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UMD Celebrates 3rd Annual Good Neighbor Day

March 25, 2014

Beth Cavanaugh 301-405-4625

Good Neighbor DayCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland will celebrate the 3rd Annual Good Neighbor Day, an annual cross-campus service project, on Saturday, March 29 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The event brings together students, faculty, staff, alumni, and local residents for a day of service. Volunteers focus on clean-up efforts that contribute to a great quality of life for all College Park residents and celebrate being a good neighbor, every day of the year.

There are many ways to participate, including:

  • Neighborhood clean ups throughout north College Park
  • Uprooting non-indigenous plant species that threaten the balance of our local ecosystem
  • Mulching and planting at College Park's Al Huda Elementary School's garden
  • Free health check-ups from Doctors Community Hospital, which will provide free blood pressure  and cholesterol screenings
  • Free sustainability and wellness workshops hosted by UMD and community experts on a variety of topics, such as reducing your home's carbon footprint; promoting better physical and mental health; and how your ethnic, religious, or humanist culture practices the value of being a good neighbor. Youth participants will be able to receive service-learning credit for workshop participation.

In addition, the Good Neighbor Day food drive continues until March 29. Campus and off-campus partners are collecting non-perishable goods to benefit the College Park Meals on Wheels Program and the College Park Food Bank. Donations will help low-income families and individuals who face food insecurity during the spring months.

Good Neighbor Day is a partnership between UMD, the City of College Park, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and local civic and faith organizations.

For more information or to participate in Good Neighbor Day, visit

Kelvin Wave Seen on Quantum "Tornado" for First Time

March 25, 2014

Abby Robinson 301-405-5845
Heather Dewar 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Draining the water from a bathtub causes a spinning tornado to appear. The downward flow of water into the drain causes the water to rotate, and as the rotation speeds up, a vortex forms that obeys the laws of classical mechanics. However, if the water is replaced with extremely cold liquid helium, the fluid will swirl around an invisible line to form a vortex that obeys the laws of quantum mechanics. Sometimes, two of these quantum tornadoes flex into curved lines, cross over one another to form a letter X shape, swap ends, and then violently retract from one another—a process called reconnection.

Illustration of Kelvin waves on retracting quantized vortices after they met, crossed and exchanged tails—a process called reconnection. A new study provides visual evidence that after the vortexes snap away from each other, they develop ripples called “Kelvin waves” to quickly get rid of the energy caused by the connection and relax the system. Image: Enrico FondaComputer simulations have suggested that after the vortexes snap away from each other, they develop ripples called "Kelvin waves" to quickly get rid of the energy caused by the connection and relax the system. However, the existence of these waves had never been experimentally proven.

Now, for the first time, researchers provide visual evidence confirming that the reconnection of quantum vortexes launches Kelvin waves. The study, which was conducted at the University of Maryland, will be published the week of March 24, 2014 in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

"We weren't surprised to see the Kelvin waves on the quantum vortex, but we were excited to see them because they had never been seen before," said Daniel Lathrop, a UMD physics professor. "Seeing the Kelvin waves provided the first experimental evidence that previous theories predicting they would be launched from vortex reconnection were correct."

Understanding turbulence in quantum fluids, such as ultracold liquid helium, may offer clues to neutron stars, trapped atom systems and superconductors. Superconductors, which are materials that conduct electricity without resistance below certain temperatures, develop quantized vortices. Understanding the behavior of the vortices may help researchers develop superconductors that remain superconducting at higher current densities.

Physicists Richard Feynman and Lars Onsager predicted the existence of quantum vortices more than a half-century ago. However, no one had seen quantum vortices until 2006. In Lathrop's laboratory at UMD, researchers prepared a cylinder of supercold helium—at 2 degrees Celsius above absolute zero—injected with frozen tracer particles made from atmospheric air and helium gases. When they shined a laser into the cylinder, the researchers saw the particles trapped on the vortices like dew drops on a spider web.

"Kelvin waves on quantized vortices had been predicted, but the experiments were challenging because we had to conduct them at lower temperatures than our previous experiments," explained Lathrop.

Since 2006, the researchers have used the same technique to further examine quantum vortexes. During an experiment in February 2012, they witnessed a unique reconnection event. One vortex reconnected with another and a wave propagated down the vortex. To quantitatively study the wave's motion, the researchers tracked the position of the particles on the vortex. The resulting waveforms agreed generally with theories of Kelvin waves propagating from quantum vortexes.

"These first observations of Kelvin waves will surely lead to exciting new experiments that push the limits of our knowledge of these exotic quantum motions," added Lathrop.

In the future, Lathrop plans to use florescent nanoparticles to investigate what happens near the transition to the superfluid state.

Lathrop conducted the current study with David Meichle, a UMD physics graduate student; Enrico Fonda, who was a research scholar at UMD and graduate student at the University of Trieste when the study was performed and is now a postdoctoral researcher at New York University; Nicholas Ouellette, who was a visiting assistant professor at UMD when the study was performed and is now an associate professor in mechanical engineering & materials science at Yale University; and Sahand Hormoz, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara's Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Award No. DMR-0906109. The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

Governor Martin O'Malley to Address UMD Spring Class of 2014

March 25, 2014

Katie Lawson 301-405-4622

UMD Senior Council Announces Commencement Speaker on Social Media

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and TestudoCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, an education advocate who has received a No. 1 ranking by the College Board for keeping college tuition down, will address the University of Maryland graduates at Spring Commencement on Thursday, May 22.

Students announced the second-term governor would be speaking by posting a photo on social media of O’Malley with Testudo, the university's mascot.

“Nothing creates opportunity like a quality education  -- that’s why we’ve made record investments in Maryland schools. Those investments have helped us earn the No. 1 ranked schools for five years in a row, and have enabled us to do more than any other state in the nation to hold down the cost of tuition,” said Governor O’Malley. “The talented young men and women of the class of 2014 will propel our state and our nation forward, and I’m incredibly honored to participate in their commencement ceremonies."

University of Maryland President Wallace Loh echoed enthusiasm for the governor’s address. "Governor O'Malley's steadfast support of excellence and affordability in higher education has made him a national leader and role model," says University of Maryland President Wallace Loh. "He has helped our students, and they want him to share his vision, insight and leadership as they start a new chapter."

Quickly shared and retweeted on social media, students spread the word of the announcement. Amber Ferguson, a senior history major, helped select Governor O’Malley. “As I prepare to head into the workforce, it was important to me that we heard from someone who values the years of studying we have just completed, and who has a strong desire to see us move forward to accomplish great things in the state of Maryland and all over the world,” said Ferguson. “It means a lot to be addressed by the leader of our state, as we prepare to become leaders ourselves.” 

Martin O’Malley is serving the people of Maryland in his second term as Governor. Since 2007, his Administration has been delivering results for Maryland families by choosing to do the things that work to create jobs, expand opportunity, and make Maryland a safer, healthier place. With a balanced approach of spending cuts, regulatory reform, and modern investment in education, innovation, and infrastructure, Governor O’Malley and his Administration are making better choices that continue to deliver better results, including:

  • The No. 1 ranking for best public schools in America for an unprecedented five years in a row. (Education Week)
  • The No. 1 ranking for holding down the cost of college tuition. (College Board)
  • The No. 1 ranking for innovation and entrepreneurship for two years running. (U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

Governor O’Malley received his bachelor’s degree from Catholic University and his law degree from the University of Maryland. Martin and his wife, Katie, a District Court judge, have two daughters, Grace and Tara, and two sons, William and Jack. They are members of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.

IBM Challenges UMD Students to Develop New Customer Service Tech

March 24, 2014

Joseph Bailey 301-405-3437 or 301-405-2174

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – IBM is challenging University of Maryland students to develop innovative business solutions related to customer service in the IBM Watson Engagement Advisor Case Competition from March 28-30.
IBM says about half of some 270 billion customer service calls go unresolved every year. The company's answer is the Watson Engagement Advisor, a cloud-based system  that activates when a consumer clicks the program's "Ask Watson" feature. That click, according to IBM, quickly helps address customer questions, offers feedback to guide purchase decisions and troubleshoots a customer's problem.
Competitors have worked in teams since December to develop organization-specific strategies to acquire and implement the technology -- driven by "Watson," the supercomputer that defeated former grand champions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy!
QUESTThe competitors are UMD Quality Enhancement Systems and Teams (QUEST) students. QUEST is a multidisciplinary, reality- centered program for UMD undergraduates from the Robert H. Smith School of Business, the A. James Clark School of Engineering, and the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. QUEST students participate in a challenging course of study that focuses on innovation, quality systems management and teamwork and co-curricular programming aimed at bringing diverse knowledge, skill and perspective to enhance their professional and personal development.
The students will fine-tune and present their proposals in a culminating pitch competition from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Van Munching 1333 at the university's College Park campus.
IBM and other corporate representatives, alongside UMD professors, will judge the proposals. These industry leaders and faculty also will interact with the students through preceding weekend activities.

LaMaster Named Executive Director, MPowering the State

March 21, 2014

Crystal Brown, UMCP
, 301-405-4621
Alex Likowski, UMB
, 410-706-3801

MPowering the State

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Steering Committee of The University of Maryland: MPowering the State has named Teresa LaMaster, J.D., executive director, MPowering the State. LaMaster will assist the growing educational and research collaboration between MPowering the State’s two partner universities, The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), and The University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP). Launched in March 2012, MPowering the State has developed many fruitful collaborations, providing enhanced educational opportunities, strengthening research programs, accelerating commercialization of scientific advances and creating new jobs.  Just a few of these include:

“Over the past two years, our faculty, staff and students have bonded into an efficient collaborative team,” notes UMCP President Wallace Loh. “This appointment marks yet another milestone in MPower’s growth and success.”

“Teresa’s long list of accomplishments over 11 years at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law speaks volumes about her ability to forge relationships and lead teams to achieve mutual goals,” says UMB President Jay A. Perman. “With her assistance, I expect our MPower initiative to yield even greater cooperative success.”

Prior to joining UMB in 2003, LaMaster worked as an attorney in private practice with the firms Miles & Stockbridge, P.A., and Bowie & Jensen, LLC. At Carey Law, she has served as the managing director of the clinical law program, associate dean for institutional advancement, and associate dean of planning and external affairs. In that role she helped develop MPowering the State’s program for legal education in College Park, the nascent Agriculture Law program, and plans to institute a master of science in law program. “I am honored by the trust placed in me by these two great universities,” says LaMaster, “and I am thrilled by the opportunity to help MPower produce even greater educational and economic opportunities for Marylanders.”

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 statewide 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.

UMD to Host FIRST Robotics Regional Competition

March 20, 2014

Ted Knight 301-405-3596

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland will host the 2014 Chesapeake Regional FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) April 3-5, 2014, at the Comcast Center on the university’s College Park, Md., campus. More than 1,000 high school students from Maryland and around the country will go head-to-head to secure a spot in the international competition.

Robotics DayEach January, FIRST Robotics, a non-profit organization aimed at inspiring young people to be science and technology leaders, kicks off the competition season by announcing a new game to be played at 54 regional competitions around the world. Teams receive a kit of common parts that are used to build the core systems of a robot. Students work with hundreds of components, including programmable radio controllers, motors, electrical circuitry and mechanical parts, to build and program their robot for the competition. The teams have six weeks to conceptualize, design, and build a robot before entering a regional competition. Winners from each of the regional competitions will go on to compete at the FIRST Championship in St. Louis, Mo., at the end of April.

This year's game, Aerial AssistSM, is played by two Alliances of three teams each who compete against each other to score as many balls in goals as possible within a two and a half minute match. Points are earned based on number of goals made and teamwork between robots. In 2013, Team Illusion 4464, a FIRST Robotics Competition team comprised of middle and high school students from Maryland and mentored by Clark School of Engineering students, advanced to the FIRST Championship.

The Chesapeake Regional FRC is open to the public Thursday, April 3 through Saturday, April 5. Teams will spend most of April 3 preparing, while the competition will take place April 4 and 5. UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering Dean and Farvardin Professor, Dr. Darryll Pines, will deliver remarks and help kick off the competition events at 8:30 am on April 4. Participating Chesapeake Regional FRC students will have the opportunity to learn more about the Maryland Robotics Center and sign up for tours of the Jeong H. Kim Engineering Building while they are on campus.

Guests are encouraged to register for the FIRST Stop program to see the competition action up close, meet the teams, and learn more about K-12 FIRST programs.

Click here for a full schedule of events.

Purple Line Communities Examine Opportunities "Beyond the Tracks"

March 20, 2014

Maggie Haslam 202-258-8946

Purple Line Corridor Coalition Hosts Inaugural Workshop

Purple Line Corridor Coalition (PLCC)COLLEGE PARK, Md. – In 2015, the Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) is expected to break ground on the Purple Line, a 16-mile, multi-million dollar light rail line that will link six communities within Montgomery and Prince Georges' Counties. As the project gains momentum, community leaders spanning the line are exploring ways to reap the benefits of the purple line while protecting their community assets, interests and culture. To help guide those efforts, the University of Maryland's National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG) has launched a new initiative in partnership with a small consortium of community organizations, private groups, local government and other university programs called the Purple Line Corridor Coalition (PLCC).

The first light rail in the Washington area, the Purple Line will bring both challenges and opportunities for economic and community development throughout the corridor; while the investment has potential to produce new jobs and more walkable, vibrant communities, it also has the power to threaten the security of local businesses and low-income communities. Research shows that how these communities prepare—and more importantly, coordinate their efforts—will strongly determine future economic development, small business growth, cultural preservation and long-term sustainability.

"Everybody knows that major investments in transportation infrastructure, like the Purple Line, can shape the growth and character of regions for decades of not centuries in the future," explains NCSG director Gerrit Knaap. "But it will take a concerted and coordinated effort by the public, private and nonprofit sectors to make sure that we capture the economic and community development benefits without imposing undue harm on the culturally rich but economically fragile communities that dot the corridor."

The Purple Line Corridor Coalition (PLCC) is the first major initiative in the National Capital Area aimed to guide the efforts and expertise of community, government and private business leaders active in planning for the Purple Line corridor, ensuring that the investment in Purple Line creates vibrant neighborhoods while preserving existing community assets. Comprising over 20 invested special interest groups and government entities and sponsored by a variety or public/private organizations, the PLCC provides a platform for collaboration and idea exchange, as well as access to key research, tools and case studies.

"For this vital transit project to succeed, it is essential to create the best possible outcomes for stakeholders all along the route," says University of Maryland President Wallace Loh. "By bringing together so many regional leaders, we can maximize the benefits and keep the Purple Line project on track."

Created last year by Knaap, the PLCC will leverage the NCSG's analytical capacities—such as mapping, forecasting, research and partnerships with other cities—to help invested groups capitalize on opportunities presented by the Purple Line, while preserving the unique identities of each community. This includes actively seeking out market opportunities and identifying vulnerable areas along the corridor where communities can collaborate on best practices.

Employing the knowledge base of the NCSG, the PLCC can assist leaders in pinpointing specific goals for both growth and preservation, such as advancing workplace development, preserving affordable housing or promoting cultural assets. The initiative models other successful corridor projects in cities like Denver and the Twin Cities, where partner integration resulted in more financial support, productive joint projects and a better standard of living for those who live and work along transit corridors.

To support coalition efforts, the NCSG continues to make significant headway in corridor research. An interesting finding discovered by researchers is that the Purple Line creates an enormous impact of connectivity system-wide—from Washington to Baltimore to Annapolis—not just within the Purple Line corridor. Researchers have created several corridor maps that show property types, demographics and nearby employment centers, which are clues to how MTA can increase ridership. Specialized mapping can also identify local businesses and affordable housing that will be at risk for raised land prices, allowing groups to mitigate losses before they happen.

The PLCC will host its inaugural regional workshop, "Beyond the Tracks: Community Development in the Purple Line Corridor," this Friday, March 21, 2014 at the University of Maryland.

"Beyond the Tracks" expects to draw over 150 representatives, community leaders, non-profit groups, industry professionals and stakeholders from across the region, focusing on elements vital to a community's economic development in the Purple Line Corridor. It is the first event of its kind in the Washington region and the largest assembly of community stakeholders since the Maryland Transit Authority announced their plans for the light rail project. The workshop will share case studies that flesh out challenges and successes, facilitate breakout sessions on topics crucial to the initiative. It will also host some of the best minds in transit-oriented development from around the region and country, including Minnesota Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, the driving force behind the successful Twin Cities light rail system and Harriet Tregoning, former D.C. planning director and current director of HUD's Office of Economic Resilience.

"Beyond The Tracks" will take place Friday, March 21, 2014 from 9AM to 4PM at the University of Maryland's School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. For more information and a full list of speakers, visit the PLCC website.

University Hotel Project Moves Forward

March 19, 2014

Crystal Brown 301-405-4621

Board of Public Works Approves Declaration of Land as Surplus

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - A planned hotel and conference center project at the University of Maryland took an important step forward today.  The three-member State of Maryland Board of Public Works (BPW) unanimously approved the declaration of a three-acre parcel of University land as surplus.  The vote is a vital step for this project, and a jump start toward the University’s goal of transforming College Park into a top college town.

University of Maryland

The hotel and conference center, a $115 million project planned for a parcel of land on the east side of campus opposite Turner Hall, is the cornerstone to the University’s vision to encourage redevelopment of the existing downtown College Park business district, in conjunction with strategic development along the Route 1 corridor.  

“The hotel and conference center project is a crucial element in the revitalization of our campus community within Prince George’s County,” said Wallace D. Loh, president of the University of Maryland.  “I thank the members of the Board of Public Works for their approval so we can move this important project forward.”

With the help of a nationally-known real estate consultant and the support of local elected officials, the University is working closely with the local community, ensuring a collaborative and inclusive approach. 

Developing this project is the key first step in implementing this new vision. As a destination for visitors and in serving the needs of the University community, as well as the residents and business community in College Park and surrounding areas, the project has the potential to catalyze development in College Park and to build momentum for additional development.

The University of Maryland hotel project is expected to generate significant economic impact:

  • The overall economic impact of the project including both construction and stable operations phases will create 1,637 jobs, increase overall economic activity by over $62 million per year, and result in over $4.4 million in state and local tax revenues annually.
  • The combined direct impacts include 1,010 new jobs (653 construction, 357 permanent).  
  • The project will generate an estimated total of $6,383,736 in new state and local tax revenues over the construction period (2014 – 2016), and an additional $4,410,775 annually once stable operations commence.
  • The project will generate approximately $22 million per year in total wages, $36 million in value added and $63 million in new economic activity annually during both the construction and stable operations phases.

Following a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) process, the University selected Southern Management Corporation (SMC) as its development partner for the hotel and conference center project. Recognized as one of the region’s top places to work, SMC is known for an exemplary training and promotion program for its workers, as well as a wage and benefit structure significantly better than state requirements.

Following today’s BPW vote, the University and the UMD College Park Foundation will work with SMC to finalize a development agreement.  

Groundbreaking is expected in Spring 2015 with an anticipated opening by Fall 2017.

Wildflower Season Lengthens by More Than a Month

March 17, 2014

Heather Dewar 301-405-9267

39-year bloom count reveals a series of changes attributed to warmer climate

Wildflower displays like this one draw thousands of tourists to Crested Butte, Colorado for an annual wildflower festival in midsummer. But a University of Maryland study shows the areas wildflowers now bloom nearly a month earlier than they did in 1974. Photo: David W. InouyeCOLLEGE PARK, Md. - A unique 39-year study of wildflower blooms in a Colorado Rocky Mountain meadow shows more than two-thirds of alpine flowers have changed their blooming pattern in response to climate change. Not only are half the flowers beginning to bloom weeks earlier, but more than a third are reaching their peak bloom earlier, and others are producing their last blooms later in the year. The bloom season, which used to run from late May to early September, now lasts from late April to late September, according to University of Maryland Biology Professor David Inouye.

The wildflower records, made up of more than two million blooms, show that flowering plants' response to climate change is more complex than previously believed, with different species responding in unexpected ways. The combinations of flower species that bloom together are changing too, with potential impacts on insects and birds. Studies that focus only on the date of flowers' first bloom – as most do – understate these changes, said Inouye, the senior author of a study published March 17, 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Phenology, the study of the timing of seasonal events, is crucial to understanding how climate change is affecting plants, animals and the relationships that bind them into natural communities. To answer these questions, phenologists are collecting modern data and poring through old records like amateur naturalists' notebooks.

"Most studies rely on first dates of events like flowering or migration, because they use historical data sets that were not intended as scientific studies," Inouye said. "First flowering is easy to observe. You don't have to take the time to count flowers. So that's often the only information available. It has taken a lot of effort to get the comprehensive insights needed for this analysis, which helps us understand how ecological communities are going to change in the future." 

Inouye was not thinking of the effects of a warming climate in 1974, when he began counting flowers on a mountainside 9,500 feet above sea level at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Crested Butte, Colo.

"I was a graduate student studying hummingbirds and bumble bees, and I wanted to know what flower nectar resources are available for them, so I started counting flowers," Inouye said.

From 1974 to 2012, researchers spent the spring, summer and early fall counting every flower in each of 30 plots on a mountainside above the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Crested Butte, Colorado. The counts took between 2 and 5 hours, every other day. Photo: David W. InouyeOthers initially took part, but Inouye stuck with it. Eventually he set his own students to the task. By counting blooms in each of 30 plots every other day, up to five months per year, for four decades, the group amassed a data set of more than 2 million flowers they have counted. For this study, University of Arizona doctoral student Paul CaraDonna, University of Maryland postdoctoral research associate Amy Iler and Inouye looked at data on the 60 most common species.

Bloom times are changing fast, the researchers found. The date the first spring flower appears has advanced more than 6 days per decade over the course of the study. The spring peak, when masses of wildflowers burst into bloom, has moved up 5 days per decade. And the last flower of fall occurred about 3 days later every decade. "The flowering season is about one month longer than it used to be" Iler said, "which is a big change for a mountain ecosystem with a short growing season."

Of all the species that have changed their flowering schedules in some way, only 17% shifted their entire bloom cycle earlier.  The rest showed more complicated changes.

"What we show is that first flowering isn't always the best predictor of all the changes we find," CaraDonna said. "There's a lot more going on than you can get from this single, simple measure. So it's important to take a closer look in order to understand all the ways that climate change affects these wildflower communities."

The study "relies on long-term data to drive home the fact that species' responses to climate change are complex," said Saran Twombly, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Environmental Biology, which helped fund the research. 

As the plants' bloom patterns continue to change, researchers expect some plants that used to bloom simultaneously will no longer overlap, and others will start blooming together for the first time. Ecologists refer to these new combinations as "no analog communities."

"We usually think of no analog communities as something that happens when plants or animals move into areas where they haven't lived before, creating novel combinations of species," Iler said. "For example, we have red foxes at our study site now. It used to be too cold for them in winter. Now the marmots that live there have to deal with a new predator. But this study shows that even when species don't actually move, changes in the timing of key events in their life cycles may also result in no analog communities, where species may interact differently than before."

The changes are likely to have a strong impact – for better or worse – on pollinating insects and migratory birds. For example, Inouye said, hummingbirds that summer in the Rocky Mountains time their nesting so that their eggs hatch at peak bloom, when there is plenty of flower nectar for hungry chicks. But as the bloom season lengthens, the plants are not producing more flowers. The same number of blooms is spread out over more days, so at peak bloom there may be fewer flowers.

Will there be enough food for the hummingbirds' young? To find out, Inouye plans to fit adult hummingbirds with radio transmitters and study how they interact with this summer's blooms.

Turning Radio Signals into Light for New Technologies

March 14, 2014

Phillip F. Schewe 301-405-0989

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Ever lose your mobile-phone reception or GPS signal?  This occurs because of weak radio wave (phone) or microwave (GPS) signals.  The widely shared problem of detecting weak signals also hampers astronomers looking back at the early universe and physicians seeking to locate and identify cancer tumors using MRI scans.  All four of these areas--communications, navigation, astronomy, and medical imaging--depend on discriminating weak radio or microwave signals from a noisy environment. These and other applications, including quantum computing, could all benefit from a new approach to detecting and strengthening such signals developed by an international collaboration of scientists from Maryland and Denmark.

Created by a team from the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) at the University of Maryland, the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, and the Technical University of Denmark, this new radio band detector coverts radio waves to light, providing the first all-optical detection of microwaves and other radio band waves, while reducing background noise a thousand times better than existing methods.  The building and testing of this new device was reported in the 6 March 2014 issue of the journal Nature. 

The new device not only produces a much higher degree of noise reduction but it does this at room temperature.  The development is based upon prior theoretical work by the same collaboration. "This device is the first room-temperature transducer of radio waves to optical waves at the quantum level and the first to entail a threefold electrical-mechanical-optical conversion.  Previous efforts have bridged the electrical and mechanical or the mechanical and optical, but not all three realms," said team member and JQI Fellow Jacob Taylor

A Radio Signal Converter
The detector is a mechanical-electrical device that converts one form of electromagnetic energy, radio waves, into another, light waves. It works like this: radio waves strike an antenna which constitutes one element in an electronic circuit.  Another element in that circuit is a device with two electrodes called a capacitor. One of these electrodes consists of a flexible membrane.  Light at visible frequencies reflects off the back side of this membrane.  Depending on the radio signal arriving at the antenna, the silicon-nitride membrane (coated with a 50-nm-thick film of silver) mechanically alters its shape accordingly.  This in turn modulates the visible light waves in a consistent way, thus converting a radio signal into an optical one.

Radio waves, microwaves, visible light and x-rays are among the many types of electromagnetic waves. They differ from each other in wavelength and energy.Radio waves, microwaves, visible light and x-rays are among the many types of electromagnetic waves. They differ from each other in wavelength and energy.

"In the first place, this is a completely new way to measure electrical signals: making them excite a tiny membrane which we monitor with laser light," says team leader Albert Schliesser of the Niels Bohr Institute. "It may sound surprising, but this approach is so sensitive that it can out-perform conventional electronic amplifiers. That means, for example, that it could be a new way of getting clearer MRI images, or maps of the sky recorded by radio telescopes. We are currently trying to extend our work--which so far is really just a demonstrator of the concept--to attain a smaller detector which is more sensitive and capable of handling a wider band of radio signals."

Quantum Microphones
This up-conversion from radio to optical has several advantages.  First, it allows a radio signal to be converted into light and shot down an optical fiber rather than being sent down a copper wire, where it would suffer considerable energy loss.  The radio-optical conversion will also help facilitate the development of devices that handle quantum information, such as a quantum computer. In a regular microphone, sound is converted into electrical signals sent down a wire.  In the analogous quantum microphone, quantum information could be interconverted between radio and optical waves alternatively for transport or processing.

In this artist's impression of the device, radio waves (green) arrive and are sent to the membrane (center) via gold wires. Electric forces make the membrane move. This motion is detected with a laser beam (red) and translated into a light signal, resulting in a device with a very high sensitivity to radio waves. Credit: Niels Bohr Institute

In this artist's impression of the device, radio waves (green) arrive and are sent to the membrane (center) via gold wires. Electric forces make the membrane move. This motion is detected with a laser beam (red) and translated into a light signal, resulting in a device with a very high sensitivity to radio waves. Credit: Niels Bohr Institute

Noise Abatement
A second, but no less important advantage of this device is its mitigation of noise.  Radio waves were a boon for communications, starting with Marconi and the first "wireless" transmission of information in the early 20th century.  As radio electronics grew in sophistication scientists and engineers became more and more concerned with Johnson noise, the ubiquitous radio noise present by virtue of the simple fact that Earth's surface is a warm place; our world positively glows in radio waves.  Named for Bell Labs researcher John B. Johnson, this thermal noise competes with whatever radio signals are being processed in devices.  One can amplify a weak signal, but the noise gets amplified along with the signal.

Even more unwanted noise is added in the amplifiers that bring the signal to a level at which it can be processed. For years special transistors have accomplished this task.  One major drawback of this approach has been the need to chill the converters to very low temperatures to reach their best performance.  One example of this kind of device is the one used on the orbiting Planck Telescope, which maps the microwave background.  When the craft's coolant is depleted, the mission ends.

JQI's Taylor says that the whole up-conversion process can be done in reverse.  Again for the purpose of quantum communication, there might be a need to convert microwave or radio signals into optical form and then back into radio after transmission from one quantum device to another.

The Joint Quantum Institute is based at the University of Maryland in College Park and is operated jointly by UMD and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, MD.


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