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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.

Helping Discover Students' Sustainability Knowledge

August 23, 2013
Contacts: 

Mark Stewart 301-405-4633

Researchers at the University of Maryland, in collaboration with researchers at the Ohio State University—a Big Ten university, have developed an assessment to measure sustainability knowledge across its three domains: environmental, economic, and social.COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Researchers at the University of Maryland, in collaboration with researchers at the Ohio State University—a Big Ten university, have developed an assessment to measure sustainability knowledge across its three domains: environmental, economic, and social. The Assessment of Sustainability Knowledge (ASK) is already helping other colleges and universities discover what their students know, or don’t know, about sustainability.

Higher education institutions are scrambling to develop new sustainability academic programs to prepare students to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing humankind. From 2007 to 2012, the number of sustainability- focused academic programs grew from 27 to 588 according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). During the same period, 673 institutions signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and pledged to educate all students about sustainability.

Despite this growth, there is little information on what students know about sustainability when they enter college and what they learn while there. AASHE encourages all 254 institutions participating in the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) to test their students’ sustainability knowledge; however, few institutions have the time or resources to develop valid and reliable assessments.

Research teams at UMD and OSU each started developing their own sustainability knowledge assessments in 2009 and then joined forces in 2012 to merge the best of each of their questions into one assessment. In the spring of 2013, more than 3,000 UMD and OSU undergraduate students completed the combined assessment. Researchers then analyzed how each question performed to create a valid question set for testing sustainability knowledge. They recently published that question set in the Assessment of Sustainability Knowledge (ASK).

The UMD and OSU researchers invite colleges and universities to use some or all of the questions in the ASK to assess the level of sustainability knowledge among students at their own institutions. To date, Colorado State University, University of Mississippi, Clark University, Clarkson University, and the University of Idaho Sustainability Center either have used or intend to use the ASK on their campuses.

UMD Tool Predicts Leadership of Terrorist Networks

August 22, 2013
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The loss of a terrorist or criminal network's leader—whether through imprisonment, change of allegiance or death—can create a vacuum in which subordinates jockey for position or splinter into factions.

Rather than wait to see how these scenarios play out, U.S. intelligence analysts could soon have a new tool to help predict who might rise to the top of a terrorist or criminal network, and whether the redefined organization has an increased ability to carry out its activities.

A University of Maryland research team developed this analytics tool, known as STONE (Shaping Terrorist Organizational Network Efficacy), "to minimize the impact of these organizations," says V.S. Subrahmanian, a professor of computer science who is leading the UMD effort.

The UMD team has used open-source data to hypothetically test the software platform on four known terrorist organizations: al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and Lashkar-e-Taiba, perpetrators of the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, India.

STONE was able to predict with 80 percent accuracy what individual would rise to take on a leadership role when a terrorist leader was removed, Subrahmanian says. The data the Maryland team used was unclassified, and included information such as how long a person was actively involved with an organization, the specific role they had, and the roles of others they were directly associated with.

U.S. government analysts and decision-makers with access to a "more complete" picture of these organizations can input their own data into STONE, increasing the tool's accuracy, Subrahmanian says.

"This is a not a computing tool that tells [analysts] what to do," he says. "It is something that can help them better understand the situation or situations they are dealing with, which can ultimately decrease the efficacy of these organizations."

Law Enforcement and Business Applications
Subrahmanian says STONE could also potentially be used to evaluate leadership changes in criminal networks and in business, for example identifying who will replace a corporate CEO or who will step into a new role in a drug network. However, he and his colleagues have not yet tested it for these applications.

The Maryland researchers—Subrahmanian, Francesca Spezzano and Aaron Mannes, all associated with the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies—will present a paper on their work at an international conference on Aug. 27. The Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining conference in Niagara Falls, Canada, is sponsored by the Institute of Electronics and Electronics Engineers and the Association for Computing Machinery.

Premier New Gamma Ray Observatory Begins Operation

August 21, 2013
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A joint U.S. and Mexican gamma ray observatory being built on the flanks of the Sierra Negra volcano in the Mexican State of Puebla has begun official operations. Led on the U.S. side by the University of Maryland, the observatory is only about one-third complete, but already it is the largest of its type in the world.

Deployment of tanks and counting house trailers on the HAWC platform as seen from the slope of the volcano Sierra Negra (April 2013). The volcano Pico de Orizaba is visible in the background. Gamma rays are the most energetic form of light (electro-magnetic radiation) and are produced by the most violent events and hottest regions of the universe: supernova star explosions, active galactic nuclei caused by super massive black holes and gamma ray bursts. Gamma rays also are thought to be correlated with the acceleration sites of charged cosmic rays, whose origins have been a mystery for nearly 100 years.

The HAWC (High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory) facility is designed to observe the highest energy (TeV) gamma rays and cosmic rays with an instantaneous aperture that covers more than 15 percent of the sky. With this large field of view, the detector will be exposed to half of the sky during a 24-hour period.

"HAWC will be the world's premier wide-field TeV gamma ray observatory with between 10 and 15 times the sensitivity of previous generation wide-field gamma ray detectors such as Milagro," says UMD professor of physics Jordan Goodman, who is the Principal Investigator for the National Science Foundation HAWC construction grant that is funded through UMD and covers about half of the approximately $14 million cost of the construction. 

UMD physicist Andrew Smith is the HAWC project manager. UMD scientists Brian Baughman, Jim Braun and Josh Wood also are involved in the construction of HAWC and together with Goodman and Smith will help lead in the analysis of data from the observatory.

Detecting Gamma Rays
The HAWC observatory currently has some 111 detectors and will have a total of 300 when it is completed in 2014.When high-energy gamma rays enter the atmosphere they collide with and split air molecules into more particles and gamma rays. These in turn interact with more particles, losing energy, but creating new particles and gamma rays each time. This chain reaction results in a cascade, or shower, of particles and radiation that multiplies and expands outward all the way to the ground, where it reaches the HAWC's water Cherenkov detectors. The HAWC observatory currently has some 111 detectors and will have a total of 300 when it is completed in 2014.

When the gamma ray-caused cosmic cascade goes through the water-filled Cherenkov detectors, the cascade particles, traveling faster than the light inside the water, create an effect similar to a supersonic airplane producing a shock wave (the so-called sonic "boom"). But in this case, the particles produce a visible light trail instead of sound waves. These flashes are measured by light detectors located at the bottom of each Cherenkov detector. By computationally reconstructing the combined signals from all the detectors, it is possible for scientists to determine the energy, direction, time of arrival and the nature of the responsible gamma ray.

The new HAWC observatory is supported by numerous U.S. and Mexican institutions, including the National Science Foundation, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Department of National Energy, the University of Maryland, Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the Instituto Nacional de Astrofísica and the Óptica y Electrónica.

UMD Named a Top 25 LGBT-Friendly Campus

August 20, 2013
Contacts: 

Beth Cavanaugh 301-405-4625

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland has again been recognized for its diversity and inclusion by being named a Top 25 College for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people by Campus Pride, a leading national organization that works to help create LGBT-friendly colleges and universities.

UMD is the only Maryland/Washington, D.C.-area university to make the list this year. To qualify for the list, each institution must earn five stars overall in the Campus Pride Index, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, and score 4.5 stars or above in all eight LGBT-friendly factors.

According to the Huffington Post, which published the listing, "The organization determined the listing by utilizing the data gathered from the Campus Pride Index.  'Campus Pride's Index is the only one of its kind,' said Campus Pride Executive Director Shane Windmeyer. 'Unlike other commercially-driven rankings, our ratings are done for and by LGBT people and set in a foundation of solid research practice.'"

Fifteen years ago, UMD created the LGBT Equity Center to help establish and maintain a fully equitable campus environment for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities or expressions. Today, the LGBT Equity Center has expanded its mission to include empowering innovators and agents of inclusion for LGBT people.

Other university initiatives include:

  • Development of a growing set of policies and practices to protect and support transgender people
  • Housing options and assistance for LGBTQ students
  • Expansion of campus resources that empower leaders and allies to build communities and advocate for LGBT equity
  • Creation of an award-winning first-year experience for new students who identify as LGBT or allies
  • Creation of one of the country's few stand-alone LGBT Studies Programs, offering a certificate and minor in LGBT Studies.

"UMD strives to remain at the forefront of supporting our LGBT student population so that they may reach their full potential," said Luke Jensen, director of UMD's campus LGBT Equity Center.  "We are also committed to preparing all students to become leaders who will create positive change for LGBT diversity and inclusion wherever they go."

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