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Inherited Brain Pathway Underlies Risk for Anxiety Disorders

August 10, 2018
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

COLLEGE PARK, Md.—Scientists from the University of Maryland, working with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the California National Primate Research Center, have discovered a brain circuit that appears to play an important role in the transmission of extreme anxiety from parents to their offspring. 

Although anxiety disorders are consistently ranked among the top 10 causes of global disability and sickness by the World Health Organization, existing treatments are inconsistently effective or, in some cases, associated with significant side effects. Like other mental illnesses, anxiety disorders are heritable: Parents who are anxious are more likely to have children who suffer from extreme shyness, inhibition and anxiety. Yet the brain circuits underlying the intergenerational transmission of extreme anxiety have remained mysterious.

Leveraging recent advances in genetics and brain imaging, the new study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, marks the first demonstration that connectivity within the central extended amygdala plays a role in the genetic transmission of extreme anxiety. 

“We took advantage of earlier work that had painstakingly measured anxious temperament, individual by individual, in an extended family of nearly 2,000 individual monkeys,” said Alex Shackman, Ph.D.,  a professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and Cognitive Science (NACS) program at UMD, and a co-author of the study. “The large sample greatly increases our confidence in the replicability and robustness of these effects.” 

Researchers used brain imaging techniques also used in human studies to look at the brains of young rhesus monkeys, who express anxiety in similar ways to human children. “This work provides invaluable new clues about the brain circuits to focus on in human patients, especially youth, and promises to accelerate the development of new treatments for early life anxiety,” Shackman said. Shackman leads several other ongoing brain imaging studies at the University of Maryland aimed at understanding the role of this circuitry in mood and anxiety disorders in adolescents and young adults.

The study was funded by the California National Primate Research Center, National Institutes of Health, University of California, and University of Maryland.

 

UMD Receives $3 Million Investment from Scripps Howard Foundation to Create Center for Investigative Journalism

August 7, 2018
Contacts: 

Scripps: Rebecca Cochran, 513-977-3023  
UMD: Alexander Pyles, 301-405-1321

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism will receive $3 million over three years from the Scripps Howard Foundation to establish a Howard Center for Investigative Journalism. In a move to advance high-quality enterprise journalism across the country, this will be one of two centers created from the full $6 million dollar investment, with the second at Arizona State University. 

Philip Merrill College of JournalismThe Howard Centers will be multidisciplinary, graduate-level programs focused on training the next generation of reporters through hands-on investigative journalism projects. Students will work with news organizations from across the country to report stories of national or international importance to the public.

“The Centers are envisioned as innovative educational programs,” said Battinto Batts, director of the journalism fund for the Scripps Howard Foundation. “Both Arizona State University and the University of Maryland are well-positioned to challenge their students to become ethical, entrepreneurial and courageous investigative journalists.”

After submitting competitive proposals for this investment, UMD and ASU were chosen because they both have prestigious journalism programs that feature a rigorous curriculum and hands-on training for student journalists. 

“Investigative journalists shine a light on our society’s problems and protect democracy by holding the powerful accountable,” said Lucy A. Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. “The Howard Center at Merrill College will provide an unmatched opportunity for our students to learn to tell important stories in innovative ways, preparing them to become outstanding professional journalists.”

The Howard Centers will recruit graduate students and faculty of diverse academic and professional backgrounds. Students attending will be introduced to topics including new media, data mining and the history and ethics of investigative journalism.

In addition to the emphasis on multidisciplinary studies within their own curriculum, the Howard Centers also will collaborate on investigative projects to deliver high-impact content to news consumers. 

The Howard Centers will launch national searches for directors this fall and will open programming to graduate-level students in 2019.

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 57 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 Scripps Howard Foundation

The Scripps Howard Foundation supports philanthropic causes important to The E.W. Scripps Company (NASDAQ: SSP) and the communities it serves, with a special emphasis on excellence in journalism. At the crossroads of the classroom and the newsroom, the Foundation is a leader in supporting journalism education, scholarships, internships, minority recruitment and development, literacy and First Amendment causes. The Scripps Howard Awards stand as one of the industry’s top honors for outstanding journalism. The Foundation improves lives and helps build thriving communities. It partners with Scripps brands to create awareness of local issues and supports impactful organizations to drive solutions.

 

 

UMD-Led Team Receives $7.7 Million NIH Grant for First-of-its-Kind Tick-Borne Disease Research

August 2, 2018
Contacts: 

Samantha Waters 301-405-2434, Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- University of Maryland Professor Utpal Pal leads a multi-institution team of researchers that will receive up to $7.7 million over five years from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for an ongoing research program to understand how the immune responses of ticks contribute to the spread of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. 

Pal, a professor of veterinary medicine who is a recognized leader in this field of research, will collaborate with researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Yale University and the University of Minnesota on research across different aspects of tick immunobiology. 

“We are very excited and honored to have received this grant award, and on the first submission,” said Pal, who has been studying Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, for 12 years; is a member of the Vaccine and Therapeutics Subcommittee of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Tick-Borne Diseases Working Group; and a member of the scientific advisory board of the Global Lyme Alliance.

UMD Professor Utpal Pal with image of a deer tick.

“The multi-project grant program is designed to give program support and a strong base of funding to accelerate research in an important area, bringing together a group of investigators across institutions to do more together and speed up scientific advancement,” Pal said. “To be the lead investigator and institution on this is a testament to our leadership in the field. ”  

Directed by Pal, UMD will be handling core administrative duties for the program and helping advise and coordinate all projects. The new program has three major research components centered around different aspects of tick immune response. Pal and his UMD research team also will lead research in one of these areas, the indirect immune response that is found in ticks that carry pathogens that cause Lyme disease and other illnesses.  Pal is the discoverer of this phenomena, which is pivotal to role of ticks as carriers of these pathogens. 

When one of these  ticks feeds on a host animal, most commonly a mouse or deer, the tick’s immune system recognizes if a pathogen is present in the host’s blood as that blood is ingested. This triggers a non-specific, or indirect, line of immune system defense by the tick that is only partly successful in killing the pathogen. 

Pal explains: “Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease, and Anaplasma phagocytophilum, another intracellular bacterial pathogen we are studying with this grant, are both persistent,” says Pal. “The tick tries to kill the bacteria, but it doesn’t get everything, which makes [the tick] a vector that can now pass that bacteria on to you or anyone it might bite in the future. That is why studying these immune responses in ticks is so important.” 

The two other major research components supported by the program are centered around tick direct immune response, and on how gut bacteria in ticks interacts with the their immune response to pathogens. 

Joao Pedra, M.D., principal investigator from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, will be examining direct immune response mechanisms of the tick. These include how the tick identifies a specific pathogen and what pathogen-specific tactics it employs to try and kill each different pathogen that it ingests. 

Erol Fikrig, M.D., the research program’s principal investigator from Yale University, will be examining how microbiota (gut bacteria) in a tick interact with the different immune responses the tick uses to try and kill pathogens living in the blood that it ingests. 

Professor Ulrike Munderloh from University of Minnesota will serve as “Technical Core Lead” for the program, providing additional technical support including protocols and tools needed to facilitate this research. 

In addition to advancing research in tick-borne illnesses and working to solve the major public health issues associated with costly and chronic diseases like Lyme disease, the program supported by this multi-project grant has a goal of training future leaders in the field. 

“With this funding, UMD will be at the center of this work and [also] in charge of training the next generation of tick biologists,” says Pal. 

Pal has been with the Department of Veterinary Medicine in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UMD for 12 years, and already is widely considered a leader in tick-borne illness research. Given the growing public health importance of tick-borne diseases, the 21st Century Cures Act, enacted by Congress in December 2016, mandated the formation of a Tick-Borne Diseases Working Group comprising federal and public members from diverse backgrounds. Pal served on a subcommittee of this Tick-Borne Diseases Working Group, focusing on vaccines and treatment strategies. Pal currently holds two concurrent multi-million dollar grants from the NIH for his work. With this new multi-project grant, he will be doing so on an even larger scale. 

Read here about recent research by Professor Pal that uncovered a Lyme disease protein used to outsmart the human immune system.

Image caption: Professor Pal with background image of a deer tick, or blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis. Credit UMD

 

University of Maryland Names Jeff Hollingsworth Vice President and Chief Information Officer

July 31, 2018
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland has named Jeff Hollingsworth as Vice President and Chief Information Officer, effective today. In this role, Hollingsworth will oversee the Division of Information Technology (DIT) and provide leadership for the university’s IT strategy, infrastructure and services. Hollingsworth has served as Interim CIO at UMD since June 2017. 

Photo of Jeff Hollingsworth“The VP-CIO is critical to our success—modernizing and securing the tools we use every day and expanding our capabilities for the future,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh.“Jeff has done an outstanding job as interim vice president in translating his academic expertise into sound policy. We are in good hands.” 

Hollingsworth will be responsible for the university’s overall technology environment, including critical IT services for research and teaching; administrative applications and infrastructure; information security and integrity; and broad technical support for faculty, staff and students. He will also oversee the Mid-Atlantic Crossroads – the MAX – the regional optical connection point that serves education and government agency needs for highly advanced network interconnections and services.

“By focusing on important issues like transparency, shared governance and investment in people, we've made great strides in our IT operations and infrastructure,” said Hollingsworth. “I’m excited to continue this important work alongside my talented colleagues in the Division of IT and across campus.” 

As interim CIO, Hollingsworth oversaw the implementation of a mandatory multi-factor authentication system for faculty, staff and graduate assistants; worked with campus stakeholders and the University Senate to adopt a web accessibility policy; drove the deployment of a new phone system across campus; and arranged a move to new office space in the university’s Discovery District to consolidate the division’s operations into one building. 

Since 1994, Hollingsworth has served as a professor in the university’s Department of Computer Science with joint appointments in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and with the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Science. He also served as associate chair of the department from 2008-2012. 

While at UMD, he has published over 100 research papers and book chapters, served as a principal investigator on more than 30 grants totaling over $17 million and supervised Ph.D. dissertations of a dozen students. He taught undergraduate and graduate classes in computer architecture, networking, operating systems, and high performance computing. During that time, he has also served as adjunct research staff at the Institute for Defense Analysis Center for Computer Science and a visiting scientist for the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center. 

Hollingsworth received his B.S. in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California; and his M.S. and Ph.D. in computer sciences from the University of Wisconsin. 


###

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 57 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.

 

University of Maryland, Governor Hogan, Announce New Center to Advance Workforce Readiness for Youth with Disabilities

July 30, 2018
Contacts: 

Audrey Hill301-405-3468

COLLEGE PARK, MD—The University of Maryland, together with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, today announced a new center at UMD designed to improve college and career outcomes for students and youth with disabilities. 

Group photo of Hogan, Jennifer Rice, Carol Beatty, Ellen Fabian and RIchard LueckingThe Center for Transition and Career Innovation (CTCI), housed in the University of Maryland College of Education, will foster partnerships among university faculty and local, state and national agencies and organizations to promote research, improvements in practice, and supportive governmental policies that advance workforce readiness for youth with disabilities. 

Governor Larry Hogan made the announcement at an event in Annapolis today honoring the 28th anniversary of the American Disabilities Act, organized by the Maryland Department of Disabilities (MDOD). He was joined by MDOD Secretary Carol A. Beatty, representatives of Maryland state agencies, University of Maryland College of Education Dean Jennifer King Rice, disability advocates, local business owners, and members of the community.

“The signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act 28 years ago was a critical step forward to expanding opportunities and equal access to employment, communication, transportation, and quality of life for our citizens with disabilities,” said Governor Hogan. “Under our administration, Maryland is an ‘Employment First State,’ which means that everyone – including those with significant disabilities – can join our workforce. Maryland is committed to improving the lives of people with disabilities, and this new initiative at UMD will help increase employment and promote economic self-sufficiency for young people with disabilities.”

“The launch of the UMD Center for Transition and Career Innovation is an opportunity for the state and the University of Maryland to collaborate on identifying and implementing best practices in career and education to improve the lives of youth with disabilities,” said UMD College of Education Dean Rice. “Bringing this important work together under one center provides benefits to the state, the university, the field – and most importantly, promotes meaningful work and academic opportunities for youth with disabilities.”

The center, co-directed by University of Maryland College of Education researchers Ellen S. Fabian and Richard Luecking, will house existing programs that prepare youth with disabilities for college and careers that are funded by the state of Maryland, as well as by federal agencies, and develop new initiatives to improve outcomes for people with disabilities. The major goals of CTCI include:

  • Partner with Maryland government agencies to develop a comprehensive database on transition services for students with disabilities. The database will enable high-quality research on service patterns and student outcomes, which will spur recommendations to improve post-school outcomes for students with disabilities in Maryland schools.
  • Position UMD and the state of Maryland as leaders in transition practices and policy by conducting ongoing research and evaluation to determine how, when, and under what circumstances students and youth with disabilities achieve successful careers.  
  • Through strategic partnerships with Maryland government agencies, build an infrastructure within the UMD College of Education to identify and respond to state and national needs in developing and implementing evidence-based practices for students with disabilities. In collaboration with MDOD, the Maryland State Department of Education’s Division of Rehabilitation Services and Division of Special Education and Early Intervention Services, develop recommendations for policy and system reforms that improve outcomes. 

The ongoing collaboration between the University of Maryland and the state of Maryland on projects that help youth with disabilities access career or college opportunities reflect the importance of providing services during the transition into adulthood.

“The state of Maryland is poised to serve as a national leader in implementing solutions for youth with disabilities that help them achieve a better quality of life,” Secretary Beatty said. “For students with disabilities, the transition from school to employment and adult life is a critical time period, which is why career preparation and transition services are a priority for ensuring that youth with disabilities achieve successful employment.”

 


Photo (from l to r): UMD Center for Transition and Career Innovation Co-Director Richard Luecking, UMD College of Education Dean Jennifer King Rice, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Maryland Department of Disabilities Secretary Carol A. Beatty, Marcella E. Franczkowski, Assistant State Superintendent for the Maryland State Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services

 

Advance Could Yield Safer, Longer-Range Electric Car Batteries

July 26, 2018
Contacts: 

Martha J Heil, 626-354-5613
Leon Tune, 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A team of researchers from the University of Maryland, the Army Research Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory (U.S. Department of Energy) has published findings on a new advanced battery technology that among its many possible applications has the potential to improve electric vehicle batteries in two key areas: driving range and battery safety.

Battery

The UMD-led team has created a reliable battery with significantly higher energy storage capacity, more efficiency and greater safety than current batteries. Their peer-reviewed paper on the research was published July 16 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

The driving range of an electric vehicle is directly proportional to the capacity, or energy density, of its batteries. Energy density is a battery’s energy output by unit weight. A battery technology that can safely deliver high energy density is widely seen as the Holy Grail for electric vehicle batteries.

To create their new battery, the UMD-led team started with an electrode material, Li-metal, which in theory can deliver the highest possible energy density. However, Li metal is  extremely reactive. To stabilize this potent battery material, the team used a “secret” ingredient the element fluorine to create a safe electrolyte. The electrolyte is the solution in a battery that allows electricity in the form of electrons to flow between the two battery terminals (electrodes).  

Using this safe, stabilizing electrolyte, allowed the researchers to use Li metal, coupled with other highly-reactive electrodes, to generate energy densities that far exceed that of current state-of-the-art Li-ion batteries. The researchers say the use of fluorine in the electrolyte, prevents the formation of small defects in the battery that could cause it to break down or catch fire, also makes the electrolyte completely non-flammable as well.

“We have created a fluorine-based electrolyte to enable a lithium-metal anode, which is otherwise known to be notoriously unstable, and demonstrated a battery that lasts up to a thousand cycles with high capacity,” said co-first authors Xuilin Fan and Long Chen, post-doctoral researchers at the University of Maryland.

The new batteries can thus charge and discharge many times over without losing the ability to provide a reliable and high quality stream of energy. Even after a thousand charge cycles, the fluorine enhanced electrolytes ensured 93 percent of battery capacity. This unprecedented technology could reliably power electric vehicles or be used for many other applications such as smartphones, power tools or large format batteries for grid-storage, the researchers say.

“The cycle lives [recharging ability] they achieved with the given electrode materials and operation voltage windows sound ‘unprecedented’. This work is a [sic] great progress forward in the battery field in the direction of increasing the energy density, although further tuning might be needed to meet various standards for commercialization,” said Jang Wook Choi, an independent battery expert who is an associate professor in chemical and biological engineering at Seoul National University in South Korea. Choi was not involved with this research.

UMD researchers Long Chen and Xiulin Fan

The team demonstrated the new batteries in coin-cell shape like a watch battery for testing, and is working with industry partners to use their approach for a high voltage battery.

Materials, such as Li-metal anode and high nickel and high-voltage cathode materials, used in this new battery are called “aggressive” materials because they react strongly with other material, meaning that they can hold a lot of energy but also tend to “eat up” any other elements they’re partnered with, eventually rendering them unusable.

 

Chunsheng Wang, a professor in the Chemical and Biochemical Engineering Department of the University of Maryland in College Park, has collaborated with Kang Xu at ARL and Khalil Amine at ANL on these new electrolyte materials for batteries. Since each element on the periodic table has a different arrangement of electrons, Wang studies how each permutation of chemical structure can be an advantage or disadvantage in a battery. He and Xu also head up an industry-university- government collaborative effort called the Center for Research in Extreme Batteries, which aims to unite companies that need batteries for unusual uses with the researchers who can invent them.

 

“The aim of the research was to overcome the capacity limitation that lithium-ion batteries experience. We identified that fluorine is the key ingredient that ensures these aggressive chemistries behave reversibly to yield long battery life. An additional merit of fluorine is that it makes the usually combustible electrolytes completely unable to catch on fire,” said Wang.

 

The team captured video of other battery cells catching on fire instantly, but their fluorine battery was impervious to this problem.

 

“You can find evidences from literature that either support or disapprove fluorine as good ingredient in interphases,” said Kang Xu, a laboratory fellow and team leader of the research at the Army Research Laboratory.

 

“What we learned in this work is that, in most cases it is not just what chemical ingredients you have in the interphase, but how they are arranged and distributed.” “We believe these fluorinated interphases serve as the key stabilization barriers to enable these aggressive electrode materials,” Xu said in an email.

 

This work was supported by the US Department of Energy (DOE) under award no. DEEE0008202 and DEEE0008200, and by UMD’s Maryland NanoCenter and its Advanced Imaging and Microscopy (AIM) Lab. 

 

Photo: Co-first-authors Long Chen (L) and Xiulin Fan (R) hold their newly-created rechargeable battery made with fluorine, a long-lasting and safe combination. Photo credit: University of Maryland       

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

 

 

 

UMD Researchers Awarded $1.5 Million NSF Grant to Bridge Gap between Microelectronics, Biological Systems

July 24, 2018
Contacts: 

Alyssa Wolice, 301-405-3936
Lee Tune, 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, MD. – Researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) are working to create first-of-a-kind microelectronic devices that can communicate with biological systems in ways that could have revolutionary impacts on the design of electronic devices and computing systems and on the diagnosis and treatment of disease. 

“Devices that freely exchange information between the electronic and biological worlds would represent a completely new societal paradigm,” said William E. Bentley, UMD Fischell Department of Bioengineering professor, director of UMD’s Robert E. Fischell Institute for Biomedical Devices and the project’s principal investigator. “It has only been about 60 years since the implantable pacemaker and defibrillator proved what devices could achieve by electronically stimulating ion currents. Imagine what we could do by transferring all the knowledge contained in our molecular space, by tapping into and controlling molecules such as glucose, hormones, DNA, proteins, or polysaccharides in addition to ions.”

The past two decades have produced many advances in microelectronics and in synthetic biology, which can be defined as the use of electrical engineering principles to design and build into living cells the ability to perceive and process information as well as perform desired functions. But, despite these advances, there remains a basic technology gap between microelectronics and the biological world. As a result, today’s consumers cannot yet turn to their smartphones to uncover information about an infection or illness affecting their body, nor can they use them to signal a device to administer an antibiotic or drug. 

Microelectronics are based on the generation and flow of free electrons through materials such as silicon, gold, or chemicals. However, because free electrons do not exist in biological systems, scientists face a major roadblock in bridging the gap between these different systems. 

But, Bentley and his team have found a loophole.

In

In biological systems, there is a small class of molecules capable of shuttling electrons. These molecules, known as “redox” molecules, can transport electrons to any location. But, redox molecules must first undergo a series of chemical reactions – oxidation or reduction reactions – to transport electrons to the intended target.

By engineering cells with synthetic biology components, the research team has experimentally demonstrated a proof-of-concept device enabling robust and reliable information exchange between electrical and biological (molecular) domains. 

Even more, the research group is now working to develop a novel biological memory device that can be written to and read from via either biological and/or electronic means. Such a device would function like a thumb drive or SD card, using molecular signals to store key information and requiring almost no energy. Inside the body, these devices would serve the same purpose – except, instead of merely storing data, they could be used to control certain biological functions.

“For years, microelectronic circuits have had limited capabilities in maximizing their computing and storage capacities, mainly due to the physical constraints that the building-block inorganic materials – such as silicon – imposed upon them,” said UMD team member Reza Ghodssi,  the Herbert Rabin Distinguished Chair in Engineering, with affiliations in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Institute for Systems Research. “By exploring and utilizing the world of biology through an integrated and robust interface technology with the semiconductor processing, we expect to address those limitations by allowing our researchers and students to design and develop first-of-kind innovative and powerful bioelectronic devices and systems.”

In addition to Bentley and Ghodssi, other team members include UMD Professor Gregory Payne, Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research; Assistant Professor Massimiliano Pierobon, University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering; and Biotechnology Scientist Jessica Terrell, U.S. Army Research Laboratory.

The research team will work to integrate subsystems and create biohybrid circuits to develop an electronically controlled device for the body that interprets molecular information, computes desired outcomes, and electronically actuates cells, allowing external signaling and control of biological populations. The group’s hope is that such a system, for example, could seek out and destroy a bacterial pathogen by recognizing the pathogen’s secreted signaling molecules and synthesizing a toxin specific to that pathogen. Through this work, the group will, for the first time, explore electronic control of complex biological behaviors.

The SemiSynBio program, a partnership between the NSF and the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), seeks to lay the groundwork for future information storage systems at the intersection of biology, physics, chemistry, computer science, materials science and engineering. The program builds on many years of NSF support for basic research in synthetic biology.

This year’s SemiSynBio awards address a range of potential applications, including storing data by using DNA, automating the design of genetic circuits, creating bioelectronics and exploring methods for molecular communication.Bentley’s group is one of eight new SemiSynBio projects to receive awards this year. Additional information is available online.

According to Bentley, the new NSF SemiSynBio grant will allow the UMD-led team to continue advancing work done with the support of a Defense Threat Reduction Agency grant, a NSF Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future grant, and a National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) grant.

UMD Assistant Professor Awarded $1.1 Million to Mitigate Rising Sea-level and Saltwater Intrusion along Maryland Eastern Shore

July 23, 2018
Contacts: 

Samantha Watters, 301-405-2434
Leon Tune, 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md.--  Katherine Tully, Ph.D., assistant professor of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture at the University of Maryland, was recently awarded $1.1 million by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to further her research on sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion on Maryland's Eastern Shore. 

Flooded corn fieldSaltwater intrusion reduces soil quality and crop productivity, and increases pollution of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus into local waterways around the Chesapeake Bay. Tully’s research combines crop research, wetland ecology, geological and chemical analyses, and economic modeling to determine what crop management strategies work in saltier environments and to identify practical applications that will be the most cost effective and profitable to farmers, while also protecting the environment. 

“The first European colonies were established in the Chesapeake Bay region, making this home to some America’s first farmlands. Sadly, some of the farms losing land to sea level rise date back to the 1630s,” explains Tully, assistant professor in UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “In some places, tidal marshes are not just taking over fields, but creating ghost towns. It is another side effect of our changing climate and a threat to our agricultural industry and the viability of farming in this area.” 

The research will be conducted through a variety of field trials and greenhouse experiments that will help determine what crops can survive and are productive in the new saltier environment. Trade-off analysis will be conducted to determine the best options for farmers economically, while also protecting the environment and the Bay from added nutrient runoff. Tully's multi-disciplinary team of collaborators includes Dr. Keryn Gedan (George Washington University), Dr. Jarrod Miller (University of Delaware), and Dr. Rebecca Epanchin-Niell (Resources for the Future).  

“Our long-term goal is the development of agroecosystems that are resilient in the face of rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion,” says Tully. “But this project is unique in that it combines many different disciplines and takes research directly into practical application and education for the farming community. Once we determine what the most cost effective strategies are, we will be sharing our results with farmers and extension agents to directly improve environmental and economic outcomes.” 

The project’s outreach initiatives will include webinars, the creation of educational materials, and train-the-trainer sessions to help ensure that the information is distributed as widely as possible. 

“We are very excited about this project and the opportunity to expand it further,” says Tully. “It supports the College’s goals to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, advance agricultural production and farm viability, and promote environmental health and awareness in the face of a changing climate.”

 

Detection of Single ‘Ghost Particle’ Yields Solution of Decade-Old Cosmic Ray Mystery

July 17, 2018
Contacts: 

Leon Tune, 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- An international team of scientists, with key contributions from researchers at the University of Maryland, for the first time have pinpointed a supermassive black hole as the source of high-energy cosmic neutrinos—ghostly subatomic particles that are among the most abundant known particles in the universe and among the hardest to detect.

Artist rendering of IceCube Lab at the South Pole shows a distant source emits neutrinos that are detected below the ice by IceCube sensors

For more than 100 years scientists have been searching for the source of cosmic rays, high energy charged particles (atoms) that move through space at nearly the speed of light.  Within cosmic rays there also are neutrinos and other subatomic particles, thus the new finding points at supermassive black holes, called blazars, as generators of neutrinos and cosmic rays.

The finding began with the detection of a single neutrino flashing through the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a sophisticated array of sensors suspended in the ice thousands of feet deep at the South Pole. The observatory is equipped with a nearly real-time alert system—developed with leadership by UMD scientists—that on Sept. 22, 2017, notified ground- and space-based telescopes around the globe capable of detecting different “messenger” signals: electromagnetic radiation, gravitational waves, neutrinos, and cosmic rays. The coordinated observation and interpretation of data from these different telescopes indicated the source of that neutrino was a blazar, designated TXS 0506+056 by astronomers. 

“This result really highlights the importance of taking a multimessenger approach to these searches,” said Erik Blaufuss, a research scientist in the UMD Department of Physics who led the effort over the past several years to create and deploy IceCube’s high-energy event alert system. “Any one observation made alone would likely not have let us piece together what is actually going on inside this source.”

Work on the IceCube alert system by Blaufuss, astrophysicist Gregory Sullivan and other UMD researchers, is part of a long history of Maryland neutrino science that also includes the design of the IceCube data collection system and its software—called IceTray.

The findings that resulted from the coordinated observations of many different observatories were published in two papers in the July 13 issue of the journal Science.

“The era of multimessenger astrophysics is here,” said France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation, which funds the  IceCube Neutrino Observatory. “Each messenger—from electromagnetic radiation, gravitational waves and now neutrinos—gives us a more complete understanding of the universe, and important new insights into the most powerful objects and events in the sky.” 

Detecting the highest energy neutrinos requires a massive particle detector, and IceCube is the world’s largest by volume. Encompassing a cubic kilometer of deep, pristine ice a mile beneath the surface at the South Pole, the detector is composed of more than 5,000 light sensors arranged in a grid. When a neutrino interacts with the nucleus of an atom, it creates a secondary charged particle, which, in turn, produces a characteristic cone of blue light that is detected by IceCube and mapped through the detector’s grid of sensitive cameras. Because a charged particle and the light it creates stay essentially true to the neutrino’s direction, they give scientists a path to follow back to the source.

Following the Sept. 22 detection, the IceCube team quickly scoured the detector’s archival data and discovered a flare of more than a dozen astrophysical neutrinos detected in late 2014 and early 2015, coincident with the same blazar, TXS 0506+056. This independent observation greatly strengthens the initial detection of a single high-energy neutrino and adds to a growing body of data that indicates TXS 0506+056 is the first known accelerator of the highest energy neutrinos and cosmic rays.

The IceCube Collaboration, with more than 300 scientists from 49 institutions around the world, runs an extensive scientific program that has established the foundations of neutrino astronomy. Their research efforts, including critical contributions to the detector operation, are funded by agencies in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is funded primarily by the U.S. National Science Foundation and is operated by a team headquartered at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. IceCube construction was also funded with significant contributions from the National Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS & FWO) in Belgium; the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) in Germany; the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, and the Swedish Research Council in Sweden; and the Department of Energy and the University of Wisconsin–Madison Research Fund in the U.S.

Photo: In this artistic rendering, based on a real image of the IceCube Lab at the South Pole, a distant source emits neutrinos that are detected below the ice by IceCube sensors. Photo credit: IceCube/NSF .

 

 

 

 

Semiconductor Quantum Transistor Opens Door for Photon-Based Computing

July 10, 2018
Contacts: 

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

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The highly anticipated quantum science-based revolution in information technology requires the development of groundbreaking hardware comparable in function to the transistors used in today’s computers. Researchers at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering and Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) have cleared a hurdle in the development of such quantum-compatible hardware with their demonstration of the first single-photon transistor using a semiconductor chip. 

Transistors are tiny switches that are the foundation of modern computing. Billions of them route electrical signals around inside the computers that power our smartphones, tablets and other devices. Quantum computers will need analogous hardware to manipulate quantum information. But the design constraints for this new information technology are stringent, and today’s most advanced processors can’t be repurposed as quantum devices. That’s because quantum information carriers, dubbed qubits, have to follow the radically different rules laid out by quantum physics. 

Scientists can use many kinds of quantum particles as qubits, even the photons that make up light. Photons have added appeal because they can swiftly shuttle information over long distances, and they are compatible with fabricated chips. However, making a quantum transistor triggered by light has been challenging because it requires that the photons interact with each other, something that doesn’t ordinarily happen. 

The Maryland research team headed by Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, JQI Fellow, and Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics Affiliate Edo Waks—has used a quantum memory to make photons interact, creating the first single-photon transistor made from a semiconductor.  

The device has numerous holes in it, making it appear much like a honeycomb. Light entering the chip bounces around and gets trapped by the hole pattern. A small crystal sits inside the area where the light intensity is strongest, and, analogous to conventional computer memory, this crystal stores information about photons as they enter the device. It can then effectively tap into that memory to mediate interactions with other photons that later arrive at the chip.

The team observed that a single photon could, by interacting with the crystal, control the transmission of a second light pulse through the device. The first light pulse acts like a key, opening the door for the second photon to enter the chip. If the first pulse didn’t contain any photons, the crystal blocked subsequent photons from getting through. This behavior is similar to a conventional transistor where a small voltage controls the passage of current through its terminals. Here, the researchers successfully replaced the voltage with a single photon and demonstrated that their quantum transistor could switch a light pulse containing around 30 photons before the device’s memory ran out.

“Using our transistor, we should be able to perform quantum gates between photons,” says Waks. “Software running on a quantum computer would use a series of such operations to attain exponential speedup for certain computational problems.

Their device, described in the July 6 issue of Science, is compact; roughly one million of these new transistors could fit inside a single grain of salt. It is also fast and able to process 10 billion photonic qubits every second.

With realistic engineering improvements their approach could allow many quantum light transistors to be linked together, according to lead author Shuo Sun, a postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford University who was a UMD grad student at the time of the research. The team hopes that such speedy, highly connected devices will eventually lead to compact quantum computers that process large numbers of photonic qubits, .

The University of Maryland (UMD) is home to one of the world’s top quantum science and technology communities, with over 200 quantum researchers on-site. UMD’s quantum science & tech partnerships and startups include:

  • the Joint Quantum Institute, (UMD the National Institute of Standards and Technology), is based on UMD’s campus and dedicated to the broad study of quantum science from theory to experiment;
  • the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science (QuICS) is a UMD-NIST initiative working to understand and enable the full promise of quantum computation, including providing quantum software to go with the quantum hardware;
  • the U.S. Army Research Laboratory Center for Distributed Quantum Information—primary academic partners, the University of Maryland, University of Chicago, University of Wisconsin, and University of Innsbruck—is developing quantum communication capabilities based on interfaces between quantum memory and photons;
  • IonQ, a quantum computing startup co-founded by UMD/JQI quantum scientist Christopher Monroe, UMD Bice Zorn Professor of Physics and Distinguished University Professor. Monroe also has played a leading role in creating the blueprint for a National Quantum Initiative

This work was supported by the Physics Frontier Center at the Joint Quantum Institute, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory Center for Distributed Quantum Information.

Image: Researchers used a single photon, stored in a quantum memory, to toggle the state of other photons. (Image credit: E. Edwards/JQI)

 

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