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UMD Researchers Are Awarded $1.5M Grant to Understand Social Media Information Campaigns

August 5, 2019
Contacts: 

Mia K. Hinckle 301-405-1260, Ted Knight 410-703-4685

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A cross-cutting team of University of Maryland researchers has been awarded $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to study the spread of information campaigns by examining how emotion affects whether someone will re-share content online.

The UMD research team will collect real-world Facebook and YouTube data in multiple languages to examine the emotional content and viral reach of the posts, as well as the emotional reactions of those annotating the posts.  The funding is one of 12 awards this year from DOD’s Minerva Research Initiative, which supports university-based, unclassified social science research aimed at improving basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the U.S. Among the 12 new Minerva projects, UMD’s is one of only three led by women.

Based out of UMD’s Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security, the team will collect and annotate a sample of 1,000 public Facebook posts and 300 YouTube videos from both Poland and Lithuania that were shared by social and political influencers from those countries. Both countries have often been targeted by Russian information warfare and have strategic relevance to NATO and Europe. Once complete, these annotations will be used to explore the relationship between emotion and the sharing of narratives.

“Whether using outright disinformation or manipulating public opinion with accurate stories, information warfare involves stories shared on social media platforms with specific embedded narratives designed to provoke, enrage, excite and change behavior,” said Susannah Paletz, Principal Investigator of the project, Research Professor in the UMD College of Information Studies and ARLIS Affiliate.

A social psychologist, Paletz has been studying social media for five years for the Office of Naval Research and, in a project last summer, developed an innovative coding scheme to annotate emotions that inspired this new effort.

Reflecting the current, nuanced approach to the psychology of emotions, these annotations extend beyond the so-called six basic emotions – anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise.  Paletz and her colleagues’ annotation scheme includes longer-lasting emotions critical for everyday life and online interaction, including humor, wonder, nostalgia, relief, love and hate. This scheme includes over 20 distinct emotions particularly relevant to the challenge at hand, and the team continues to refine the list.

“We also included something called kama muta, which is an emotion of feeling heart warmed when you see something infantile – in other words, the ‘awww!’ feeling you get when you see something cute. Given that this annotation scheme was for social media, we felt that emotion would be important to collect,” Paletz said.

For their Minerva project, Paletz and her team will work with native speakers at universities in Poland and Lithuania to complete the annotation. Small groups of annotators will first independently use the annotation scheme to judge each of the collected social media posts for each emotion, rating them 0 to 100, for both the content of the social media post and for their own reaction. Then, they will come together to make consensus agreements on the content ratings of the posts where they disagreed.

The results are expected to show how eliciting specific emotions (e.g., anger, contempt, humor) can help a narrative – truthful or not – go viral. The researchers will investigate whether messages evoking emotions that encourage action are more likely to be re-shared. If disinformation provokes the right emotions, people will be more likely to spread it regardless of its accuracy or truth.

Drawn from several different disciplines, Paletz’s research team includes co-PI Anton Rytting, a UMD computational linguist in the Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security (ARLIS); Cody Buntain, a UMD computer scientist (who will soon join the faculty at the New Jersey Institute of Technology); Devin Ellis, a UMD policy expert, in the National Center for the Study of Terrorism & Response to to Terrorism (START); Ewa Golonka, a UMD Russian linguist and social scientist with ARLIS ; and UMD’s Egle Murauskaite, a START expert on unconventional security threats. 

“These kinds of difficult issues – adversarial disinformation campaigns, hacking, Russian interference – can’t really be solved without us working collaboratively across disciplines,” Paletz said. “Psychologists, computer scientists and information scientists have all been examining online communities for decades and social media for years – but within the confines of their own disciplines. It's been rare for them to work together, as we are, to really integrate methods and theories.”  

The project will also address critical gaps in research about how information travels through populations and across national boundaries and languages. The researchers will develop methods for detecting and tracking how narratives and other memes spread within and across languages. Buntain also expressed an interest in the individuals behind disinformation campaigns.

“I think one thing people get wrong about these kinds of efforts is the characterization that agents responsible for disinformation are highly coordinated, skilled men in dark suits who are pulling strings behind the curtain,” Buntain said. “Instead, I think reality is something closer to a bunch of young people who are getting paid to post online and support a few high-level messages, but are otherwise given a lot of latitude in how they do it. Rather than being experts at propaganda or disinformation, I think many of these individuals are using marketing tools exactly as they were meant to be used, but with an unanticipated intent – are the tools Coca-Cola or Exxon-Mobil uses to market its product all that different? – and these people find what works to get engagement, followers and clicks.”

The research team has already begun identifying Polish and Lithuanian politicians and social influencers. This summer and into the fall, they will collect social media data. Over the next academic year, research assistants in Poland and Lithuania who will be supervised by Golonka and Murauskaite, respectively, will begin conducting the emotion annotation. The team will also examine different types of narratives and will conduct multilevel statistical analyses to understand which emotions and narratives predict social media sharing. The three-year project is expected to conclude in the summer of 2022.

About ARLIS

 

The Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security (ARLIS), based at the University of Maryland College Park, was established in 2018 under the auspices of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (OUSD(I)) and the US Air Force Office of Concepts, Development, and Management, intended as a long-term strategic asset for research and development in artificial intelligence, information engineering, and human systems. One of only 14 designated Department of Defense University Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs) in the nation, ARLIS conducts both classified and unclassified research spanning from basic to applied system development and works to serve the US Government as an independent and objective trusted agent.

 

University of Maryland-Phillips Collection Book Prize Goes to 'Sculpture at the Ends of Slavery'

July 31, 2019
Contacts: 

Alana Carchedi Coyle 301.405.0235, Hayley Barton 202.387.2151 x235 

 

COLLEGE PARK, MD and WASHINGTON, DC – The University of Maryland Center for Art and Knowledge at The Phillips Collection has awarded its latest University of Maryland-Phillips Collection Book Prize to the manuscript "Sculpture at the Ends of Slavery". Written by Caitlin Beach, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Art History at Fordham University, the manuscript addresses sculpture’s relationship to slavery and abolition in transatlantic contexts.

The University of Maryland-Phillips Collection Book Prize supports publication of a first book by an emerging scholar presenting new research in modern or contemporary art from 1780 to the present. The winning books are published by the University of California Press, in collaboration with the University of Maryland and The Phillips Collection. The winning author also receives a $5,000 cash prize. This is the ninth book prize awarded by The Phillips Collection since 2008, and the second prize jointly awarded with the University of Maryland. 

“I feel honored that the selection committee has recognized my work for this award. It's inspiring to have the chance to be a part of conversations about race and modern culture already ongoing with the University of Maryland and The Phillips Collection book series and I look forward to the new directions in which this will push my thinking and writing,” said Beach.

According to Beach, Sculpture at the Ends of Slavery examines the place of sculpture in a transatlantic world contoured by the wide-reaching economy of American slavery and the international campaigns mounted to end it. Focusing on the production, circulation, and exhibition of a range of busts and statues by artists including Hiram Powers, John Bell, Edmonia Lewis, and Francesco Pezzicar, the manuscript shows how the medium stood as a highly visible but deeply unstable site from which to interrogate the politics of slavery across geographies including New Orleans, London, Freetown, Boston, Florence, and Philadelphia.

“It is wonderful that the University of Maryland-Phillips Collection Book Prize discusses such a powerful aspect of the history of slavery and abolition," said Klaus Ottmann, Ph.D., Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Academic Affairs, The Phillips Collection. “Caitlin Beach’s book Sculpture at the Ends of Slavery will insert the arts in a way we have never seen these topics explored.”

“We are pleased to recognize Dr. Beach’s profound work with the book prize award,” said Mary Ann Rankin, Senior Vice President and Provost at the University of Maryland. “Publishing Dr. Beach’s innovative manuscript on sculpture’s relationship to slavery and abolition is a perfect example of the mission of our partnership with The Phillips Collection–advancing scholarship and innovation in the arts.”

Beach’s research and teaching at Fordham University focus on American and European art of the long nineteenth century. She received her Ph.D., M.Phil and M.A. in art history and archaeology from Columbia University. 

ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND

The University of Maryland, College Park is the state's flagship university and one of the nation's preeminent public research universities. A global leader in research, entrepreneurship and innovation, the university is home to more than 40,000 students, 10,000 faculty and staff, and 280 academic programs. As one of the nation’s top producers of Fulbright scholars, its faculty includes two Nobel laureates, three Pulitzer Prize winners and 59 members of the national academies. The institution has a $1.9 billion operating budget and secures $514 million annually in external research funding. For more information about the University of Maryland, College Park, visit www.umd.edu.

ABOUT THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION

The Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of Modern art, presents one of the world’s most distinguished Impressionist and American Modern art collections. Including paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mark Rothko, Alma Thomas, Pierre Bonnard, Georgia O’Keeffe, Vincent van Gogh, Richard Diebenkorn, Henri Matisse, and Jacob Lawrence, among others, the museum continues to actively collect new acquisitions, many by contemporary artists such as Wolfgang Laib, Per Kirkeby, Whitfield Lovell, Zilia Sánchez, and Simone Leigh, and. Its distinctive building combines extensive new galleries with the former home of its founder, Duncan Phillips. The Phillips’s impact spreads nationally and internationally through its highly distinguished special exhibitions, programs, and events that catalyze dialogue surrounding the continuity between art of the past and the present. Among the Phillips’s esteemed programs are its award-winning education programs for educators, students, and adults; well-established Phillips Music series; and sell-out Phillips after 5 events. The museum contributes to the art conversation on a global scale with events like Conversations with Artists and the International Forum. The Phillips Collection values its community partnerships with the University of Maryland—the museum’s nexus for academic work, scholarly exchange, and interdisciplinary collaborations—and THEARC—the museum’s new campus serving the Southeast DC community. The Phillips Collection is a private, non-government museum, supported primarily by donations. 

 

Mellon Foundation Awards $2.8M for Research, Digitization in Humanities

July 25, 2019
Contacts: 

 K. Lorraine Graham 301-405-6127

 


 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded two grants totaling $2.8 million to the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) to encourage research in black digital humanities and to develop technology expanding digital access to books from the pre-modern Persian and Arabic world.  

A $2 million, three-year grant will support the second phase of the African American History, Culture and Digital Humanities (AADHUM) initiative. Housed in the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU), AADHUUM seeks to expand and institutionalize the field of Black digital humanities at UMD and beyond. The first phase of the initiative was also funded by The Mellon Foundation.  

 "African American history and culture are central to American history and culture," said Bonnie Thornton Dill, dean of the college and professor of women’s studies. "Making this knowledge widely available and giving people the opportunity to have hands-on experiences using digital technology to tell important stories is critical to enhancing our democracy."

She will continue to lead the project with Daryle Williams, associate professor of history and ARHU associate dean for faculty affairs, and Trevor Muñoz, interim director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) and assistant dean for digital humanities research in the University Libraries.

They will establish a long-term home for black digital humanities at UMD by hiring additional faculty, formalizing a competitive graduate research training and professionalization experience, offering mentor-training programs, expanding research partnerships with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and developing best practices for tenure and promotion in black digital humanities.

Muñoz said AADHum has transformed the practice of digital humanities at MITH.     

“If MITH offers a workshop on digital mapping, we need to make space for discussing the vulnerability that mapping certain populations, like activists or undocumented immigrants, creates,” he said. 

The second Mellon Foundation grant, of $800,000 over two years, will support the development of user-friendly, open-source software capable of creating digital texts from Persian and Arabic books. 

Matthew Thomas Miller, assistant professor in the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies in the college’s School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, leads an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Northeastern University, Aga Khan University in London and the University of Vienna along with Raffaele Viglianti, research programmer at MITH.

"We realized that there was work being done separately in different areas to create tools for digitizing Persian and Arabic documents," said Miller, "but there wasn't a lot of communication across fields and these new advances were not making their way into the hands of users." 

To date, the development of digitization software has primarily focused on Latin-script languages, and in many cases requires specialized knowledge to run. Existing Persian and Arabic digitization tools fall short on accuracy and are often prohibitively expensive for academic and public users. 

"These thousands of unread texts are a potential treasure trove," said Miller. "Until we really get into it and begin digitizing and then examining them, we won't know what we might find or what new narratives and histories might unfold."

As part of the research team’s commitment to innovative software development and collaborative, interdisciplinary research, it will foster a community of users by hosting regular training sessions, establishing online user groups and teaching an undergraduate digital humanities class hosted jointly at Maryland and AKU through UMD's Global Classrooms Initiative

The grant will also fund two postdoctoral fellows and two graduate fellows in computer science and Middle Eastern studies. 

"Our goal is to grow capacity throughout these fields," Miller said, "which means both training scholars of Persian and Arabic in digital methods and computer scientists in the particularities of Persian and Arabic documents."

New International Study Identifies Causes of Multidecadal Climate Changes

July 25, 2019
Contacts: 

Matthew Wright 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A new reconstruction of global average surface temperature change over the past 2,000 years has identified the main causes for decade-scale climate changes.  Conducted by an international team of researchers that included University of Maryland Geology Professor Michael Evans, the analysis suggests that Earth’s current warming rate, caused by human greenhouse gas emissions, is higher than any warming rate observed previously. The researchers also found that airborne particles from volcanic eruptions were primarily responsible for several brief episodes of global cooling prior to the Industrial Revolution of the mid-19thcentury.

The new temperature reconstruction also largely agrees with climate model simulations of the same time period. The researchers found agreement for temperature changes caused by identifiable factors, such as volcanic aerosols and greenhouse gases, as well as for random fluctuations in climate that take place on the same timescales. This suggests that current climate models accurately represent the contributions of various influences on global climate change—and are capable of correctly predicting future climate warming.

The research team—19 members of the Past Global Changes (PAGES) project,—used seven different statistical methods to perform the reconstruction. The results were published online in in the journal Nature Geoscience on July 24, 2019.

“Our reconstructions look like the ‘hockey stick’ diagram of global temperature change that was first reconstructed more than two decades ago,” said Evans, who is also co-chair of PAGES and has a joint appointment at UMD’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC). “Thanks to the work of the PAGES community, we have much more data now. The results were consistent regardless of how we created the reconstructions or which randomly chosen subset of input data we used.”

The new 2,000-year reconstruction improves on previous efforts by using the most detailed and comprehensive database of its kind yet assembled. This dataset, painstakingly compiled by PAGES researchers, includes nearly 700 separate publicly available records from sources that contain indicators of past temperatures, such as long-lived trees, reef-building corals, ice cores, and marine and lake sediments. The data are sourced from all of Earth’s continental regions and major ocean basins.

By comparing the new reconstructions with existing climate simulations generated using the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) climate models, the PAGES research team was able to determine the relative contributions of several influences on global temperatures over time. These included natural influences, such as fluctuations in solar heating and the cooling effect of particles ejected by volcanic eruptions, as well as the human-caused influence of greenhouse gas emissions. 

This graph of global shows mean rates of temperature change over the last 2,000 years, as determined by a new reconstruction based on climate proxy data. Image credit: University of Bern

Above graph shows global mean rates of temperature change over the last 2,000 years, based on this new research. Red denotes temperature increases. Blue denotes temperature decreases. The green line shows maximum expected warming rate without human influence. The dashed orange line signifies ability of climate models to simulate this natural upper limit. The black line indicates average global as determined by direct measurements since the Industrial Revolution. Image credit: University of Bern .

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The results suggest that volcanic activity was responsible for variations before about 1850. After that, greenhouse gases became the dominant influence on global climate. By removing these influences in their analysis, the researchers also identified the magnitude of the random changes that cannot be traced to a specific cause. The team’s data-based reconstructions also agreed with model simulations when evaluating these random changes.

“This makes us more confident that our reconstructions are realistic and, in turn, that the climate models are simulating past and future climate warming faithfully,” Evans added.

This agreement between the researchers’ data-based reconstructions and the CMIP5 simulations suggests that existing climate models can accurately predict future global temperature change over the next few decades, according to Evans. However, these simulations depend heavily on the choices that humans make in the future, which is very difficult to predict, Evans added. 

“The uncertainty in the influence of human activities is not so large when looking forward only a few decades,” Evans said. “But in the longer term, the choices we make for our energy sources and how much carbon these sources emit really matter.”

The research paper, “Consistent multi-decadal variability in global temperature reconstructions and simulations over the Common Era,” the PAGES 2k Consortium (Raphael Neukom, Luis Barboza, Michael Erb, Feng Shi, Julien Emile-Geay, Michael Evans, Jörg Franke, Darrell Kaufman, Lucie Lücke, Kira Rehfeld, Andrew Schurer, Feng Zhu, Stefan Brönnimann, Gregory Hakim, Benjamin Henley, Fredrik Charpentier Ljungqvist, Nicholas McKay, Veronika Valler and Lucien von Gunten), was published in the journal Nature Geoscienceon July 24, 2019.

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Swiss Academy of Sciences, the Swiss National Science Foundation (Award No. PZ00P2_154802), the German Research Foundation (Award No. RE3994-2/1), the European Union (Award No. 787574), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Award Nos. 41877440, 41430531, and 41690114), and the UK Natural Environment Research Council (Award No. NE/P006752/1). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Swiss Academy of Sciences, the Swiss National Science Foundation (Award No. PZ00P2_154802), the German Research Foundation (Award No. RE3994-2/1), the European Union (Award No. 787574), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Award Nos. 41877440, 41430531, and 41690114), and the UK Natural Environment Research Council (Award No. NE/P006752/1). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

Scientists Identify New Genetic Interactions that May Impact Cancer Outcomes

July 24, 2019
Contacts: 

Kimbra Cutlip 301-405-9463

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- In a new study, scientists at the University of Maryland and the National Cancer Institute identified 12 distinct types of gene-pair interactions in which varying levels of expression in the two genes correlated with cancer patient survival. The results, which were published in the journal Cell Reports on July 23, 2019, suggest that genes involved in such paired interactions could provide new targets for cancer therapy.

New research shows interactions between genes expressed at different levels can impact cell survival. Shown is a triple-negative (MDA-MB-231) breast cancer cell during cell division. Photo credit: NCI_University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.Living cells contain tens of thousands of genes that serve as instruction guides for making the proteins cells need to survive. These genes function in highly cooperative and interdependent ways, and scientists have long known that a change in the expression of one gene can affect how other genes function. These interdependencies can impact a cell’s ability to survive.

“Relying on specific cancer vulnerabilities, such as a particular mutated gene’s functional relationship with other genes, is potentially an effective approach to treating cancer,” said the study’s senior author Sridhar Hannenhalli, a professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics at UMD.

This approach is already being explored in one type of gene-pair relationship called synthetic lethality, in which inactivation of both genes is lethal to a cell, but inactivation of one gene by itself is not. In cancer cells where mutations inactivate one gene, drugs inhibiting the partner gene would be lethal to cancer cells but have minimal or no effect on healthy tissue in which the first gene is expressed normally.

This new work revealed a broad spectrum of important gene-pair relationships in addition to synthetic lethality. Many of these new relationships were more abundant in the researchers’ data than synthetic lethality, which means they may offer many more potential targets for cancer therapy.   

“Our work expands the potential scope of strategies, thus far restricted to synthetic lethality, by generalizing the concept of exploiting genetic interactions to include many other yet unexplored types of gene-pair relationships,” said Hannenhalli, who has a joint appointment in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS). “We believe this lays the foundation for using a computational method for identifying and studying additional types of genetic interactions in the future.”

The paper presents a new, data-driven method for identifying gene interactions that could impact cancer patient outcomes, which Hannenhalli developed in collaboration with former UMD graduate student Assaf Magen (Ph.D. ’19, computer science), the first author of the study, and Eytan Ruppin, currently at the National Cancer Institute and the former director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at UMD.

Working with data from 5,288 tumors representing 18 different cancer types, the team defined six interactions in which each gene in a pair could be expressed at a low, medium or high level. They then considered that each of those combinations could be associated with a “positive” or “negative” outcome for patient survival. That brought the total number of potential gene-pair relationship types to 12. 

Using a novel computational strategy, the researchers assessed all possible combinations of genes in their dataset. Out of 163 million potential gene pairs, the researchers identified nearly 72,000 gene-pair interactions associated with a positive or negative patient survival. Of the genes involved in these interactions, a significant proportion are known to be involved in cell division and proliferation, which have clear links to cancer.

According to Hannenhalli, identifying gene-pair relationships can help scientists understand why mutations in certain genes lead to cancer in one tissue but not another, because their interacting partners might be expressed differently in different types of tissue. Similarly, gene-pair relationships could explain why certain drugs are effective for one patient but not another. The relationships also might help researchers identify subtypes of certain cancers, such as breast cancer, which may help with prognosis and therapy.

Using their findings on gene-pair interactions, the researchers were able to better predict patient outcomes in their data on tumor gene expression, compared with conventional methods that use expression of individual genes alone.

Hannenhalli stressed that there is still much work to be done to identify which gene pairs actually have a direct impact on cancer patient survival. The next step, he said, is to collaborate with cancer biologists or clinicians to begin experimenting with therapies targeted at some of the gene pairs identified in this study.  

Additional co-authors of the research paper who conducted the work while at UMD include former postdoctoral fellows Avinash Das and Joo Sang Lee, former graduate student Mahfuza Sharmin (Ph.D. ’17, computer science), and computer science undergraduate Alexander Lugo.

This work was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute and the National Science Foundation (Award No. 1564785). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

The research paper, “Beyond Synthetic Lethality: Charting The Landscape of Pairwise Gene Expression States Associated with Survival in Cancer,” Assaf Magen, Avinash Das, Joo Sang Lee, Mahfuza Sharmin, Alexander Lugo, Silvio Gutkind, Alejandro A. Shaffer, Eytan Ruppin, Sridhar Hannenhalli, was published in Cell Reports on July 23, 2019.

University of Maryland Working With Former Prince George’s County Executive Baker on Executive Leadership Initiative

July 23, 2019
Contacts: 

Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland is working with Former Prince George’s County Executive, Rushern L. Baker, III, to establish a national executive leadership training program for local government officials with the university’s School of Public Policy. 

 

The program will bring together Baker’s more than 20 years of government and legal experience, including eight as County Executive, with the School of Public Policy’s expertise in developing innovative solutions that address the ever-increasing policy challenges facing local leaders. 

 

“I am thrilled to be partnering with the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy in launching a training program for newly elected local officials,” said Baker, past president of the County Executives of America, and two term member of the Board of the National Association of Counties. “As I learned first-hand, most elected officials, myself included, campaign in poetry but must quickly transition to prose once they get in office to deal with a host of complex and challenging issues awaiting them. I look forward to utilizing both my wealth of experience as an elected executive as well as my extensive contacts within the National Association of Counties, the County Executives of America and a host of other national organizations to build better leaders through the approximately 25,000 counties and cities that exist throughout the United States.”

 

"I'm thrilled that Rushern Baker is launching this training institiute for newly elected county and city officials, in partnership with our School of Public Policy. The expertise and experience that he brings, joined with the academic assets of the University of Maryland, will result in an outstanding leadership and training," said UMD President Wallace D. Loh. 

 

UMD Physicist for Apollo Experiment Gets Chance to Send Next Gen Version to Moon

July 11, 2019
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

NGLR corner cube retroreflector seen next to Apollo era corner cube retroreflector 

Photo of NGLR corner cube retroreflector (L) next to an Apollo era version (R). Image credit Doug Currie

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- In 1969, University of Maryland physicist Doug Currie helped design three still-in-use lunar instruments placed on the moon by Apollo 11, 14 and 15. Fifty years later, Currie is lead scientist for a just-approved NASA project to place next-generation versions of these instruments on the Moon.

Known as lunar retroreflectors, the instruments reflect laser pulses sent from Earth back to their exact origin point, allowing precise measurements of the Earth-moon distance; providing data to better understand aspects of the moon’s interior, including its liquid core; testing questions of fundamental physics, and allowing better mapping and navigation of the lunar surface.  

According to Currie, a senior research scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, the new UMD-led project can lead to improvements in all of these research areas: (1) because of the hundred fold improvement in the accuracy of individual ranges using the new retroreflectors and (2) by the increased accuracy produced by a larger number of reflectors with a wider lunar area covered by the network.  Currently, there are five retroreflectors on the moon: the three placed by Apollo missions and two French-designed instruments placed by Soviet lunar missions. The Currie-led proposal would add three Next Generation Retroreflectors for a total of eight lunar retroreflector arrays. 

“Our Next Generation Lunar Retroreflector is a 21st Century version of the instruments currently on the Moon. Each placement of a Next Generation lunar laser ranging array will greatly enhance the scientific and navigational capabilities of retroreflector network,” said Currie. “These additions improve the mapping and navigation capabilities important for NASA’s plans to return to the Moon and by 2028 establish a sustained human presence.” 

“And these also will significantly boost scientists’ ability to use the network to conduct important science, such as new tests of general relativity and other theories of gravity. Such studies may help us understand the nature of mysterious dark matter, which appears to constitute almost 27 percent of the Universe,” he said. 

According to a NASA release, the Next Generation Lunar Retroreflectors (NGLR) is one of 12 new science and technology payloads selected by the agency to help humans study the Moon and explore more of its surface as part of the NASA’s Artemis lunar program. The agency says the retroreflector and the other 11 investigations and demonstrations “will help the agency to send astronauts to the Moon by 2024 as a way to prepare to send humans to Mars for the first time.”

The selected investigations will go to the Moon on future flights through NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) project. According to the agency, the CLPS project allows rapid acquisition of lunar delivery services for payloads like these that advance capabilities for science, exploration, or commercial development of the Moon. 

NASA has selected the first three commercial Moon landing service providers that will deliver science and technology payloads to the lunar surface. According to Currie, the Next Generation Retroreflectors are not currently scheduled by NASA to be among the payloads carried on those three commercial Moon landings. “However, we believe because of the low size and weight of these retroreflectors, each mission could safely add one to their planned payloads for each of these commercial delivery missions,” he said. 

"The selected lunar payloads represent cutting-edge innovations, and will take advantage of early flights through our commercial services project,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Each demonstrates either a new science instrument or a technological innovation that supports scientific and human exploration objectives, and many have broader applications for Mars and beyond.”

The NGLR team consists of: Principal Investigator Douglas Currie Professor Emeritus, Department of Physics, University of Maryland College Park (UMD); Co-I/Co-PI: Simone Dell’Agnello Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare, Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati, Frascati, Italy; and Co-Investigators Professor Christopher Davis Electrical Engineering Department (UMD); Giovanni Delle Monache Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare, Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati, Frascati, Italy; James Williams Jet Propulsion Laboratory Technical Personnel; John Rzasa (UMD); and Dennis Wellnitz Department of Astronomy (UMD). UMD Assistant Research Scientist Chensheng Wu, a member of Professor Chris Davis’s Maryland Optical Group in Electrical and Computer Engineering has also done crucial work on the design of the Next Generation Lunar Retroreflectors.

Links for more information:

What Neil & Buzz Left on the Moon | NASA Science Mission Directorate

NASA Selects 12 New Lunar Science, Technology Investigations 

Dr. Douglas Currie next to the Orbit Beyond lander. Credit Udit Shah of Orbit Beyond

 UMD Professor Dr. Douglas Currie next to the Orbit Beyond lander. Credit Udit Shah of Orbit Beyond

 

Pictured (L-R) in 1969 UMD physicist Doug Currie, UT McDonald Observatory Director Harlan J. Smith, NASA Scientist-Astronaut Philip Chapman, UMD physicist Carroll Alley, & Scientist-Astronaut Don Lind

 

Pictured (L-R) in 1969 are University of Texas (UT) McDonald Observatory Director Harlan J. Smith, University of Maryland (UMD) physicist Doug Currie, NASA Scientist-Astronaut Philip Chapman, UMD Professor of Physics Carroll Alley and NASA Scientist-Astronaut Don L. Lind discussing use of the McDonald Lunar Laser Ranging Observatory (MLLRO) to send short laser pulses to the first Lunar Laser Ranging (LLR) Retroreflector left on the lunar surface by the Apollo 11 Astronauts. The MLLRO program was developed and initially operated by Professor Currie (then associate professor) with the support of the Godard Space Craft Center and the University of Texas. UMD’s Professor Alley was the Principal Investigator of the project to place LLRs on the moon to address lunar physics, gravitation, General Relativity and Earth physics.  The LLR Retroreflectors were designed and developed by a team that in addition to UMD physicists Alley and Currie, included scientists from universities and federal institutions that included Princeton University, NASA Goddard Space Craft Center, the National Bureau of Standards, Wesleyan University and the University of California. NASA’s Scientist-Astronaut program trained Ph.D. scientists & engineers as astronauts. Image courtesy Doug Currie.

 

2019 University of Maryland-Phillips Collection Fellowships Awarded

July 8, 2019
Contacts: 

WASHINGTON, D.C., and COLLEGE PARK, Md.—The University of Maryland Center for Art and Knowledge at The Phillips Collection has awarded its 2019–20 Postdoctoral Fellowships in Visual Culture to Marlaina Martin, Ph.D., and in Modern and Contemporary Art History to Alison Boyd, Ph.D. 

The Phillips Collection and the University of Maryland host the postdoctoral fellowships during the academic year. Each fellowship allows recipients to work with the Phillips’s exceptional collection and the University of Maryland’s leadership programs in art historical scholarship, interdisciplinary experimentation, and virtual technologies. During the academic year, fellows teach at least one public lecture and participate in other programs and discussions with scholars, critics, museum staff, and students at the museum and university.

“Dr. Marlaina Martin’s expertise in the anthropologies of race, gender, and media, and Dr. Alison Boyd’s studies on race and modernism complements the Phillips’s strong commitment to fostering an inclusive environment that encourages and values diversity in both our collection and our exhibitions,” said Klaus Ottmann, Ph.D.,  chief curator and deputy director for academic affairs. “Their work at the Phillips will significantly expand art-historical and cultural scholarship—a mission of the museum and priority of its founder Duncan Phillips.” 

“The scholarly works of Drs. Martin and Boyd play a key role in helping us understand our countries’ past and the complex experiences of various identity groups,” said Mary Ann Rankin, senior vice president and provost at the University of Maryland. “We congratulate them on this fellowship and look forward to seeing how their innovative work is advanced and shared over the next year.” Postdoctoral Fellow in Visual Culture Marlaina Martin

Marlaina H. Martin received her Ph.D. from the Cultural Anthropology program at Rutgers University in 2019. During her time there, Martin was a recipient of a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation as well as a University & Louis Bevier Dissertation Completion Fellowship from Rutgers University. Her research interests include critical race theory, colorblindness, and post-racialism; Black feminism; women's, gender, and sexuality studies; body and embodiment studies; cultural studies and media production studies; and anthropologies of race, gender, and media. Her dissertation, “’Making Their Own’: Creativity, Strategy, and Authority among Black Women Media Makers in New York City,” explores the numerous negotiations, decisions, and compromises that Black women independent media makers–as members of a doubly marginalized social group–navigated in order to cultivate authority and develop creative projects.

 

Postdoctoral Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Art History Alison BoydAlison Boyd completed her Ph.D. in Art History and as a Mellon Fellow in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Northwestern University in 2017. She studies the intersection of multiple modernities in American and European art with a focus on the arts of the African diaspora, the politics of display, and gender theory. She is writing a book manuscript, "Modernism for America: Negro Art and Primitivism at the Barnes Foundation, 1917–1951," which investigates the racial underpinnings of modern art’s reception in the United States. She is also researching a second project, “‘Your country? How came it yours?’: Divergent Artistic and Political Claims for the ‘Soil’ in America in the 1930s.” This project examines how artists from different American identity groups conceptualized their relationship to the soil; it includes a case study on Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series. 

About the Phillips Collection

The Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of Modern art, presents one of the world’s most distinguished Impressionist and American Modern art collections. Including paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mark Rothko, Alma Thomas, Pierre Bonnard, Georgia O’Keeffe, Vincent van Gogh, Richard Diebenkorn, Henri Matisse, and Jacob Lawrence, among others, the museum continues to actively collect new acquisitions, many by contemporary artists such as Wolfgang Laib, Per Kirkeby, Whitfield Lovell, Zilia Sánchez, and Simone Leigh, and. Its distinctive building combines extensive new galleries with the former home of its founder, Duncan Phillips. The Phillips’s impact spreads nationally and internationally through its highly distinguished special exhibitions, programs, and events that catalyze dialogue surrounding the continuity between art of the past and the present. Among the Phillips’s esteemed programs are its award-winning education programs for educators, students, and adults; well-established Phillips Music series; and sell-out Phillips after 5 events. The museum contributes to the art conversation on a global scale with events like Conversations with Artists and the International Forum. The Phillips Collection values its community partnerships with the University of Maryland—the museum’s nexus for academic work, scholarly exchange, and interdisciplinary collaborations—and THEARC—the museum’s new campus serving the Southeast DC community. The Phillips Collection is a private, non-government museum, supported primarily by donations.

About the University of Maryland 

The University of Maryland, College Park is the state's flagship university and one of the nation's preeminent public research universities. A global leader in research, entrepreneurship and innovation, the university is home to more than 40,000 students, 10,000 faculty and staff, and 280 academic programs. As one of the nation’s top producers of Fulbright scholars, its faculty includes two Nobel laureates, three Pulitzer Prize winners and 58 members of the national academies. The institution has a $1.9 billion operating budget and secures $514 million annually in external research funding. For more information about the University of Maryland, College Park, visit www.umd.edu.

 

 

‘Oumuamua Interstellar Object Was Not an Alien Spacecraft

July 1, 2019
Contacts: 

 

Matthew Wright 301-405-9267

Artist’s concept of ‘Oumuamua. Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser (Click image to download hi-res version.)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. On October 19, 2017, astronomers discovered the first known interstellar object to visit our solar system. Early reports of the odd characteristics of “‘Oumuamua” led to speculation that the object might be an alien spacecraft. Now a new analysis by an international team of astronomers co-led by, University of Maryland Associate Research Scientist Matthew Knight, strongly indicates that its origin is purely natural.

When first spotted by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System 1 telescope located at the University of Hawaii’s Haleakala Observatory, the object defied easy description, simultaneously displaying characteristics of both a comet and an asteroid. Astronomers formally named the object 1I/2017 U1 and with a common name of ‘Oumuamua, which roughly translates to “scout” in Hawaiian. 

Researchers from UMD and around the world immediately raced to collect as much data as possible in the few weeks they had  to observe the strange visitor before ‘Oumuamua traveled beyond the reach of Earth’s telescopes.  The new findings by Knight and colleagues from some 13 institutions and five countries are reported  in the July 1, 2019, issue of the journal Nature Astronomy.

“We have never seen anything like ‘Oumuamua in our solar system. It’s really a mystery still,” Knight said. “But our preference is to stick with analogs we know, unless or until we find something unique. The alien spacecraft hypothesis is a fun idea, but our analysis suggests there is a whole host of natural phenomena that could explain it.”

As Knight and his colleagues summarized in their study, ‘Oumuamua is red in color, similar to many small objects observed in our solar system. But that’s where the familiarity ends.

‘Oumuamua likely has an elongated, cigarlike shape and an odd spin pattern—much like a soda bottle laying on the ground, spinning on its side. According to Knight, its motion through our solar system is particularly puzzling. While it appeared to accelerate along its trajectory—a typical feature of comets—astronomers could find no evidence of the gaseous emissions that typically create this acceleration.

“The motion of ‘Oumuamua didn’t simply follow gravity along a parabolic orbit as we would expect from an asteroid,” Knight said. “But visually, it hasn’t ever displayed any of the cometlike characteristics we’d expect. There is no discernable coma—the cloud of ice, dust and gas that surrounds active comets—nor a dust tail or gas jets.”

Knight worked with Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, to assemble a team of 14 astronomers hailing from the U.S. and Europe. The International Space Science Institute in Bern, Switzerland, served as a virtual home base for the collaboration.

“We put together a strong team of experts in various different areas of work on ‘Oumuamua. This cross-pollination led to the first comprehensive analysis and the best big-picture summary to date of what we know about the object,” Knight explained. “We tend to assume that the physical processes we observe here, close to home, are universal. And we haven’t yet seen anything like ‘Oumuamua in our solar system. This thing is weird and admittedly hard to explain, but that doesn’t exclude other natural phenomena that could explain it.”

The new research paper is primarily an analysis of existing data, including of a December 2017 study of ‘Oumuamua’s shape and spin pattern co-authored by Knight and a team of UMD astronomers. This earlier paper, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, relied on data from the Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. UMD is a scientific partner of the DCT, along with Boston University, the University of Toledo and Northern Arizona University. 

Knight, Fitzsimmons and their colleagues considered a number of mechanisms by which ‘Oumuamua could have escaped from its home system. For example, the object could have been ejected by a gas giant planet orbiting another star. According to theory, Jupiter may have created the Oort cloud—a massive shell of small objects at the outer edge of our solar system—in this way. Some of those objects may have slipped past the influence of the sun’s gravity to become interstellar travelers themselves.

The research team suspects that ‘Oumuamua could be the first of many interstellar visitors. Knight is looking forward to data from the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which is scheduled to be operational in 2022.

“In the next 10 years, we expect to begin seeing more objects like ‘Oumuamua. The LSST will be leaps and bounds beyond any other survey we have in terms of capability to find small interstellar visitors,” Knight said. “We may start seeing a new object every year. That’s when we’ll start to know whether ‘Oumuamua is weird, or common. If we find 10-20 of these things and ‘Oumuamua still looks unusual, we’ll have to reexamine our explanations.”

The research paper, “The Natural History of ‘Oumuamua,” the ‘Oumuamua ISSI Team (Michele Bannister, Asmita Bhandare, Piotr Dybczyński, Alan Fitzsimmons, Aurélie Guilbert-Lepoutre, Robert Jedicke, Matthew Knight, Karen Meech, Andrew McNeill, Susanne Pfalzner, Sean Raymond, Colin Snodgrass, David Trilling and Quanzhi Ye), was published in the journal Nature Astronomy on July 1, 2019.

The December 2017 research paper on the object by the UMD research team was, “On the Rotation Period and Shape of the Hyperbolic Asteroid 1I/‘Oumuamua (2017 U1) from Its Lightcurve,” Matthew Knight, Silvia Protopapa, Michael Kelley, Tony Farnham, James Bauer, Dennis Bodewits, Lori Feaga and Jessica Sunshine, was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

This work was supported by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (Award Nos. ST/P0003094/1 and ST/L004569/1), the National Science Foundation (Award Nos. AST1617015 and 1545949), NASA (Award Nos.  GO/DD-15405, GO/DD-15447, NAS 5-26555, NNX17AK15G and 80NSSC18K0829), the National Science Centre in Poland (Award No. 2015/17/B/ST9/01790) and the European Research Council (Award No. 802699). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

University of Maryland, University System of Maryland, and Board of Regents Joint Statement on MSCHE Accreditation Decision-- June 28, 2019

June 28, 2019

Joint Statement by University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents Chair Linda Gooden, USM Chancellor Robert Caret, and University of Maryland College Park (UMCP) President Wallace Loh on the Decision by the Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE) Regarding the Accreditation Status of UMCP:

 

MSCHE on June 27, 2019 placed UMCP on warning that “its accreditation may be in jeopardy because of insufficient evidence that [it] is currently in compliance with Standard VII (Governance, Leadership, and Administration).” This Standard requires that UMCP “operate as an academic institution with appropriate autonomy.” 

Therefore, MSCHE requested a monitoring report due March 1, 2020, demonstrating compliance with Standard VII, followed-up by a MSCHE team visit. MSCHE will provide guidance on its expectations. Meanwhile, UMCP remains fully accredited. 

USM Board of Regents, USM, and UMCP are committed to working together to ensure that the governance structure clearly specifies the roles, responsibilities, and accountability of each constituency and that these are in full alignment with MSCHE Standard VII; moreover, that there is periodic assessment of the effectiveness of governance, leadership, and administration in accordance with Standard VII. Progress towards full compliance is already underway and will be completed by March 1, 2020. 

 

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