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NICER View of Black Hole Gives New Insight into Source of Dramatic X-ray Flashes

January 11, 2019
Contacts: 

 

Matthew Wright 301-405-9267, Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A team of astronomers led by Erin Kara, the Neil Gehrels Prize Postdoctoral Fellow in the University of Maryland’s Department of Astronomy, has provided the clearest picture to date of exactly how black holes generate massive X-ray outbursts.  And their findings may help settle a long-standingdebate about where around a black hole these outbursts originate.

Using NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) instrument aboard the International Space Station, the team detected an enormous explosion of X-ray light from a recently discovered small (star-mass) black hole as it consumed material from a companion star.

By measuring the differences, or lag times, between these X-rays and the “echoes” of these X-rays reflected off swirling gas near  the black hole, the researchers revealed information on how the black hole changed during the outburst. In a study published January 10th in the journal Nature, the team reports evidence that as the black hole consumed material from a nearby star, its coronathe halo of highly-energized particles that surrounds a black holeshrank significantly.

“We don’t really understand the source of these relativistic jets [X-ray burst] that are basically common in many accreting systems. However, these results indicate [the process] really is driven by the change of corona,” said Kara, the lead author of the paper, who is also a Hubble Fellow with a co-appointment at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Joint Space-Science Institute a UMD and NASA Goddard collaboration..

Black hole J1820, studied by the team is located about 10,000 light-years from Earth. Its existence was unknown until March 11, 2018, when the outburst was spotted by the Japanese Aerospace and Exploration Agency’s Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI), also aboard the space station. In the space of a few days, it went from a totally unknown black hole to one of the brightest sources in the X-ray sky.  NICER was used to quickly capture this dramatic transition and continues to follow the fading tail of the eruption.

“NICER is the only instrument out there capable of making these measurements,” said Kara. “So we were lucky in that we saw this incredibly bright object, but we also were prepared to study it with this new instrument [NICER] on the international Space Station.”

X-ray Insight into Black Hole Evolution

A black hole can siphon gas from a nearby companion star and into a ring of material called an accretion disk. Gravitational and magnetic forces heat the disk to millions of degrees Celsius, making it hot enough to produce X-rays at the inner parts of the disk, near the black hole.

Above the disk is the corona of a black hole, a region of subatomic particles heated to 1 billion degrees Celsius that glows in higher-energy X-rays. Many mysteries remain about the origin and evolution of a black hole’s corona. Some theories suggest the structure could represent an early form of the high-speed particle jets these types of systems often emit.

Astrophysicists want to better understand how the inner edge of the accretion disc (the spiraling ring of material being pulled in by a black hole)—and the corona above it—change in size and shape as a black hole consumes material from a companion star. If scientists can understand these changes in stellar-mass black holes over a period of weeks, they could gain new insights into how supermassive black holes evolve over millions of years and how they affect the galaxies where they reside.

In this case the research team used a method called X-ray reverberation mapping to study changes in this black hole during its X-ray outburst. This technique uses X-ray reflections in the environment of a black hole in much the same way radar is uses sound wave reflections to map undersea terrain. Some X-rays from the black holes corona travel straight toward us, while others light up the disk and reflect back at different energies and angles, plotting these reflections over time allows changes in the black hole to be mapped.

X-ray reverberation mapping of supermassive black holes has shown that the inner edge of the accretion disk is very close to a black hole’s event horizon— the point beyond which no matter or energy can escape. The corona is also compact, lying closer to the black hole rather than over much of the accretion disk.

Previous observations of X-ray echoes from stellar mass black holes suggested the inner edge of the accretion disk could be quite distant—up to hundreds of times the size of the event horizon. However, J1820 behaved more like its supermassive cousins.

As they examined NICER’s observations of J1820, Kara’s team saw a decrease in the delay, or lag time, between the initial flare of X-rays coming directly from the corona and the flare’s echo off of the disk. This indicated that the X-rays traveled over shorter and shorter distances before they were reflected.

To confirm that the decrease in lag time was due to a change in the corona and not the accretion disk, the researchers used a signal called the iron K line, which is created when X-rays from the corona collide with iron atoms in the disk, causing them to fluoresce.

According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, time runs slower in strong gravitational fields and at high velocities. When the iron atoms closest to the black hole are bombarded by light from the core of the corona, the wavelengths of the X-rays they emit get stretched because time is moving slower for them than for the observer.

Kara’s team discovered that J1820’s stretched iron K line remained constant, which means the inner edge of the disk remained close to the black hole. This indicated that the disk was not the source of the X-rays.  These observations give scientists new insights into how material funnels into a black hole and how energy is released in this process.

The research team and other scientists say that these new findings point to the corona and not the disk as the driver of the evolution of X-ray outbursts in stellar-size black holes, but other studies in similarly sized black holes are needed.

“These observations also offer a new framework through which to study the evolution of accretion in supermassive black holes,” Kara said.

This work was supported by NASA (Award Nos. HST-HF2-51360.001-A, NAS5-26555, and PF5-160144), the National Science Foundation (Award No. AST-1351222), and the Royal Society. The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

 

UMD Gets First-Ever ‘New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award’

January 9, 2019
Contacts: 

Samantha Watters 301-405-2434

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research for the first time has awarded a UMD researcher the foundation’s “New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award”, designed to invest in the next generation of scientists committed to changing the way food is grown, processed, and distributed.

University of Maryland Assistant Professor Yiping Qi, department of plant science and landscape architecture, was one of only nine U.S. early-career researchers who in late December were given the foundation’s 2018 award. With support from the foundation and matching funds from Syngenta, Qi’s new award totals $560,000.

According to the foundation, this funding will support his research “to develop CRISPR-Cas12a based plant genome editing systems with broadened targeting range and improved editing activity and specificity. If successful, these new gene editing tools will promote accelerated plant breeding for generating crops of high productivity and stress resistance under climate change and global warming.”

Qi recently also got a $500,000 grant from the Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grant Awards Program (BRAG) from USDA-NIFA for a combined funding of more than $1 million for his work to perfect CRISPR technology and its application for creating better food crops.

“CRISPR technologies are revolutionizing biology, agriculture, and medicine. CRISPR can be thought of as molecular scissors that cuts DNA so that the piece related to a certain trait can be removed, replaced, or edited,” said Qi.

Qi and others say CRISPR, as a new precision breeding technology, will enable scientists and breeders alike to do the same things once done with traditional cross-breeding programs, but in a much shorter amount of time. The goal is to help ensure global food and nutritional security and feed the world by accounting for new issues like disease resistance, pests, heat, drought, and other major concerns of a changing climate and growing population.

Earlier this year, Qi published papers in Genome Biology and Plant Biotechnology Journal looking at the specificity of CRISPR Cas9 and Cas12a in rice and maize, respectively. Qi and his team were the first to assess CRISPR Cas12a for off-targeting by whole genome sequencing in any higher organism.

“FDA and USDA regulate safety of crops and food from many different aspects as they should, so having data to show that we can make very precise edits with basically no error is very important for the future of gene editing, and to have science-based data to make policies,” explained Qi. “In our previous work, we are finding that these tools are incredibly specific in rice and maize, both major crops for feeding people around the world. It is very encouraging.”

With the $500,000 in funding from USDA-NIFA, Qi will be similarly using the concept of whole genome sequencing to look at how efficient and specific base editing is. Base editors are CRISPR-derived technologies for making DNA changes down to a single base pair. A base pair is one A, T, C, or G and its corresponding counterpart in a sequence of DNA. Single base pair editing is highly specialized and specific, but can still result in significant changes in traits that are expressed.

“Breeding is all about harvesting useful mutations. We need mutation - it is a part of evolution. We are ensuring the safety and efficacy of these gene editings systems while also fostering new useful mutation in a controlled and very precise way, even targeting single base pairs,” said Qi. “I am excited to use these new technologies as an opportunity to help people, advance science, and as a chance to educate people with a transparent understanding of gene editing.”

 

Federal Government Shutdown FAQs

December 31, 2018

The University of Maryland is committed to keeping its community updated on the partial federal government shutdown and its potential impacts on our community. Below are some frequently asked questions. The university will update this information as federal agencies continue to release more guidance to the public.

Click here and here for guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget. 

Specific agency contingency plans can also be found here.


Updated 12/30/2018

A government shut down, even a partial one, can have significant negative impact on advanced research projects at UMD and all US research universities.The negative consequences are greater, the longer the shutdown lasts. 

Congress has already approved funding for several federal agencies that support the university, including the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Education (DoED), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Department of Energy (DOE).  These agencies will continue to operate as usual.

Congress has yet to pass funding for several agencies that are important to the university, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Commerce (including NIST, NOAA, and EDA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the State Department (including USAID), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).  The FAQ below applies to individuals on campus that are working with these agencies in some capacity.

 

1. What is the impact on federally-funded research projects?  

No new grants or contracts are usually awarded during a shutdown. Researchers can likely submit proposals, but they will not be reviewed until the government is operational again. A shutdown can also have negative impact on our research partnerships and collaborations with federal agencies.

Work may continue on most federally-funded projects that have already been awarded. Routine administrative and support services provided by federal agencies to grant and contract recipients likely will not be available. Awarded projects may be disrupted during a shutdown if they are housed in a federal facility, if the project includes federal personnel, and/or if an award includes restrictive terms and conditions that require administrative action to approve a drawdown of funds.

Federal agency staff likely will not be available to approve no-cost extension requests, grant transfers, re-budgeting approvals or other actions requiring agency approval.

 

2. What is the impact on federal financial aid?

The partial shutdown will not impact federal financial aid programs supported by the Department of Education as Congress approved FY2019 appropriations for these programs.

 

3. What is the impact on veterans’ education benefits and services?

The partial shutdown will not impact veterans' education benefits and services as Congress approved FY2019 appropriations for these programs.

 

4. What is the impact on immigration services?

Because these activities are funded by fees, most of these services are expected to remain operational during a shutdown. For additional information, view the DHS shutdown plan linked above.

 

5. What is the impact on international students at UMD? 

If you have questions or concerns about how the shutdown affects you as an international student, please contact UMD’s International Student & Scholar Services office at 301-314-7740. 

 

6. What is the impact on students who are interning with federal agencies? How will this affect internship credits earned? 

Students who have an internship with a federal agency should contact their supervisor to determine how their work is affected by the shutdown. Students should also contact their internship coordinator at UMD to determine any effects on credits being earned. 

 

7. Will the Metro still run? 

The metro’s service and schedule are not affected by the shutdown. 

 

UMD Research Reveals Massive Cropland Expansion in Brazil

December 18, 2018
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

soybean crops in brazilCOLLEGE PARK, Md.— Brazil, one of the world’s leading producers of commodities like soybean, corn, sugar cane and cotton, now has almost twice as much land dedicated to growing crops than it did in 2000, new research from the University of Maryland Department of Geographical Sciences finds. 

Using detailed satellite data, researchers analyzed cropland area in Brazil between 2000 and 2014. They discovered about 80 percent of the cropland expansion in the country was due to conversion of pasture and 20 percent from conversion of natural vegetation. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) December 17.  

“Brazil was already one of the world’s top producers of commodity crops in the year 2000, when our study began, so it was striking to see the extent of cropland expansion that has occurred since then,” said Viviana Zalles, a doctoral candidate in geographical sciences and lead author on the study in PNAS. “Brazil is a country with the potential to cultivate an area much larger than the United States’ Corn Belt and, therefore, our findings have implications for global supply chains.”

The research project was conducted by the Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) team in the Department of Geographical Sciences at UMD. The GLAD lab is a world leader in mapping large-scale land cover change and monitoring these changes using remote sensing data. The research team hopes their latest findings in Brazil will inform further studies on the causes and effects of cropland expansion, in order to help policymakers and stakeholders implement sustainable land management practices.

“Whenever you have such a significant shift in land use over a relatively short period of time, there will inevitably be environmental and socioeconomic challenges, such as biodiversity loss, increased greenhouse gas emissions, impacts to human health and national economies,” said Professor Matthew Hansen, co-director of GLAD. “By monitoring these types of dynamic changes, we hope to help mitigate or even prevent the negative repercussions.” 

The GLAD team is now working on mapping cropland in all of South America dating back to 1985 to provide a broader understanding of land use changes on the continent. 

The study published in PNAS was funded by the Gordon and Betty More Foundation (Grant #5131) and the NASA Land Cover and Land Use Change Program (Grants NNX15AK65G and NNX12AC78G).

 

 

Unpredictable Food Sources Drive Some Bats to Hunt Cooperatively

December 17, 2018
Contacts: 

 Irene Ying 301-405-5204

 

Three Mexican fish-eating bats hunting over the ocean at night. Photo: Glenn Thompson (Click image to download hi-res version.)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Humans aren’t the only species that have dinner parties. Scientists have observed many animals, including bats, eating in groups. However, little was known about whether bats actively help each other find food, a process known as social foraging.

With the help of novel miniature sensors, an international group of biologists that included University of Maryland Biology Professor Gerald Wilkinson found that bat species foraged socially if their food sources were in unpredictable locations, such as insect swarms or fish schools. In contrast, bats with food sources at fixed locations foraged on their own and did not communicate with one another while foraging or eating. The results of the study were published recently in the journal Current Biology.

“We were able to show that bats who can’t predict where their food will be are the ones that cooperate with each other to forage,” Wilkinson said. “And I don’t think they are unique—I think that if more studies are done, we will find that other bat species do similar things.”

The researchers selected five bat species from around the world for the study—two species with unpredictable food sources and three with predictable food sources. They fit each bat with a small, lightweight sensor that operated for up to three nights. Because the sensor only weighed approximately 4 grams, it did not hinder the bat’s movements. The sensor recorded GPS data to log each bat’s flight path and audio in ultrasonic frequencies to document bat calls. The researchers recaptured each bat to download the data. In all, the researchers tracked 94 bats in this study.

Edward Hurme, a UMD biological sciences graduate student in Wilkinson’s laboratory and a co-lead author of the paper, tracked one of the bat species—the Mexican fish-eating bat, which lives on a remote Mexican island.

A Mexican fish-eating bat with a sensor strapped to its back. Photo: Stephan Greif (Click image to download hi-res version.)

“We took a fishing boat to an uninhabited island where these bats live and camped there for a month at a time,” Hurme said. “Field work can be challenging. One time, a hurricane came and all we could do was hide in the tent. Fortunately, we survived and so did our data.”

After collecting data on all five bat species, the researchers charted the bats’ flight paths and analyzed the audio recordings. They listened for the distinctive, species-specific calls the bats make during normal flight and when trying to capture prey. The research team used this information to map where and when the bats found and ate food and whether other bats were nearby.

The results showed that the three species of bats that eat predictable food sources, such as fruits, foraged on their own. When they found food, they also ate alone. This makes sense, according to Wilkinson, because they didn’t need any help finding food. In fact, having other bats around could create harmful competition for food.

In contrast, the two species of bats with unpredictable food sources often flew together with other members of their species. Moreover, when a tracked bat found prey, other individuals nearby also began to forage. The findings suggest that these bats forage cooperatively and socially within their own species.

The researchers also found that socially foraging bats may eavesdrop on one another by staying close enough to hear each other’s feeding calls.

“We tested this hypothesis by playing recordings of white noise, normal calls and feeding calls for these bats to hear,” Hurme said. “We found that bats who heard normal calls became more attracted to the speakers than those who heard white noise. And when we played feeding calls, bats dive-dombed the speakers.”

The next step for this research is to investigate what strategies bats use in social foraging. In particular, Hurme hopes to discover whether these bats pay attention to the identity of their fellow foragers.

“We would like to know if socially foraging bats will follow any member of their own species or if they prefer specific individuals who are the most successful at finding food,” Hurme said. “There is some evidence that bats can recognize each other by voice, so we are working on ways to identify individuals by their calls.”

 

Three Mexican fish-eating bat flight paths (black, red and green) while foraging. White circles indicate calls from bats of the same species during flight; orange circles indicate feeding calls. The data shows that multiple Mexican fish-eating bats frequently flew and fed together. Video: Edward Hurme.

 

The above video shows three Mexican fish-eating bat flight paths (black, red and green) while foraging. White circles indicate calls from bats of the same species during flight; orange circles indicate feeding calls. The data shows that multiple Mexican fish-eating bats frequently flew and fed together. Video: Edward Hurme

 


Photos: 

Three Mexican fish-eating bats hunting over the ocean at night. Photo: Glenn Thompson (Click image to download hi-res version.)

A Mexican fish-eating bat with a sensor straped to its back.  Photo by Stephan Greif. (Click for high-res image) 

 

 

University of Maryland to Host Winter 2018 Commencement

December 14, 2018
Contacts: 

Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

 

COLLEGE PARK, Md.—The University of Maryland will host its 2018 winter commencement ceremony on December 18, 2018 at XFINITY Center to celebrate this academic milestone for approximately 3,200 graduates from bachelor’s and master’s degree programs from across the university. The commencement address will be delivered by John B. King Jr., former U.S. Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama and current president and CEO of The Education Trust -- a national nonprofit that works to close opportunity gaps for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. He will be joined by this year’s student speaker, Rehan Staton, who is graduating with a degree in history.

 

WHO:

  • University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh
  • Commencement Speaker John B. King Jr., president and CEO of The Education Trust
  • Student Commencement Speaker Rehan Staton
  • December Class of 2018 University of Maryland Graduates

 

WHEN: Tuesday, December 18, 2018

  • Processional—5:40 p.m.
  • Ceremony—6 p.m.

*Media should arrive prior to the processional*

 

WHERE:

XFINITY Center, University of Maryland, College Park

XFINITY Center is located on Paint Branch Drive, near the intersection of Paint Branch Drive and Route 193/University Boulevard). Clickhere for directions.


PARKING/CHECK-IN:

Media must park in lot 4B and enter the Xfinity Center through the loading dock.To ensure access to the ceremony, media must RSVP and show credentials upon entry.

 

LIVE VIDEO STREAM:

The ceremony will be streamed live on the University of Maryland’s YouTube channel,here.

 

For more information, visit www.commencement.umd.edu.

More Women Opting to Give Birth Outside of a Hospital, UMD Research Finds

December 12, 2018
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

Newborn baby feetCOLLEGE PARK, Md.—An increasing number of women in the United States are choosing to give birth outside of hospitals and the demand for nontraditional delivery options is likely higher than current data shows, according to new research from the Maryland Population Research Center (MPRC). Published in the December 11 edition of Birth, the research finds that one out of every 62 births (1.61 percent) in the United States in 2017 took place at a home or in a birth center—the most ever recorded in the 30 years of national birth certificate data available.

After a gradual decline between 1990 and 2004, out-of-hospital births increased by 85 percent from 2004 to 2017, researchers discovered. They also found that non-Hispanic white women were more likely than any other group to have an out-of-hospital birth. For these women, one out of every 41 births (2.43 percent) was an out-of-hospital birth. 

MPRC researchers say these figures underestimate the true number of women who choose out-of-hospital births, because those who give birth outside of the hospital but then are transferred to a hospital during labor or delivery are reported on birth certificates as hospital births. Meanwhile, newly available data on payment methods showed more than two-thirds of planned home births were self-paid by the mother (i.e. not covered by either private health insurance or Medicaid), compared to one-third of birth center births and just 3 percent of hospital births. 

“The lack of access to payment options for out-of-hospital births may prevent many women from making these choices, suggesting demand for out-of-hospital birth is considerably higher than what the data tells us,” said research professor Marian MacDorman, the lead author on the study. “The question that arises from our findings is, what is happening during hospital births that is leading women to seek other options, even when that means bucking convention and paying more to deliver at home or in a birth center?” 

A recent national survey of post-partum mothers showed that 64 percent would consider a birth center birth and 29 percent would consider a home birth for future pregnancies. Researchers say women who choose out-of-hospital birth do so because they feel it is safer, with lower rates of cesarean and other interventions, and because they feel more in control of their experience.

“These findings raise questions about the nature of care in the dominant model of maternity care in the US,” MacDorman said. “Many mothers are turning away from hospitals because they’re seeking a place to give birth where they feel empowered, engaged and safe.”

 

 

 

The University of Maryland, College Park Closure Notice: December 21, 2018 - January 1, 2019

December 12, 2018

The University of Maryland campus and administrative offices will be closed on December 21, 2018 through January 1, 2019. Media inquiries sent during this time will be responded to as the university reopens. 

Important Information from the University Health Center

December 11, 2018
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4621 

Updated as of December 11, 2018

The University of Maryland has received reports of students with confirmed Adenovirus-associated illness, and are saddened that one of those students recently passed away as a result of the illness. Adenoviruses are common causes of colds, but there are strains that can cause more serious illness. We urge our community to take seriously this strain of a common virus. 

For the most up-to-date campus communications, timeline and FAQs regarding Adenovirus, visit https://health.umd.edu/adenovirus-resources. For information on the university's plans to expand the standard Winter Break residence hall cleaning program beyond their typical cleaning practices to include disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces inside student rooms, visit http://reslife.umd.edu/roomdisinfection/

 

Statement from University spokesperson Katie Lawson (Nov. 26, 2018): 

The University of Maryland is deeply saddened to learn of the death of one of our students from Adenovirus-associated illness. Our condolences are with Olivia’s family and friends. 

Since learning of an isolated case of Adenovirus on November 1, we have been working with the state and local health department to track cases and inform our community how seriously to take cold and flu season - especially for anyone with special health circumstances or a weakened immune system.   

Crews are redoubling cleaning efforts in high-touch areas to tackle the spread of viruses, faculty have been given guidance to be flexible with students who are ill, and the Health Center is on high alert, using the state’s best practices for treatment and testing. 

We understand that there are concerns from our campus about how the virus spreads. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that no link exists between mold and Adenovirus.

 

Research Citations Show Academic and Non-Academic Researchers Win When They Collaborate

December 11, 2018
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. –   A new analysis of research citations by University of Maryland professor of computer science Ben Shneiderman iindicates that the average number of citations a university research paper receives is progressively boosted by having: (1) more than one author; (2) coauthors from multiple U.S. institutions; (3) international coauthors; and, most powerfully, (4) coauthors from business and/or government and/or NGOs.

These and related findings are presented in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), in which Shneiderman makes the case for “the superior benefit of what he calls a “Twin-Win Model” for conducting research—a model that encourages the formation of teams that simultaneously pursue the goals of generating breakthrough published research, AND validated, ready to disseminate solutions to real human problems.

Shneiderman—a widely recognized pioneer in human-computer interaction and information visualization and a Distinguished University Professor—found that for UMD researchers a research collaboration with non-academics (business, government and/or NGOs) produced research papers that averaged 20.1 citations, almost seven times the number of citations (3.0) of published research by single-authors. These findings were based on data, through 2016, from the Elsevier SCOPUS database, which holds the metadata on 70 million published papers.

Other “striking” results were that research produced by collaborations among University of Maryland faculty averaged 6.1 citations; UMD researchers collaborations with faculty at other US universities produced papers that averaged 9.2 citations; and UMD researcher collaborations with international faculty raised the average paper citation to 13.9.

In the article, published in the December 10th edition of PNAS, National Academy of Engineering member Shneiderman wrote that SCOPUS data on  research output at other top U.S. private and public universities shows this same pattern of substantially higher impact university research when researchers at these institutions co-authored papers with off-campus colleagues.

According to his PNAS paper, evidence shows business professionals also benefit from working with academics.  Shneiderman found that SCOPUS data on published research from 12 large corporations during 2012–2016 showed that papers by corporate researchers that also had academic coauthors had almost twice the average citation count (11.7) as papers without academic coauthors (average citations of 6.3). These data provide new evidence in support of the arguments in Shneiderman’s 2016 book The New ABCs of Research: Achieving Breakthrough Collaborations.

Professor Lorne Whitehead at the University of British Columbia notes: “It makes sense that when experts from different societal sectors partner deeply, their combined expertise can produce more ideas and better research outcomes. This view has motivated the formation of the Highly Integrative Basic and Responsive (HIBAR) Research Alliance, including the University of Maryland, the University of British Columbia, and others, with the goal of helping all universities advance this work.

“Shneiderman’s newly discovered correlations strongly support this effort,” said Whitehead, who was not involved in this PNAS study. Whitehead and Shneiderman are among a number of academics who helped form the HIBAR Alliance.

In his new PNAS paper, Shneiderman further makes the case for these twin-win university-business collaborations by citing a 2017 study in the journal Science that looked at the relationship between scientific research papers and subsequent patents.

“This study found that patents often cited academic papers, but more importantly, academic papers that are cited by patents get greater attention in the research community,“ he wrote. And he notes this study in Science found that patented inventions that draw directly on scientific advances also were more impactful compared to other patents.

“There is growing evidence that when academics work with business or government partners, they address authentic problems that challenge the research team to produce more potent solutions. Such partnerships often have access to more resources (money, staff, data, etc.), enabling them to take on more substantive problems,” Shneiderman said.

He noted that some academic researchers continue to have reservations about such partnerships. And certainly there are challenges in such collaborations for both university researchers and their collaborators in the private or government sectors. However, many researchers and many universities, including the University of Maryland, have recognized the power and benefits of such partnerships, he said.

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