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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."

UMD Recognized as Top D.C.-Area Employer

August 20, 2013
Contacts: 

Alana Carchedi 301-405-0235

The University of Maryland has been recognized as one of the top 10 highest-rated D.C.-area employers on Glassdoor.com. COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland has been recognized as one of the top 10 highest-rated D.C.-area employers by Glassdoor.com.

Glassdoor, a website where current and former employees can anonymously rate their workplace, looked at D.C.-area companies that have received at least 25 reviews from local employees over the past two years. The reviews are based on employees' rankings in five categories: career opportunities, compensation and benefits, work/life balance, senior management, and culture and values.

An overall rating of 3.9 put UMD at No.9 on the top 10 list—one of only three non-Federal employers recognized.

Employee reviews on Glassdoor tout the university as "a quality school with national recognition, quality staff and proximity to many resources close to the nation's capital," and recognize UMD for having "outstanding staff and administration that is seeking creative solutions and thinking." Several reviews applauded the university's diverse student population that "makes teaching more interesting and challenging."

The full list of top D.C.-area employers is available here.

UMD 38th among World's Top Universities

August 16, 2013
Contacts: 

Alana Carchedi 301-405-0235

The University of Maryland again has placed among the world's top universities in the 2013 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU).COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland again has placed among the world's top universities in the 2013 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). The ARWU, which is released each year by the Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, ranks UMD No. 38 overall in the world, No. 29 nationally, and No. 13 among U.S. public research institutions.

In a separate ARWU ranking of broad subject fields, the university placed 16th in the category of engineering/technology and computer science, 19th in the social sciences and 24th in natural sciences and mathematics.

Additionally, in specific subject fields, UMD ranks No. 15 in computer science, No. 19 in physics, and No. 24 in math, economics and business. 

UMD was also recently ranked as a top 100 university globally in Times Higher Education's World Reputation Rankings and World University Rankings.

To see the full ARWU rankings, visit http://www.shanghairanking.com/ARWU2013.html.

UMD Ranks 13th among Nation's Greenest Universities

August 15, 2013
Contacts: 

Andrew Muir 301-405-4723

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland has been ranked No. 13 by The Sierra Club in their seventh annual ranking of America's greenest universities.

The University of Maryland has been ranked No. 13 by The Sierra Club in their seventh annual ranking of America's greenest universities.The rankings are compiled from scores in all areas of sustainability, including outreach, energy consumption, waste management, transportation, innovations and more. UMD received perfect scores in co-curriculum and planning with high marks in the areas of waste management, innovation and transportation.

"I think the university and the many people involved in the campus sustainability effort should be proud of the Sierra Club ranking and what has been accomplished. Our students, faculty and staff realize we have many challenges ahead, but are collectively seeking strategies that will allow the campus and the surrounding community to rise to the next level of performance," said Scott Lupin, director of the Office of Sustainability and associate director for the Department of Environmental Safety.

Some of the key factors that contributed to the university's high ranking include:

  • The university decreased its carbon footprint 14.4% from 2005 to 2011
  • Facilities Management, Dining Services, and the Stamp Student Union partnered to expand compost collection
  • Students contributed more than $500,000 to fund 40 sustainability projects led by students, faculty and staff
  • More than 200 students declared the Sustainability Studies Minor within the first year of the program
  • More than 100 professors in all 13 colleges/schools revised their courses to include sustainability lessons
  • More than 120 campus offices participated in the Green Office program
  • Shuttle-UM ridership increased from 1.5 million riders in 2005 to 3.4 million riders in 2012

The co-curriculum achievement was earned by "providing students with sustainability learning experiences outside the formal curriculum."  In this area, UMD shined as it nurtures a campus culture immersed in sustainability.  A perfect score was also achieved in planning due, in part, to the strength and vision of the university's  Strategic Plan, Facilities Master Plan and the Climate Action Plan which were developed with broad campus input and participation.

Along with co-curriculum and planning, transportation added to a successful ranking.  "A robust, fare- free shuttle system, over 4,000 bicycle parking spaces and transportation demand management strategies tailored to decrease the number of parking permits issued to single occupancy vehicles all combine to support increases in transit use and cycling and decreases in parking registrations. Our campus sustainable transportation is more than a buzzword, it is becoming commonplace," said Beverly Malone, assistant director for The Department of Transportation Services.
 
UMD's score was further bolstered by a strong waste management strategy. "The recycling program at The University of Maryland is well established and growing every year. Our campus community has enthusiastically embraced the program, which is demonstrated by our increasing diversion rate.  It is a pleasure to be a part of such an environmentally conscious community," said Bill Guididas, coordinator of recycling and solid waste for Facilities Management.

The university continues to take pride in the campus-wide engagement of staff, students and faculty in developing a culture of sustainability.  The upcoming Sustainability Progress Report, set for release at the end of September, will highlight the array of campus achievements and goals it has set out to accomplish.

Voyager 1 Has Left the Solar System, Says New Study

August 15, 2013
Contacts: 

Lee Tune, UMD Communications 301-405-4679
Marc Swisdak, UMD research scientist, 301-405-1495

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Voyager 1 appears to have at long last left our solar system and entered interstellar space, says a University of Maryland-led team of researchers.

Voyager 1 appears to have at long last left our solar system and entered interstellar space, says a University of Maryland-led team of researchers. Photo source: NASA.gov Carrying Earthly greetings on a gold plated phonograph record and still-operational scientific instruments – including the Low Energy Charged Particle detector designed, built and overseen, in part, by UMD's Space Physics Group – NASA's Voyager 1 has traveled farther from Earth than any other human-made object. And now, these researchers say, it has begun the first exploration of our galaxy beyond the Sun's influence.

"It's a somewhat controversial view, but we think Voyager has finally left the Solar System, and is truly beginning its travels through the Milky Way," says UMD research scientist Marc Swisdak, lead author of a new paper published online this week in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Swisdak and fellow plasma physicists James F. Drake, also of the University of Maryland, and Merav Opher of Boston University have constructed a model of the outer edge of the Solar System that fits recent observations, both expected and unexpected.

Their model indicates Voyager 1 actually entered interstellar space a little more than a year ago, a finding directly counter to recent papers by NASA and other scientists suggesting the spacecraft was still in a fuzzily-defined transition zone between the Sun's sphere of influence and the rest of the galaxy.

But why the controversy? 
At issue is what the boundary-crossing should look like to Earth-bound observers 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) away.  The Sun's envelope, known as the heliosphere, is relatively well-understood as the region of space dominated by the magnetic field and charged particles emanating from our star.  The heliopause transition zone is both of unknown structure and location.  According to conventional wisdom, we'll know we've passed through this mysterious boundary when we stop seeing solar particles and start seeing galactic particles, and we also detect a change in the prevailing direction of the local magnetic field. 

NASA scientists recently reported that last summer, after eight years of travel through the outermost layer of the heliosphere, Voyager 1 recorded "multiple crossings of a boundary unlike anything previously observed."  Successive dips in, and subsequent recovery of, solar particle counts caught researchers' attention.  The dips in solar particle counts corresponded with abrupt increases in galactic electrons and protons.  Within a month, solar particle counts disappeared, and only galactic particle counts remained.  Yet Voyager 1 observed no change in the direction of the magnetic field. 

To explain this unexpected observation, many scientists theorize that Voyager 1 has entered a "heliosheath depletion region," but that the probe is still within the confines of the heliosphere. Swisdak and colleagues, who are not part of the Voyager 1 mission science teams, say there is another explanation.

In previous work, Swisdak and Drake have focused on magnetic reconnection, or the breaking and reconfiguring of close and oppositely-directed magnetic field lines.  It's the phenomenon suspected to lurk at the heart of solar flares, coronal mass ejections and many of the sun's other dramatic, high-energy events.  The UMD researchers argue that magnetic reconnection is also key to understanding NASA's surprising data. 

Though often depicted as a bubble encasing the heliosphere and its contents, the heliopause is not a surface neatly separating "outside" and "inside."  In fact, Swisdak, Drake and Opher assert that the heliopause is both porous to certain particles and layered with complex magnetic structure.  Here, magnetic reconnection produces a complex set of nested magnetic "islands," self-contained loops which spontaneously arise in a magnetic field due to a fundamental instability.  Interstellar plasma can penetrate into the heliosphere along reconnected field lines, and galactic cosmic rays and solar particles mix vigorously. 

Most interestingly, drops in solar particle counts and surges in galactic particle counts can occur across "slopes" in the magnetic field, which emanate from reconnection sites, while the magnetic field direction itself remains unchanged.  This model explains observed phenomena from last summer, and Swisdak and his colleagues suggest that Voyager 1 actually crossed the heliopause on July 27, 2012.

In a NASA statement, Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist and a professor of physics of the California Institute of Technology, says, in part, "Other models envision the interstellar magnetic field draped around our solar bubble and predict that the direction of the interstellar magnetic field is different from the solar magnetic field inside. By that interpretation, Voyager 1 would still be inside our solar bubble. The fine-scale magnetic connection model [of Swisdak and colleagues] will become part of the discussion among scientists as they try to reconcile what may be happening on a fine scale with what happens on a larger scale."  Read the full NASA Voyager statement here: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/voyager/voyager20130815.html.

Voyager Interstellar Mission
In the 36th year after their 1977 launches, the twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft continue exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. Their primary mission was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. After making a string of discoveries there -- such as active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io and intricacies of Saturn's rings -- the mission was extended. Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune, and is still the only spacecraft to have visited those outer planets. The current mission for both spacecraft, the Voyager Interstellar Mission, is to explore the outermost edge of the Sun's domain and beyond. Both Voyagers are capable of returning scientific data from a full range of instruments, with adequate electrical power and attitude control propellant to keep operating until 2020. Voyager 2 is expected to enter interstellar space a few years after its twin. The Voyager spacecraft were built and continue to be operated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif.

University of Maryland scientists lead the Deep Impact spacecraft science team and are part of the science teams of many of the other spacecraft exploring our Solar System, including both Voyagers and Cassini.

This work by Swisdak, Drake and Opher was supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) grant AGS-1202330 to the University of Maryland, and NSF grant ATM-0747654 and NASA grant NNX07AH20G to Boston University.

 

Written by Barbara Brawn-Cinani and edited by Lee Tune.

UMD Forms Partnership with KIPP Charter Schools Network

August 15, 2013
Contacts: 

Beth Cavanaugh, UMD, 301-405-4625
Steve Mancini, KIPP, 415-531-5396

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland and KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) announced today the creation of a formal partnership to attract and recruit KIPP students, including those in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. regions. Through this partnership, KIPP students will have access to existing programs and resources created for low-income or first-generation college students, as well as scholarships created through a gift from Charles Daggs, UMD class of 1969 and a KIPP Bay Area board member. This partnership will also help to support KIPP's mission to increase college competition rates for underserved KIPP students throughout the country.

Charles Daggs with UMD’s incoming KIPP FreshmenCharles Daggs with UMD’s incoming KIPP Freshmen"We all win by creating new opportunities and upward mobility," says University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. "This new partnership extends our success with talented, low-income students, and our progress closing the achievement gap. It creates a much richer learning environment for all students. Congratulations to KIPP and our alums, whose vision makes this possible."

This fall, four KIPP students – three from Baltimore City and one from Washington, D.C. – will enter UMD's freshmen class. Three of these students have been awarded full scholarships through the Daggs gift and the UMD Incentive Awards Program.

"This partnership will support our hardworking KIPP students as they work toward a degree from one of the best public universities in the country," says Richard Barth, CEO at KIPP. "We are so grateful for Chuck Daggs's generous gift, which is helping to support this partnership and providing much-needed resources to some of our top graduates who have excelled in their schools and communities, to help them attain an excellent college education."

Established in 2002, KIPP Baltimore consists of two schools – one elementary school and one middle school. In Washington, D.C., KIPP operates nine schools – one high school, three middle schools, and eight elementary schools. All schools are free, open-enrollment charter schools that offer a rigorous, college preparatory education.

KIPP Baltimore and Washington, D.C. are part of a national network of 141 KIPP public charter schools. A report released this year by independent research firm Mathematica showed that KIPP middle schools nationwide are producing positive, significant and substantial achievement gains for students in all grades and four subjects—math, reading, science, and social studies. Mathematica researchers found that KIPP achieved these academic gains with students that entered middle school with lower achievement scores than their peers in neighboring district schools.

KIPP – the Knowledge Is Power Program – is a national network of open-enrollment, college-preparatory public charter schools with a track record of preparing students in underserved communities for success in college and in life.  KIPP was founded in Houston in 1994 and has grown to 141 schools serving more than 50,000 students in 20 states and Washington, D.C.  More than 95 percent of students enrolled in KIPP schools are African American or Latino, and 86 percent qualify for the federal free and reduced-price meals program.

 

Read a story from The Baltimore Sun on the new KIPP partnership here.

Meet the Potential Future of Electricity Generation

August 14, 2013
Contacts: 

Eric Schurr 301-405-3889

CThe PowerSERG 2-80, also called "The Cube," which provides efficient, always-on, affordable, uninterrupted electricity to business or homes, with just a connection to a natural gas line.OLLEGE PARK, Md. — University of Maryland researchers have partnered with Redox Power Systems LLC to deliver breakthrough fuel cell technologies for providing always-on electricity to businesses, homes and eventually automobiles, at about one-tenth the cost and one-tenth the size of current commercial fuel cell systems.

Those fuel cells, based upon patented technology developed by professor Eric Wachsman, director of the University of Maryland Energy Research Center (UMERC) in the A. James Clark School of Engineering, are the foundation of a system being commercialized by Redox that provides safe, efficient, reliable, uninterrupted power, on–site and optionally off the grid, at a price competitive with current energy sources.

The promise is this: generate your own electricity with a system nearly impervious to hurricanes, thunderstorms, cyber attacks, derechos, and similar dangers, while simultaneously helping the environment.

"Every business or home should be able to safely generate its own energy," said Warren Citrin, CEO and director of Redox. "We currently rely upon a vulnerable electrical grid. The best way to decrease that vulnerability is through distributed energy, that is, by making your own energy on-site. We are building systems to do that, with an emphasis on efficiency and affordability. These should be common appliances."

The PowerSERG 2-80, also called "The Cube," connects to your natural gas line and electrochemically converts methane to electricity. Just larger than a dishwasher, the system sits comfortably in a basement, outside of a building, or on a roof, and—with no engine and virtually no moving parts—quietly goes about its business of providing power.

The initial breakthrough in the PowerSERG is in the fuel cells, which Wachsman, over a 25-year period, has improved to produce significantly more power at a lower temperature. More power means fewer cells to do the work of larger power generation systems, enabling the devices to be much smaller. Also, lower operating temperatures allow for the use of conventional materials in The Cube, driving costs down exponentially.

A solid oxide fuel cell developed at the University of Maryland Energy Research Center.Conventional solid oxide fuel cells operate as high as 950 degrees Celsius to run effectively. At this high temperature, the system can't be easily turned on and off, performance degrades, and the balance of the system requires expensive, high-temperature alloys that drive up prices.

Wachsman decreased the operating temperature of solid oxide fuel cells to 650 degrees Celsius, with future reductions likely to 300 degrees. At these lower temperatures, the system can turn on much more rapidly, operate with greater reliability, allowing The Cube to be built with conventional stainless steel parts rather than expensive alloys.

But Wachsman didn't stop there. Drawing upon scores of graduate and undergraduate students over two and a half decades, millions of dollars in research funding and a state-of-the-art laboratory at UMD, he created fuel cells that generate ten times the power at these lower temperatures than anything else on the market, cutting the system's cost by a factor of ten.

He did this by tackling nearly every aspect of the cell. He developed dual-layer electrolytes using new materials and dramatically improved the anode so it can withstand cycling the system on and off. No part escaped his expert touch, and the entire family of materials he created allows Redox to build systems for a wider range of applications.

"Over a 25-year time period, we have achieved major advances in both the composition of fuel cell materials and the micro and nanostructure of those materials," said Wachsman. "Putting these together has resulted in a cell that has an extremely high power density, on the order of two watts per square centimeter."

The first-generation Cube runs off natural gas, but it can generate power from a variety of fuel sources, including propane, gasoline, biofuel and hydrogen. The system is a highly efficient, clean technology, emitting negligible pollutants and much less carbon dioxide than conventional energy sources. It uses fuel far more efficiently than an internal combustion engine, and can run at an 80 percent efficiency when used to provide both heat and power.

Redox plans to release The Cube in 2014. The first version will be configured to 25 kilowatts, which can comfortably power a gas station, moderately sized grocery store or small shopping plaza. Additional power offerings will follow. Using different-sized fuel cell stacks, the company can offer The Cube at 5 kW, to provide always-on electricity for an average American home, or up to 80 kW in one system.

Additional information is available here.

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