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Saturday, July 26, 2014

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Meteorites Yield Clues to Mars' Early Atmosphere

April 17, 2014
Contacts: 

Heather Dewar 301-405-9267

Data will help scientists read Curiosity samples for signs of life, UMD expert says

Mars: Closest Approach 2007. Photo from http://hubblesite.orgCOLLEGE PARK, Md. - Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars have unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published April 17 in the journal Nature, shows that the atmospheres of Mars and Earth diverged in important ways very early in the 4.6 billion year evolution of our solar system.

The results will help guide researchers' next steps in understanding whether life exists, or has ever existed, on Mars and how water—now absent from the Martian surface—flowed there in the past.

Heather Franz, a former University of Maryland research associate who now works on the Curiosity rover science team at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, led the study with James Farquhar, co-author and UMD geology professor. The researchers measured the sulfur composition of 40 Mars meteorites—a much larger number than in previous analyses. Of more than 60,000 meteorites found on Earth, only 69 are believed to be pieces of rocks blasted off the Martian surface.

The meteorites are igneous rocks that formed on Mars, were ejected into space when an asteroid or comet slammed into the red planet, and landed on Earth. The oldest meteorite in the study is about 4.1 billion years old, formed when our solar system was in its infancy. The youngest are between 200 million and 500 million years old.

A microscope reveals colorful augite crystals in this 1.3 billion-year-old meteorite from Mars, which researchers studied to understand the red planet's atmospheric history. Photo: James DayStudying Martian meteorites of different ages can help scientists investigate the chemical composition of the Martian atmosphere throughout history, and learn whether the planet has ever been hospitable to life. Mars and Earth share the basic elements for life, but conditions on Mars are much less favorable, marked by an arid surface, cold temperatures, radioactive cosmic rays, and ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.  Still, some Martian geological features were evidently formed by water – a sign of milder conditions in the past. Scientists are not sure what conditions made it possible for liquid water to exist on the surface, but greenhouse gases released by volcanoes likely played a role. 

Sulfur, which is plentiful on Mars, may have been among the greenhouse gases that warmed the surface, and could have provided a food source for microbes. Because meteorites are a rich source of information about Martian sulfur, the researchers analyzed sulfur atoms that were incorporated into the rocks.

In the Martian meteorites, some sulfur came from molten rock, or magma, which came to the surface during volcanic eruptions. Volcanoes also vented sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, where it interacted with light, reacted with other molecules, and settled on the surface.

Sulfur has four naturally occurring stable isotopes, or different forms of the element, each with its own atomic signature. Sulfur is also chemically versatile, interacting with many other elements, and each type of interaction distributes sulfur isotopes in a different way. Researchers measuring the ratios of sulfur isotopes in a rock sample can learn whether the sulfur was magma from deep below the surface, atmospheric sulfur dioxide or a related compound, or a product of biological activity.

Using state-of-the-art techniques to track the sulfur isotopes in samples from the Martian meteorites, the researchers were able to identify some sulfur as a product of photochemical processes in the Martian atmosphere. The sulfur was deposited on the surface and later incorporated into erupting magma that formed igneous rocks. The isotopic fingerprints found in the meteorite samples are different than those that would have been produced by sulfur-based life forms.

Under a microscope, crystals of skeletal magnetite in this 1.3 billion-year-old Martian meteorite reminded scientists of a piranha. Photo courtesy of Heather FranzThe researchers found the chemical reactions involving sulfur in the Martian atmosphere were different than those that took place early in Earth's geological history. This suggests the two planets' early atmospheres were very different, Franz said.

The exact nature of the differences is unclear, but other evidence suggests that soon after our solar system formed, much of Mars' atmosphere was lost, leaving it thinner than Earth's, with lower concentrations of carbon dioxide and other gases. That is one reason why Mars is too cold for liquid water today—but that may not always have been the case, said Franz.

"Climate models show that a moderate abundance of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere after volcanic episodes, which have occurred throughout Mars' history, could have produced a warming effect which may have allowed liquid water to exist at the surface for extended periods," Franz said. "Our measurements of sulfur in Martian meteorites narrow the range of possible atmospheric compositions, since the pattern of isotopes that we observe points to a distinctive type of photochemical activity on Mars, different from that on early Earth."

Periods of higher levels of sulfur dioxide may help explain the red planet's dry lakebeds, river channels and other evidence of a watery past. Warm conditions may even have persisted long enough for microbial life to develop.

The team's work has yielded the most comprehensive record of the distribution of sulfur isotopes on Mars. In effect, they have compiled a database of atomic fingerprints that provide a standard of comparison for sulfur-containing samples collected by NASA's Curiosity rover and future Mars missions. This information will make it much easier for researchers to zero in on any signs of biologically produced sulfur, Farquhar said.

UMD Announces Changes to Alert Messaging System

April 16, 2014
Contacts: 

Crystal Brown 301-405-4621

University of MarylandCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland announced today changes to its UMD Alerts system, a channel used to provide critical information and instructions to members of the university community, especially during emergency situations.

During the last 12 months, university officials have undergone an evaluation of the emergency notification process and alert system in an effort to improve communication with staff, faculty and students.

Since 2007, any person affiliated with UMD has been able to subscribe to UMD Alerts. To improve the speed of notification to the campus community, effective today, the UMD Alerts text and email messaging system will send updates only to current students, faculty and staff. This reduced number of subscribers will improve the delivery speed of notifications to those who need to take action in an emergency – the campus community.

All registered students and employees with active UIDs will remain in the system and no action is required to remain subscribed to UMD Alerts. Current students and employees can change or update their contact information for alert notifications at https://alert.umd.edu.

Those who are not current students, faculty or staff, such as parents, media, and alumni, may receive updates when UMD Alerts are issued by following the University of Maryland Police Department on Twitter (@UMPD) and Facebook (University of Maryland Department of Public Safety) or by subscribing to the UMPD news site (umpdnews.umd.edu). Instructions on how to subscribe to UMPD News are available at http://www.umpdnews.umd.edu/node/55.  College Park residents not affiliated with UMD may register to receive relevant updates here.

For additional information, visit https://alert.umd.edu.

Global Impact of UMD Computer Scientist Recognized

April 11, 2014
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301-405-4679
Tom Ventsias 301-405-5933

  Samet shows his NewsStand app, which gives users a new way to find worldwide news.
  Samet shows his NewsStand app, which gives users a new way to find worldwide news.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Probably very few of the millions of people who use Google Earth or Microsoft Virtual Earth know that these and many other computer applications -- ranging from games, to map and image processing, to computer graphics and visualization -- are made possible, in significant part, by the pioneering "spatial information" work of Distinguished University Professor Hanan Samet (computer science, Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, and Center for Automation Research). 

However, the many awards Samet has received in recent years – including the just announced 2014 W. Wallace McDowell Award from the IEEE Computer Society – clearly show that his computer science and computer engineering peers do recognize his foundational contributions.

The W. Wallace McDowell Award, the highest technical honor given by the IEEE Computer Society, goes to individuals for "outstanding theoretical, design, educational, practical or other innovative contributions in the field of computing." Samet was recognized for his groundbreaking work in "multidimensional spatial data structures, translation validation and proof-carrying code."

Other top accolades Samet has received include the Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM) 2011 Paris Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award, which honors "specific theoretical accomplishments that significantly affect the practice of computing," and the 2009 University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS) Research Award.

"We are very proud of Hanan's research and scholarship. His work has high scientific value, but also impacts our everyday lives—from computer games to navigational tools to biomedical imaging," says Jayanth Banavar, dean of UMD's College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.

The IEEE Computer Society award is named for W. Wallace McDowell, who spent decades overseeing IBM's development of the first commercial electronic calculator. Previous winners read like a who's who of giants in the computing and information technology industry.

They include FORTRAN creator John W. Backus (1967); supercomputer pioneers Seymour Cray (1968), Gene Amdahl (1976) and Ken Kennedy (1995); the architect of IBM's mainframe computer Frederick Brooks (1970); Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore (1978); Donald Knuth, the father of algorithm analysis (1980); microprocessor inventor Federico Faggin (1994); World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee (1996); Lotus Notes creator and Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie (2000); and IBM Fellow Ronald Fagin (2012).

Samet was recognized for his groundbreaking work in "spatial data structures, translation validation and proof carrying code.""Hanan can be regarded as the world's leading authority in spatial databases and multidimensional data structures," says Distinguished University of North Carolina Computer Science Professor Dinesh Manocha, who is not affiliated with any of the awards Samet has received. "In fact, a lot of folks attribute the development of the field of spatial databases to Hanan's pioneering work in the 80's and his first two books on the topic that were published in 1990. Those earlier books, along with his more recent book Foundations of Multidimensional and Metric Data Structures are regarded as the bibles of this field."

Samet authored the award-winning "Foundations of Multidimensional and Metric Data Structures" (Morgan-Kaufmann, 2006) and the first two books on spatial data structures, "Design and Analysis of Spatial Data Structures" and "Applications of Spatial Data Structures: Computer Graphics, Image Processing, and GIS" (Addison-Wesley, 1990).

His 1975 Stanford University doctoral thesis dealt with proving the correctness of translations of the LISP programming language, which was the first work in the field that 20 years later became known as translation validation and the related concept of proof carrying code. This work enables proving the correctness of the bootstrapping process, which is crucial to porting on embedded systems.

Samet is founding editor-in-chief of ACM Transactions on Spatial Algorithms and Systems, and the founding chair of ACM SIGSPATIAL. He is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the International Association for Pattern Recognition, ACM, IEEE and the UCGIS.

Samet's recent work involves spatio-textual search as realized in an application he and his students developed called NewsStand, which lets users search for worldwide news on their computers or mobile devices with a query interface displayed on a world map.

Samet likens the research to exploiting the power of spatial synonyms, saying that NewsStand is useful because you don't have to plug in keywords, you just have to have an idea of an area or topic you want to explore.

Big Ten Conference Announces New York City Office

April 10, 2014
Contacts: 

Scott Chipman, Big Ten Conference

East Coast office space provides expanded coverage and service for 14 Big Ten institutions that span from the Colorado border to the Atlantic Ocean

ROSEMONT, Ill. — The Big Ten Conference announced it will open a second office in New York City to help serve the needs of its 14 member institutions. The Big Ten New York City office will be located at 900 Third Avenue and will be fully staffed and operational by June 1. The University of Maryland will join the Big Ten Conference on July 1 and recently announced its plan to celebrate the move. The "THINK B1G" plan includes a series of special events, campus celebrations, and promotional activities.

Big Ten ConferenceThe office is located in Midtown Manhattan, with easy access to airports and other transportation, and will feature both office and meeting space. Three Big Ten staff members working in branding, championships, communications and compliance will be based in the New York City office to provide expanded coverage and service, while Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany and senior staff will maintain a presence in both the New York City office and the conference’s current headquarters located in Rosemont, Ill. In addition, other conference and institutional administrators will utilize the space as necessary when conducting business on the East Coast. The Big Ten and its member institutions will also have access to satellite office space in Washington, D.C.

“The Big Ten has been a terrific partner as we have prepared to join the conference. The establishment of offices on the East Coast is just another example of their ongoing outreach efforts,” University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh said. “The University of Maryland draws students from across the country and the world, but the region between College Park and New York City is especially important to us. We’re glad that the Big Ten will have an expanded presence on the East Coast.”

“We are excited to be on the East Coast and to open a second office in New York City,” Delany said. “With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, we have become a conference with a significant presence in two regions of the country. While the space will be utilized full time by Big Ten staff, it will also be open to our member institutions conducting business in the city. New York is one of the world’s greatest cities, and this provides an opportunity for connecting with our many conference partners, media and alumni in that area.”

“As we look forward to officially joining the Big Ten, we’re thrilled that the conference has opened offices on the East Coast to strengthen the bond with our institution,” Rutgers University President Robert L. Barchi said. “Rutgers University has a significant presence in New York City with alumni, students and business partners, and we’re happy that the Big Ten and its member institutions will be joining us in the metropolitan area.”

“Indiana University is thrilled that the Big Ten has given member institutions office space in New York City,” Indiana University Director of Athletics Fred Glass said. “It is a strong display of commitment to our new members and a substantial investment in the eastern part of the conference's expanded footprint. New York has one of the largest concentrations of IU alumni in the country, and it is terrific that we now have a home base of operations in the nation’s largest city.”

“The Big Ten now stretches from the Atlantic Ocean across the Missouri River, and establishing a base of operations in New York City for all 14 institutions is a natural next step,” Northwestern University Director of Athletics Jim Phillips said. “As a university with a large alumni population in New York, and one that recruits students, faculty and student-athletes from throughout the Northeast, we’re very much looking forward to what will be a home-away-from-home in Manhattan.”

The Big Ten has made a series of announcements highlighting the conference’s increased presence on the East Coast, beginning with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers as future conference members in November 2012.  Last June, the Big Ten announced the acceptance of Johns Hopkins University as the conference’s first sport affiliate member for men’s lacrosse and also announced an agreement to take part in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, sending conference football teams to play at Yankee Stadium on an annual basis.

Maryland and Rutgers are set to officially join the Big Ten on July 1, 2014, giving the conference more than 520,000 total students and 5.7 million living alumni. The broad-based athletic programs of the 14 institutions will feature almost 9,500 student-athletes on 350 teams in 43 different sports. With the debut of men’s and women’s lacrosse during the 2014-15 academic year, the Big Ten will sponsor 28 official sports. Maryland and Rutgers are already members of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, an academic consortium of Big Ten universities and the University of Chicago that is a model for effective and voluntary collaboration among top research universities. In 2012, Big Ten institutions produced over $9.5 billion in research expenditures.

University of Maryland Announces Plan to Celebrate Move to Big Ten Conference

April 8, 2014
Contacts: 

Brian Ullmann 301-314-6650

Campus-wide Integration Adopts 'THINK B1G' Theme

The University of Maryland today announced plans to commemorate the historic move to the Big Ten Conference.  The "THINK B1G" plan includes a series of special events, campus celebrations, and promotional activities to mark the University's entry into the Big Ten Conference on July 1, 2014.COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland today announced plans to commemorate the historic move to the Big Ten Conference.  The "THINK B1G" plan includes a series of special events, campus celebrations, and promotional activities to mark the University's entry into the Big Ten Conference on July 1, 2014.

"The move to the Big Ten Conference is a university-wide effort," said President Wallace D. Loh.  "It's more than a change in athletic conference.  Arts, academics, research – all will be enhanced by this transition."

"For our alumni, for our fans, for our students and for the entire university community, this is an exciting time to be a Terp," said director of athletics Kevin Anderson.  "I could not be more excited to start competing in the Big Ten Conference."

 

Key components of the plan, which was developed by a university task force that represented all six divisions of the university plus athletics, include:

  • Annual Red-White Spring Football Game – This college football tradition will be played under the lights on Friday, April 11 at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium, and will feature Big Ten Network t-shirt giveaways and post-game fireworks.
  • Fearless Ideas Events – A series of events for alumni and friends featuring special 'THINK B1G' programming.  Events include Maryland in Manhattan, April 24; Fearless Ideas Rockville, May 1; and Fearless Ideas Arlington, May 8.
  • "From the Gridiron to the Battlefield:  Progress in Understanding and Mitigating Brain Injury" – Taking advantage of UMD's position as the closest institution in the Big Ten to our nation's capital, a special Traumatic Brain Injury Research Forum will bring together University of Maryland researchers with the head of the CIC's Traumatic Brain Injury Research Collaboration.
  • 16th Annual Maryland Day – This annual event draws over 100,000 alumni and friends to College Park to enjoy over 450 exhibits, events and performances.  On Hornbake Plaza, there will be autograph sessions with the football and men's and women’s basketball teams, plus an interactive tent with the Big Ten Network, plus plenty of THINK B1G giveaways.
  • THINK B1G Campus Celebration – A two-day celebration marking the official joining of the Big Ten Conference, June 30-July 1.  Includes a special event in Baltimore and a Big Ten Night at Nationals Park on June 30, and a campus celebration featuring food, giveaways and a special program featuring President Loh, Kevin Anderson, and other surprises on July 1.
  • Destination Maryland: THINK B1G – A new conference for influential high school guidance counselors from Big Ten markets is planned for summer 2014.
  • Campus-wide Launch Event – On first day of classes, September 2, a campus-wide celebration event featuring B1G games and giveaways. 
  • Homecoming Weekend – Special inaugural season merchandise, commemorative memorabilia, new signage, a Homecoming Festival on McKeldin Mall, and much more is being planned for Homecoming Weekend, October 16-19, all around the 2014 theme – THINK B1G.
  • Special Unveiling of a new THINK B1G Ice Cream Flavor - A special commemorative B1G ice cream flavor will be ready for unveiling at the July 1 on-campus event, courtesy of the chefs in Dining Services.

In addition, a comprehensive two-month THINK B1G marketing campaign is planned to include outdoor billboards, campus signage, social media marketing, contests and giveaways.

For more information on these and other events, please visit http://www.umd.edu/THINKB1G/.

TerpVision 13: Don't Hold Back

April 7, 2014

Hundreds of students gathered recently for the sixth annual Social Enterprise Symposium. Hosted by the Center for Social Value Creation in the Smith School of Business, the symposium brought together thought leaders to explore the role of business in creating economic prosperity and social change.

Researchers Find Keys to Societal Sustainability

April 7, 2014
Contacts: 

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

Big Bend Power Station near Apollo Beach, Florida. By: Wknight94COLLEGE PARK, Md. - A new analytical tool adds human factors to a widely-used biological model of how animal populations interact, suggesting that human societies can reach a steady state that is sustainable when they do not over-deplete natural resources and avoid extreme economic inequality.

The paper, titled "Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies," was published in the May 2014 issue of the journal Ecological Economics. Its authors are Safa Motesharrei, a Ph.D. candidate in applied mathematics at the University of Maryland; Jorge Rivas of the Institute of Global Environment and Society; and Eugenia Kalnay, Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science and the Institute for Physical Science and Technology at UMD.

Kalnay, an internationally recognized weather and climate scientist, worked in leadership positions at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for two decades and currently serves on the UN Secretary General's Scientific Advisory Board on Sustainability. She is renowned, in part, for leading the National Weather Service's advances in weather modeling in the 1990s. Her recent work has focused on advancing understanding of climate change and environmental sustainability through improved modeling of the coupled interaction of earth and human systems.
 
HANDY's starting point is a well-known model in biology and population ecology, commonly known as the "predator-prey model," which is used to understand the dynamics of animal populations. The researchers applied that model's concepts to human societies, and incorporated two new variables that are not included in existing models: accumulation of wealth and economic stratification between rich and poor. These changes are necessary, the researchers say, to reflect that some segments of human society use more resources than others, and accumulated wealth can delay, but not prevent, the decline that occurs when a population exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment. With HANDY, the researchers say, they have developed a practical method for using the relevant natural, social and economic conditions to estimate a human society's carrying capacity.
 
While some HANDY scenarios are suggestive of past civilizations that flourished and then collapsed, such as the ancient Romans and Mayans, the model was not created to explain specific societies' collapse, team members said.
 
The model is "not intended to describe actual individual cases" – such as modern Western society – "but rather to provide a general framework that allows carrying out 'thought experiments' for the phenomenon of collapse and to test changes that would avoid it," the authors wrote in the research paper.

"The model does not say that society's collapse is imminent," said Rivas, "nor does it predict a collapse for 'Western' or 'industrial' civilization despite some pre-publication reports to the contrary."

"HANDY is not a forecasting model," Motesharrei said. "It cannot be used to predict the future of any society. It can, however, help us understand the possible underlying mechanisms in the evolution of a society."

This minimal modeling approach focuses on the long-term behavioral properties of dynamical systems, the authors explain. The goal is not to find precise solutions for the variables of the real system, but instead to address questions such as:

  • In the long run, will the system settle at a steady state?
  • What are these possible steady states?
  • What factors determine which long-term behavior is followed?

 
"The results of our model are optimistic, because they show that by making certain decisions, we can bring about a sustainable future," said Rivas. Unlike physical and natural systems, such as the solar system or an ecosystem, "we can, as humans, make critical choices that can change the long-term path that our social system will take, and we can optimize such choices using scientific models. This is a key takeaway lesson of this paper."
 
However, the model shows that "if we continue to over-deplete nature, and if inequality continues such that the rich consume far more than the poor, the system eventually collapses," Kalnay said.

Leadership for 21st-Century Public Health

April 4, 2014
Contacts: 

Kelly Blake 301-405-9418

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Faculty and student researchers, public health experts, community members and state partners will join together at the University of Maryland to discuss current and emerging public health issues, such as the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, HIV/AIDS, cancer prevention, tobacco control and the role of physical activity in preventing chronic disease.

Public Health Research@Maryland The second annual Public Health Research@Maryland day on Tuesday, April 8, 2014, will focus on cultivating “Leadership for 21st Century Public Health” and showcase innovative public health research. The event will also mark the 50 years of progress made since the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health in 1964 on reducing diseases and deaths due to tobacco product use.

Public Health Research@Maryland day is part of the MPowering the State initiative, designed to enhance collaboration between the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). This annual event is sponsored by UMD's School of Public Health and UMB's Department of Epidemiology and Public Health in the School of Medicine. This year’s event is held in partnership with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Foundation.

Dr. David Satcher, the first Surgeon General to focus on eliminating health disparities for all racial and ethnic groups, will deliver a keynote address on issues Surgeons General have tackled over the years and the results of their efforts. Dr. Richard Carmona, who issued the landmark Surgeon General’s report about the dangers of second-hand smoke, will address the future of tobacco control.

Panels will be led by public health experts from both the University of Maryland, College Park and Baltimore campuses. The full schedule can be found at http://sph.umd.edu/PHRM/program.html.

In addition, keynote lectures by Surgeons General David Satcher and Richard Carmona, as well as several panel sessions, will be streamed live online at http://ter.ps/phrm14live.

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

Pages

July 24
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have gone looking for water vapor in the atmospheres of three planets... Read
July 22
Physics Professor Howard Milchberg created "air waveguides" to enhance light signals collected from distant sources. Read
July 17
Data from new system will inform rapid and effective public health responses. Read
July 17
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