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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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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.

UMD Recognized for Top Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programs

September 22, 2014
Contacts: 

Alana Carchedi 301-405-0235

Top 25 Entrepreneurship ProgramsCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland (UMD) has been named one of the country's "Best Colleges for Entrepreneurs" by the Princeton Review. In the 2015 list of the top entrepreneurship programs, published in Entrepreneur magazine, UMD ranks No. 9 among public schools and No. 21 overall for its undergraduate program.  This is the fourth consecutive year that UMD has been named a Top 25 Entrepreneurship Program.

"UMD has always been a pioneer in educating the next generation of entrepreneurs, and now our university president has set a bold goal of broadening innovation and entrepreneurship to all 37,000 UMD students to prepare them to tackle the world's toughest problems," says Dean Chang, UMD's associate vice president for innovation and entrepreneurship. "We're now starting to create incredible I&E opportunities for students of all majors as a result of a collective effort by the Deans of every college, as well as numerous I&E-related programs across campus."

Over the past year, student enrollment in I&E courses at UMD has doubled.  The University of Maryland offers 141 innovation and entrepreneurship courses taught by 103 faculty representing 34 different campus departments; and UMD students have access to more than 21 I&E mentoring programs involving more than 113 external mentors. There are 16 different business, innovation and seed fund competitions for aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators with cash prizes in excess of $850,000. The university also celebrates I&E during its annual '30 Days of EnTERPreneurship' and offers the #1 Entrepreneurship MOOC on Coursera with more than 400,000 cumulative worldwide enrollments.

Based on surveys sent to school administrators at more than 2,000 institutions from April to June in 2014, the Princeton Review recognizes the Top 25 for their excellence in entrepreneurship education. Schools are chosen based on a number of factors, including:

  • The levels of their commitment to entrepreneurship inside and outside the classroom;
  • The percentage of their faculty, students, and alumni actively and successfully involved in entrepreneurial endeavors;
  • The number of their mentorship programs; and
  • Their funding for scholarships and grants for entrepreneurial studies and projects.

In addition to The Princeton Review's ranking, last year Silicon Valley's PandoDaily named UMD the Top Public School for Tech Entrepreneurship

To view the full list of rankings, visit www.princetonreview.com/entrepreneur.  To learn more about entrepreneurship and innovation at UMD, visit http://innovation.umd.edu.

UMD Honors Local Communities for Sustainability Efforts

September 19, 2014
Contacts: 

Mike Hunninghake 301 405-7956

Five Prince George's Municipalities Receive "Sustainable Maryland Certified" Award

Sustainable Maryland Certified

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland honored five Prince George's County municipalities for achieving Sustainable Maryland Certified status during an awards ceremony at the Maryland Municipal League's annual Fall Conference.

Officials from Berwyn Heights, Cheverly, Greenbelt, Riverdale Park, and University Park accepted their awards at the annual ceremony marking the achievements of Maryland communities striving to become more sustainable.

Joanne Throwe, director of the Environmental Finance Center, congratulated the certified towns: "These newly certified Sustainable Maryland municipalities have demonstrated, each in their own unique ways, their commitment to strengthening the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainability in their towns and cities. I commend their elected officials, municipal staff, and of course the passionate volunteers of their Green Teams for their efforts to shine a guiding light on the path forward for all of Maryland's communities to a brighter, more sustainable future."

To achieve Sustainable Maryland Certified status, municipalities are required to form a Green Team comprised of local residents, community leaders, municipal staff and officials; complete a variety sustainability-related actions worth a total of at least 150 points (including two mandatory actions and two of six priority actions), and submit the appropriate documentation as evidence that the Sustainable Maryland Certified requirements have been satisfied.

Highlights of each municipality's sustainability efforts include:

Town of Berwyn Heights

Berwyn HeightsThe Berwyn Heights Green Team implemented a number of efforts to engage with Town residents. The Green Team established a regular page called the GreenBee in the Berwyn Heights Bulletin, which includes information such as gardening tips, information about local farmers' markets, energy efficiency recommendations and other suggestions for ways that residents could implement sustainable practices. Its Facebook page publicizes events and other information related to sustainable and environmentally-friendly actions for residents to consider. The Green Team has also helped in expanding the local school gardens, including establishing a composting system, creating a pollinator garden and creating a vegetable garden. The Town conducted energy audits on the Town Center, Senior Center, and Public Works building, which identified ways to save energy and save tax dollars. At a "Stormwater Solutions: Rain Barrels and More!" workshop, residents learned about rain barrel rebates, how to install a rain barrel, and where rain barrels were already installed in the local community. A Community Garden launched in 2014, which  includes a plot dedicated to a local food bank, provides residents the opportunity to both grow fresh food and connect with neighbors, and. A storm drain-marking project held in partnership with Berwyn Heights Elementary School alerted residents to the importance of protecting water quality in the local watershed.  The Town's Tree City USA designation affirms its commitment to maintaining a healthy urban tree canopy, providing numerous benefits including clean air, clean water, and reducing temperatures in the summer.
 
"We take great pride in that Berwyn Heights' effort to achieve Sustainable Maryland certification was a true community effort that involved citizen volunteers, town staff, and community stakeholders," said Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo. "Although the effort initially focused on getting the points required to become certified, it quickly took on a life of its own.  By rallying the community behind a shared goal and putting in place the infrastructure to promote green policies and practices, Sustainable Maryland will continue to yield meaningful benefits to the Town of Berwyn Heights and the environment well beyond this important milestone."

Town of Cheverly

CheverlyA strong base of volunteerism pervades the efforts of the Town of Cheverly's application this year. A Green Home and Garden Tour, organized by Cheverly Conservation Alliance, made up of Progressive Cheverly, the Cheverly Garden Club, and the Friends of Lower Beaverdam Creek, offers residents and visitors alike inspiration for a variety of ways to save energy and protect natural resources at the household scale. The pesticide-free Cheverly Vegetable Gardens are managed by volunteer residents who are Maryland Master Gardeners, and includes plots dedicated to producing food for two local food banks. The Cheverly Composting Program distributed low-cost compost bins to 10% of Cheverly residents in its first year, and has a 2-year goal of having about 25% of Cheverly households composting, providing significant savings on landfill tipping fees. Finally, a beacon of Cheverly's sustainability efforts can been observed in the form of a 60-foot high wind turbine, which generates power for the Cheverly Public Works building, and stands a testament to this community's commitment to a sustainable future for future generations.

"The town of Cheverly is honored to receive the Sustainable Maryland Certification award," said Dave Kneipp, Chair of Cheverly's Green Team. "This award recognizes the hard work on behalf of the town staff, various community organizations, and numerous individuals who make Cheverly a green community and a great place to live. Cheverly is proud to be a leader in the sustainable movement and ensuring a rich environment for future generations."

City of Greenbelt

GreenbeltSustainability is embedded in the history of the City of Greenbelt, a planned community designed during the Great Depression. It's unique cooperative structure, mixed-use town center, variety of housing types, and extensive grade-separated pedestrian pathways all contribute to a strong network of civic engagement and progressive endeavors.  The Greenbelt Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability (Green ACES) provides leadership for the community's efforts to go green. The Greenbelt Forest Preserve has protected 225 acres of woodlands for the enjoyment of residents, and the preservation of habitat and water quality within the City. The Greenbelt Community Garden Club manages three community gardens, which foster healthy food and social interaction. Fresh food is also available at the City's farmers market. A recently adopted Sustainability Plan offers a roadmap for local efforts to save energy, promote alternative transportation, reduce waste, and protect natural resources. The new Public Works building incorporates a variety of green features, including energy-efficient lighting, water conservation measures, and a high-efficiency geothermal heating system. And a variety of events and programs, including composting workshops, tree plantings, solar home tours, and the annual Green Man Festival all serve to promote sustainability to Greenbelt residents on regular basis.

"Greenbelt is proud to receive the Sustainable Maryland Certification," said Greenbelt Mayor Emmett V. Jordan. "There is a legacy of balance between the environmental, economic and social objectives that have shaped this community over time.  This certification reinforces the partnerships between residents, local civic/business organizations, and the city administration to improve our current practices and to strive for a more sustainable future."

Town of Riverdale Park

Riverdale ParkProgressive planning and community engagement were standouts in the Town of Riverdale Park's Sustainable Maryland application. Foremost amongst these efforts was the Town's commitment to making the new Riverdale Park Station as sustainable as possible. Town Council put several conditions on the property's zoning that included stormwater management, tree conservation, green space and walkability. Riverdale Park Station will be the first "LEED for Neighborhood Development" project in the Prince George's County. Another planning effort focused around Riverdale Park's Town Center, which features a MARC train station and a popular farmers market, but also long-vacant properties. University of Maryland - University College students, in conjunction with the Sustainability Committee, produced a "Revitalizing Riverdale Park's Town Center" report that surveyed residents and assessed current land uses. This report led to Developers Open House and design competition, which together with the report, is expected to yield a plan for re-activating multiple existing buildings within the long-vacant Town Center. Other planning efforts included a Green Design Workshop held at Town Hall, which engaged the community to express its needs and wants for a new municipal building. Feedback from the community will lead to a LEED certified development. Finally, in their efforts to engage the community, Riverdale Park's Sustainability Committee has created a website where residents can find out about RPSC, farmers market, tips for being green, planning and development in their backyard, and links to social media about other sustainable happenings.
 
"Riverdale Park is honored to be recognized for our efforts to leading Maryland's sustainable future," said Ashley Ebbeler, Chair of the Riverdale Park Sustainability Committee. "With the help of Sustainable Maryland Certified our Sustainability Committee worked along side residents, town staff and elected officials to consider the environment in all facets of municipal governance from policy creation to land use development. We are excited to continue to pursue a green future in way we can!"

Town of University Park

University ParkInnovative initiatives in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and waste reduction stand out in the Town of University Park's 2014 Sustainable Maryland application. The nationally recognized STEP-UP (Small Town Energy Program- University Park) program fostered a remarkable level of engagement amongst residents, with 25% of households conducting an Energy Star Home Performance assessment and 16% of households investing in incentive-assisted energy efficiency upgrades, resulting in a 13% reduction in energy usage. The University Park Elementary School became the first Prince George's County school to host a rooftop solar array, with the Town and the School District sharing in a revenue stream from the sale of electricity and renewable energy tax credits. On the waste reduction front, a municipally-run kitchen waste compost program diverts tons of food scraps from the municipal waste stream, saving on landfill tipping fees and creating valuable organic matter for use in local gardens. With these innovative initiatives, along with many others, including it's long-standing Tree City USA designation, back-yard mosquito control program, and annual stream cleanups, the Town of University Park has clearly demonstrated its leadership in municipal sustainability in Maryland.
 
"From protecting our stream and urban tree canopy to our solar-powered town hall, to stepping up to make our homes more energy efficient, we have shown that sustainability is a core principle in University Park," said Sarah Moseley, University Park Green Team Co-Chair. "Now we are proud to be recognized for that work as a Sustainable Maryland Certified community.  Our town has worked together for years, meaning 'It's Easy Being Green in University Park' ."
 
The complete list of municipalities to achieve Sustainable Maryland Certified status this year includes:

  • Town of Bel Air (first municipality certified in Harford County)
  • Town of Berwyn Heights (Prince George's County)
  • Town of Boonsboro (first municipality certified in Washington County)
  • Town of Chesapeake Beach (first municipality certified in Calvert County)
  • Town of Cheverly (Prince George's County)
  • City of Greenbelt (Prince George's County)
  • Town of Snow Hill (Worcester County)
  • City of Takoma Park (Montgomery County)
  • Town of Riverdale Park (Prince George's County)
  • Town of University Park (Prince George's County)

According to Mike Hunninghake, program manager for Sustainable Maryland, "These awards are a testament to the passion and dedication of volunteers, municipal staff and elected officials to lighten our collective imprint on the Earth, restore the natural world, and plan together to create a better tomorrow for our children and their children."

UMD Alumna Awarded 2014 "Genius Grant"

September 18, 2014

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The MacArthur Foundation has named its 2014 class of MacArthur Fellows, including University of Maryland alumna Pamela O. Long, a historian of science and technology.  Long was recognized for her work in deepening our understanding of the historical roots of empirical science.

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. There are three criteria for selection of Fellows: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work. Each fellow receives a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000 over five years.

Pamela O. Long is an independent historian of science and technology who is rewriting the history of science, demonstrating how technologies and crafts are deeply enmeshed in the broader cultural fabric. Through meticulous analysis of textual, visual, antiquarian, and archival materials from across Europe, Long investigates how literacy, language, authorship, trade secrecy, and patronage regulated the interactions of scholars, artisans, architects, and engineers of the early modern period.

“Those who think creativity is dying should examine the life’s work of these extraordinary innovators who work in diverse fields and in different ways to improve our lives and better our world,” said Cecilia Conrad, Vice President, MacArthur Fellows Program. “Together, they expand our view of what is possible, and they inspire us to apply our own talents and imagination.”

Long received a B.A. (1965), M.A. (1969), and Ph.D. (1979) from the University of Maryland. She has held a series of fellowships and visiting positions at prestigious institutions, including Princeton University, the Getty Research Institute, the American Academy in Rome, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and the National Humanities Center.

Tigers, Pandas & People: A Recipe for Conservation Insights

September 18, 2014
Contacts: 

Melissa Andreychek 410-919-4990

A motion-detecting camera trap captures the image of a tiger in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Credit: Neil Carter, SESYNCCOLLEGE PARK, Md. - A new study by Neil Carter, a University of Maryland research associate and postdoctoral fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) at UMD, shows that we can better understand how nature and humans are interlinked by comparing apples to oranges.

Or, more accurately, tigers to pandas.

The study, published in Ecology and Society, compares Chitwan National Park in Nepal, which shelters approximately 125 wild endangered Bengal tigers, and Wolong Nature Reserve in southwestern China, home to an estimated 154 wild endangered giant pandas to reveal that useful conservation insights can be found in unlikely places. The authors show that applying the same methodology to these vastly different environs can uncover shared patterns and common insights.

"For people interested in wildlife research and conservation, there's an increasing awareness of the need to go beyond biology and ecology, and to incorporate insights from various other disciplines, like social psychology and economics," said Carter. "We know it's important, and now we're saying, 'here's a good way to do it.' The idea is: you can use a common framework to understand the fundamental ways people and wildlife interact, despite the differences in social and economic settings."

On the surface, pandas and tigers seem to have different impacts. Pandas eat bamboo. Tigers sometimes eat livestock, and, rarely, even eat people. Although both located in Asia, Chitwan and Wolong are also characterized by important differences in biophysical environment: for example, the topography in Wolong is more rugged, while Chitwan lies at relatively low elevations.

Neil CarterIn spite of these differences, both biodiversity hotspots share deep, complex links with the humans that depend upon their rich but finite natural resources. Approximately 5,000 residents live within Wolong, and conservation policies represent a constant struggle to balance residents' need to secure a livelihood with the pandas' full reliance on vast access to bamboo. Chitwan has no residents, but the people living adjacent to its borders venture inside to harvest its resources. The park borders are porous both ways: tigers can venture out to attack livestock and can also pose a threat to the people who walk through the woods.

Economic costs of living near wildlife are likewise widespread. Those closest to panda and tiger habitat, in particular, have incurred high costs from conservation efforts, including restrictions on certain agricultural activities, fuelwood collection, timber harvesting, and hunting.

Both animals bring advantages, too—which range from the tangible, like attracting tourists, to matters of the spiritual and national pride.

"People and wildlife are tightly coupled human and natural systems," said Jianguo "Jack" Liu, Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at Michigan State University and co-author of the study. "Over many years, interdisciplinary studies on pandas, tigers, and the people who live amongst them are revealing some universal truths about conservation around the globe."

At the core of the study's framework is an understanding of how conservation efforts directly affect wildlife and people, because impacts on local residents can in turn significantly affect wildlife. The authors note that how policy is executed, how people living in and around the reserves behave, and common telecoupling processes—e.g., socioeconomic and environmental interactions over distances, such as tourism and migration—all loom large across many diverse flagship nature reserves. Giving scientists a framework to compare these similar dynamics leads to broad insights about human–wildlife interactions that can facilitate knowledge exchange and inform wildlife conservation policies across and between locations.

"Much of what we learn from one site trickles to other sites," Carter said. "For instance, we've seen that how much responsibility local people have to monitor and manage a forest track is significant. Nepal took the lead in experimenting with ways to have people manage their forest. Now that's being tried in other places. You won't get one answer. You get different points of view—and that's important."

In addition to Carter and Liu, the paper's co-authors include Andrés Viña, assistant professor at Michigan State University; Vanessa Hull, doctoral student at Michigan State University; William McConnell, associate professor at Michigan State University; William Axinn, professor at University of Michigan; and Dirgha Ghimire, associate professor at University of Michigan.

University of Maryland Extension Celebrates 100th Anniversary

September 18, 2014
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin 301-405-9235

Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created national Cooperative Extension Service

UMD Extension

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - For 100 years, the University of Maryland Extension (UME) has been charged with the responsibility and privilege of delivering practical, research-based information to the citizens of Maryland to help improve every aspect of their lives.

The signing of the Smith-Lever Act by Congress in 1914 officially created the national Cooperative Extension Service, a state-by-state network of educators who extend university-based knowledge directly to the people. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of this significant milestone in our nation's history and its impact on our state specifically, special events are planned all across Maryland during the month of October.

Extension offices in each Maryland county and Baltimore city will host open houses in order to celebrate past accomplishments and demonstrate how UME is not only relevant today, but poised to remain a leader for the next 100 years. Participants can expect interactive demonstrations, food tastings, garden tours, historical displays, games, prizes and fun for the whole family at the open houses around the state.

Additionally, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which administers University of Maryland Extension, will host an open house at its Clarksville Research Facility on Saturday, October 11.

"The 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act gives us a great excuse to introduce University of Maryland Extension to members of the community who may not be aware of us and all that we offer," said Dr. Stephen Wright, UME's associate director. "I encourage all Maryland residents to find an open house in their county and to come find out how we can serve you."

University of Maryland Extension prides itself on providing "solutions in your community" through various key program areas including agriculture, environment and natural resources, 4-H youth development, food and nutrition, health and wellness, financial planning, home gardening and the Chesapeake Bay. Currently, UME employs 200 faculty members and 200 support staff located at offices in all 23 Maryland counties and Baltimore city.

To learn more, visit www.extension.umd.edu.

New Research Unveils Population Patterns of U.S. Immigrants from Mexico

September 17, 2014
Contacts: 

Michael S. Rendall, mrendall@umd.edu

UMD and CIDE researchers uncover new phenomenon: U.S. immigrants from Mexico come disproportionately from areas with less-educated populations

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Mexican immigration dwarfs migratory flows into the United States from other countries. Studies of Mexican immigrants in the United States have emphasized their low average level of education compared with other immigrant populations as well as with Mexicans who remain at home.

A new study published in Population and Development Review, “Two Decades of Negative Educational Selectivity of Mexican Migrants to the United States,” by Michael S. Rendall, professor of sociology and director of the Maryland Population Research Center at the University of Maryland and Susan W. Parker, professor of economics, Centro de Investigation y Docencia Economicas (CIDE), Mexico, helps to explain this phenomenon. 

“Immigration has commonly been considered to be selective of healthier more able individuals with higher levels of schooling than the population as a whole, motivated by greater opportunities in the destination country,” according to Rendall. “Yet in this case, Mexican migrants have lower education, on average, than Mexicans who remain at home. Why?  By looking carefully at place-size data we find that a disproportionate share of Mexican migrants came from rural and small-urban areas (population less than 20,000) through the 1990s and 2000s. Because these areas have lower schooling levels than medium- to larger-sized urban areas of Mexico, the result is that migrants have lower education than the overall Mexican population at the most common migration ages.”  

Migrants who completed primary school are the most over-represented group relative to the Mexican population aged 18-54, and migrants who completed any upper secondary education are the most under-represented group. The study concludes that the geographic factor is the major cause of the apparently anomalous negative educational selectivity of migration from Mexico to the United States.

This phenomenon is significant not only because education affects migrants’ labor market prospects and impacts in the United States but because it also affects outcomes for their children, i.e. second-generation immigrants.

Rendall adds, “The restrictive U.S. immigration policy that has been in place throughout the 1990s and 2000s does not appear to have had the intended effect of deterring unauthorized migration overall. It may, however, have had a greater deterrent effect on higher-educated migrants than on lower-educated migrants.”

New Detector Captures Unprecedented Range of Light Waves

September 17, 2014
Contacts: 

Kathryn Tracey 443-340-2299

UMD Research Opens Door to Future Applications in Medicine and Security

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - New research at the University of Maryland could lead to a generation of light detectors that can see below the surface of bodies, walls, and other objects.

Using the special properties of graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon that is only one atom thick, a prototype detector is able to see an extraordinarily broad band of wavelengths. Included in this range is a band of light wavelengths that have exciting potential applications but are notoriously difficult to detect: terahertz waves, which are invisible to the human eye.

Top-down view of broadband, ultra-fast graphene detector capable of detecting terahertz frequencies at room temperature. Credit: Thomas Murphy
A research paper about the new detector was published in Nature Nanotechnology.  Lead author Xinghan Cai, a University of Maryland physics graduate student, said a detector like the researchers' prototype "could find applications in emerging terahertz fields such as mobile communications, medical imaging, chemical sensing, night vision, and security."

The light we see illuminating everyday objects is actually only a very narrow band of wavelengths and frequencies. Terahertz light waves' long wavelengths and low frequencies fall between microwaves and infrared waves. The light in these terahertz wavelengths can pass through materials that we normally think of as opaque, such as skin, plastics, clothing, and cardboard. It can also be used to identify chemical signatures that are emitted only in the terahertz range.

Few technological applications for terahertz detection are currently realized, however, in part because it is difficult to detect light waves in this range. In order to maintain sensitivity, most detectors need to be kept extremely cold, around 4 degrees Kelvin, or -452 degrees Fahrenheit. Existing detectors that work at room temperature are bulky, slow, and prohibitively expensive.

The new room temperature detector, developed by the University of Maryland team and colleagues at the U.S. Naval Research Lab and Monash University, Australia, gets around these problems by using graphene, a single layer of interconnected carbon atoms. By utilizing the special properties of graphene, the research team has been able to increase the speed and maintain the sensitivity of room temperature wave detection in the terahertz range.

Using a new operating principle called the "hot-electron photothermoelectric effect," the research team created a device that is "as sensitive as any existing room temperature detector in the terahertz range and more than a million times faster," says Michael Fuhrer, professor of physics at the University of Maryland and Monash University, Australia.

Graphene, a sheet of pure carbon only one atom thick, is uniquely suited to use in a terahertz detector because when light is absorbed by the electrons suspended in the honeycomb lattice of the graphene, they do not lose their heat to the lattice but instead retain that energy.

The concept behind the detector is simple, says University of Maryland Physics Professor Dennis Drew. "Light is absorbed by the electrons in graphene, which heat up but don't lose their energy easily. So they remain hot while the carbon atomic lattice remains cold." These heated electrons escape the graphene through electrical leads, much like steam escaping a tea kettle. The prototype uses two electrical leads made of different metals, which conduct electrons at different rates. Because of this conductivity difference, more electrons will escape through one than the other, producing an electrical signal.

This electrical signal detects the presence of terahertz waves beneath the surface of materials that appear opaque to the human eye – or even x-rays. You cannot see through your skin, for example, and an x-ray goes right through the skin to the bone, missing the layers just beneath the skin's surface entirely. Terahertz waves see the in-between. The speed and sensitivity of the room temperature detector presented in this research opens the door to future discoveries in this in-between zone.

Closest-Ever Orbiter Sends Data on "Rubber Ducky" Comet

September 16, 2014
Contacts: 

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

UMD astronomers see comet's surprising shape in far-ultraviolet light

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - As the spacecraft Rosetta approaches a "rubber ducky" shaped comet for the closest comet observations ever made, the spacecraft's instruments are already gathering data that may lead to new insights about how these heavenly bodies form, and how they evolve in their repeated orbits around the sun, says University of Maryland astronomer Lori Feaga.

A camera aboard the comet-orbiting spacecraft Rosetta took this photo of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, known as C-G, from a distance of about 79 kilometers, or 49 miles. on August 19, 2014. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAMRosetta, an international mission launched by the European Space Agency in 2004, is slated to become the first spacecraft to orbit a comet up close and observe it in detail as it travels towards the sun. After a ten-year journey, including nearly three years in deep-space hibernation, Rosetta is now about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from its target, comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko, known to mission investigators as C-G. The comet is hurtling through an ice-cold region of space some 525 million kilometers (326 million miles) from the sun, and will make its closest approach to the sun in August 2015.

Rosetta is due to come within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of C-G in November, when it will attempt to drop a lander for the first-ever observation of a comet from its own surface. The orbiter and lander are carrying 20 specialized instruments, and the mission is designed to observe C-G for a year or more.

Feaga, a UMD associate research scientist, and Michael A'Hearn, an astronomy professor, are co-investigators working with an instrument called Alice, an ultraviolet spectrograph that is sending back the first observations ever made of a comet's surface in far-ultraviolet radiation, which cannot be detected by telescopes that rely on visible light. Developed by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colo., Alice is providing sensitive, high-resolution data from the comet's surface.  By viewing a comet up close in far-ultraviolet light, investigators hope to gain new information about this comet's gases and ices, and to learn more about the evolution of comets in general. 

Sometimes referred to as "dirty snowballs," comets are primordial fragments of the materials that formed our sun and its planets. First discovered in 1969, C-G has orbited the sun many times and has already burned off much of its original gas and icy material, says Feaga. Earlier observations revealed C-G's size, about 3.5 by 4 kilometers (2.2 by 2.5 miles). But since July, when Alice and other instruments began mapping the comet's surface daily, it has become apparent that C-G has "two distinct lobes, shaped like the head and the body of a duck," says Feaga.

Astronomers used to think that bi-lobed comets, the product of two comets colliding or of geologic processes similar to erosion, were rare. But as researchers observe more comets with better instruments, "we're seeing more of these bi-lobed shapes," Feaga says, "and we're realizing how many close encounters comets have had with each other over time."

As Rosetta gets closer to C-G, Alice and other instruments will show whether there are any variations in color between the two lobes. A color comparison "will show us whether C-G is made of two pieces that formed at the same time in the same place, and were fused together in some cosmic collision back in the early stages of the solar system," Feaga said, "or whether they formed much further apart and collided gradually, later on, without any great catastrophe."

Alice's mapping has shown that the comet's surface is unusually dark, deeper than charcoal-black, when seen in the ultraviolet spectrum. Because C-G is too far away for the sun's warmth to turn its water into vapor, researchers would expect to see water in the form of patchy ice on the comet's surface. But so far, Alice has not detected large patches of ice made from water on the surface.

"We're a bit surprised at how little evidence of observed water-ice it shows," says Alan Stern, an associate vice president of SwRI's Space Science and Engineering Division and Alice's principal investigator. Alice is one of three NASA-funded instruments aboard Rosetta, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is managing the U.S. contribution to the international mission.

Hydrogen & Solar Power Boosted by New Ability to Shape Nanostructures

September 15, 2014
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

Findings promise wide-ranging advances from clean energy to new sensors

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – New nanotechnology findings from physicists at the University of Maryland have moved us significantly closer to a "holy grail" of clean energy research – the efficient, cost effective generation of  clean hydrogen fuel from sunlight.

The UMD team created a fundamentally new synthesis strategy for hybrid nanostructures that they and other scientists say make possible new nanostructures and nanotechnologies with huge potential applications ranging from clean energy and quantum computing advances to new sensor development. 

The team demonstrated the power of their method by creating a photocatalyst that is almost 15 times more efficient in using solar energy to split water (H2O) into hydrogen and  oxygen than conventional photocatalysts. Photocatalysts are substances that use light to boost chemical reactions. Chlorophyll is a natural photocatalyst used by plants.

"The ingenious nano-assemblies that Professor Ouyang and his collaborators have fabricated, which  include the novel feature of a silver-gold particle that super-efficiently harvests light, bring us a giant step nearer to the so-far elusive goal of artificial photosynthesis: using sunlight to transform water and carbon dioxide into fuels and valuable chemicals," says Professor Martin Moskovits of the University of California at Santa Barbara, a recognized expert in this area of research and not affiliated with the paper.

Lighting the Way to Clean, Efficient Power 

Hydrogen fuel cell has long been considered a tremendously promising, clean alternative to gasoline and other carbon based (fossil) fuels that are currently used for cars, electrical generation and most other energy applications. A fuel cell combines stored hydrogen gas with oxygen from the air to produce electricity that can power vehicles, homes and businesses. The only byproduct of hydrogen fuel cells is water. Combustion of gasoline and other carbon-based fuels emit pollutants, including carbon dioxide, the principle greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.

Solar Water Splitting: A Step Towards Carbon-Free Energy and Environment.  Credit: Md. Golam Kibria, McGill University. Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Solar Water Splitting: A Step Towards Carbon-Free Energy and Environment.
Credit: Md. Golam Kibria, McGill University. Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

It's expected that in 2015, American consumers will finally be able to purchase fuel cell cars from Toyota and other manufacturers. Although these will be zero-emissions vehicles, most of the hydrogen fuel to power them currently is made from natural gas, a fossil fuel that contributes to climate change and increasingly is being produced by the controversial process known as fracking.

The cleanest way to produce hydrogen fuel is using solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. However, decades of research advances have not yielded photocatalytic methods with sufficient energy efficiency to be cost effective for use in large scale water splitting applications. Efficient creation of hydrogen fuel from sunlight is also critical to development of large scale solar energy plants because hydrogen fuel is an ideal way to store for later use, the energy generated by such facilities.

The UMD team's work advances the efficiency of photocatalysts and lays the foundation for much larger future advances by more fully realizing a light-generated nanoparticle effect first used by ancient Romans to create glass that changes color based on light. This effect, known as surface plasmon resonance, involves the generation of high energy electrons using light.

UMD team leader Min Ouyang, an associate professor in the department of physics and the Maryland NanoCenter., explains that plasmon resonance is the generation of a collective oscillation of low energy electrons by light. The light energy stored in such a "plasmonic oscillator" then can be converted to energetic carriers (i.e., "hot" electrons) for use in photocatalysis and many other applications.

"Using our new modular synthesis strategy, our UMD team created an optimally designed, plasmon-mediated photocatalytic nanostructure that is an almost 15 times more efficient than conventional photocatalysts," says Ouyang.

In studying this new photocatalyst, Min and his colleagues identified a previously unknown "hot plasmon electron-driven photocatalysis mechanism with an identified electron transfer pathway."

It is this new mechanism that makes possible the high efficiency of the UMD team's new photocatalyst. And it is a finding made possible by the precise materials control allowed by the team's new general synthesis method.

The UMD team says their findings hold great promise for future advances to make water splitting cost effective for large-scale use in creating hydrogen fuel. And the team's newly-discovered mechanism for creating hot (high energy) electrons should also be applicable to research involving other photo-excitation processes.

A Fundamental Nanotechnology Advance

The findings of Min and his colleagues were published recently in Nature Communications. Their primary discovery is a fundamentally new synthesis strategy for hybrid nanostructures that uses a connector, or "intermedium," nanoparticle to join multiple different nanoparticles into nanostructures that would be very difficult or perhaps even impossible to make with existing methods. The resultant mix and match modular component approach avoids the limitations in material choice and nanostructure size, shape and symmetry that are inherent in the crystalline growth (epitaxial) synthesis approaches currently used to build nanostructures.

"Our approach makes it possible to design and build higher order [more complex and materially varied] nanostructures with a specifically designed symmetry or shape, akin to the body's ability to make different protein oligomers each with a specific function determined by its specific composition and shape," says Ouyang. "Such a synthesis method is the dream of many scientists in our field and we expect researchers now will use our approach to fabricate a full class of new nanoscale hybrid structures," he says.

One of the many scientists excited about the new UMD method is the University of Delaware's Matt Doty, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, physics, and electrical and computer engineering and associate director of the UD Nanofabrication Facility. "The work of Weng and coauthors provides a powerful new tool for the 'quantum engineering' of complex nanostructures designed to implement novel electronic and optoelectronic functions. [Their] new approach makes it feasible for researchers to realize much more sophisticated nanostructure p designs than were previously possible." he says.

Support for this research was provided by the Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. 

Hierarchical synthesis of non-centrosymmetric hybrid nanostructures and enabled plasmon-driven photocatalysis, Lin Weng, HuiZhang, Alexander O. Govorov and Min Ouyang. Nature Communications; Article number: 4792; doi:10.1038/ncomms5792

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