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UMD Professor Receives $1M from USDA NIFA to Increase Poultry Yield and Advance Animal Well-Being

December 6, 2017

Samantha Watters, 301-405-2434

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Professor Tom Porter, Ph.D. has been awarded two grants, totaling $1M, from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) to explore ways to increase poultry yield and meat production while improving the lives of the animals. Additionally, Porter will examine the natural growth hormone processes and resistance to heat stress caused by severe weather patterns. 

“By 2050, the world will be in the wake of a large food shortage,” explained Porter, professor in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences. “To meet the demand of a growing population and combat hunger, it is anticipated that meat production alone will have to increase 43 to 47 percent across the board, with little to no new land or space for meat production. This presents a major food crisis.”

Porter has been studying the mechanisms behind natural growth hormone production in poultry for 27 years, with consistent federal funding for his work. His research has explored what controls production of the bird’s own growth hormone, when it begins, how to target the DNA to control growth hormone production, and what cellular mechanisms are involved. Porter will use the grant from USDA NIFA’s Animal Nutrition, Growth, and Lactation Program to continue this research. 

“If there is no new land for meat production, the best way to meet our agricultural and food supply needs is through more efficient and effective growth,” said Dr. Porter. 

By inducing the natural growth hormone production process a little earlier in chick development, critical parameters like body weight, yield, composition and feed efficiency (or the amount of feed needed to produce a pound of meat) may be improved, providing more insight into these mechanisms. 

In addition, funding from USDA NIFA’s Animal Well-Being Program will support a new research project. To improve animal welfare, well-being, and overall poultry production, Porter will use the grant to develop a protocol to easily condition chicks to better handle heat waves as adult birds. Chickens begin to exhibit significant heat stress at sustained temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. With the ever increasing extremes in our global climate, heat waves with prolonged temperatures over 95 degrees are increasingly common. Significant heat stress not only causes the birds to suffer, but often leads to premature death on a large scale. Eggs are normally incubated at 99.5 degrees, and chicks are kept at 92 degrees thereafter. Exposing chicks to 100-degree heat for an additional day when they are young, reduces heat stress and mortality rates by 50 percent.  What is not understood is how this mechanism works, how this affects poultry production and overall yield, and if the protocol can be optimized with more or less conditioning.

“I am a physiologist, and really an endocrinologist, so understanding the mechanisms that regulate hormones and stress is what I enjoy,” said Porter. “But everything we do is to improve the well-being and lives of the animals themselves and to ultimately improve poultry production. That is the key to this work.”  

Quantum Computing Moves Forward with Record Setting UMD-NIST 53 Qubit Quantum Simulator

November 30, 2017

Emily Edwards, 301-405-2291
Lee Tune, 301-405-4679 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A team of scientists from the University of Maryland (UMD) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have created a quantum simulator using 53 interacting atomic qubits to mimic magnetic quantum matter. Prior to this breakthrough, leading researchers had only created quantum simulators of 20 qubits or less.

Artist's depiction of quantum simulation. Lasers manipulate an array of over 50 atomic qubits in order to study the dynamics of quantum magnetism

Quantum simulators are a restricted type of quantum computer that use qubits to mimic complex quantum matter. By deploying 53 individual ytterbium ions—charged atoms trapped in place by gold-coated and razor-sharp electrodes—the UMD-NIST quantum simulator is on the cusp of exploring physics that is unreachable by even the fastest modern supercomputers. 

The building of qubit simulators is a key step in efforts to build a full-fledged quantum computer capable of tackling any complex computational problem. And, according to the UMD-NIST team, adding even more qubits is just a matter of lassoing more atoms into the mix. 

“We are continuing to refine our system, and we think that soon, we will be able to control 100 ion qubits, or more,” said Jiehang Zhang, a postdoctoral researcher in the UMD Department of Physics, and the lead author of a paper about the team’s 53 qubit quantum simulator that appears in this week’s issue of the journal Nature.  “At that point, we can potentially explore difficult problems in quantum chemistry or materials design.” 

The UMD-NIST paper appears in Nature together with a complementary paper on a previously announced 51 qubit quantum simulator designed by Harvard and MIT researchers that uses rubidium atoms confined by an array of laser beams. 

“Each ion qubit is a stable atomic clock that can be perfectly replicated,” said UMD team lead Christopher Monroe, a Distinguished University Professor of Physics and Bice Sechi-Zorn Professor at UMD, and co-founder and chief scientist of IonQ Inc., a UMD-based quantum computing startup company. “They are effectively wired together with external laser beams. This means that the same device can be reprogrammed and reconfigured, from the outside, to adapt to any type of quantum simulation or future quantum computer application that comes up.”  

Monroe, who is also a fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute and the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science, has been one of the early pioneers in quantum computing and the UMD-NIST quantum simulator is part of a blueprint for a general-purpose quantum computer.  

Quantum hardware for a quantum problem 

While modern, transistor-driven computers are great for crunching their way through many problems, they can screech to a halt when dealing with more than 20 interacting quantum objects. That’s certainly the case for quantum magnetism, in which the interactions can lead to magnetic alignment or to a jumble of competing interests at the quantum scale. 

“What makes this problem hard is that each magnet interacts with all the other magnets,” said UMD research scientist Zhexuan Gong, lead theorist and a co-author of the study. “With the 53 interacting quantum magnets in this experiment, there are over a quadrillion possible magnet configurations, and this number doubles with each additional magnet. Simulating this large-scale problem on a conventional computer is extremely challenging, if at all possible.” 

When these calculations hit a wall, a quantum simulator may help scientists push the envelope on difficult problems. Qubits are isolated and well-controlled quantum systems that can be in a combination of two or more states at once. Qubits come in different forms, and atoms—the versatile building blocks of everything—are one of the leading choices for making qubits. In recent years, scientists have controlled 10 to 20 atomic qubits in small-scale quantum simulations. 

Currently, tech industry behemoths, startups and university researchers are in a fierce race to build prototype quantum computers that can control even more qubits. But qubits are delicate and must stay isolated from the environment to protect the device’s quantum nature. With each added qubit, this protection becomes more difficult, especially if qubits are not identical from the start, as is the case with fabricated circuits. This is one reason that atoms are an attractive choice that can dramatically simplify the process of scaling up to large-scale quantum machinery.  

An atomic advantage 

Unlike the integrated circuitry of modern computers, atomic qubits reside inside of a room-temperature vacuum chamber that maintains a pressure similar to outer space. This isolation is necessary to keep the destructive environment at bay, and it allows the scientists to precisely control the atomic qubits with a highly engineered network of lasers, lenses, mirrors, optical fibers and electrical circuitry.  

“The principles of quantum computing differ radically from those of conventional computing, so there’s no reason to expect that these two technologies will look anything alike,” said Monroe. 

“Quantum simulations are widely believed to be one of the first useful applications of quantum computers. After perfecting these quantum simulators, we can then implement quantum circuits and eventually quantum-connect many such ion chains together to build a full-scale quantum computer with a much wider domain of applications,” said study co-author Alexey Gorshkov, a NIST theoretical physicist, JQI and QuICS fellow, and adjunct assistant professor in the UMD Department of Physics.

Photo: Artist's depiction of quantum simulation. Lasers manipulate an array of over 50 atomic qubits in order to study the dynamics of quantum magnetism. Photo credit: E.Edwards/JQI.

UMD Joins Regional Leaders, Coalition of Stakeholders to Launch Pathways to Opportunity along Maryland’s Purple Line

November 29, 2017

Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland, along with government and community stakeholders, nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and local residents, joined together to launch a landmark agreement to create pathways to opportunity for all who live, work and invest along the Purple Line corridor. Pathways to Opportunity: A Community Development Agreement for the Purple Line Corridor, developed and led by the Purple Line Corridor Coalition (PLCC), articulates a collective vision for equitable economic and community development along the 16.2-mile Purple Line light-rail corridor, and advances strategies to achieve that vision through the pursuit of four shared goals: support and grow local businesses; build a thriving labor market; ensure housing choices for all; and support vibrant, sustainable communities. It is the largest collaborative effort by regional leaders and public and private community stakeholders to shape development along the corridor. 

Photo of Montgomery County Executive Leggett, Prince George's County Executive Baker and  Loh“What this event really signals is the true beginning of this project— to ensure that the Purple Line light-rail creates a place of opportunity for all who live, work and invest in the corridor, and to sustain and support vibrant, healthy communities,” said Gerrit Knaap, director of the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth and architect of the PLCC. “We are at the cusp of an unprecedented opportunity for economic growth and expansion—not just along this corridor, but for the entire metropolitan region. And we have a shot to shape that growth sustainably, equitably and in ways that create new pathways to opportunity, particularly for the culturally rich but economically fragile communities that dot the corridor.”

The community agreement is the result of a four-year process spearheaded by the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth and several community stakeholders, who together, form PLCC. The launch event, which was held on Tuesday, November 29,  attracted over 200 stakeholders from throughout the state, including UMD President Wallace D. Loh, Congressman Jamie Raskin (D), Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, and representatives from PLCC partners— Enterprise Community Partners, CASA, Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, and Purple Line NOW

The event helped further conversations around the opportunities and challenges surrounding the four goals, as well as the next steps needed to move the vision forward. A key strength of Pathways to Opportunity: A Community Development Agreement for the Purple Line Corridor is the full range of expertise available within the coalition. Coalition members are experienced in areas such as housing, transportation, job creation and community development. In addition to individual expertise, data analytics developed through the National Center for Smart Growth, which pinpoint areas of opportunity and vulnerability, will be used to inform policy recommendations and fortify efforts to pursue support and funding. 

The Purple Line Corridor Community Development Agreement was created over several years through an open, inclusive stakeholder process led by PLCC, which engaged more than 300 residents, business owners, nonprofit leaders and public officials. The Purple Line light-rail project broke ground in August. Running from New Carrolton, MD to Bethesda, MD, the light-rail project is 16.2 miles and comprises 21 stations. It is the first transit line to connect the Washington Metropolitan Transit System and represents one of the region’s largest transit investments in the 21st century. Inspired by successful and sustainable transit projects in Denver, Seattle and Minneapolis–Saint Paul, the PLCC plans to leverage this major transit investment to benefit both current and future residents, employees, and property owners throughout the region. 

“Considerable research and experience suggests that communities are better able to capitalize on major public investments when they work together, think corridor-wide, and plan ahead,” said Knaap. “The community development agreement was an important first step.”


Photo (from l to r): Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker and UMD President Wallace D. Loh. Photo credit: University of Maryland

University of Maryland Named a Top College for LGBTQ Students

November 27, 2017

Jennifer Burroughs, 301-405-4621

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland has been named the seventh best college for LGBTQ students in the 2017 ranking by Campus Pride and Best Colleges. UMD’s LGBT Equity Center is featured for its campus impact within the ranking.

The new ranking combines the Best Colleges academic and affordability metrics and the Campus Pride Index Score, which measures LGBTQ-friendly campus life. Only universities with a 4.5 or 5 star rating, indicating above average performance in all eight of the LGBTQ-inclusive factors on the Campus Pride Index, were considered.

“Excellence is embodied by continuous improvement and engagement across diverse campus communities," said Nic Sakurai, Acting Director, LGBT Equity Center. “No campus is a perfect place for LGBTQ+ people, but what makes the critical difference and what makes the University of Maryland a great place to be is active involvement of LGBTQ+ people and allies across many spheres of academic and campus life, working together to promote intersectional social justice for all.” 

The LGBT Equity Center has been at the forefront of the university’s efforts to cultivate strong communities for Terps of all gender identities and sexual orientations since its inception in 1998. Recent strides made by this office, in conjunction with Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy (MICA) and many other campus partners, have helped make UMD a place where all are welcome: 

  • TransTerps: A campus-wide campaign that identifies, disseminates, and implements good practices for transgender inclusion on campus. The centerpiece of this campaign is to offer tools for offices and student groups to be able to assess and continuously improve their good practices for trans inclusion on campus, including sample syllabus language about names/pronouns, examples of ways to share about pronouns, and examples of good practice for demographic data collection and inclusive restroom signage. Dozens of departments and groups on campus have signed on and are working to improve the climate for trans and gender non-conforming people. 
  • Lavender Leadership Honor Society: A first-of-its-kind collegiate leadership honor society focusing on LGBTQ+ social justice. The society has inducted over 100 members of UMD students, staff, faculty and alumni to the group in addition to honorary inductions for several notable figures including, the Mayor of College Park Patrick Wojahn; actress and advocate Laverne Cox; and noted scholar Cathy Cohen. The society is advised and supported by a student board, and is also affiliated with a series of workshops focusing on leadership development that puts racial justice into focus in the LGBTQ+ community context.
  • LGBT Studies: Both a minor and a certificate in LGBT Studies are offered through the Department of Women's Studies. The program has been in existence formally since 2002 and as of last year has graduated 89 students with certificates and 43 with minors. All LGBT Studies graduates are recognized during the annual Lavender Graduation ceremony hosted by the LGBT Equity Center and supported by the Novak Family LGBT Student fund. 

For more information on UMD’s LGBT Equity Center, visit: https://lgbt.umd.edu/

LGBT Equity Center

LGBT Equity Center

Lavender Graduation

UMD​ ​Announces​ ​Streamlined​ ​Protocol​ ​for​ ​Hate-Bias​ ​Incident Response

November 27, 2017

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland announces a new hate-bias incident response protocol that will ensure a coordinated response, provide support to impacted community members and ensure transparency with the campus community. In addition to the new protocol, the university’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion will hire a Hate-Bias Response Coordinator to assist with these efforts as part of UMD’s ongoing efforts to combat hate and create a safer campus.

“A clear and transparent protocol for hate-bias incidents on our campus is essential to ensuring a sense of safety for our students, faculty and staff,” said Roger L. Worthington, UMD’s chief diversity officer. “I believe this is an important step forward in maintaining a campus community deeply rooted in equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

Under the protocol, community members can report hate-bias incidents to the University of Maryland Police Department (UMPD) or the university’s Office of Civil Rights & Sexual Misconduct (OCRSM). Once the incident report is reviewed, the offices inform one another and consult with relevant campus administrators regarding necessary and appropriate action. To ensure transparency for all hate-bias incidents on campus, the Office of Diversity & Inclusion in the future will maintain a log of incidents that will be updated as reports are received. A system for notifying the broader campus community is in the final stages of development and will be announced in the coming weeks.

The Hate-Bias Response Coordinator will provide leadership for a newly established Hate-Bias Response Team, whose membership is currently under development. The coordinator will formulate action plans in coordination with the Hate-Bias Response Team and work with individuals and/or groups affected by any hate-bias incidents. The coordinator, along with members of the Hate-Bias Response Team, will be available for support and guidance to individuals and communities affected by hate-bias incidents. The Office of Diversity & Inclusion will work to continually improve the protocol to ensure its effectiveness based on feedback from the Hate-Bias Response Team.

The protocol has been formally submitted to the Joint President/Senate Inclusion & Respect Task Force to ensure it is reviewed within the wider frame of the task force’s charge to consider how to best nurture a climate that is respectful and inclusive of all members of the campus community, stands against hate and reaffirms the values that define the university. The task force will have the opportunity to make recommendations for revisions to the protocol if appropriate.

The full protocol can be found at https://faculty.umd.edu/diversity/documents/hate-bias-protocol.pdf.

Five UMD Alumni Make Forbes 2018 "30 Under 30" List

November 27, 2017

Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

COLLEGE PARK, Md.— Five University of Maryland alumni were recognized by Forbes Magazine as the world’s brightest young people for their “impressive, inspiring and enviable” achievements. Marian Cheng ’10, Natalya Gallo ’11, Tian Li M.S. ’15, Ph.D. ’16, Erik Martin ’16 and Jake Rozmaryn were named in Forbes’ 2018  “30 Under 30” lists for accomplishments that include the creation of transparent wood and new research developments in underwater ecosystems.

The lists profile young change-makers who are leading the way in their fields and show promise for the future. The “30 Under 30” lists cover 20 different industries and honorees are selected by a panel of judges from thousands of nominations. This year’s alumni join some of the most renowned authors, artists, athletes, and entrepreneurs from around the world, as well as UMD alumni who made the list in previous years.

UMD’s 2018 30 Under 30 winners include:

Marian Cheng ’10 made the Food and Drink list. Cheng and her sister Hannah opened Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings, a restaurant inspired by their mom’s Taiwanese dumplings, in New York’s East Village in 2014. They added a second location in Nolita last year.

Natalya Gallo ’11, now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, San Diego, was named to the Science list. Gallo studies the warming climate’s effect on ocean conditions, and how that will influence the health of fish and fisheries. Along with engineer collaborators, she’s developed new tools to study underwater ecosystems.

Tian Li M.S. ’15, Ph.D. ’16 made the Energy list for contributing to the creation of transparent wood. The see-through wood developed at UMD is stronger than traditional wood, as well as more energy-efficient and less expensive to manufacture than glass for windows.

Erik Martin ’16 was named to the Games list. Martin designs outreach programs for Unity Technologies, a video game development company. He was formerly a policy adviser for President Barack Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy; while there, Martin helped create the White House Education Game Jam, in which game developers, teachers, learning researchers and students came together to develop educational software.

Former Terp Jake Rozmaryn was named to the Energy list. Rozmaryn was the CEO and founder of Eco Branding, a public relations and marketing agency that focuses on clean-tech companies. He's now vice president of strategy and business development for the Antenna Group, a public relations and marketing agency dealing with energy, sustainability, emerging tech and life sciences.



UMD-led Collaboration Sheds Light on Origin of Excess Anti-matter

November 21, 2017

Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- A mountaintop observatory in Mexico, built and operated by an international team of scientists led by University of Maryland Professor of Physics Jordan Goodman, has captured the first wide-angle view of gamma rays emanating from two rapidly spinning stars. The High-Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) Gamma-Ray Observatory provided a fresh perspective on high-energy light streaming from these stellar neighbors, casting serious doubt on one possible explanation for a mysterious excess of anti-matter particles near Earth.

The HAWC observatory perched next to a volcano in MexicoIn 2008, astronomers observed an unexpectedly high number of positrons—the anti-matter cousins of electrons—in orbit a few hundred miles above Earth’s atmosphere. Ever since, scientists have debated the cause of the anomaly, split over two competing theories of its origin. Some suggested a simple explanation: The extra particles might come from nearby collapsed stars called pulsars, which spin around several times a second and throw off electrons, positrons and other matter with violent force. Others speculated that the extra positrons might come from processes involving dark matter—the invisible but pervasive substance seen so far only through its gravitational pull.

Using new data from the HAWC observatory, researchers made the first detailed measurements of two pulsars previously identified as possible sources of the positron excess. By catching and counting particles of light streaming from these nearby stellar engines, HAWC collaboration researchers found that the two pulsars are unlikely to be the origin of the positron excess. Despite being the right age and the right distance from Earth, the pulsars are surrounded by an extended murky cloud that prevents most positrons from escaping, according to results published in the November 17, 2017 issue of the journal Science.

“This new measurement is tantalizing because it strongly disfavors the idea that these extra positrons are coming to Earth from two nearby pulsars, at least when you assume a relatively simple model for how positrons diffuse away from these spinning stars,” said Goodman, lead investigator and U.S. spokesperson for the HAWC collaboration. “Our measurement doesn’t decide the question in favor of dark matter, but any new theory that attempts to explain the excess using pulsars will need to account for what we’ve found.”

Francisco Salesa Greus, the lead co- author of the new paper and a scientist at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow, Poland, added that “we are closer to understanding the origin of the positron excess after excluding two of the main source candidates.”

An Eye in the Sky

As with an ordinary camera, collecting lots of light allows HAWC to build sharp images of individual gamma-ray sources. The most energetic gamma rays originate in the graveyards of big stars, around stellar remains like the spinning pulsar remnants of supernovae. But that light doesn’t come from the stars themselves. Instead, it's created when the spinning pulsar accelerates particles to extremely high energies, causing them to smash into lower-energy photons left over from the early universe.

The size of the debris field around powerful pulsars, measured by the patch of sky that glows bright in gamma rays, tells researchers how quickly matter moves relative to the spinning stars. This enables researchers to estimate how quickly positrons are moving and how many positrons could have reached Earth from a given source.

Using a recently published HAWC catalog of the high-energy sky, scientists have absolved the nearby pulsar Geminga and its sister—the pulsar PSR B0656+14—as sources of the positron excess. Even though the two are old enough and close enough to account for the excess, matter isn’t drifting away from the pulsars fast enough to have reached the Earth.

“The gamma rays HAWC measures demonstrate that there are high-energy positrons escaping from these sources,” said Rubén López-Coto, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany and a corresponding author. “But according to our measurement, they could not be significantly contributing to the extra positrons seen at the Earth.”

This measurement wouldn’t have been possible without HAWC’s wide view. It continuously scans about one-third of the sky overhead, which provided researchers with a broad view of the space around the pulsars. Other observatories watching for high-energy gamma rays with a much narrower field of view missed the extended nature of the pulsars.

The HAWC Observatory sits at an elevation of 13,500 feet, flanking the Sierra Negra volcano inside Pico de Orizaba National Park in the Mexican state of Puebla. It consists of more than 300 massive water tanks that sit waiting for cascades of particles initiated by high-energy packets of light called gamma rays—many of which have more than 10 million times the energy of a dental X-ray.

When these gamma rays smash into the upper atmosphere, they blast apart atoms in the air, producing a shower of particles that moves at nearly the speed of light toward the ground. When this shower reaches HAWC’s tanks, it produces coordinated flashes of blue light in the water, allowing researchers to reconstruct the energy and cosmic origin of the gamma ray that kicked off the cascade.

“Thanks to its wide field of view, HAWC provides unique measurements on the very-high-energy gamma ray profiles caused by the particle diffusion around nearby pulsars, which allows us to determine how fast the particles diffuse more directly than previous measurements,” says Hao Zhou, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a corresponding author of the new paper.

It’s possible that a new insight about the astrophysics of these pulsars and their local environments could account for the positron excess at Earth, but it would require a more complicated theory of positron diffusion than physicists in the collaboration think is likely.  On the other hand, dark matter may provide the right explanation, but more evidence will ultimately be needed to decide.

Photo: The HAWC Observatory, perched next to a volcano at an altitude of 13,500 feet, uses its 300 massive water tanks to scoop up the products of high-energy particle collisions happening in the upper atmosphere. Photo credit: Jordan Goodman/University of Maryland

University of Maryland Statement on Tax Bill -- November 20, 2017

November 20, 2017

Jessica Jennings, 301-405-4618

University of Maryland and University System of Maryland express concerns on tax bill attacking higher education

University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh, alongside the Chancellor of the University System of Maryland and twelve of his counterparts in the state of Maryland, expressed concerns about the impact on higher education of H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The letter, written to Maryland’s Congressional delegation, notes several provisions of most concern.

On the proposal to treat tuition remission as taxable income, they write, “The proposed repeal of Section 117(d)(5) would lead to a completely unaffordable increase in taxable income and make the pursuit of a graduate degree much more challenging, if not impossible, for many of our students.”

The full announcement and letter can be read below: 

USM Chancellor and Presidents Share Concerns with Maryland Lawmakers About Tax Bill
Jointly Sign Letters to Each Member of Maryland Congressional Delegation

Adelphi, Md. (Nov. 17, 2017) – On behalf of the University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents, Chancellor Robert L. Caret and the presidents of USM’s 12 institutions have co-signed letters to each member of Maryland’s Congressional delegation, expressing their strong concerns regarding several proposed tax changes in H.R. 1, the Tax and Jobs Act.  The leaders of the state’s public higher education system specifically cite several the bill’s provisions, including the proposed elimination of certain tax benefits, that threaten the ability of students and families to pay for college. 

“This legislation comes at a time when lawmakers and the public are keenly focused on college costs and debt,” they write.  “The USM has worked to keep higher education affordable and student debt burden low.  H.R. 1, in its totality, goes against those ideals by eliminating tax benefits that help students and families pay for college, increasing institutional costs, and diminishing our ability to raise revenue which, in turn, disrupts budgeting and planning for students and institutions alike.”

The text of the letter, signed and sent individually to each member of the Maryland delegation, is below:

On behalf of the Board of Regents, Office of the Chancellor and the 12 institutions that comprise the University System of Maryland (USM) we are writing to express our concerns regarding several proposed tax changes in H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The USM includes institutions with a variety of missions that would be individually and adversely impacted by the wide-ranging scope of proposed tax changes.

"This legislation comes at a time when lawmakers and the public are keenly focused on college costs and debt.  The USM has worked to keep higher education affordable and student debt burden low.  H.R. 1, in its totality, goes against those ideals by eliminating tax benefits that help students and families pay for college, increasing institutional costs, and diminishing our ability to raise revenue which, in turn, disrupts budgeting and planning for students and institutions alike."

The following provisions of H.R. 1 are of most concern to the USM: 

Individual student and family benefits 

The proposed elimination of the Student Loan Interest Deduction and the Lifetime Learning Credit would increase college costs for millions of undergraduate and graduate students across the US.  Separately, the modified American Opportunity Tax Credit proposed in H.R. 1 eliminates the ability of part-time students to claim an education tax credit while acquiring or improving job skills, the purpose of the Lifetime Learning Credit. 

Employee and graduate student benefits 

The bill would eliminate Section 127, a popular employer-provided benefit that allows an employee to exclude from income up to $5,250 per year in assistance for any type of educational course work at the undergraduate and graduate level. H.R. 1 also eliminates Section 117(d), which gives colleges and universities an important tool for recruiting and retaining valued employees. The elimination of these popular and bipartisan provisions in the tax code would have an immediate and adverse consequence on students and employers. 

Section 117(d), for instance, allows colleges and universities to lower the cost of tuition for their graduate students who are serving as teaching or research assistants without the tuition reductions counting as taxable income.  According to recent Department of Education data, nearly 55 percent of all graduate students have adjusted gross incomes of $20,000 or less and nearly 87 percent had incomes of $50,000 or less. The proposed repeal of Section 117(d)(5) would lead to a completely unaffordable increase in taxable income and make the pursuit of a graduate degree much more challenging, if not impossible, for many of our students. 

Charitable giving benefits 

In an era of tight state budgets, USM institutions have relied on the generosity of donations both large and small. H.R. 1 doubles the standard deduction and eliminates the charitable deduction for a significant number of taxpayers. The House bill would destabilize charitable giving to all nonprofit organizations and Maryland’s public universities would not be immune to the ramifications. 

Higher education financing benefits 

We are also concerned that the bill would eliminate Section 3602, which allows state and local governments to execute tax-exempt “advance refundings” of outstanding tax-exempt bonds. Tax-exempt advance refundings provide states and localities with an important tool for refinancing outstanding debt at lower interest rates and have generated many billions of dollars of interest savings over decades, lowering the cost of important infrastructure investments. Universities within USM have saved millions through tax exempt bond refinancing, lowering the cost of important building projects such as student housing, academic buildings, laboratory facilities, and more.   

State and local income tax benefits 

Another provision, which may have downstream impacts on public higher education, is the proposed elimination of the state and local income tax deduction (SALT). Maryland ranks #10 in the country for state and local tax collections.  This could make a challenging situation worse in the state’s effort to generate revenue to support public higher education. 

The USM, Board of Regents, Chancellor and institution presidents are committed to active and constructive participation with our national association partners in coming weeks as the tax reform proposal continues to take shape. We hope that you’ll help share our voice in the coming weeks with your colleagues and work with us to protect these important tax benefits for our students, our employees, and residents across the state of Maryland. 


UMD Astronomers Partner on Powerful New Automated Sky Survey

November 15, 2017

Leon Tune, 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- University of Maryland astronomers are celebrating the first image of the sky taken by a new robotic camera with the ability to capture hundreds of thousands of stars and galaxies in a single shot. Astronomers refer to such a first image as "first light".  The camera is the centerpiece of a new automated sky survey project called the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), based at California Institute of Technology's Palomar Observatory near San Diego, California.

Photo of 'first-light' image

Among the scientists partnering with Caltech in the project are UMD astronomers who made important contributions to the planning and design of it. UMD participation in ZTF is facilitated by the Joint Space-Science Institute, a partnership between UMD and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Maryland scientists are looking forward to detections of new explosive supernovae, hungry black holes, hurtling asteroids and comets, and other astronomical phenomena that can be captured by ZTF’s new telescope-mounted camera during nightly scans of a large swath of the Northern sky.

“The ZTF survey will be transformative for the study of supermassive black holes feasting on stars in the centers of galaxies,” said Suvi Gezari, an assistant professor of astronomy at UMD and a fellow of the Joint Space-Science Institute whose research focuses on time-domain astronomy. “The timing of these events, known as tidal disruption events, can be used to constrain the mass and spin of black holes. Data from ZTF may also offer a rare, real-time glimpse into the formation of an accretion disk—and possibly relativistic jets—around a supermassive black hole.”  

From 2009 to 2017, the blinking and flaring of transient objects in the sky was captured by the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF), a predecessor to the new Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF). The previous project took advantage of the Palomar Observatory’s three telescopes—the automated 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope, the automated 60-inch telescope and the 200-inch Hale Telescope.

During PTF's surveys, the Oschin Telescope acted as the discovery engine, then the 60-inch telescope followed up on the targets, gathering information about their identities. From there, astronomers used either the Hale Telescope, the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, or the Discovery Channel Telescope in Arizona to zoom in on the various cosmic phenomena that enliven our night skies.Photo of horsehead nebula

The powerful sequel to PTF is the new ZTF that is named after Caltech’s first astrophysicist, Fritz Zwicky. Zwicky discovered 120 supernovae in his lifetime. Recently installed at the Oschin Telescope, ZTF's new survey camera can take in seven times more sky in a single image than its predecessor. At maximum resolution, each ZTF camera image is 24,000 by 24,000 pixels—so huge that the images are difficult to display on a normal computer screen.

Additionally, ZTF's upgraded electronics and telescope drive systems enable the camera to take more than twice as many exposures every night. Astronomers will not only be able to discover more transient objects, they will also be able to catch more ephemeral features that appear and fade quickly.

"There's a lot of activity happening in our night skies," said Shrinivas (Shri) Kulkarni, the principal investigator for ZTF and the George Ellery Hale Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Science at Caltech. "In fact, every second, somewhere in the universe, there's a supernova that's exploding. Of course, we can't see them all but with ZTF we will see up to tens of thousands of explosive transients every year over the three-year lifetime of the project."

Images from ZTF will be adjusted, cleaned and calibrated at IPAC, Caltech's astronomy and data center. Software will search the flood of ZTF data for light sources—in particular those that change or move. These data will be made public to the entire astronomy community for both research and education.

“Data from ZTF presents a really great opportunity for students here at UMD, because large survey programs like ZTF will play a big role in the future of astronomy,” said Melissa Hayes-Gehrke, a principal lecturer and undergraduate director of astronomy at UMD. Hayes-Gehrke has led efforts to develop educational materials that make use of data from PTF and ZTF. “It is fantastic to get students in on the ground floor. Astronomers will be mining this data for years to come, so this is an important step to help prepare students for a career in research.”  

Photo of Orion constellation

ZTF's new first-light image is a taste of what's to come. It showcases the large scale of the images and highlights the turbulent star-forming nebula known as Orion.

Astronomers are excited for the unexpected findings that ZTF will likely yield. One of PTF’s biggest discoveries came in 2011 when it caught a supernova, named PTF11kly, just hours after it exploded. The ZTF survey will further expand astronomers’ knowledge of a host of cosmic objects, including young supernovae, planets around young stars, exotic binary star systems and near-Earth comets and asteroids.

“I am most excited for ZTF’s potential to catch interesting comet outbursts. We know that they happen, we just don’t know how often. Many are caught by amateur astronomers,” said Dennis Bodewits, an astronomy associate research scientist at UMD who specializes in comet research. “This will change with ZTF, which will pick up between 30 to 50 comets every time it scans the whole sky. Comets are found all over the sky, so we’re interested in seeing as many of them as we can, in as much detail as possible.”    

Photo: The Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) took this "first-light" image on Nov. 1, 2017, after being installed at the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory. The full-resolution version is more than 24,000 pixels by 24,000 pixels. Each ZTF image covers a sky area equal to 247 full moons. The Orion nebula is at lower right. Computers searching these images for transient, or variable, events are trained to automatically recognize and ignore non-astronomical sources, such as the vertical "blooming" lines seen here. Photo credit: Caltech Optical Observatories.

Photo: The Horsehead nebula can be seen in this portion of the "first-light" image from ZTF. The head of the horse (middle) faces up toward another well-known nebula known as the Flame. Violet to green wavelengths detected by ZTF are represented as cyan, while yellow to deep red wavelengths are shown as red. Computers searching these images for transient, or variable, events are trained to automatically recognize and ignore non-astronomical sources, such as the vertical "blooming" lines seen here. Photo credit: Caltech Optical Observatories. 

Photo: The "first-light" image from ZTF is shown here (inset) within the Orion constellation. The Orion nebula can be seen within the ZTF image. Each ZTF image covers an area of sky equivalent to 247 full moons. Such large images will enable the camera to scan the sky quickly to discover objects that move or change in brightness, such as asteroids and supernovas, even when rare and short lived. Photo credit: Caltech Optical Observatories. 

UMD Ranked in Top 10 for Innovation & Entrepreneurship Education for Third Straight Year

November 15, 2017

Brooke Smith, 301-405-5882

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – For the third consecutive year, the University of Maryland has attained a top 10 ranking in The Princeton Review’s annual survey of the Top Schools for Entrepreneurship. In the 2018 rankings, released this week and featured in the December issue of Entrepreneur Magazine, UMD improved one spot to No. 8 for undergraduate entrepreneurship education overall and No. 4 among all public universities. This marks the seventh consecutive year that UMD has been named a top 25 program for entrepreneurship studies. 

Photo of stickies with various UMD partnerships

The recent string of top 10 rankings coincides with the UMD’s campus-wide presidential initiative aiming to engage all 38,000 students in innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E). This collaboration is spearheaded by the Academy for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (AIE) and engages partners in undergraduate studies, student organizations, social innovation, and not only business and engineering but all 12 schools and colleges. In 2016-2017, there were over 15,000 student enrollments in UMD’s 195 I&E-related courses representing over 50 different campus departments. 

“We talked to students from all over campus and discovered that they’re often forced to choose between either graduating on time or pursuing real-world projects or ventures they’re passionate about. We’re solving that problem by embedding I&E modules in more and more of the existing required general education and pre-requisite courses for various majors so that students no longer have to choose,” said Dean Chang, associate vice president for innovation and entrepreneurship at UMD and the head of AIE. “They get a small taste of innovation, real-world creative problem-solving, and entrepreneurship directly in the courses they were already going to take to graduate.”

The Princeton Review tallied its rankings for top entrepreneurship programs based on a survey it conducted from May through August 2017 of more than 300 schools offering programs in entrepreneurship studies. While most entrepreneurship rankings only include UMD’s extensive business or engineering entrepreneurship programs, The Princeton Review additionally reflects UMD’s unique efforts to engage all 38,000 students in I&E across all 12 colleges and schools. 

The 60-question survey looked at each school’s commitment to entrepreneurship studies inside and outside the classroom. More than 40 data points were analyzed for the rankings. Among them were the percentage of faculty, students, and alumni actively and successfully involved in entrepreneurial endeavors, the number and reach of mentorship programs, and funding for scholarships and grants for entrepreneurial studies and projects.  

For more information on The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur’s rankings, visit www.entrepreneur.com/topcolleges. To learn more about innovation and entrepreneurship at UMD, visit innovation.umd.edu/learn








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