing atmospheric carbon and building soils. Both are in decline nationally and globally. Mangrove forests are cut down for charcoal production, aquaculture and urbanization or lose habitat to drainage projects. Salt marshes are threatened by drainage, polluted runoff and rising sea levels.

Florida naturalists noticed that mangroves now grow in places that once were too chilly for the tropical trees. "We knew this was happening, but no one knew if it was a local or a regional phenomenon," Cavanaugh said.

Study used satellite photos, the "gold standard" in climate change
Cavanaugh, an expert in remote sensing, turned to photographs of Florida's Atlantic coast taken by NASA's Landsat 5, which launched in 1984 and tracked changes in Earth's land cover until 2011. "It very quickly became a gold standard to examine the effects of climate change, because it lets you look back in time," Cavanaugh said.

The satellite images revealed the mangroves' expansion into terrain formerly inhabited by salt marsh plants. While the study only looked at the Atlantic Coast, the same trend is taking place on Florida's Gulf Coast, Cavanaugh and Gruner said.

Mean winter temperatures have risen at seven of eight coastal weather stations in the study area. But if overall warming benefited mangroves, the mangrove cover should have increased all over Florida, not only in the north. Average winter temperature, rainfall, and urban or agricultural land use did not explain the mangroves' expansion. Only fewer freezing days at the northern end of their range matched the trend.

The researchers are studying effects on coastal insects and birds; whether the change will affect coastal ecosystems' ability to store carbon; and whether juvenile fish and commercially valuable shellfish will remain abundant in the changing plant communities.

Cavanaugh is looking at Landsat 5 imagery for Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand to see if mangroves are expanding elsewhere as they are in Florida.

The NASA Climate and Biological Response Program and the National Science Foundation funded this research.

UMD & the Smithsonian, close collaborators in research and education
The University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institution have a long history of informal educational and research partnerships, particularly in climate change, population biology, evolutionary biology and ecology. In 2009 and 2010, UMD and the Smithsonian strengthened the relationship with three formal agreements:

  • a memorandum of understanding that facilitates collaboration between these two leading Washington, D.C., area institutions;
  • an agreement creating a joint Consortium for Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology;
  • an accord between the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and UMD's graduate program in Behavior, Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, forming a seed grant program to support existing collaborations and new projects.   

Photo caption: A newly established black mangrove grows amid salt marsh plants north of St. Augustine, Florida, near the northern limit of this cold-sensitive tropical tree. Mangroves are expanding into North Florida as killing frosts become rare there. Photo courtesy of Kyle C. Cavanaugh.

 

For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

$100,000 Awarded to Seed Grant Competition Winners

December 23, 2013
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301-405-0235

The Future of Information Alliance has chosen six University of Maryland teams as award winners in the second annual FIA-Deutsch Foundation Seed Grant Competition.COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Future of Information Alliance has chosen six University of Maryland teams as award winners in the second annual FIA-Deutsch Foundation Seed Grant Competition. This program encourages interdisciplinary teams of students and their faculty mentors to engage in research providing innovative solutions for key information-related challenges.

These six teams include 26 students and eight faculty mentors from 10 UMD schools and colleges.  They will have the opportunity to consult with six of the FIA's Founding Partners during the course of their work: Sesame Workshop, the National Geographic Society, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Newseum.  The program is funded by a three-year grant from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.

Four of the teams have won up to $25,000 per team in stipends and expenses to carry out their projects, and their members have been designated FIA-Deutsch Student and Faculty Fellows. Two other teams have been designated as FIA-Deutsch Seed Grant Honorees. They will receive up to $3,000 per team for expenses. The teams will present their results on April 23, 2014.

"The FIA-Deutsch Seed Grant program, now in its second year, has been an innovative way of encouraging student-driven research and collaboration in an interdisciplinary way," said Patrick O'Shea, UMD's Vice President for Research. "Last year's teams successfully tackled such issues as creating a model for safe social networking among middle schoolers interested in National Parks and a model for introducing girls to the process of creating content for sites such as Wikipedia. These projects will continue to have real-world applications, and we anticipate big things from these winners."

These four teams of FIA-Deutsch Fellows include:

  • Text Message Innovation for Promoting Family Physical Activity among Parents and Their Preschoolers: This project will develop an interactive text message-based program to increase family physical activity and reduce risk of childhood obesity. The outcome will be a "library" of 50 prototype text messages designed for parents of preschool-aged children, a delivery algorithm for the messages, and a plan for assessing the effectiveness of the messages.
  • Locating People in the Past: Creating New Geographic and Historic Knowledge by Embedding the United States Census within Historic Maps: This project in the evolving field of historic Geographic Information Systems will combine 19th century maps of Talbot County, Maryland, with U.S. Census returns from the same period. Both the resulting database and the methods will be available on the web to improve public access to important resources for understanding history, including the history of slavery, and to enable other researchers around the country to undertake similar projects.
  • Re-imaging and Re-imagining Choreometrics: This team will reimagine the ways in which the 2,138 film clips of dances from around the world that comprise the Alan Lomax collection at the Library of Congress could be digitized, marked up, analyzed, cross-referenced, and made accessible to the public. They will develop a wiki site to provide information on the film clips, the Choreometrics project – which was intended as a way of understanding and describing dance across cultures – and the means by which scholars might access this rich collection.
  • Research Impact Quotient (Research IQ): Designing a Dashboard to Track How Grant Funding Translates into Knowledge: The project will develop a template for a tool to mine professional research outputs, traditional media content, and online content in order to measure the impacts of such work with clear, compelling, and comparable metrics. This will give research funders such as the National Geographic Society and other grant-making entities a way to gather, present, track, compare, and analyze the relative impact of funding on the research agenda and the public agenda.

The two teams of FIA-Deutsch Seed Grant Honorees are:

  • "Born on the Curb": An Application of Citizen History to Enhance Public Understanding of Entrepreneurial Finance: This project will build a web-based platform to support public participation in the documentation of historical events. The team will focus initially on capturing the history of the Curb Market, the predecessor to the American Stock Exchange and the leading "crowdfunding platform" of the early 20th century. The project will engage interested citizens to contribute to collaboratively-generated company histories guided by instructional videos and research templates.
  • Empower Ecuador – Assessing Water Needs for Social Justice:  This team will examine the intersection environmental and social issues surrounding a community situated in an Ecuadorian watershed, balancing the national need for generation of hydroelectric energy with citizens' rights for water to irrigate their crops. Geographic information systems, crop modeling techniques, and real-time weather stations will be used to help farmers better understand their irrigation needs and make their case for water rights.

The Future of Information Alliance is directed by Ira Chinoy, associate dean and associate professor at UMD's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, and Allison Druin, a professor at UMD's iSchool and the Chief Futurist in the office of the Vice President for Research.  The Alliance was founded in 2011 to serve as a catalyst for transdisciplinary dialogue, research and action on evolving issues related to the role of information in our lives

For additional information, visit http://www.fia.umd.edu/seedgrants/.

 

For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

UMD Leadership Opposes Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

December 23, 2013
Contacts: 

Crystal Brown, crystalb@umd.edu

University of MarylandCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh and Senior Vice President and Provost Mary Ann Rankin have issued the following joint statement opposing the boycott of Israeli academic institutions:

"We firmly oppose the call by some academic associations—American Studies Association; Asian-American Studies Association—to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Any such boycott is a breach of the principle of academic freedom that undergirds the University of Maryland and, indeed, all of American higher education.

"Faculty, students, and staff on our campus must remain free to study, do research, and participate in meetings with colleagues from around the globe. The University of Maryland has longstanding relationships with several Israeli universities. We have many exchanges of scholars and students. We will continue and deepen these relationships.

"In the United States, we can disagree with the governmental policies of a nation without sanctioning the universities of that nation, or the American universities that collaborate with them. To restrict the free flow of people and ideas with some universities because of their national identity is unwise, unnecessary, and irreconcilable with our core academic values."

Students Give $10k to Help Victims of Sex Trafficking

December 20, 2013
Contacts: 

Megan Campbell 301-405-4390

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Forty students in the University of Maryland School of Public Policy's Art and Science of Philanthropy class began the semester faced with a dilemma few college students experience: they had $10,000 to make a real difference and sustainable impact. The question was what issue and which organization – and how to reach a consensus.

Students from the Art and Science of Philanthropy class answer questions related to their experience in the course. The students, who take the public policy class taught by Professor Robert Grimm through UMD's Honors College, learn about effective approaches to philanthropy and nonprofit leadership by operating as a class philanthropy fund. After an arduous process of selecting an issue, in this case empowering and advocating for victims of sex trafficking, they wrote a mission statement, developed key criteria for their grants process, wrote a request for proposals, reviewed applications for eight organizations, conducted six phone interviews and made four site visits. Ultimately, they chose FAIR Girls in DC, a program that prevents the exploitation of girls worldwide with empowerment and education.

On Thursday, Dec. 19, the students delivered a check for $10,000 to FAIR Girls at a grant-award ceremony in Van Munching Hall on the UMD campus.

FAIR Girls currently operates programs in Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, Russia, Uganda, and the United States. The FAIR Girls home office in Washington, D.C., offers compassionate care to prevent the exploitation of all girls, with a special emphasis on girls who have experienced homelessness, life inside the foster care system, sexual abuse, and trafficking.

The Art and Science of Philanthropy students' grant will enable FAIR Girls in DC to support and empower five survivors full of potential for one year with the three critical C's: crisis intervention, case management and court advocacy.

Lara White, a sophomore neurobiology and physiology major from Bethesda, Md., said the class initially intrigued her "by the fact that students would be able to make a difference." She shared how the class took a large topic, sex trafficking, and collaboratively narrowed the scope down to victim support. In addition to "loving that feeling of doing good which made the class an amazing experience," White also learned practical skills. She is now able to review a budget, which previously seemed intimidating, and use the financial information to learn about an organization.

Grimm, who teaches the class and directs the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at the School of Public Policy, said that hands-on experience makes the class a powerful learning experience. The first part of the class is "philanthropy boot camp" and covers how to set up a grant program.  The class then reviews applications, interviews applicants, does site visits, and finally makes the tough group decision about which applicant most deserves funding and why. Along the way, students learn about the evolution of philanthropy in American society.  They also learn about the effective practices of leaders and nonprofit.

Sarah Lu, FAIR Girl's director of developmentFAIR Girl's Sarah Lu (pictured left), director of development, said working with the students rather than typical funders was a different experience; she could really get a sense of the students' passion on this issue. "Being an educated giver is important." She went on to say that the donors who make this School of Public Policy class available don't just impact the organization and its cause, "they change the lives of these 40 students."

Grimm said that's exactly what he hopes to accomplish through the class. "It's not so much a class as an experience," Grimm said.  "By the end of the semester, I want students to be using their heads as much as their hearts, to think objectively about which applicants are a good investment and how to work together to change lives."

 

For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

Inadequate Pregnancy Weight Gain a Risk Factor for Infant Mortality

December 20, 2013
Contacts: 

Kelly Blake 301-405-9418

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Women who do not gain enough weight during pregnancy are at increased risk of losing their baby in its first year of life, according to a new study by researchers in the University of Maryland School of Public Health. This study examined the relationship between gestational weight gain, mothers' body mass index (BMI) before and during pregnancy, and infant mortality rates.

One-quarter of the more than 159,000 women in the study gained too little weight during pregnancy, and these mothers were more likely to give birth to babies who died in infancy than the women who gained a normal or even excessive amount of weight during pregnancy. The study is published in the American Journal of Public Health and was conducted by Dr. Regina Davis, associate executive director of the American Public Health Association; Dr. Sandra Hofferth, professor; and Dr. Edmond Shenassa, associate professor. All three are affiliated with UMD's Maternal and Child Health Program in the Department of Family Science. Hofferth and Shenassa are also faculty associates of UMD's Maryland Population Research Center.

"Our study showed that gaining too little weight during pregnancy is a risk factor for infant mortality for all but the heaviest women," explained Dr. Davis. Gaining more weight than recommended was not a risk factor for infant mortality, but may be related to subsequent maternal health problems. "It is important that childbearing women have pregnancy weight gain goals that are specific to their individual BMI," added Dr. Hofferth, the study's senior author.

Pregnancy Guidelines

Recommendations for Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Study findings show that women who gain too little weight during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to babies who die in infancy

According to guidelines published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), underweight women should gain between 28 and 40 pounds during pregnancy, while normal weight women are expected to gain 25-35 pounds, overweight women 15-25 pounds, and obese women 11-20 pounds. Results from this study showed that only about a third of women gained an amount of weight that was within the recommended guidelines for their body size. Nearly 25 percent of the women in the study gained an inadequate amount of weight, while another 41 percent gained too much.

Davis, Hofferth, and Shenassa analyzed data collected from 159,244 mothers who gave birth to live, single babies between 2004 and 2008 in order to determine whether there was a link between gestational weight gain (GWG), mothers' body mass index (BMI), and infant mortality. The women in the study responded to telephone or written questionnaires within nine months after their babies' birth, and their information was recorded in the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) for use by future researchers. The study team analyzed the PRAMS data to learn whether mothers' BMI before and during pregnancy might alter the influence of GWG on infant mortality.

Infant mortality risks in the study sample were 3.9 percent among infants of mothers who gained an inadequate amount of weight during pregnancy, 1.2 percent among infants of mothers who gained an adequate amount of weight, and .7 percent among mothers who gained more than the recommended amount. Mothers' pre-pregnancy BMI was also a key factor in infant survival. Mothers who were underweight before pregnancy and gained too little weight during pregnancy had six times the normal rate of infant mortality. Even among overweight women, inadequate weight gain was associated with a two-fold elevation in the risk of mortality. Only children born to obese women were protected from the effects of inadequate weight gain. In contrast, gaining more than the recommended amount of weight was not associated with risk to the infant among mothers in any weight category. Obese mothers who gained an excessive amount of weight actually had a 49 percent reduced likelihood of infant death. 

This study confirms that only about a third of women in the U.S. gain weight during pregnancy that is within the recommended range. In order to improve the likelihood of healthy outcomes for mothers and infants, healthcare providers should provide childbearing women with gestational weight gain goals that are specific to their individual BMI. Pregnant women can help ensure the health of their infants by monitoring their weight gain, eating an appropriate amount of healthy foods, and engaging in reasonable physical activity.

 

For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

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