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University Launches Dynamic, Interactive Information Website UMD Right Now

December 4, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Princeton Review Ranks UMD in Top 10 for Innovation & Entrepreneurship

November 17, 2020

Dean Chang, deanc@umd.edu, 301-314-8121


COLLEGE PARK, Md. - For the sixth consecutive year, the University of Maryland (UMD) has attained a top 10 ranking in The Princeton Review’s annual survey of the Top Schools for Entrepreneurship. In the 2021 rankings released this week and featured in the December issue of Entrepreneur magazine, UMD ranked No. 6 for undergraduate entrepreneurship education overall and No. 3 among all public universities. UMD additionally ranked No. 23 for graduate entrepreneurship education, marking the ninth consecutive year that the university has been named a top 25 program for entrepreneurship studies. . 

“The consistently high rankings in innovation and entrepreneurship are a natural byproduct of many years of strong relationships and collaboration across all 12 schools and colleges, student organizations, research and economic development groups, and other key partners. This broad and exceptional I&E ecosystem is what sets UMD apart in preparing students to tackle our world’s biggest challenges, two of which we currently face in systemic racism and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dean Chang, associate vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation at UMD. 

The Southern Management Leadership Program and the Maryland COVID Resiliency & Response I-Corps short course are two examples of how UMD is approaching those dual challenges. 

“Our students have taught us that innovation is inextricably linked to diversity,” said SMLP Director, Harry Alford. “Since 2006, SMLP has identified promising emerging leaders at the community college level and provided them with financial support and mentoring services that leadto a minor in Technology Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. The students are resourceful, exhibit an entrepreneurial mindset, and represent various races, nationalities, religions, ethnicities, genders, worldviews, and experiences. The world is shifting and in need of diverse entrepreneurs solving the problems of today and tomorrow. SMLP and UMD exemplify the programming required to foster the next wave of innovation.” 

UMD kicked off the Maryland COVID Resiliency & Response I-Corps short course earlier this month for academic teams, entrepreneurs, and small business owners all working on coronavirus pandemic. Participants all seek to address coronavirus pandemic and included students, faculty, and staff from a USM academic institution working on an innovation related to COVID; individuals seeking to start an innovative new for-profit or non-profit venture to address COVID; and established businesses seeking to provide a new product or service to their existing market and/or to serve a new market.

Since first breaking into the Top 10 in the 2016 rankings, UMD has steadily climbed each year to its now No. 6 ranking in 2021, a rise coinciding  with UMD’s campus-wide initiative aiming to engage all 40,000 students in innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E). This collaboration is spearheaded by the Academy for Innovation & Entrepreneurship and engages not only business (Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship) and engineering (Mtech) but also all 12 schools and colleges as well as key partners like the Office of Undergraduate Studies (living-learning programs, general education, SMLP), student organizations (Startup Shell, Bitcamp), economic development (I-Corps, UM Ventures) and social innovation (Do Good Institute, Technica, Ladies First, AgEnterprise Challenge).

In 2019–20, 6,029 undergraduate students were enrolled in at least one entrepreneurship course at UMD, and 712 students were in an entrepreneurship minor. One online entrepreneurship course alone allowed 1,948 students to learn about starting new ventures while also satisfying a key general education requirement. Beyond traditional entrepreneurship, UMD also offers over 100 courses in areas related to innovation like creativity, entrepreneurial mindset, social value creation, business principles, and design thinking. Altogether, 15,850 undergraduate and graduate students took at least one course related to innovation and entrepreneurship last year. 

The Princeton Review tallied its rankings for top entrepreneurship programs based on a survey conducted from June through August 2020 of more than 300 schools about their entrepreneurship offerings. While most entrepreneurship rankings include only UMD’s extensive business or engineering entrepreneurship programs, the Princeton Review additionally reflects UMD’s efforts to include its entire student population. 

The survey methodology looked at each school’s commitment to entrepreneurship education inside and outside the classroom. Among the many criteria were the percentage of faculty, students, and alumni actively and successfully involved in entrepreneurial endeavors; the number and reach of mentorship programs, scholarships, and grants for entrepreneurial studies; and the level of support for school-sponsored business plan competitions.

UMD Alumna and Olympic Gymnast Dominique Dawes to Address University of Maryland’s 2020 Winter Graduates

November 12, 2020

Katie Lawson, lawsonk@umd.edu, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland announced today that Dominique Dawes ‘02, three-time Olympian and Olympic Gymnastic Gold Medalist, will deliver the university’s commencement address on Dec. 20, 2020. Dawes will address thousands of graduates, family and friends during the virtual ceremony.

“Dominique Dawes is a shining example of the impact Terps have across the world and in our state,” said University of Maryland President Darryll J. Pines. “We are delighted to welcome her back to her alma mater to share her story and help commemorate this special occasion for our graduates.”

The Maryland native and UMD alumna recently shared her enthusiasm to offer remarks to the graduates: 

“I am incredibly honored to speak at the University of Maryland’s commencement ceremony,” said Dawes. “The perseverance of the entire Terp community through this enduring pandemic is inspiring, and I hope to encourage students and faculty as they celebrate this milestone and prepare for what is next.” 

Dawes, a dedicated gymnast since the age of 6, saw success early in her career. In her first appearance in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, she earned a bronze medal with Team USA. She was a member of the Gold Medal Olympic Team known as the “Magnificent Seven” in 1996. That same year, she also became the first African-American woman to win an individual event medal (bronze) for her floor routine. She went on to earn an additional bronze team medal competing in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. These trailblazing performances earned her a permanent place in the U.S. Olympic Committee Hall of Fame. 

While advancing her career on the mat, she was enrolled at UMD pursuing a degree in communications, which she earned in 2002 after taking time off to compete. She used that degree and her life experiences to become an accomplished motivational speaker focusing on leadership, teamwork, health, fitness and wellness. Dawes also spent time covering the Olympic games as an analyst and broadcaster for Yahoo Sports and Fox Sports. 

In addition to serving as President of the Women’s Sports Foundation, in 2010 Dominique was named Co-Chair of the President’s Council on Sports Fitness and Nutrition by President Barack Obama. This role enabled her to work closely with First Lady Michelle Obama and the Let’s Move! initiative. 

Currently, Dawes is the owner and founder of the Dominique Dawes Gymnastics & Ninja Academy. The gym recently opened in Montgomery County, Md. with a mission to inspire today’s generation of gymnasts in a safe, supportive and empowering environment. 

Dawes will be joined by President Pines and other special guests to honor Maryland’s 2020 winter class. The virtual ceremony will also feature photos and video of graduating seniors celebrating this milestone. More details about the campus-wide ceremony, including important deadlines for graduates are available on commencement.umd.edu


About the University of Maryland
The University of Maryland, College Park is the state's flagship university and one of the nation's preeminent public research universities. A global leader in research, entrepreneurship and innovation, the university is home to more than 40,000 students,10,000 faculty and staff, and 297 academic programs. As one of the nation’s top producers of Fulbright scholars, its faculty includes two Nobel laureates, three Pulitzer Prize winners and 58 members of the national academies. The institution has a $2.1 billion operating budget and secures more than $1 billion annually in research funding together with the University of Maryland, Baltimore. For more information about the University of Maryland, College Park, visit www.umd.edu.

UMD's 9th Annual Good Neighbor Day Goes Hybrid

November 3, 2020

Golshan Jalali (301) 875-2386 gjalali@umd.edu


COLLEGE PARK, MD – The University of Maryland (UMD), the City of College Park, and The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) will host the ninth annual Good Neighbor Day on Saturday, November 7, 2020. This first-of-its-kind hybrid community-wide day of service will combine virtual workshops and small-scale in-person projects in order to build community, educate, and engage Greater College Park.  

“Covid-19 has forced nearly everything to be adjusted. Although Good Neighbor Day will look different this year, the mission remains the same. We are proud of its impact, and the resources it provides to our shared community,” states Gloria Aparicio-Blackwell, Director of UMD’s Office of Community Engagement. 
Good Neighbor Day (GND) was postponed in early April due to the Covid-19 pandemic. GND returns the first Saturday in November with 13 virtual workshops and 10 in-person projects. Virtual workshops will be broadcast via Zoom and will cover topics including youth leadership, mental health, social justice and more. Volunteers participating in in-person projects will beautify shared spaces through invasive species removal and community clean-ups. Masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer will be provided to volunteers by the Good Neighbor Day Planning Committee. 
The Good Neighbor Day Food Drive will continue to support the UMD Campus Pantry and College Park Food Bank to combat food insecurity, which has become an even greater challenge for families during the pandemic. Community members may participate by donating money online or delivering food item donations to IKEA College Park between 8:00am–1:00pm on Good Neighbor Day.
Beginning in 2011 as a Christmas in April event, GND has grown to be a tradition in Greater College Park. Volunteers include elected officials, long-time residents, students, alumni, staff, and faculty. This collaborative event is possible due to business, government, and nonprofit partnerships. 

For more information and to register for Good Neighbor Day, visit goodneighborday.umd.edu



UMD-Led Study Shows Fear and Anxiety Share Same Bases in Brain

October 19, 2020

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Anxiety, the most common family of mental illnesses in the U.S., has been pushed to epic new heights by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that nearly 1 in 3 U.S. adults and a staggering 41% of people ages 18-29 experienced clinically significant anxiety symptoms in late August. Now, the findings of a recent UMD-led study indicate that some long-accepted thinking about the basic neuroscience of anxiety is wrong.

The report by an international team of researchers led by Alexander Shackman, an associate professor of psychology at UMD, and Juyoen Hur, an assistant professor of psychology at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, provides new evidence that fear and anxiety reflect overlapping brain circuits. The findings run counter to popular scientific accounts, highlighting the need for a major theoretical reckoning. The study was published last week  in the Journal of Neuroscience.

“The conceptual distinction between ‘fear’ and ‘anxiety’ dates back to the time of Freud, if not the Greek philosophers of antiquity,” said Shackman, a core faculty member of  UMD’s Neuroscience and Cognitive Science Program, and 2018 recipient of a seed grant award from UMD’s Brain and Behavior Initiative, “In recent years, brain imagers and clinicians have extended this distinction, arguing that fear and anxiety are orchestrated by distinct neural networks.  

However,  Shackman says their new study adds to a rapidly growing body of new evidence suggesting that this old mode is wrong. “If anything, fear and anxiety seem to be constructed in the brain using a massively overlapping set of neural building blocks,” he said. 

Prevailing scientific theory holds that fear and anxiety are distinct, with different triggers and strictly segregated brain circuits. Fear—a fleeting reaction to certain danger—is thought to be controlled by the amygdala, a small almond-shaped region buried beneath the wrinkled convolutions of the cerebral cortex. By contrast, anxiety—a persistent state of heightened apprehension and arousal elicited when threat is uncertain—is thought to be orchestrated by the neighboring bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). But new evidence from Shackman and his colleagues suggests that both of these brain regions are equally sensitive to certain and uncertain kinds of threats.

Leveraging cutting-edge neuroimaging techniques available at the Maryland Neuroimaging Center, their research team used fMRI to quantify neural activity while participants anticipated receiving a painful shock paired with an unpleasant image and sound—a new task that the researchers dubbed the “Maryland Threat Countdown”. 

The timing of this “threat” was signaled either by a conventional countdown timer—i.e. “3, 2, 1…”—or by a random string of numbers—e.g. “16, 21, 8.” In both conditions, threat anticipation recruited a remarkably similar network of brain regions, including the amygdala and the BNST. Across a range of head-to-head comparisons, the two showed statistically indistinguishable responses.

The team examined the neural circuits engaged while waiting for certain and uncertain threat (i.e. “fear” and “anxiety”). Results demonstrated that both kinds of threat anticipation recruited a common network of core brain regions, including the amygdala and BNST. 

These observations raise important questions about the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) framework that currently guides the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health’s quest to discover the brain circuitry underlying anxiety disorders, depression, and other common mental illnesses. “As it is currently written, RDoC embodies the idea that certain and uncertain threat are processed by circuits centered on the amygdala and BNST, respectively. It’s very black-and-white thinking,” Shackman noted, emphasizing that RDoC’s “strict-segregation” model is based on data collected at the turn of the century.

 “It’s time to update the RDoC so that it reflects the actual state of the science. It’s not just our study; in fact, a whole slew of mechanistic studies in rodents and monkeys, and new meta-analyses of the published human imaging literature are all coalescing around the same fundamental scientific lesson: certain and uncertain threat are processed by a shared network of brain regions, a common core,” he said. 

As the crown jewel of NIMH’s strategic plan for psychiatric research in the U.S., the RDoC framework influences a wide range of biomedical stakeholders, from researchers and drug companies to private philanthropic foundations and foreign funding agencies. Shackman noted that the RDoC has an outsized impact on how fear and anxiety research is designed, interpreted, peer reviewed, and funded here in the U.S. and abroad.

“Anxiety disorders impose a substantial and growing burden on global public health and the economy,” Shackman said, “While we have made tremendous scientific progress, existing treatments are far from curative for many patients. Our hope is that research like this study can help set the stage for better models of emotion and, ultimately, hasten the development of more effective intervention strategies for the many millions of children and adults around the world who struggle with debilitating anxiety and depression.”

This work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the University of Maryland, College Park.

The research team also included Allegra S. Anderson, Vanderbilt University; Jinyi Kuang, University of Pennsylvania; Manuel Kuhn, Harvard Medical School; Andrew S. Fox, University of California, Davis; and Jason F. Smith, Rachael M. Tillman, Hyung Cho Kim, and Kathryn A. DeYoung, all from the University of Maryland, College Park.


New UMD-led Report on Improving Educational Equity and Engagement During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond

October 16, 2020

Kelly Blake, kellyb@umd.edu

COLLEGE PARK, Md — Children and families across Maryland and throughout the United States are grappling with the challenges and necessity of virtual learning required by the Covid-19 pandemic. But Black, Latino, and low-income children face starker difficulties and may be at risk of falling behind or disengaging from school entirely. Inequities that existed before the pandemic have become even deeper and difficult to bridge. 
A new report out today “Securing Educational Equity: Learning from the Lived Experiences of Black, Latino and Low-Income Families, During theCOVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond” provides a wake-up call for school systems and recommends concrete solutions to support student engagement and success and increase equity. 
The research, based on interviews and focus groups with 52 Black and Latino parents, students and educators in Montgomery County Public Schools in August, was led by associate professors Amy Lewin and Kevin Roy at the University of Maryland School of Public Health's Department of Family Science. The report was the result of a partnership with the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence and will be released at a Zoom forum called Seeking Accountability on Promises Made to Black and Brown Children at 7 pm tonight. It will include a video highlighting some of the interviews conducted for the report. 
“This study came about because of the concern that online learning was leaving many people
behind—that they were disengaging from school,” said Dr. Lewin said. “When the pandemic hit, it became clear that the existing issues of equity were going to get worse, and we needed to do something.”
The report highlights three main findings and provides concrete recommendations in each of these areas:

  • Adult support -  students need more contact with adults at school, and there is a need for the schools to provide individualized and proactive outreach to students who are disengaged or at risk of disengagement 
  • Communication - schools need to communicate with students and parents more frequently and in a way that is clear and accessible to all families, regardless of language or technological capacity
  • Resources - students need access to individual mental health resources within schools and communities, support for technology challenges, and improved access to meal distribution.

Interviews with families revealed that many kids were juggling not only the challenges of online school, but in taking care of siblings and helping their parents manage family needs.
“It was important to work with the University of Maryland School of Public Health to produce this report because it has an excellent reputation, and we wanted to make sure that we had people who could make the interview subjects comfortable. You are talking about some really difficult issues that families are going through, so this was so important,” said Mondi Kumbula-Fraser, Esq, director of the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence. 
The coalition, which was co-founded by Identity, Inc., which works with Hispanic students, and the Montgomery County chapter of the NAACP, has been advocating for the district’s more than 90,000 Black, Latino, and low income children since before the pandemic, so every child has the opportunity to reach their full academic potential regardless of race or income. 
“The whole education system is going through a forced restructuring this year, and we have to try to ensure that it happens in a way that increases equity, decreases disparities and can be sustained after the pandemic is over,” said Dr. Lewin. 
Although this study was conducted in one school system, many of its findings are likely to be broadly applicable.
“What we heard from students and parents is not unique to Montgomery County,” said Dr. Roy. “It is reflective of the stressors of this moment we’re in. We hope these recommendations can be helpful to other counties across the state.”
The University of Maryland School of Public Health research team includes: 

  • C. Andrew Conway, MSW, LCSW, University of Maryland School of Public Health
  • Amy Lewin, PsyD, University of Maryland School of Public Health
  • Juliana Muñoz, MA, University of Maryland School of Public Health
  • Kevin Roy, PhD, University of Maryland School of Public Health
  • Martha Yumiseva, MSEd, University of Maryland School of Public Health


University of Maryland, Underwriters Laboratories and the International Fire Safety Consortium Collaborate to Advance Global Fire Safety

October 13, 2020

Ted Knight

Lee Tune 301-405-4679 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland (UMD) in partnership with the International Fire Safety Consortium (IFSC) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) are working to address fire safety problems worldwide by advancing fire safety engineering and scientific research, while facilitating knowledge exchange and global collaboration.

Fires result in hundreds of thousands of deaths each year with financial losses estimated between 1-2% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a total of approximately $76 billion USD worldwide. Due to pivotal trends in global urbanization, social inequality, climate change, and human migration, the need to address fire safety as a humanitarian issue has grown increasingly urgent. As a result of these trends, combined with substantial worldwide growth of wildland-urban interface (WUI), fire-related damage to structures and other economic losses are worsening and predicted to increase, as they have recently in the Western U.S.

The large scale of these problems and the increasing societal costs require greater coordinated expertise, public-partnerships, and concerted multidisciplinary research worldwide. The International Fire Safety Consortium (IFSC) global initiative aims to fill this need by bringing together research expertise from across the globe to take on these urgent fire safety challenges.

“We are thrilled to establish this partnership with UL and our International Fire Safety Consortium, which aligns with our research mission to achieve broad societal impact through global collaborations that focus on critical challenges,” said University of Maryland Vice President for Research Laurie Locascio.

“This partnership is a key step in advancing our purpose to address the world’s unresolved fire safety risks and emerging dangers to reduce death, injury and loss from fire,” said Underwriters Laboratories Vice President of Research and UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute Director Steve Kerber. Underwriters Laboratories (UL), is the nonprofit parent organization of UL Inc.

The IFSC engages in research, education, training, and collaboration with industry, non-profit organizations, and governments worldwide to tackle the most urgent and emerging fire safety issues and help save lives. The IFSC was launched by five leading academic institutions in fire safety research and education: University of Maryland, University of Edinburgh, University of Melbourne, Lund University, and University of Queensland. All five of the founding partner universities are members of the Universitas 21 Global Network, a worldwide network of research-intensive universities that empowers its members to share excellence, collaborate across borders, and nurture global knowledge exchange. The IFSC has brought aboard additional academic research partners, including Ghent University. The Consortium is building an expansive network of partnerships comprised of industry, non-profit organizations, and academic research institutions.

"The basic motivation for the IFSC is the realization that fire problems are becoming more challenging and evolving even faster than the pace at which we are producing new knowledge and new technical expertise,” said University of Maryland Professor Arnaud Trouvé in the UMD Department of Fire Protection Engineering. “The IFSC is an attempt to coordinate efforts between leading institutions in fire safety education and research in order to respond to that challenge. Our goal is to increase the number of IFSC members in order to reach a critical mass for impact at the global scale. We welcome UL with its long and impressive record in fire research as a new member of the IFSC network."

This latest partnership will establish UL as a Non-Profit Partner of the IFSC.  UL will collaborate with IFSC members on fire safety education, research, and knowledge exchange.  The partnership will be coordinated through the University of Maryland, a founding member of the IFSC, with researchers from the Department of Fire Protection Engineering actively participating in Consortium activities. The IFSC was originally inspired by and facilitated through UMD’s Borderless Research Administration Knowledge Exchange (BRAKE) program.

The IFSC brings expertise on a wide range of fire safety topics, including:             

  • Fire Hazards (Wildland Fires, Wildland Urban Interface, Urban Fire RisksFire Dynamics (Combustion and Flame Spread, Pyrolysis, Compartment Fire Dynamics / CFD, Material Performance)
  • Risk Assessment (Capability Assessment, Scenario Development, e.g. 
  • Cascading and Crowding, Fire Statistics, Vulnerability, Reliability)
  • Resilience and Sustainability (Environmental Impact of Fire, Affordable and Fire Safe Housing, Fire Safety in At-Risk Communities, e.g. Informal Settlements, Critical Infrastructure Assessment)
  • Fire Safety Engineering (Performance Based Design, Structural Fire Engineering, Building Systems, Suppression)
  • Human Behavior (Intelligent Egress, Arson)
  • Fire Fighting Activities (First Responders, Detection and Response, Suppression)
  • Social Aspects (Compliance, Regulations, Safety Inequality, Professionalism and Competency)

The UL-IFSC-UMD partnership seeks worldwide impact through basic and applied research addressing fundamental challenges related to fire science and fire protection engineering to help make communities safer. The partnership also seeks to help advance the fire safety profession through education and training to address critical societal problems.

For more information about the International Fire Safety Consortium, and to learn more about partnership opportunities and how to support the IFSC, visit the IFSC website or contact Ted Knight at teknight@umd.edu

About Underwriters Laboratories

Underwriters Laboratories is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the UL public safety mission through the discovery and application of scientific knowledge. We conduct rigorous independent research and analyze safety data, convene experts worldwide to address risks, share knowledge through safety education and public outreach initiatives, and develop standards to guide safe commercialization of evolving technologies. We foster communities of safety, from grassroots initiatives for neighborhoods to summits of world leaders. Our organization employs collaborative and scientific approaches with partners and stakeholders to drive innovation and progress toward improving safety, security, and sustainability, ultimately enhancing societal well-being. To learn more, visit UL.org.

About the International Fire Safety Consortium

The International Fire Safety Consortium brings together worldwide knowledge and expertise to tackle the most critical and emerging fire safety challenges of our time. As the impact of urbanization, social inequality, climate change, and human migration continues to grow, greater worldwide coordination and action addressing fire safety is urgently needed. The Consortium engages in research, education, and collaboration with industry, government, and non-governmental organizations to help inform policy and practice, protect property, and save lives. The IFSC was launched by five leading academic institutions in fire safety research and education: University of Maryland, University of Edinburgh, University of Melbourne, Lund University, and University of Queensland. All five of the founding partner universities are members of the Universitas 21 Global Network, a worldwide network of research-intensive universities that empowers its members to share excellence, collaborate across borders, and nurture global knowledge exchange. The IFSC has brought aboard additional academic research partners to join the network, including Ghent University, and is building a broader network of additional industry and non-profit partners. For more information, visit the IFSC website.

About the University of Maryland

The University of Maryland, College Park is the state's flagship university and one of the nation's preeminent public research universities. A global leader in research, entrepreneurship and innovation, the university is home to more than 40,000 students,10,000 faculty and staff, and 297 academic programs. As one of the nation’s top producers of Fulbright scholars, its faculty includes two Nobel laureates, three Pulitzer Prize winners and 58 members of the national academies. The institution has a $2.1 billion operating budget and secures more than $1 billion annually in research funding together with the University of Maryland, Baltimore. For more information about the University of Maryland, College Park, visit www.umd.edu.


UMD Biologist Gets $ 1.5 Million NIH Award to Develop Brain Mapping Techniques

October 7, 2020

Kimbra Cutlip 301-405-9463 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – University of Maryland Biology Assistant Professor Colenso Speer, has been awarded the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “Director’s New Innovator Award”. The award, which is one of the organization’s most competitive grants, is part of NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program. It is designed to support “exceptionally creative early career investigators who propose innovative, high-impact projects in the biomedical, behavioral or social sciences.”

Speer will receive $1.5 million for a five-year investigation into the development and plasticity of neural circuitry in the brain. He plans to create tools and methods for studying how neural circuits form and how connections between neurons change at the molecular level in response to sensory experiences.

Speer’s research could lead to a major step forward in mapping the physical layout of the circuits in the brain and understanding the complex chemical signals that pass between neurons.

“I was very pleased to receive this award and to know that our ideas are being welcomed and thought of as innovative,” Speer said. “This award acknowledges that success is not guaranteed, but that potential for a successful outcome is very high and that it would be transformative for the field.”

A key focus of Speer’s research is the molecular activity within synapses, the physical connections between neurons in the brain. Each of the roughly one hundred trillion synapses in the human brain is an extremely intricate and complex environment where multiple molecules process and convey signals across the connection. Those connections change over time, growing stronger or weaker through experience, a process that contributes to learning and memory. So far, scientists have not had the tools to investigate exactly how synapses function at the molecular level.

“We're sort of going down the rabbit hole in our research to try to understand how synapses are wiring up and properly connecting together as they’re being formed,” Speer said. “We’re asking, ‘What are the molecular mechanisms that regulate synapse formation and organization?’”

To conduct this research, Speer and his team will study how specific neurons and synapses develop to connect the eyes to the brain and enable visual perception in mice. Working with collaborators from UMD’s Department of Biology, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, Speer will develop and apply a series of new technologies from three broad areas of research: transcriptomics, proteomics and super-resolution fluorescence microscopy. Transcriptomics, which analyzes RNA, will be used to determine how DNA in cells of the neuronal circuitry is transcribed to produce new proteins that perform the cells’ biological functions. Proteomics will be used to identify changes in the types and amounts of proteins at work in synapses during different stages of development and in response to different stimuli. Super-resolution fluorescence microscopy will enable researchers in Speer’s lab to image the physical arrangement of molecules within brain tissue and map the spatial organization of RNA and proteins contributing to the development of synaptic connections.

“The techniques that we plan to apply here are extremely sophisticated,” Speer explained. “We’re working with very small and delicate samples of RNA and protein that are either unstable, easily degraded or lost during the process, so each step is very technically challenging.”

In addition, the team will apply these methods to very tiny targets—single synapses from specific, individual neurons. With such a high level of difficulty, a lot of things could go wrong during sampling or analysis. But, if successful, Speer’s research could result in the first complete list of ingredients—at the level of RNA and protein—in a developing synapse. It could also provide the tools to create a full understanding of the spatial organization of the molecules that underly synapse function and the organization of circuits. This work would allow for a detailed molecular picture of how the brain is wired and how it changes in response to different sensory inputs.

“The reward is that we could have a comprehensive molecular map of synapses during development, aging and disease,” Speer said. “If we had that information, this would help us identify genetic candidates for potential treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, aging and memory disorders, and many other cognitive functions that are directly impacted by changes in synapses.”

Speer came to the University of Maryland in 2017, after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard. He earned a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at UC Davis in 2010 and a B.S. in Molecular Biosciences/Biotechnology at Arizona State University in 2004.

Collaborators from the University of Maryland include Joshua Singer, a professor and chair of the Department of Biology, Peter Nemes, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and Najib El-Sayed a professor of cell biology and molecular genetics who also holds a joint appointment in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies.

Initial collaboration between Speer, Nemes and El-Sayed was supported by a 2019 UMD Brain and Behavior Initiative (BBI) Seed Grant.

Speer’s NIH New Innovator Award has been granted under the award number DP2MH125812.


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