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UMD, Parsons Partner to Help Produce Future Cybersecurity Professionals

September 11, 2013
Contacts: 

Beth Cavanaugh 301-405-4625

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland and Parsons, an engineering, construction, technical, and management services firm, have partnered to provide academic scholarships to current and future undergraduate students in the UMD Honors College Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students (ACES). Through a gift from Parsons, 24 scholarships will be awarded to high-achieving students during the next three years. In addition to the scholarships, Parsons will provide professional insights to students, as well as exposure to varied career options in the field of cybersecurity.

The ACES program, the first and only full four-year honors undergraduate program in cybersecurity, was launched in fall 2013 and includes a two-year living-learning component and a two-year advanced program of study in cybersecurity.

"Cybersecurity has become a national priority – and a shortage of cybersecurity professionals has created a great demand for cyber-enabled graduates," said William Dorland, director of the Honors College. "Support from Parsons will help Maryland produce students with the interdisciplinary expertise, and problem-solving and leadership skills to meet this demand."

"Parsons is pleased to contribute to the University of Maryland Honors College and the ACES program," stated Mary Ann Hopkins, Parsons group president. "Since our inception in 1944, we have supported educational institutions and organizations in the communities where we operate around the world, and we are proud to support these students as they pursue careers in cybersecurity and other related fields."

Building Trust between Minorities and Researchers

September 10, 2013
Contacts: 

Kelly Blake 301-405-9418

The University of Maryland's Maryland Center for Health Equity (M-CHE) has launched a new online educational program—Building Trust Between Minorities and Researchers—which seeks to close the gap in racial and ethnic health disparities. The program does so by providing culturally tailored information and skills to minority communities on how to become an informed decision maker for participation in research, including clinical trials. COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland's Maryland Center for Health Equity (M-CHE) has launched a new online educational program—Building Trust Between Minorities and Researchers—which seeks to close the gap in racial and ethnic health disparities. The program does so by providing culturally tailored information and skills to minority communities on how to become an informed decision maker for participation in research, including clinical trials.

"We live in a time of great advances in medical science and public health…yet, unfortunately far too many racial and ethnic minority Americans live sicker and die younger than white Americans," says Dr. Sandra C. Quinn, senior associate director of the M-CHE in the university's School of Public Health. "The benefits of medical research advances are clearly not reaching everyone." 

There are many factors contributing to health disparities in the United States and the situation is made more complex by the underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in biomedical and public health research. Distrust of medical and public health research stems from many historical examples of racism and discrimination, including the well-known US Public Health Service Syphilis Study done at Tuskegee, as well as studies conducted on prisoners, mental patients, vulnerable women, poor people and others with diminished autonomy.  Research atrocities committed in the name of science would be easy to ignore were they not so well documented.

"We need to overcome this legacy by rebuilding trust between the minority community and researchers," urges Dr. Stephen B. Thomas, director of the M-CHE. "Community participation in research is key in contributing to the health of future generations."

Developed as part of the M-CHE’s Building Trust between Minorities and Researchers Bioethics Research Infrastructure Initiative, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health, this online resource is designed for use by community members, for researchers and their community partners, by educators as part of a course curriculum, and by health professionals and students. Throughout the program, users receive information about health disparities and the fundamentals of health research, how to make an informed decision about participating in a research study, and ways to become involved with research or researchers.

Using empirical data and state of the art instructional design, the program includes three units:

1. Importance of Research:
Users learn about health disparities and the negative health outcomes experienced by different minority groups and can view examples of disparities via an interactive US map. Examples of how research has improved health of Americans convey why research is important in developing effective health recommendations and treatments for specific groups of people and for the whole population

2. Informed Decision Making:
Acknowledging the legacy of research abuse, this section gives critical information about the guidelines, regulations, and laws in place to ensure that research is conducted ethically, and with respect, fairness, and good treatment for all participants. It guides users in factors to consider when deciding to participate in health research.

3. Research, Community and You:
This section provides examples of how people can contribute to research, not just as study participants, but in other active roles such as being a liaison between researchers and community members. This section also offers guidance on how to read, understand and act upon health news reported in the media.  Questions at the end of each page challenge users to consider the information they just learned and apply it to their own lives. 

Throughout the entire program, unique interactive exercises, provocative video clips, stimulating discussion questions, a searchable multimedia resource center, and useful downloads, make the site engaging as well as useful.  The site is designed for use by individuals or for groups exploring the issues together.

"We're proud to share this unique online resource with people all across the country," says Dr. Thomas. "It is the most comprehensive program addressing how and why to participate in research and reflects our commitment to educating communities and promoting health equity."

"The decision about whether or not to participate in research is complex and personal," Dr. Quinn acknowledges. "Rather than telling people they should run out and join the next research study they find, we provide the resources and information they need to make that decision themselves.  The other key is to make sure that they have the opportunity to be asked to join a study." 

The program was created as part of the M-CHE's Building Trust between Minorities and Researchers bioethics research infrastructure initiative, and in collaboration with the design team at Interactive Knowledge, Inc.

Visit the Building Trust website: http://www.buildingtrustumd.org.

UMD, Vanderbilt Team Up for a New Wrinkle in MOOCs

September 9, 2013
Contacts: 

Alana Carchedi 301-405-0235

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland and Vanderbilt University will introduce a significant, new wrinkle in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) next year – a two-part, two-semester collaboration offered through Coursera. It begins with Maryland faculty and concludes with Vanderbilt's.

The project demonstrates a collaboration that would be unmanageable outside of a MOOC platform, the organizers say.

"We're offering students a one-two punch by pairing these courses," says UMD computer scientist Ben Bederson, who serves as special advisor on technology and educational transformation. "Students will get to create and examine, from end-to-end, an app that integrates mobile devices with cloud computing platforms. It promises to be useful tool, for example, in collecting international data."

The MOOC sequence begins at Maryland in the coming academic year with "Programming Handheld Systems with Android," taught by computer science professor Adam Porter.The MOOC sequence begins at Maryland in the coming academic year with "Programming Handheld Systems with Android," taught by computer science professor Adam Porter. Then, the sequence continues with Vanderbilt computer science professor Douglas Schmidt and electrical and computer engineering professor Jules White, who will teach "Pattern-Oriented Software Architecture." This will focus on connecting mobile applications to the computing cloud.
 
"Creating such an opportunity for Vanderbilt and University of Maryland students alone would be incredibly complex in a traditional environment. With the MOOC platform, not only is it possible, it will now be available to learners globally," says Schmidt. "This trans-institutional and interdisciplinary MOOC sequence will provide an exemplar of how intentionally coordinated MOOCs can create learning communities that cut across traditional institutional and disciplinary boundaries."

Porter adds, “Although Doug Schmidt and I have collaborated on research for over 25 years, collaborating on education was just too complicated. MOOCs have changed that.”

Maryland and Vanderbilt each joined Coursera last September. They are deepening their involvement in the rapidly developing domain.

"This kind of innovation and experimentation is absolutely vital for us to realize the full potential of MOOCs, online education and the blended classroom," University of Maryland President Wallace Loh explains. "By creating interdisciplinary teams and collaborations between institutions, we will create unique learning communities that could not easily be managed outside the MOOC world."

UMD MOOC Expansion
Maryland will nearly double its MOOCs next year – introducing four new ones on Coursera, and bringing back four of the five offered this past spring. In addition to Porter's MOOC on programming handheld devices, the new courses will be:

  • Understanding the Terrorist Threat, (Gary LaFree, UMD-based National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism);
  • Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society, (Bernard Cooperman, Jewish studies); and
  • Making Better Group Decisions, (Eric Pacuit, philosophy).

The returning Maryland MOOCs include:

  • Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies (James Green, Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute);

UMD MOOC Evaluation
University of Maryland educators have concluded that the first experiments with MOOCs this year are already having an impact on teaching on the campus.

"There are numerous conversations about pedagogy, and the use of technology to decrease the amount of time devoted to lectures in classes to make room for more discussion and active learning," says Ben Bederson, who is spearheading planning and evaluation of the new technological initiatives at Maryland. "Several instructors are repurposing their MOOC videos for their on-campus classes."

One of them is Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute professor James Green, who taught a popular entrepreneurship MOOC twice so far, reaching a total of 150,000 students.

"We are creating a repository of interchangeable content and resources that can be deployed for multiple audiences and multiple purposes," Green says. "Not everything is fully reusable, but the bulk of it is applicable to MOOCs, online for-credit courses, flipped classrooms on campus, and limited enrollment non-credit online courses. All the while we're accumulating the know-how for integrating this material in these various settings."

Green plans to use this experience to enhance for-credit online courses through a mini-lecture approach with online assessments; increase flipped classroom model for face-to-face courses; and create a recruitment opportunity to attract entrepreneurial students to UMD.

To view the University of Maryland's MOOC offerings, visit https://www.coursera.org/umd.

UMD Kicks Off Semester with Expanded Innovation Fridays

September 6, 2013
Contacts: 

Alana Carchedi 301-405-0235

Kicking off the fall semester, the University of Maryland is giving the thousands of innovative minds across campus new ways to share and explore their fearless ideas. Starting today, the university is expanding its popular "Innovation Fridays," which give students the opportunity to meet with experienced innovators and entrepreneurs, get free and impartial advice, brainstorm strategies, and learn about available resources and funding.COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Kicking off the fall semester, the University of Maryland is giving the thousands of innovative minds across campus new ways to share and explore their fearless ideas. Starting today, the university is expanding its popular "Innovation Fridays," which give students the opportunity to meet with experienced innovators and entrepreneurs, get free and impartial advice, brainstorm strategies, and learn about available resources and funding.

"We are committed to cultivating a community of innovators on campus," says Dean Chang, UMD's associate vice president for innovation and entrepreneurship. "Similar to Google's 20 percent time, which gave the world innovations like Gmail by encouraging employees to spend one day a week pursuing bold projects that were not necessarily related to their job description, we want to encourage students to take one day a week—Fridays—to pursue their own fearless ideas. The expansion of Innovation Fridays will allow more students across all disciplines to do just that."

Originating last year as a partnership between the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech) and the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation Fridays now includes two new collaborators—the Center for Philanthropy and Non Profit Leadership (CPNPL), and Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC).

Innovation Fridays will run every Friday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. in the following locations:

  • McKeldin Library Room 2113
  • Van Munching Hall, Dingman Center Suite, Room 2518
  • Engineering Library Conference Room A, Room 1403

Driven by the university's Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Innovation Fridays align with UMD's ongoing commitment to creating a university-wide culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, providing a collection of signature resources now available across the entire campus for all students.

UMD is a pioneer in educating the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, ranked as one of the nation's top schools for entrepreneurship and innovation. In 2012, the University of Maryland ranked No. 14 and No. 24 in The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine’s “Top 50 Entrepreneurship Colleges and Business Schools” for its undergraduate and graduate programs, respectively.  In addition, the university celebrates an annual “30 Days of EnTERPreneurship,” awarding more than a quarter million dollars for the best ideas and innovations in technology, business, healthcare, social value, and clean energy.

For more information on the university's resources for innovators across campus, visit innovation.umd.edu.

Scientists Find Heat "Fingers" Under Earth's Surface

September 5, 2013
Contacts: 

Heather Dewar 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Scientists seeking to understand the forces at work beneath the surface of the Earth have used seismic waves to detect previously unknown "fingers" of heat, some of them thousands of miles long, in Earth's upper mantle. Their discovery, published Sept. 5 in Science Express, helps explain the "hotspot volcanoes" that give birth to island chains such as Hawai'i and Tahiti.

Many volcanoes arise at collision zones between the tectonic plates, but hotspot volcanoes form in the middle of the plates. Geologists have hypothesized that upwellings of hot, buoyant rock rise as plumes from deep within Earth's mantle - the layer between the crust and the core that makes up most of Earth's volume - and supply the heat that feeds these mid-plate volcanoes.

 Finger-like structures carrying heat deep beneath the oceans interact with plumes rising from the mantle to affect the formation of hotspot volcanic islands. Illustration: Scott FrenchBut some hotspot volcano chains are not easily explained by this simple model, a fact which suggests there are more complex interactions between these hot plumes and the upper mantle. Now, a computer modeling approach, developed by University of Maryland seismologist Vedran Lekic and colleagues at the University of California Berkeley, has produced new seismic wave imagery which reveals that the rising plumes are, in fact, influenced by a pattern of finger-like structures carrying heat deep beneath Earth's oceanic plates.

Seismic waves are waves of energy produced by earthquakes, explosions and volcanic eruptions, which can travel long distances below Earth's surface. As they travel through layers of different density and elasticity, their shape changes. A global network of seismographs records these changing waveforms. By comparing the waveforms from hundreds of earthquakes recorded at locations around the world, scientists can make inferences about the structures through which the seismic waves have traveled.

The process, known as seismic tomography, works in much the same way that CT scans (computed tomography) reveal structures hidden beneath the surface of the human body. But since we know much less about the structures below Earth's surface, seismic tomography isn't easy to interpret.  "The Earth's crust varies a lot, and being able to represent that variation is difficult, much less the structure deeper below," said Lekic, an assistant professor of geology at UMD.

Until recently, analyses like the one in the study would have taken up to 19 years of computer time. While studying for his doctorate with the study's senior author, professor Barbara Romanowicz at the University of California, Berkeley, Lekic developed a method to more accurately model waveform data while still keeping computer time manageable, which resulted in higher-resolution images of the interaction between the layers of Earth's mantle.

By refining this method, a research team led by UC Berkeley graduate student Scott French found finger-like channels of low-speed seismic waves flowing about 120 to 220 miles below the sea floor, and stretching out in bands about 700 miles wide and 1,400 miles apart. They also discovered a subtle but important difference in speed: at this depth, seismic waves typically travel about 2.5 to 3 miles per second, but the average seismic velocity in the channels was 4 percent slower. Because higher temperatures slow down seismic waves, the researchers infer that the channels are hotter than the surrounding material.

"We estimate that the slowdown we're seeing could represent a temperature increase of up to 200 degrees Celsius," or about 390 degrees Fahrenheit, said French, the study's study lead author. At these depths, absolute temperatures in the mantle are about 1,300 degrees Celsius, or 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers said.

Geophysicists have long theorized that channels akin to those revealed in the computer model exist, and are interacting with the plumes in Earth's mantle that feed hotspot volcanoes. But the new images reveal for the first time the extent, depth and shape of these channels. And they also show that the fingers align with the motion of the overlying tectonic plate. The researchers hypothesize that these channels may be interacting in complex ways with both the tectonic plates above them and the hot plumes rising from below.

"This global pattern of finger-like structures that we're seeing, which has not been documented before, appears to reflect interactions between the upwelling plumes and the motion of the overlying plates," Lekic said. "The deflection of the plumes into these finger-like channels represents an intermediate scale of convection in the mantle, between the large-scale circulation that drives plate motions and the smaller scale plumes, which we are now starting to image."

"The exact nature of those interactions will need further study," said French, "but we now have a clearer picture that can help us understand the 'plumbing' of Earth's mantle responsible for hotspot volcano islands like Tahiti, Reunion and Samoa."

The National Science Foundation and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center helped support this research.

UMD Team Wins First Place in MaxTech Competition

September 5, 2013
Contacts: 

Jennifer Rooks 301-405-1458

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – For the second straight year, a team of University of Maryland students has won the Max Tech and Beyond Design Competition for Ultra-Low-Energy-Use Appliances and Equipment. The team, UMD Dryer, advised by Yunho Hwang, associate director of UMD's Center for Environmental Energy Engineering, received the first place gold medal for developing an energy saving, two-stage heat pump clothes dryer.

Team in Action. From left to right: Xiaojie Lin, Anto Peter , Amer A.R. Charbaji. Courtesy of Team UMD Dryer. Current residential electric clothes dryers consume approximately four percent of total annual residential electricity use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration.

Unlike most appliances, clothes dryers are not currently listed in the ENERGY STAR® database since most models consume similar amounts of energy. Electric powered and gas fired clothes dryers dominated the U.S. residential market in 2010, but heat pump clothes dryers have only recently been emerging in the European and Japanese markets.

Heat pump dryers typically consume about one-third less energy than conventional electric and gas-powered clothes dryers, but the UMD team's two-stage heat pump dryer may improve energy savings another 10 to 20 percent over the average European heat pump clothes dryer, and 40 to 46 percent over the average U.S. electric dryer.

Team UMD Dryer. Courtesy of Team UMD Dryer. According to Hwang, his students were "really interested in improving energy efficiency, more than just taking a class." Students on the team spent extra lab hours and weekends working on constructing the dryer prototype and testing.

"Our students are terrific," said Hwang. "Our team success stems from our talented students, who are eager to tackle engineering challenges, and from the support of our department chair, graduate office, undergraduate office, and CEEE staff. I greatly appreciate all of their efforts and support."

As part of their win, the team will have the opportunity to showcase their prototype at the Solar Decathlon being held October 3-13, 2014 in Irvine, Calif. 

The Max Tech Design competition supports faculty-led student design teams at U.S. universities to design, build, and test ultra-efficient product prototypes to reduce energy consumption in buildings and/or prototypes that greatly reduce the cost of such ultra-efficient products. The dual objectives of the competition are to support the development of next-generation prototypes as well as the next generation of scientists and engineers who will design them.

For more information on team UMD Dryer and their energy efficient dryer, visit their team page on Max Tech's website.

UMD Named Top 20 Teach for America Contributor

September 4, 2013
Contacts: 

Alana Carchedi 301-405-0235

Teach for America LogoCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland has been recognized by Teach for America in its annual ranking of the colleges and universities contributing the greatest number of graduating seniors to its 2013 teaching corps. In the sixth annual rankings, UMD is ranked in the top 20 for large colleges and universities.

UMD made its debut on the top contributors list in 2008. This year, the university comes in 14th place, contributing 42 graduates to the incoming corps. Approximately four percent of UMD's senior class applied to Teach For America's 2013 corps and throughout Teach For America's 23-year history, 334 UMD alumni have taught as corps members. 

"We are grateful to the outstanding colleges and universities that cultivate graduates with the leadership skills and deep commitment necessary to expand educational opportunities for students facing the challenges of poverty," said Elisa Villanueva Beard, co-chief executive officer of Teach For America, in a press release. "Our corps members bring a vast array of experiences and accomplishments to the classroom, and they are poised to make a meaningful impact in the high-need schools and communities where they will be teaching."

Teach For America corps members are top college graduates and professionals who commit to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools and become lifelong leaders in expanding educational opportunity. Teach For America recruits on more than 850 college campuses, seeking seniors and graduates from all academic majors and backgrounds who have demonstrated achievement, perseverance, leadership, commitment to educational equity, and a deep respect for diverse experiences and backgrounds.

The full list of top contributors is available here.

Wise Old Birds Help Whooping Cranes Stay on Course

August 29, 2013
Contacts: 

Heather Dewar 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Scientists have studied bird migration for centuries, but it remains one of nature's great mysteries. How do birds find their way over long distances between breeding and wintering sites? Is their migration route encoded in their genes, or is it learned?

This young whooping crane is on its first fall migration, guided by an Operation Migration ultralight. Brown bars on its wings will fade by the time this bird migrates north in spring. Whoopers in the Eastern population have identifying bands, and many carry tracking devices that record their movements in detail. Photo credit: Joe Duff/copyright Operation Migration USA Inc.Working with records from a long-term effort to reintroduce critically endangered whooping cranes in the Eastern U.S., a University of Maryland-led research team found evidence that these long-lived birds learn their migration route from older cranes, and get better at it with age.

Whooping crane groups that included an eight-year-old adult deviated 38 percent less from a migratory straight-line path between their Wisconsin breeding grounds and Florida wintering grounds, the researchers found. One-year-old birds that did not follow older birds veered, on average, 60 miles (97 kilometers) from a straight flight path. When the one-year-old cranes traveled with older birds, the average deviation was less than 40 miles (64 kilometers).

Individual whoopers' ability to stick to the route increased steadily each year up to about age five, and remained roughly constant from that point on, the researchers found.

Many migration studies are done in short-lived species like songbirds, or by comparing a young bird to an older bird, said UMD biologist Thomas Mueller, an expert on animal migration and the study's lead scientist. "Here we could look over the course of the individual animals' lifetimes, and show that learning takes place over many years."

The researchers' findings, published August 30 in the journal Science, are based on data from an intensive effort to restore the endangered bird to its native range. The whooping crane (Grus americana), is North America's largest bird, standing five feet tall, and one of its longest-lived, surviving 30 years in the wild. The species was near extinction in the 1940s, with fewer than 25 individuals. Today about 250 wild whoopers summer in Canada and migrate to Texas for the winter.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, made up of government and non-profit experts, has been working since 2001 to establish a second population in the Eastern U.S., which now numbers more than 100 birds. At Maryland's Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge and other captive breeding sites, adult whooping cranes produce chicks and biologists hand-raise them, using special methods designed to prepare the chicks for life in the wild.

All the whooping cranes studied by the University of Maryland team received the same flight training as chicks, following an Operation Migration ultralight from Wisconsin to Florida in the fall. The Science study looked at data on their subsequent migrations, beginning the following spring. Photo credit: Heather Ray/copyright Operation Migration USA Inc.Each summer in a Wisconsin marsh, experts from the non-profit Operation Migration train a group of captive-raised chicks to follow an ultralight aircraft, using techniques like those portrayed in the fictional 1996 movie "Fly Away Home" to lead them on a 1,300-mile journey to their Florida wintering grounds.

Only this first migration is human-assisted; from then on the young birds travel on their own, usually in the company of other whooping cranes. Their movements are monitored daily via satellite transmitters, radio telemetry and on-the-ground observers. The result is a record of the movements of individual birds over several years, all with known parentage and the same upbringing.

"This is a globally unique data set in which we can control for genetics and test for the effect of experience," said UMD biology professor William F. Fagan, a co-author of the paper, "and it gives us an indication of just how important this kind of socially learned behavior is."

Using data on all the ultralight-trained birds' spring and fall migrations from 2002 to 2009, the researchers found that neither genetic relatedness nor gender had any effect on the whooping cranes' tendency to stay on the shortest migratory route. They were surprised to find that the migrating groups' size also made no difference.

"Many biologists would have expected to find a strong effect of group size," Fagan said, "with input from more birds' brains leading to improved navigation, but we didn't see that effect."

Only one experienced bird per group was enough to keep the migration on track. The researchers hypothesize that older birds are better at recognizing landmarks and coping with bad weather. Stronger autumn winds may explain why the whoopers tended to stray further from their straight course during fall migration, Mueller said.

The study shows the migration training for captive-born whooping cranes is working, Mueller said. However, the reintroduced whoopers are having trouble breeding in the wild. Based on the migration study's finding, "we need to take into consideration that these birds may also reproduce more successfully as they age," he said.

Given the whooping cranes' recent plunge towards extinction, it wouldn't be surprising if the birds need to re-learn how best to raise their chicks, said Patuxent-based scientist Sarah J. Converse of the U.S. Geological Survey, a co-author of the paper.

"These birds' behaviors have evolved over millennia," Converse said. "Managers here are trying to restore a culture, that is, the knowledge that these birds accumulate over time. We need to give these birds the time and the opportunity to get the breeding right. We might need to be a little bit patient."

The National Science Foundation, the LOEWE Programme, and the Robert Bosch Foundation funded the research.

 

Image 1: This young whooping crane is on its first fall migration, guided by an Operation Migration ultralight. Brown bars on its wings will fade by the time this bird migrates north in spring. Whoopers in the Eastern population have identifying bands, and many carry tracking devices that record their movements in detail. Photo credit: Joe Duff/copyright Operation Migration USA Inc.

Image 2. All the whooping cranes studied by the University of Maryland team received the same flight training as chicks, following an Operation Migration ultralight from Wisconsin to Florida in the fall. The Science study looked at data on their subsequent migrations, beginning the following spring. Photo credit: Heather Ray/copyright Operation Migration USA Inc.

Changes in River Chemistry Affect Water Supplies

August 26, 2013
Contacts: 

Heather Dewar 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Human activities are changing the basic chemistry of many rivers in the Eastern U.S., with potentially major consequences for urban water supplies and aquatic ecosystems, a University of Maryland-led study has found.

In the first survey of its kind, researchers looked at long-term records of alkalinity trends in 97 streams and rivers from Florida to New Hampshire. Over time spans of 25 to 60 years, two-thirds of the rivers had become significantly more alkaline and none had become more acidic.

Caption 1: Appalachian mountain streams like this one in Western Maryland are especially vulnerable to the effects of accelerated chemical weathering because of carbon-rich surface rocks, steep slopes that promote erosion, and extensive impacts from acid rain and acidic mining runoff. Photo: Sujay S. KaushalAlkalinity is a measure of water's ability to neutralize acid. In excess, it can cause ammonia toxicity and algal blooms, altering water quality and harming aquatic life. Increasing alkalinity hardens drinking water, makes wastewater disposal more difficult, and exacerbates the salinization of fresh water.

Paradoxically, higher acid levels in rain, soil and water, caused by human activity, are major triggers for these changes in river chemistry, said associate professor Sujay Kaushal of the University of Maryland. Kaushal, a geologist, is the lead author of a paper about the study, published August 26 in the online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The researchers hypothesize that acid rain, a by-product of fossil fuel burning, acidic mining runoff and agricultural fertilizers speed up the dissolving of surfaces that are naturally high in alkaline minerals. In a process known as chemical weathering, the acid eats away at limestone, other carbonate rocks, and even concrete sidewalks, dissolving alkaline particles that wash off into streams and rivers.

Scientists have studied the effects of increased chemical weathering in small mountain streams tainted by acid runoff, where the process can actually help rebalance streams' pH levels. But researchers have not looked at the accumulating levels of alkalinity in downstream reaches of numerous major rivers and evaluated potential causes until now, Kaushal said.

"It's like rivers on Rolaids," Kaushal said. "We have some natural antacid in  watersheds. In headwater streams, that can be a good thing. But we're also seeing antacid compounds increasing downriver. And those sites are not acidic, and algae and fish can be sensitive to alkalinity changes."  

Caption 2: Alkaline minerals wash down from headwater streams and tributaries of the 14,700-square-mile Potomac River watershed to Washington D.C., where the river provides the nation's capital with drinking water and receives treated sewage before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. High alkalinity makes drinking water treatment more expensive, adds to regulatory requirements for discharging treated sewage, and compounds the environmental problems of the nation's largest estuary. Photo: Michael PenninoAlkalinity has risen over the past several decades in rivers that provide water for Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Atlanta, and other major cities, the researchers reported. Also affected are rivers that flow into water bodies already harmed by excess algae growth, such as the Chesapeake Bay.

The extent of the change is "amazing. I did not expect that," said noted ecologist Gene Likens, a co-discoverer of acid rain in 1963, who collaborated with Kaushal on this research.

"This is another example of the widespread impact of human impacts on natural systems which is, I think, increasingly worrisome," said Likens, a Unversity of Connecticut distinguished research professor and founding director of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. "Policymakers and the public think acid rain has gone away, but it has not."

Beginning in the mid-1990s after Congress amended the Clean Air Act, new federal regulations have reduced the airborne pollutants that cause acid rain. "It may be that these are legacy impacts of acid rain in addition to mining and land use," Kaushal said. "The acid rain problem is decreasing. But meanwhile there are these lagging effects of river alkalinization showing up across a major region of the U.S. How many decades will river alkalinization persist? We really don't know the answer."

The team focused on Eastern rivers, which are often important drinking water sources for densely populated areas and have decades' worth of water quality records. Much of the Eastern U.S. is also underlain by porous, alkaline limestone and other carbonate rocks, making the region more prone to the types of water chemistry changes that the researchers found. This is especially true in the Appalachian Mountains where soils are thin, steep slopes cause erosion, and acid rain from smokestack industries have had a major impact on forests and streams.

Water alkalinity has increased the fastest in areas underlain by carbonate rocks, at high elevations, and where acid rainfall or drainage was high. The researchers also found that the chemical weathering of these carbonate rocks adds to the carbon burden in rivers and streams, in a trend that parallels rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

The research was funded by NASA Carbon Cycle & Ecosystems, the National Science Foundation's Long Term Ecological Research Program, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Creating Next Generation Electric Vehicle Batteries

August 23, 2013
Contacts: 

Ted Knight 301-405-3596

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Two research teams from the University of Maryland Energy Research Center (UMERC) were awarded research grants from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to develop transformational electric vehicle (EV) energy storage systems using innovative chemistries, architectures and designs.

The two UMD projects were among 22 selected nationwide that received a total of $36 million in research funding from ARPA-E’s new program, Robust Affordable Next Generation Energy Storage Systems (RANGE). ARPA-E’s RANGE program aims to accelerate widespread EV adoption by dramatically improving driving range and reliability, and by providing low-cost, low-carbon alternatives to today’s vehicles.

Multiple-Electron Aqueous Battery
Lithium-ion batteries have not been extensively adopted in electric vehicles due to short driving range, high cost, and low safety and reliability, which can increase the cost and reduce energy density. Researchers at UMD and the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) will develop a new battery—a hybridized ions aqueous battery—by doubling the cell voltage and capacity, which could cut the lithium-ion battery system cost in half and would enable an EV to travel two times as long per charge.

The new battery could significantly reduce the cost of battery management, improve the reliability, and operate in a wide temperature range. If successful, UMD’s battery would make EVs cost/safety-competitive and travel 300 miles on a single charge, contributing to the widespread public acceptance of EVs. Increased use of EVs would decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and reduce CO2 emissions from burning the gasoline, which accounts for 28 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions.

Led by professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering Chunseng Wang, in partnership with Kan Xu at ARL, the “Multiple-Electron Aqueous Battery” project was awarded $405,000.

Solid-State Lithium-Ion Battery with Ceramic Electrolyte
A second group of UMD researchers will develop ceramic materials and processing methods to enable high-power, solid-state, lithium-ion batteries. While most lithium-ion batteries are liquid based, solid-state batteries have a greater abuse tolerance that reduces the need for heavy protective components. UMD will leverage multi-layer ceramics processing methods to produce a solid-state battery pack with lower weight and longer life. The team will develop intrinsically safe, robust, low-cost, high-energy-density all-solid-state lithium-ion batteries.

"Due to their all solid state construction, these lithium-ion batteries are non-flammable and intrinsically safe. Moreover, their novel highly conductivity materials and fabrication methods will exceed current goals for electric vehicle range, acceleration, and cost,” says UMERC director and professor of materials science and engineering Eric Wachsman, the lead on the project, which was awarded $574,275.

In addition to Wachsman, UMD professor Liangbing Hu and University of Calgary professor Venkataraman Thangadurai are team members on the project.

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