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Monday, July 27, 2015

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UMD Study Finds Connecting Uninsured Patients to Primary Care Could Reduce ER Use

May 6, 2015

Kelly Blake 301-405-9418
Hillery Tsumba 301-628-3425

Montgomery County, Md. Initiative Could Improve Health, Reduce Costs

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – An intervention to connect low-income uninsured and Medicaid patients to a reliable source of primary health care shows promise for reducing avoidable use of hospital emergency departments in Maryland. A University of Maryland School of Public Health study evaluating the results of the intervention was published this week in the May issue of the journal Health Affairs

For twenty years, use of hospital emergency departments has been on the rise in the United States, particularly among low-income patients who face barriers to accessing health care outside of hospitals, including not having an identifiable primary health care provider. Almost half of emergency room visits are considered “avoidable.” The Emergency Department-Primary Care Connect Initiative of the Primary Care Coalition, which ran from 2009 through 2011, linked low-income uninsured and Medicaid patients to safety-net health clinics. 

“Our study found that uninsured patients with chronic health issues – such as those suffering from hypertension, diabetes, asthma, COPD, congestive heart failure, depression or anxiety – relied less on the emergency department after they were linked to a local health clinic for ongoing care,” says Dr. Karoline Mortensen, assistant professor of health services administration at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and senior researcher. “Connecting patients to primary care and expanding the availability of these safety-net clinics could reduce emergency department visits and provide better continuity of care for vulnerable populations.”  

Funded by a grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the initiative engaged all five of the hospitals operating in Montgomery County, Maryland at the time, and four safety-net clinics serving low-income patients. Using “patient navigators,” individuals trained to help patients find the care they need and can afford, these hospitals referred more than 10,000 low-income, uninsured and Medicaid patients who visited emergency departments to four local primary care clinics, with the goal of encouraging them to establish an ongoing relationship with the clinic and reduce their reliance on costly emergency department care. 

Two hospitals in Montgomery County who participated in the intervention continued the program after the initial grant period concluded because of the benefits they saw for patients and for reducing emergency department visits and associated costs. These hospitals are currently testing a new version of the intervention specifically deigned to link emergency department patients with behavioral health conditions to appropriate community-based services. 

While hospital administrators and health policy experts throughout the country are recognizing that access to primary care improves continuity of care for patients and reduces avoidable use of emergency departments, the implications of this project are particularly important for hospitals in Maryland, which are now operating under a unique all-payer model for hospital payments. Within this new payment structure, Maryland hospitals will have to meet ambitious spending, quality of care, and population health goals. Reducing avoidable use of emergency departments can help in reaching these goals.

The project provides promise not only for hospitals in Maryland but throughout the nation to improve health care experiences and outcomes for their patients. Shared learning systems were an integral component of the project so participants were learning from each other and sharing best practices throughout the project and that learning has now been documented and can be replicated in other communities.

“This was an incredibly rewarding project to work on,” says Barbara H. Eldridge, Manager of Quality Improvement at the Primary Care Coalition. “We created a learning system that permits us to sustain improved communication between patients and their providers, between hospital discharge planners and community based clinics, and across five hospitals operating in Montgomery County.” The initiative has proven successful in Montgomery County, Maryland and is being replicated in communities in other parts of the country. 

“Linking Uninsured Patients Treated In The Emergency Department To Primary Care Shows Some Promise In Maryland” was written by Theresa Y. Kim, Karoline Mortensen, and Barbara Eldridge and published in the journal Health Affairs

University Launches Dynamic, Interactive Information Website UMD Right Now

December 4, 2012

Crystal Brown 301-405-4618 crystalb@umd.edu

College Park, Md. – Today, the University of Maryland launched a brand-new multimedia news and information portal, UMD Right Now, which provides members of the media and the public with real-time information on the university and its extended community.

UMD Right Now replaces Newsdesk, which previously served as the university’s news hub and central resource for members of the media. The new site is aimed at reaching broader audiences and allows visitors to keep up with the latest Maryland news and events, view photos and videos and connect with the university across all of its social media platforms.

“We designed UMD Right Now to be a comprehensive, vibrant site where visitors can find new and exciting things happening at Maryland,” said Linda Martin, executive director, Web and New Media Strategies. “Through social media, video, photos and news information, we hope to engage visitors and compel the community to explore all that Maryland has to offer.”

The new website, umdrightnow.umd.edu, contains up-to-date news releases and announcements, facts and figures about the university, a searchable database of faculty and staff experts, information highlighting innovation and entrepreneurship at UMD, additional resources for news media and other campus and athletics news.

“UMD RightNow is the place to go to find out all the things happening on and around campus on any given day,” said Crystal Brown, chief communications officer. “This website brings real-time news, events and information right to your fingertips.”

For more information and contact information for the Office of University Communications, please visit umdrightnow.umd.edu.

Middle School Girls Create Virtual Reality Video Games During UMD Summer Camp

July 24, 2015

Abby Robinson 301-405-5845

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Inside the University of Maryland’s Virtual and Augmented Reality Laboratory earlier this month, 15 middle-school girls showed off the virtual reality games they created during this summer’s Computer Science Connect (CompSciConnect) program.

CompSciConnect is a two-week summer day camp that offers middle school girls the chance to explore activities in computing, including Web development, computer programming, robotics and cryptology. The students also take field trips to places where they can see the applications in computing, such as the Newseum and research institutions.

(L-R) Computer Science Connect participant Kayla Newby, teaching assistant Stacy George and participant Isha Santhosh use an Oculus Rift headset to demo the virtual reality game the two students created. Credit: John T. Consoli“Before doing this I never thought of doing computer science or thought it was that interesting, but now I realize that it really is the future of all of our careers,” said camper Erica Lopez-Haz, who will enter ninth grade this fall at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md. “Computers are becoming so crucial to our daily routines that nearly every occupation will rely on computers, and computer science will not really be optional at that point.” 

Designed as a three-year program, each cohort returns the following summer to learn more advanced skills and meets once a month during the school year to maintain their skills. This year’s three cohorts total 82 students. CompSciConnect also provides an opportunity for female undergraduate students in computing-related majors to teach younger students about computing, while sharing their own excitement about and interest in the field.

Founded by Jandelyn Plane, a senior lecturer in computer science at UMD and director of the Maryland Center for Women in Computing, CompSciConnect is entering its fourth year. The “connect” in the program’s name has a two-fold purpose, according to Plane. The first goal is to show the students how computing connects to everything in the world. The second goal is to connect the girls to one another, with the goal of them forming long-term relationships.

“Computer science is one of the least diverse fields, with those populations being very underrepresented,” Plane said. “My goal is to get middle school girls interested in areas of computing. Even if they don’t choose to major in computer science in college, it’s important to me that they have an understanding of computing for whatever field they choose to study.”

In the Virtual and Augmented Reality Laboratory—also called the “Augmentarium”—middle school students Isha Santhosh and Kayla Newby demonstrated their virtual reality game, a driving simulator where players earn points by collecting cubes floating throughout the environment. One of the most interesting parts of the project was designing the environment, said Santhosh and Newby, which they created from scratch. Santhosh will be an eighth-grader this fall at Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel, Md., and Newby will enter ninth grade this fall at Northwood High School in Rockville, Md.

Jandelyn Plane, a senior lecturer in computer science at UMD and director of the Maryland Center for Women in Computing, speaks to Computer Science Connect program participants in the Augmentarium. Credit: John T. ConsoliNewby, who joined the program last year after hearing about it at some workshops, said it has been incredibly fun to learn a bunch of new things, like developing a game using Unity 3D this year and creating a website during her first year in the program.

In addition to showcasing their games, the students learned about virtual and augmented reality technologies and applications UMD researchers are working on from Amitabh Varshney, a professor of computer science at UMD, director of UMD's Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, and director of the Virtual and Augmented Reality Laboratory. Varshney also described to the students ways that virtual and augmented reality could change the world in the future.

Initial funding for the UMD Augmentarium came in part from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through a $600,000 Major Research Instrumentation grant used to purchase equipment and develop outreach programs.

“We believe that virtual and augmented reality will play a large role in making STEM education more accessible—and more fun—for a wide group of students. Completely new pathways of discovery, both for science and education, will come from these innovative technologies,” said Rita Rodriguez, the NSF program director who manages the UMD Augmentarium award.

The CompSciConnect program has been supported by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) Bethesda Chapter since its inception.

Could Stronger, Tougher Paper Replace Metal?

July 23, 2015

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Researchers at the University of Maryland recently discovered that paper made of cellulose fibers is tougher and stronger the smaller the fibers get. For a long time, engineers have sought a material that is both strong (resistant to non-recoverable deformation) and tough (tolerant of damage). 

“Strength and toughness are often exclusive to each other," said Teng Li, associate professor of mechanical engineering at UMD. "For example, a stronger material tends to be brittle, like cast iron or diamond."

The UMD team pursued the development of a strong and tough material by exploring the mechanical properties of cellulose, the most abundant renewable bio-resource on Earth. Researchers made papers with several sizes of cellulose fibers – all too small for the eye to see – ranging in size from about 30 micrometers to 10 nanometers. The paper made of 10-nanometer-thick fibers was 40 times tougher and 130 times stronger than regular notebook paper, which is made of cellulose fibers a thousand times larger.

"These findings could lead to a new class of high performance engineering materials that are both strong and tough, a Holy Grail in materials design," said Li.

High performance yet lightweight cellulose-based materials might one day replace conventional structural materials (i.e. metals) in applications where weight is important. This could lead, for example, to more energy efficient and "green" vehicles. In addition, team members say, transparent cellulose nanopaper may become feasible as a functional substrate in flexible electronics, resulting in paper electronics, printable solar cells and flexible displays that could radically change many aspects of daily life. 

Cellulose fibers can easily form many hydrogen bonds. Once broken, the hydrogen bonds can reform on their own—giving the material a 'self-healing' quality. The UMD discovered that the smaller the cellulose fibers, the more hydrogen bonds per square area. This means paper made of very small fibers can both hold together better and re-form more quickly, which is the key for cellulose nanopaper to be both strong and tough.

"It is helpful to know why cellulose nanopaper is both strong and tough, especially when the underlying reason is also applicable to many other materials," said Liangbing Hu, assistant professor of materials science at UMD.

To confirm, the researchers tried a similar experiment using carbon nanotubes that were similar in size to the cellulose fibers. The carbon nanotubes had much weaker bonds holding them together, so under tension they did not hold together as well. Paper made of carbon nanotubes is weak, though individually nanotubes are arguably the strongest material ever made.

One possible future direction for the research is the improvement of the mechanical performance of carbon nanotube paper. 

“Paper made of a network of carbon nanotubes is much weaker than expected,” said Li. “Indeed, it has been a grand challenge to translate the superb properties of carbon nanotubes at nanoscale to macroscale. Our research findings shed light on a viable approach to addressing this challenge and achieving carbon nanotube paper that is both strong and tough.”

This research is part of a National Science Foundation funded grant to explore the science underpinning anomalous scaling laws of strength and toughness in nanocellulose materials.

Anomalous scaling law of strength and toughness of cellulose nanopaper” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on July 6.

UMD, National Researchers Publish Definitive Tropical Forest Emissions Study

July 23, 2015

Laura Ours 301-405-5722

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Tropical forests provide global climate regulation ecosystem services, and the clearing of these forests significantly accelerates the dangerous effects of climate change through the release of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A new study co-authored by researchers at the University of Maryland for the first time provides a definitive tropical forest emissions study providing a clear picture of pan-tropical forest carbon losses. 

“Given recent trends, natural forests will likely constitute an increasingly smaller proportion of tropical forest GHG emissions and of global emissions as fossil fuel consumption increases,” said UMD professor Matthew C. Hansen, a lead author on the paper and a co-creator of the world’s first high-resolution local-to-global forest mapping tool, which was used in this new research.

Figure 1: Forest loss in natural and managed forests. Sample locations classified as reference loss within natural and managed forests for each of the seven forest types: 1—low cover; 2—medium cover short; 3—medium cover tall; 4—dense cover short; 5—dense cover short intact; 6—dense cover tall; 7—dense cover tall intact.Among the continents, Latin America is the largest contributor to carbon emissions from forest clearing, accounting for 43 percent of gross aboveground carbon (AGC) loss and 54 percent of natural forest AGC loss. Brazil accounts for the highest AGC loss for both categories at national scales. The researchers estimate gross tropical forest AGC loss and natural forest loss to account for 11 percent and 6 percent of global year 2012 CO2 emissions, respectively. 

“Compared with the previous studies, we found significantly more tropical forest carbon loss in Africa and Southeast Asia. This is partially due to the fact that our sample-based approach allowed us to target small-scale forest disturbances in Central Africa and Mainland Southeast Asia, which are underestimated,” said UMD research associate Alexandra Yurievna Tyukavina, (Ph.D. ’15), one of the lead authors of the study.

“The original Hansen map included any tree cover loss, regardless of its cause and nature. We have disaggregated it into the loss of natural forests—which included primary, mature secondary forests and woodlands—and human-managed forests, including tree plantations, agroforestry systems and areas of slash-and-burn agriculture with rapid tree cover rotation,” Tyukavina explained. “We found that 58 percent of all tropical forest carbon loss came from natural forests, and 42 percent of loss came from human-managed forests. The proportion of carbon emissions from natural tropical forests will likely continue to decrease over the years, which will make accounting of human-managed forest dynamics increasingly important.”

Additional key findings:

  • This is the most definitive tropical forest emissions study to date
  • Natural forests worldwide are diminishing because of human activity
  • To conserve rainforests, other ecosystem services such as biodiversity need to be emphasized in addition to GHG emissions
  • Emissions due to smallholder farming, such as in Africa, are greater than previously thought

The researchers say this work is significant in that it complies with and promotes international standards and best practices outlined by the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program. REDD is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. "REDD+" goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

“The work reported here provides the first estimates of pantropical emissions using the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change good practice guidance, and it does that for a 12-year observational period. This information is key to tropical forest nations reporting their emissions in the context of REDD+,” said coauthor Scott Goetz, deputy director and senior scientist with the Woods Hole Research Center.

The study, “Aboveground carbon loss in natural and managed tropical forests from 2000 to 2012” appears in Environmental Research Letters. The study was authored by researchers at the University of Maryland, the Woods Hole Research Center, and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

University of Maryland Faculty & Staff Rally Together as "Terps in Support of Maryland Unites"

July 22, 2015

Tricia Homer 301-405-1941
Gloria Aparicio Blackwell 301-405-5643

Governor Hogan to release state employees for four hours to help local organizations and citizens in need 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – This summer, University of Maryland faculty and staff will join together as Terps in Support of Maryland Unites as part of Governor Hogan’s “Maryland Unites: Day of Service” initiative. Governor Hogan will grant four hours of paid leave to state employees for service towards an accredited 501(c)(3) of their choice, in an effort to continue the spirit of kindness and goodwill following the destruction in Baltimore City this spring. 

The University’s Office of Community Engagement, in conjunction with University Human Resources and the Office of the Vice President for Administration & Finance, have identified several distinct service opportunities, taking place from July 29 through December 31, 2015. UMD faculty and staff project choices include food storage and preparation at the Capital Area Food Bank, student mentoring and tutoring in reading, math and art at GapBuster, Inc., and various construction projects at REAL School Gardens, among several others.

“We are thrilled to take part in Governor Hogan’s service initiative and to be partnering with so many highly regarded philanthropic organizations to better serve our communities,” said Gloria Aparicio Blackwell, UMD’s Director of Community Engagement. “We are looking forward to a strong turnout from faculty and staff and hope participants look to the Office of Community Engagement for future service and engagement opportunities.” 

Although the impetus for this initiative derives from Governor Hogan’s office, UMD’s Office of Community Engagement places a premium on this type of community support, with staffers who approach each and every day with the betterment of the University’s surrounding community in mind. Terps in Support of Maryland Unites is the latest in a series of important strategic partnerships spearheaded by UMD’s Office of Community Engagement designed to strengthen relationships with individuals, the government, and local and regional philanthropic organizations. 

To learn more about Terps in Support of Maryland Unites, visit marylandunites.umd.edu.

UMD Researchers Identify Global Financial Recession as Cause for Decline in Carbon Emissions

July 21, 2015

Laura Ours 301-405-5722

Study finds decreases in consumption and production during the recession account for decrease in emissions between 1997 and 2013

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — After decades of steady increases, climate change-causing emissions of carbon dioxide in the U.S. decreased by 11 percent between 2007 and 2013.  Many have assumed that the drop in emissions reflects a shift away from coal energy and towards lower-carbon natural gas.  However, the majority of credit should be given to the global financial recession, according to researchers at the University of Maryland, University of California Irvine, and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

“Carbon emissions are closely linked to economic growth in the sense that the recession helped reduce carbon emissions as it dampened household consumption, which is the main driver of the economy and emissions,” said Klaus Hubacek, professor of Geographical Sciences at UMD and one of the project’s investigators. “This points towards the fact that the more stuff we consume the more we pollute, and the importance of low carbon choices for consumers in achieving lower carbon lifestyles.”

The study results, which appear June 21 in the journal Nature Communications, are based on economic analysis of energy use and emissions in the U.S. between 1997 and 2013.  Between 2007 and 2009, when U.S. emissions plummeted by 10 percent, there was a substantial decrease in the volume of goods and services being consumed in the U.S. and also a shift in the types of goods and services being produced.  The new study finds that, together, these changes in consumption and production account for more than three-quarters of the decrease in emissions between 1997 and 2013, with changes in the mix of fuels used to generate energy accounting for just 18 percent of the drop in emissions.

“In our results, natural gas plays a big part in decreasing emissions. The real heroes are consuming less and using energy more efficiently,” said Steven Davis, assistant professor of Earth System Science at UC Irvine and a co-author of the study.

Previous reports have praised natural gas as driving emissions down because burning gas produces roughly half as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy than burning coal. However, the new work shows that changes in how much Americans consumed, what types of products they consumed, the balance of manufacturing and service industries, and the quantity of energy used per dollar of products produced have all been important contributors to the decrease in emissions.  Analyzing these different factors, the researchers found that changes in the mix of fuels used have had a comparatively small effect on U.S. carbon dioxide emissions since 2007.

“Cheap gas has only made a small contribution to declining carbon emissions in the U.S.,” Hubacek notes. “At the same time, low gas prices make real alternatives such as renewables less economical, and exports of coal to countries with less efficient technologies have been increasing - thus potentially leading to even higher overall emissions. The only winner is to really invest in improving efficiency and the energy mix with a focus on renewables.”

The study concludes that without new policies that limit CO2 emissions, it may be difficult to keep emissions down as the U.S. economy continues to recover.  And in fact, U.S. CO2 emissions rose in 2013 and 2014.

“With a growing economy, emissions are likely to increase again. Without appropriate policies in place such as the EPA Clean Power Plan, emissions will probably rise beyond the levels required to reach any reduction targets. Support for such plans can lock in the recessionary emissions reductions and ensure continued decarbonization of the U.S. energy system,” said Kuishuang Feng, assistant professor in UMD’s Department of Geographical Sciences and a researcher on the study. 

UMD & Voxy Partner to Study New Approach to Language Instruction

July 21, 2015

Keva Marable Blair, UMD Center for Advanced Study Language, 301-226-8873 
Caroline HartmannVoxy

UMD’s Center for Advanced Study of Language & Voxy, a leading online English learning solution,
to launch joint study to find effective ways of tailoring language instruction

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL) and Voxy, a leading online English learning solution, have announced plans to launch a joint empirical study to measure the effects of different instructional approaches on learners with distinct cognitive profiles.

This strategic partnership represents an opportunity for breakthrough findings on how to effectively teach foreign languages, personalize language learning, and identify individuals with a high potential for advanced language learning success. CASL is a premier University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) that supports the needs of the DoD and continues to lead the language aptitude research that will help change the way technology is used for language learning.

“One of the most exciting aspects of the type of research that we conduct at CASL is the potential broad application of so much of our work,” said Michael May, Ph.D., CASL Executive Director. “This joint venture represents our first opportunity to concretely transfer the product of a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) into the public realm. This is the kind of far-reaching impact that sponsored research should seek to achieve and we are very excited to see the results of this partnership.”

In the seven-month study, in addition to using Voxy’s online English course, study participants will be given four assessments from CASL’s Hi-Level Language Aptitude Battery (Hi-LAB), including tests that measure working memory capacity and the ability to learn new information implicitly. The Hi-LAB assessments measure how the participants’ brains work when learning a foreign language. The results will help to identify what teaching methods will lead to the highest proficiency gains for individual learners.

Voxy will be the first private company to use Hi-LAB’s cognitive assessments as a way to tailor instruction based on how learners’ brains are activated during language learning. With its personalized language curriculum, the ability to reach hundreds of thousands of language learners around the world, and its cutting-edge technology platform, Voxy is uniquely positioned to test multiple instructional approaches for each learner.

“CASL has spent many years developing and validating the Hi-Level Language Aptitude Battery,” said Catherine J. Doughty, Ph.D., CASL Area Director of Second Language Acquisition. “The original impetus for our work was to be able to match language instruction to cognitive language aptitude to help adult learners attain very advanced levels much more efficiently and quickly. We are delighted to be partnering with Voxy to put the ideas into a real-world test bed.”

“We have admired CASL for many years, and the Center’s research in the field of second language acquisition (SLA) has always been a key input into the pedagogical principles underlying Voxy’s platform,” said Voxy CEO Paul Gollash. “We are thrilled to be formally partnering with this passionate team of SLA experts and cognitive scientists to help shape the future of personalized English learning.”

Voxy’s personalized courses currently adapt to meet learners’ needs based on performance, proficiency levels, interests, and language learning goals. The collaboration with CASL will allow Voxy to identify learners’ cognitive profiles, and subsequently determine which activity sequences are best suited to individual learners. When Voxy can add cognitive profiles to its personalization algorithm, it will be able to meet learners’ needs even more efficiently and effectively.

“Voxy’s mission is to build a maximally effective language learning platform based on the findings from rigorous empirical research,” said Katie Nielson, Ph.D., Voxy’s Chief Education Officer. “We are incredibly excited about the research CASL has been spearheading on cognitive aptitudes and its potential for differentiating instruction even further. Partnering with CASL will allow us to take our personalized approach to language learning to the next level.”

UMD Research Reveals How Wildfires Spread

July 20, 2015

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The phrase “spreads like wildfire” is well known, but until recent discoveries by researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD), U.S. Forest Service, and University of Kentucky, it wasn’t well-understood how wildfires actually spread.  

Specifically, it was unclear how radiation and convection – two heat transfer processes that occur in wildfires – contribute to the spread of such fires. Now, evidence presented in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reveals that the spread of wildfire is caused primarily by convection, the transfer of heat through the movement of liquids or gasses. Convection determines flame behavior in a fire, and convective air currents also can heat or cool nearby vegetation.  

“This discovery provides the missing piece of the puzzle we needed to describe wildfire dynamics,” says Michael Gollner, an assistant professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Fire Protection Engineering who contributed to the study. “Current computer modeling systems are not very good at predicting the spread of fire. We present a physical basis from which to create a new model that won't break down under the most extreme conditions. This will have a huge impact on firefighting strategy, effectiveness, and safety.”

Prior to this study, little was known about the role of convection in the spread of wildfires because research had focused on radiant heat – heat transferred by electromagnetic waves. Heat from the sun is another example of such direct radiation of energy. Studies used to create predictive wildfire models assumed that radiant heat governed how fast a fire spread. 

However, this team of scientists, led by Mark Finney of the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, unexpectedly found that the net rates of heat transferred by radiation were insufficient to ignite the fine fuel particles that constitute wildland vegetation. Instead they found such particles are efficiently kept cool by convection until contacted directly by flames. 

UMD’s Gollner helped Finney determine what these convective motions were and how they impacted the fire by running small-scale experiments in a special combustion wind tunnel at UMD. Colleagues at the University of Kentucky provided a framework to scale up the phenomena, and used high-speed thermal infrared cameras to observe heating in large scale fire spread experiments run at the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory’s unique combustion wind tunnel in Missoula, Montana.

Together, their efforts produced a never-before-seen picture of the flame movement that governs advancement of such fires. Outdoor experiments and prescribed fires extended their results, demonstrating the model could replicate the behavior of large-scale wildfires.

The experiments led to the discovery of previously unrecognized flame behaviors and how those behaviors cause wildfires to spread. The team discovered that flame vorticity (circulations) and instabilities due to the buoyancy of flame gasses cause wildfires to spread by forcing flames downward into the fuel bed and bursting forward ahead of the fire into fresh fuel, such as grass and brush.

“This study opens the door into the little known world of flame dynamics and gets us closer to understanding the complexities of radiative and convective heat and how they affect wildfire spread,” said Finney. 

Improving firefighting through research 

Each year, wildfires in the United States burn an average of 7 million acres of land, and for the last 10 years, the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior have spent a combined $1.5 billion annually on wildfire suppression. The team of USDA, UMD and UK researchers say their findings have the potential to:

  • Improve firefighter safety through better recognition & anticipation of wildfire behavior
  • Increase the accuracy of prediction models for the spread of wildfires
  • Inform efforts to mitigate fuel hazards that contribute to wildfires

The ten scientists who conducted this study are from the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Missoula Fire Sciences Lab, the University of Maryland’s Department of Fire Protection Engineering, and the University of Kentucky’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. Their PNAS study the “Role of buoyant flame dynamics in wildfire spread” is available for download at: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/07/13/1504498112.

The University of Maryland has a long history of research advancing the detection and effective response to wildfires. In addition to the current study, this work includes the recently announced development of a new fire detection tool that uses NASA satellite data together with a cutting-edge computer model from the National Center for Atmospheric Research to better predict how a fire will change direction based on weather and land conditions.

UMD Research Shows Effects of Aging on Speech Processing

July 20, 2015

Andrew Roberts 301-405-2171

Study finds brain processing - in addition to hearing loss - contribute to problems

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – As humans age, many develop difficulties with understanding and processing speech – especially in noisy settings such as restaurants or bars. New multidisciplinary research at the University of Maryland’s Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences suggests this phenomenon is due to changes in the central auditory system that effectively slow or disrupt the way our brains process words.

The study examined 30 adults, both young and old, with normal hearing and no history of neurological disorders. By presenting these individuals with a number of speech syllables, progressively altering the frequency of the sounds and measuring their brain activity with small electrodes, researchers were able to identify substantial differences in how brains of varying ages processed words. The researchers discovered that the responses of older adults were significantly delayed compared to the responses of younger adults, particularly with ‘onsets’ and ‘offsets’ of syllables – the beginning and ends of words.

“Problems in processing complex sounds such as ‘da’ and ‘a’ could help explain their difficulties in understanding speech, particularly in noisy environments,” said the study’s first author, Alessandro Presacco, a doctoral student in the Neuroscience and Cognitive Science program. Those particular difficulties suggest there is more to the challenges than failing hearing.

“Although this phenomenon is commonly attributed to hearing loss, it’s often the case that adults with clinically ‘normal’ hearing still experience difficulty,” said Assistant Professor of Hearing and Speech Sciences Samira Anderson, the principal investigator of the study. “I was surprised to see the sudden drop in response size in older adults in the later region of the vowel.  It helps me to understand why older adults sometimes have trouble hearing the ends of words.”

Presacco and his collaborators found that there are many potential contributors to the language processing challenges for adults, ranging from the brain’s ability to accurately process speech to its inability to sustain neural firing for the duration of the speech.

The study contributes critical information toward the goal of understanding precisely why aging minds struggle with words and sounds. By identifying the root cause of language processing difficulties, and mapping how the brain responds to different stimuli, researchers can develop revolutionary therapies and treatments for aging adults. 

“There’s a lot we don’t know. These findings are a critical, but incremental contribution to our understanding. Studies like this are helping scientists identify not only the causes of language processing issues, but where the breakdown is occurring specifically,” Anderson said. “Can we draw direct connections between speech processing and perception? Can we train the brain to process language information more efficiently—especially in terms of helping older adults regain lost functionality? These are the types of revolutionary questions we’re trying to answer.”


July 27
UMD start-up receives $150,000 Small Business Innovation grant for technology to identify drivers under the influence... Read
July 24
Inside UMD's Virtual and Augmented Reality Laboratory, 15 middle-school girls showed off the virtual reality games they... Read
July 23
UMD findings 'could lead to a new class of high performance materials that are both strong and tough, a Holy Grail in... Read
July 23
UMD researchers for the first time provide a definitive tropical forest emissions study offering a clear picture of pan... Read