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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

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

May 6, 2015
Contacts: 

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
Contacts: 

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.

Dormant Black Hole Eats Star, Becomes X-Ray Beacon

June 22, 2016
Contacts: 

Matthew Wright 301-405-9267 
Lee Tune 301-405-4679 

UMD Astronomers Catch X-Rays Released by Black Hole as it Swallows a Star

In this artist's rendering, a thick accretion disk has formed from a star that wandered too close and has been ripped apart and pulled toward a previously dormant supermassive black hole.  X-ray light—generated near the center of this thick, chaotic disk of hot stellar gas—flashes outward. Image Credit: NASA/Swift/Aurore Simonnet, Sonoma State U. COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Roughly 90 percent of the biggest black holes in the known universe are dormant, meaning that they are not actively devouring matter and, consequently, not giving off any light or other radiation. But sometimes a star wanders too close to a dormant black hole and the ensuing feeding frenzy, known scientifically as a tidal disruption event, sets off spectacular fireworks. 

Astronomers from the University of Maryland and the University of Michigan are the first to document X-rays bouncing around deep within the walls of a once-dormant black hole’s newly formed accretion disk—the giant, puffy cloud of shredded star stuff circling the black hole, waiting for its turn to be swallowed up—during a tidal disruption event. Using these data, the researchers discerned the shape and activity of the accretion disk near a supermassive black hole named Swift J1644+57. 

This marks the first time such detailed observations have been made for a dormant supermassive black hole. In addition, the team’s methodology could open the door to reliable measurements of black hole spin in the near future. The results are published in the June 22, 2016 advance online edition
of the journal Nature.

“Most tidal disruption events don’t emit much in the high-energy X-ray band. But there have been at least three known events that have, and this is the first and only such event that has been caught at its peak,” said Erin Kara, a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow in astronomy at UMD and the Joint Space-Science Institute and lead author on the study. “NASA’s Swift satellite saw it first and triggered the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and NASA’s Suzaku satellite to target it for follow-up. So we have excellent data. We’re lucky that the one event we have is showing us all these exciting new things.”

The accretion disk has an effect somewhat like the reflective shield behind a flashlight bulb, reflecting, amplifying and focusing the radiation. The fact that X-rays can originate deep within the accretion disk of a tidal disruption event is surprising, according to Kara. Conventional wisdom among astronomers has long held that, during a tidal disruption event, high-energy X-rays are created further from the black hole in the relativistic jets—huge beams of particles ejected by the black hole and accelerated to nearly the speed of light. But seeing X-ray emissions bouncing off the walls of the inner accretion disk has cast a new light on this assumption.

“Before this result, there was no clear evidence that we were seeing into the innermost regions of the accretion disk,” Kara said. “We thought the emission was from the jet pointed at us, or further away and not close to central black hole. This new study shows us that, actually, we can see this reverberation at work very close to the central black hole.” 

To date, most of what astronomers know about supermassive black holes comes from a relative handful of black holes that are actively gathering and consuming matter. Evidence suggests, however, that these active black holes only account for about 10 percent of the total population of supermassive black holes in the universe. So any data from a dormant black hole is incredibly valuable to astronomers, in their effort to understand all types of black hole activity. 

“Understanding the black hole population in general is important. Black holes have played an important role in how galaxies evolved. So even if they’re dormant now, they weren’t before,” said Chris Reynolds, a professor of astronomy at UMD and a Fellow at the Joint Space-Science Institute who is a co-author on the study. “If we only look at active black holes, we might be getting a strongly biased sample. It could be that these black holes all fit within some narrow range of spins and masses. So it’s important to study the entire population to make sure we’re not biased.”

Swift J1644+57 consumed the material from the shredded star so quickly, the event briefly exceeded the Eddington Limit—the theoretical maximum “speed limit” that defines how fast a black hole can consume matter. This finding can help astronomers to understand how supermassive black holes grow to their enormous masses—up to several million times the mass of the sun. 

“The meaning of this extends far beyond the studies of tidal disruption events,” said Lixin Dai, a postdoctoral associate in physics at UMD and the Joint Space-Science Institute who is a co-author on the study. “It can help us understand how the biggest black holes in the universe formed and co-evolved with their host galaxies.”

The team used X-ray reverberation mapping to chart out the inside of the accretion disk. Much like sound waves can be used to map the seafloor or canyons by measuring the time delays of sound echoes, Kara, Reynolds and their colleagues computed small delays in the arrival time of X-ray signals reflected from iron atoms in the accretion disk.

“We know how sound echoes in a large auditorium, for example. Because we know the speed of sound, we can use the time delay information to calculate the shape of the auditorium,” Kara explained. “We are doing the same with X-ray radiation to map out the inner accretion disk. It’s a cool, novel technique that has only been developed within the last six years.”

Although the researchers have not yet been able to measure the spin of the black hole with reverberation mapping, they say the method could be used to make such measurements in the near future. By imaging the activity of the accretion disk immediately next to the black hole—which would be strongly affected by the black hole’s spin—the method could be used to directly measure the speed and direction of spin. 

“Looking at tidal disruption events with reverberation mapping might help us probe the spin of black holes in the future,” Reynolds said. “But just as importantly, we can follow along after an event and watch how the accretion disk spins down and energy dissipates as the black hole returns to a quiescent state. We might finally be able to observe all of these various states that, so far, we only know from theory textbooks.”

The research paper, “Relativistic Reverberation in the Accretion Flow of a Tidal Disruption Event,” Erin Kara, Jon Miller, Chris Reynolds and Lixin Dai, was published in the journal Nature on June 22, 2016.

Fifteen UMD Students Receive Critical Language Scholarships to Pursue Studies Around the World

June 17, 2016
Contacts: 

Leslie Anne Brice 301-314-1289

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Fifteen University of Maryland students received awards from the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program to study abroad during summer 2016. The students will travel to China, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, South Korea and Tajikistan for intensive language study. Based on CLS results published on May 9, 2016, UMD students received more awards than any other Big 10 institution, and the 15 students awarded surpasses the university’s previous record of 10 CLS awards granted in 2015.

“We are very pleased to see a record number of Maryland students earn the opportunity to pursue intensive language studies and to deepen their understanding of important nations and peoples around the globe,” said Francis DuVinage, Director of the National Scholarships Office at UMD. 

Over the past 10 years, the CLS Program has sent over 5,000 American undergraduate and graduate students overseas to learn critical languages all over the world. It provides fully-funded, group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences. CLS Program participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers.

CLS Program participants are among the more than 50,000 academic and professional exchange program participants supported annually by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. These exchange programs build relations and respect between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The CLS Program is administered by American Councils for International Education.

2016 University of Maryland CLS Recipients 

Tabatha Anderson is a rising junior in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences double majoring in government & politics and Chinese. She is a member of College Park Scholars International Studies Program and Language House, and will take part in the Global Fellows program for 2017. She will study Chinese in Dalian, China.

Catherine Baker is a graduating senior in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences double majoring in environmental science and policy and French. She is an alumna of College Park Scholars International Studies Program, Language House, and the Global Fellows program. She will study Urdu in Lucknow, India.

Samuel Besse is a rising junior in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences double majoring in geographical sciences and economics. He is a member of the University Honors Program of the Honors College. He will study Urdu in Lucknow, India.

Zachary Goldblatt is a rising junior in the College of Arts and Humanities double majoring in Arabic and government & politics, and minoring in global terrorism. He is also a member of Global Communities, and will take part in the Global Fellows program for 2017. He will study Arabic in Ibri, Oman.

Laura Krahl is a graduating master’s student in the School of Public Policy, focusing on international security and economic policy. She will study Arabic in Amman, Jordan.

Amanda Lee is a rising junior in the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences majoring in biological sciences. She is a member of the University Honors Program of the Honors College. She will study Korean in Gwangju, South Korea.

Hoang Nguyen is a rising sophomore in the A. James Clark School of Engineering majoring in mechanical engineering. He is a member of the Gemstone Program of the Honors College and Quest. He declined the CLS award to study Korean in favor of the Project Global Officer program. 

Rachel O’Meara is a graduating senior in the College of Arts and Humanities double majoring in linguistics and Chinese; Rachel took part in the Global Semester program for 2015. She declined the CLS award to study Chinese in favor of a Fulbright grant to teach English in Taiwan.

Diana Partridge is a doctoral student in the Department of Government and Politics in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. She will study Arabic in Meknes, Morocco.

Sarah Reynolds is a graduating master’s student in the School of Public Policy. She is also a 2013 alumna of the College of Arts and Humanities with a major in French and minor in international development and conflict management. She will study Indonesian in Malang, Indonesia.

Sydney Robinson is a rising junior in the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences double majoring in physics and French. She is also a member of College Park Scholars Science, Discovery and the Universe Program. She will study Urdu in Lucknow, India. 

Jair Solis is a rising senior in the College of Arts and Humanities majoring in Persian and pursuing a global terrorism minor. He declined the CLS award to study Persian in Tajikistan in favor of the Public Policy and International Affairs program. 

Jasper Surrett is a rising senior in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences double majoring in government & politics and Persian. He was a member of College Park Scholars International Studies Program, and will take part in the Global Fellows program for 2017. He will study Persian in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Kyle Vaughan is a 2015 alumnus of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences with a major in government & politics and minor in Chinese. He was a member College Park Scholars Public Leadership Program and Language House. He will study Chinese in Suzhou, China.

Zuri Zhao is a rising junior in the Robert H. Smith School of Business double majoring in finance and information systems, and minoring in Chinese. She is a member of the Digital Cultures & Creativity Program of the Honors College. She will study Chinese in Xi'an, China. 

For further information about the CLS Program: http://www.clscholarship.org

Falling Fish Catches Could Mean Malnutrition in the Developing World

June 17, 2016
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The world will not be able to fish its way to feeding 10 billion people by midcentury, but a shift in management practices could save hundreds of millions of fish-dependent poor from malnutrition, according to a new analysis by members of the Fisheries and Food Security science team brought together and supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) at the University of Maryland.

The researchers used new databases on global fish catch and on human dietary nutrition to discover that the vulnerability of poor, fish-dependent populations in the tropics has been underestimated. These are the places whose fish resources are under the most intense pressure “from illegal fishing, weak governance, poor knowledge of stock status, population pressures and climate change,” according to the report published June 16 as a commentary in the journal Nature.

“SESYNC is a leader in providing funding for critical efforts to address emerging problems--such as issues around falling fish catches and malnutrition in the developing world--through new interdisciplinary partnerships to improve understanding,” said Margaret Palmer, director of SESYNC and a distinguished university professor in the department of entomology at UMD. “The scholarship that Chris Golden and his team have highlighted in their Nature commentary is a powerful reminder that interdisciplinary synthesis research has the potential to uniquely inform decisions and improve the design of public policies.” 

At its heart, the problem is a simple one of supply and demand: global fish catches peaked in 1996, while the Earth’s human population is expected to rise through 2050, from the current 7.3 billion to between 9 billion and 10 billion.

But that straightforward dynamic oversimplifies a problem also affected by natural processes, economic pressures, international regulations and human health needs.

Lead author Christopher Golden, research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and associate director of the Planetary Health Alliance, said that it is important to include human nutrition, along with biodiversity preservation and economic considerations, in determining how fisheries are managed.

The work estimates that, in the coming decades, 11 percent of global population – 845 million people -- is vulnerable to micronutrient deficiencies due to its reliance on seafood, a figure that climbs to 19 percent, or 1.39 billion people, if nutrients only found in animal sources, such as vitamin B12 and DHAomega-3 fatty acids, are included.

The analysis of two new databases, one from Sea Around Us at the University of British Columbia and the other from a team led by Samuel Myers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says that those most likely to suffer the impact of fisheries’ decline are the global poor, particularly those for whom fish make up a significant part of their diet.

“We’re missing an enormous piece of this picture, because many of the consequences of the way we manage resources and conserve natural systems will have very strong and powerful downstream effects on human health,” Golden said. “It’s not just a biodiversity issue; it’s not just an economics issue. We need to be really thinking through this third dimension, human health and well-being.”

While fish are recognized as an important source of protein, they also provide often overlooked micronutrients—like vitamin B12, iron and zinc, Golden said. According to the report, micronutrient deficiencies can affect maternal mortality, child mortality, cause cognitive defects, and impact immune function. Some 45 percent of mortality in children under age five is attributable to undernutrition.

The report says that the vulnerability of these poor, fish dependent populations in the tropics has been underestimated and that these are the very places whose fish resources are under the most intense pressure.

The problems facing subsistence fishing populations are not solely due to overfishing, which has been successfully addressed in some locations through sound management. In addition, destructive fishing practices and coastal pollution are degrading the aquatic environment, while climate change is also expected to have an effect. Warmer water and acidification bleaches coral reefs while rising temperatures force tropical species poleward. Climate change’s effects could reduce catch by 6 percent globally and by as much as 30 percent in certain tropical regions. Warming tropical seas will hold less oxygen and cause fish to get smaller, cutting overall biomass by about 20 percent by 2050.

Golden said those in industrialized nations can compensate for the nutritional gap left by a decline of fish in the diet. They can afford to buy replacement foods, supplements, and vitamins, while those in developing nations often have few alternatives.

Even among developing nations, however, there is much variation in the threats to local fish supplies. A large island nation like Madagascar, where Golden has worked on the interface between human health and the environment for 17 years, suffers most from unsustainable fishing practices and foreign fleets in its waters – issues that could be addressed with better management. Small island developing states, like Kiribati, Maldives, Palau, and Vanuatu, however, may have more intractable problems. Climate change will likely push local fish species toward the poles, while rising seas may flood low-lying areas where aquaculture is practiced. Many of those in their populations, meanwhile, are too poor to afford high quality replacement foods or to buy supplements to replace nutrients once received from dietary fish.

That means populations too poor to buy market substitutes, as in Madagascar, will likely fall back on less-nutrient rich foods, like rice and tubers. Those in wealthier nations, like Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, and Indonesia, meanwhile, may buy cheap processed foods to replace fish, which would increase the risk of metabolic diseases rather than undernutrition, Golden said.

“Wealthy nations are somewhat immune to these environmental effects. They can create systems of food imports, intensive agricultural food production, fortified foods, and supplements that buffer them from the potential pitfalls or consequences, whereas it is poorer populations dependent on the direct pathway from the environment to their own wellbeing that are most at risk,” Golden said. “There’s almost a reverse Robin Hood system where the wealthier nations are now going into biodiversity rich areas, with robust fish populations, and using foreign fleets to capture resources – both legally and illegally - and bring them back to wealthier populations that don’t need them.”

Aquaculture is seen by some as an answer to the problem, but Golden said that isn’t the case, at least as currently practiced. While global aquaculture production has exploded, outstripping wild catch destined for human consumption for the first time in 2014, much of the production is intended for tables in the developed world or for developing nations’ urban elite. In addition, he said, aquaculture is not entirely divorced from wild fisheries, as the fish meal fed farmed fish comes from wild caught stock.

While it’s unlikely that wild harvests will provide the same nutrition for midcentury’s significantly larger human population, better management can improve catches by as much as 10 percent, Golden said, and, if those practices have human nutrition in mind, hundreds of millions of cases of malnutrition can be avoided.

“The hopeful thing is that policy and management has been shown to rebound fisheries on the scale of a decade,” Golden said. “So it’s a really important time to be sounding this alarm so nutrition-sensitive policies can be implemented.”

Gravitational Waves Detected from Second Pair of Colliding Black Holes

June 15, 2016
Contacts: 

Matthew Wright 301-405-9267
Lee Tune 301-405-4679

UMD physicists contribute to second observation of ripples in space-time

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Gravitational waves—ripples in the fabric of space-time—have been observed for the second time, by an international team of scientists that includes UMD physicists. Like the historic first detection announced this past February, these gravitational waves were also generated by the merger of two black holes.

The ability to detect these waves, created by violent cosmic collisions, excites scientists because it provides a new way to observe the universe, to “hear” a previously undetectable soundtrack of the cosmos.

Both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors—located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington—detected this gravitational wave event, named GW151226. The LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) and the Virgo Collaboration used data from the twin LIGO detectors to make the discovery, which is accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters

Two black holes merged and released gravity waves that reached Earth on December 26, 2015, marking the second observation of gravity waves by the twin LIGO detectors. Credit: Max Planck Institute/SXSGravitational waves carry information about their origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained. Physicists on the LIGO and Virgo teams concluded that the final moments of a black hole merger produced the gravitational waves observed on December 26, 2015. 

LIGO’s first detection on September 14, 2015 resulted from a merger of two black holes 36 and 29 times the mass of the sun. In contrast, the black holes that created the second event were relative flyweights, tipping the scales at 14 and eight times the mass of the sun. Their merger produced a single, more massive spinning black hole that is 21 times the mass of the sun, and transformed an additional sun’s worth of mass into gravitational energy. 

“It's fabulous that our waveform models have pulled out from the noise such a weak but incredibly valuable gravitational wave signal,” said Alessandra Buonanno, a UMD College Park Professor of Physics and LSC principal investigator who also has an appointment as Director at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany. Buonanno has led the effort to develop highly accurate models of gravitational waves that black holes would generate in the final process of orbiting and colliding with each other. 

“GW151226 perfectly matches our theoretical predictions for how two black holes move around each other for several tens of orbits and ultimately merge,” Buonanno added. “Remarkably, we could also infer that at least one of the two black holes in the binary was spinning.”

The merger occurred approximately 1.4 billion years ago. The detected signal comes from the last 27 orbits of the black holes before their merger. Based on the arrival time of the signals—the Livingston detector measured the waves 1.1 milliseconds before the Hanford detector—researchers can roughly determine the position of the source in the sky.

“It is very significant that these black holes were much less massive than those observed in the first detection,” said Gabriela Gonzalez, LSC spokesperson and professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University. “Because of their lighter masses compared to the first detection, they spent more time—about one second—in the sensitive band of the detectors. It is a promising start to mapping the populations of black holes in our universe.” 

The first detection of gravitational waves, announced on February 11, 2016, was a milestone in physics and astronomy. It confirmed a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and marked the beginning of the new field of gravitational wave astronomy. 

“We could tell within minutes that GW151226 was very likely a real event. We all just marveled at it for a while,” said Peter Shawhan, an associate professor of physics at UMD and an LSC principal investigator. “By December we were sure that the first event was genuine and we had a fairly mature draft of that paper, which finally came out in February. But it was very satisfying to know, even then, that we already had a second event on our hands.”

The second discovery “has truly put the ‘O’ for Observatory in LIGO,” said Albert Lazzarini, deputy director of the LIGO Laboratory at Caltech. “With detections of two strong events in the four months of our first observing run, we can begin to make predictions about how often we might be hearing gravitational waves in the future. LIGO is bringing us a new way to observe some of the darkest yet most energetic events in our universe.”

Both discoveries resulted from the enhanced capabilities of Advanced LIGO, a major upgrade that increased the sensitivity of the instruments and the volume of the universe probed compared with the first-generation LIGO detectors. 

Advanced LIGO’s next data-taking run will begin this fall. By then, scientists expect further improvements in detector sensitivity could allow LIGO to reach as much as 1.5 to two times more of the volume of the universe compared with the first run, which has already resulted in two major findings. 

The Virgo detector, a third interferometer located near Pisa, Italy, with a design similar to the twin LIGO detectors, is expected to come online during the latter half of LIGO’s upcoming observation run. Virgo will improve physicists’ ability to locate the source of each new event, by comparing millisecond-scale differences in the arrival time of incoming gravitational wave signals.

The research paper, “GW151226: Observation of Gravitational Waves from a 22 Solar-mass Binary Black Hole Coalescence,” by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and the Virgo Collaboration, has been accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters

New Joint UMD Sadat Chair-Brookings Institution Poll Explores American Attitudes on Middle East Refugees

June 14, 2016
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin 301-405-1733

Dr. Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings InstitutionCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – As ongoing conflicts in the Middle East cause refugees to flow out of multiple war-town countries in massive numbers, the question of whether to admit more refugees into the United States continues to be a source of debate for Washington policymakers and U.S. presidential candidates. A new survey conducted by Dr. Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, sheds light on American attitudes towards refugees from the Middle East—from Syria, Iraq and Libya, in particular. The poll’s key findings were released Monday, June 13 during an event held at the Brookings Institution to launch a two-day forum on the refugee crisis. 

The new poll finds that the majority of Americans (59 percent) believe the United States should accept refugees from Middle East conflicts, assuming they are screened for security risks. Support is stronger among Democrats (77 percent) and Millennials (68 percent). Opposition is strongest among supporters of Donald Trump (77 percent) and Republicans (63 percent). 

Survey participants who indicated they were opposed to taking in refugees are closely divided between being concerned about terrorism (46 percent) and worrying about the economic burden (41 percent). Nine percent say they are concerned about having more Muslims in the U.S. To varying degrees, Americans are divided on the issue of moral obligation to help refugees from Middle Eastern conflicts, with somewhat more obligation toward Iraqi refugees (54 percent), followed by Syrian refugees (51 percent), then Libyan refugees (49 percent). Of younger Americans responding to the poll, 60 percent believe the United States has a moral obligation to help Syrian refugees.

“One of the biggest concerns of those opposing taking in refugees from the Middle East is terrorism. Yet the public has a hugely exaggerated perception of the degree to which refugees pose a risk. When asked how many refugees they believe have been arrested since 9/11 over terrorism charges, only 14 percent said less than five, and 28 percent said over 100. The actual total is 3,” said Professor Telhami.

When asked if they believe the U.S. should take in more war refugees, Americans were more likely to support initiatives that passed the responsibility to non-governmental organizations and to prefer those that dealt with refugees abroad, rather than at home. The most favorable response was sending humanitarian professionals to refugees abroad (79 percent), followed by American support to charities helping refugees abroad (60 percent).

The survey was conducted between May 20 and May 31, 2016 with a nationally represented sample, including an oversample of Millennials, from a probabilistic panel of participants recruited by Nielsen Scarborough of 1,580 adults. Responses were weighted by age, gender, income, education, race, geographic region and partisan identification. 

Read more about the poll’s key findings.  

UMD Transportation Experts Issue Impact Reports & Forecasts for Metro's SafeTrack Work Plan

June 10, 2016
Contacts: 

Alyssa Wolice 301-405-2057
Lee Tune 301-405-4679

First Safety Surge Poses Minimal Effects on Area Traffic, Measurable Crowding on Metrorail

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland’s National Transportation Center (NTC@Maryland) issued today its first of more than a dozen transportation impact reports and forecasts slated for release throughout the various phases of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) SafeTrack, the accelerated track work plan for the Metrorail system. 

“Our center is a national resource dedicated to research and education,” said Lei Zhang, director of NTC@Maryland and Herbert Rabin Distinguished Professor in UMD’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “We hope that these reports will help travelers and transportation authorities better understand the potential spillover effects of SafeTrack so they may make informed decisions during each of the SafeTrack project phases.” 

The first NTC@Maryland report indicates that, in response to the June 4-16 continuous single-tracking of the Orange and Silver Lines, Metrorail riders should continue to expect long delays and significant crowding on trains, particularly during peak travel hours. Drivers, however, should not expect to notice a difference in traffic conditions on the major roadways in Virginia nearest the location of WMATA’s first safety surge project. 

The report shows that from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Monday, June 6, traffic volumes on I-66, I-395, and I-495 in the study area increased by just 3 percent in comparison to the previous eight Mondays in April and May 2016. While the morning peak period of traffic congestion measured on the upper bounds of congestion levels travelers had experienced on Mondays in the previous two months, this increase is still within the range of demand fluctuations typical for a Monday commute.

The full report is available online at http://go.umd.edu/ntcreports

Each NTC@Maryland SafeTrack report will include at least one or all of the following:

  • Analysis and Modeling: Using its integrated travel behavior and traffic simulator, which covers the entire Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Transportation Technology Laboratory’s (CATT Lab) Regional Integrated Transportation Information System (RITIS), NTC@Maryland will issue traffic trend maps and compare traffic patterns on area roadways during WMATA’s SafeTrack plan with average weekday traffic patterns.
  • Opinion Polls: The center is conducting non-scientific opinion polls to observe how individual travelers will adjust their travel decisions in response to specific SafeTrack surges. 
  • Traffic Predictions: Using NTC@Maryland’s unique modeling system, UMD researchers will issue traffic and transit impact predictions for typical weekday traffic demand and conditions in those areas most directly affected by the active SafeTrack phase(s).

NTC@Maryland was established in 2013 as one of five National Centers funded by the University Transportation Center Program of U.S. Department of Transportation. NTC@Maryland also benefits from support from several State Departments of Transportation, especially the Maryland State Highway Administration, and many local government and private-sector partners. 

Part of the Center for Advanced Transportation Technology (CATT), the CATT Lab houses the nation’s largest transportation database and supports national, state, and local efforts to solve transportation, safety, and security problems through the creation of software and systems for acquiring, analyzing, visualizing and communicating transportation data.

University of Maryland Professor Contributes to NAS Report on Gene-Drive Modified Organisms

June 8, 2016
Contacts: 

Graham Binder 301-405-4076

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources researcher helps conclude that gene-drive modified organisms are not ready to be released into environment

College Park, MD – As the discussion around gene-drive modified organisms has intensified to help combat public health issues such as Zika and other infectious diseases, the National Academy of Sciences has convened an expert committee to address a measured approach to research and governance of gene drive technologies.

The University of Maryland’s Dr. Lisa Taneyhill, a leading developmental biologist and associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources contributed her expertise as a member of the 15-person committee. Taneyhill, in conjunction with her colleagues produced a new report from the NAS concluding that gene-drive modified organisms are not ready to be released into the environment and require more research in laboratories and highly controlled field trials. The committee recommends a collaborative, multidisciplinary, and cautionary approach in order to sift through the uncertainty posed by this fast-moving field of study.

Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values can be accessed at: http://nas-sites.org/gene-drives/. An archived recording of the report release event and a four page summary of key findings are also available through this link.

Lisa Taneyhill is available for media commentary. Her contact information is contained here.

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