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UMD Researchers Help Children Improve Language Skills With $3.3M Department of Education Grant

August 14, 2017
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Researchers at the University of Maryland were recently awarded a $3.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences to investigate the efficacy of Toggle Talk—a proprietary curriculum intended to help young children learn to shift between various American English dialects and Academic Classroom English. 

Young children often come to public schools from a diverse range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, bringing with them a variety of American English dialects that are spoken in their homes. The subtle differences between their spoken dialect and the English taught in the classroom can significantly impact the development of students’ listening, language and foundational skills. 

Toggle Talk, which was developed by Professor Holly Craig (University of Michigan) under a previous grant funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, uses “contrastive analysis” to teach children how to make situationally-appropriate language choices—providing young children with the vocabulary and language structure awareness necessary to switch between their home language and more formal, academic language. Dr. Jan Edwards, professor in UMD's Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences and Associate Director of the Language Science Center, is planning a closely monitored local rollout of the Toggle Talk curriculum in collaboration with her co-investigators, Jeff Harring (HDQM), Rebecca Silverman (CHSE) and Ana Taboada Barber (CHSE). 

“The focus here is on spoken language,” said Dr. Edwards. “It’s a preventative program that teaches children about shifting between dialects as soon as they enter a school environment.” 

Part of the reason early exposure to this curriculum is so vital involves how children develop fundamental reading skills, Dr. Edwards said. “We often ask our students to ‘sound it out.’ When the language spoken at home is different than that spoken in the classroom–silent letters or grammatical differences–it can mean real challenges for the students. The earlier we can help students resolve these differences, the better.” 

The Toggle Talk curriculum addresses these challenges by teaching young children about language differentiation and how to flexibly shift between two dialects, without devaluing the language spoken within their homes. 

“About a third of all children cannot make this shift by the end of 2nd grade. These students are at the highest risk to fall behind in literacy acquisition,” said Dr. Edwards. The hope is that this innovative curriculum can help researchers and educators identify opportunities to close the achievement gap for children in public school systems across the nation. 

Dr. Edwards’ team is also interested in learning more about how dialect shifting impacts students’ cognitive bandwidth. This process may offer students similar cognitive benefits to shifting between languages. 

“Bilingual students have what some call the ‘metalinguistic advantage’, because of their ability to think about language and manipulate its components in ways that monolingual speakers are less free to do so,” said Dr. Taboada Barber. “I am especially interested in finding out if the impact of Toggle Talk instruction can render similar benefits for dialect shifting than those afforded to bilingual or multilingual students.”

 

UMD President Wallace D. Loh Statement on August 12, 2017 Violence in Charlottesville

August 12, 2017
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

Attributed to University of Maryland President, Wallace D. Loh:

The University of Maryland stands in solidarity with the University of Virginia and the City of Charlottesville in ​our ​shared​ commitment to fundamental American values of diversity, inclusion, and mutual respect, and in our ​shared ​​condemnation​ of the supremacist ​ideology of hate, bigotry, and violence. 

Everyone has the right to assemble, march, and speak freely, but intimidation and assaults have no place anywhere in our democratic society. 

​These values are at the foundation of our educational mission as a university. ​

The University of Maryland community is saddened by the injuries and loss of life today. Our thoughts and prayers are for the well-being of all who were hurt and those who are in mourning.    

NSF Funds $1.2 M in UMD Work on Neural Engineering of Complex Behaviors

August 10, 2017
Contacts: 

Lee Tune, 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Three University of Maryland engineers have been awarded new National Science Foundation (NSF) grants through an NSF program that fosters research on how human neural and cognitive systems interact and intersect with advances in engineering, computer science and education. 

These grants are among 19 NSF awards issued to U.S. cross-disciplinary teams to conduct work that is  “bold, risky, and transcends the perspectives and approaches typical of single-discipline research efforts.” According to the agency, the awards will contribute to NSF’s investments in fundamental brain research, in particular support of Understanding the Brain and the BRAIN Initiative, a coordinated research effort that seeks to accelerate the development of new neurotechnologies.

Professor Jonathan Simon, who holds joint appointments in electrical and computer engineering (ECE), biology and UMD’s Institute for Systems Research (ISR), and Assistant Professor Behtash Babadi, who holds joint appointments in ECE and ISR, have received a $900,000 grant for research that will take advantage of recent advances in noninvasive neuroimaging to learn more about how the brain’s neural mechanisms work in adaptive auditory processing. Simon and Babadi are two of more than 140 UMD faculty in the university’s Brain and Behavior Initiative, which seeks to revolutionize the interface between engineers and neuroscientists by generating novel tools and approaches to understand complex behaviors produced by the human brain.

UMD Associate Professor Sarah Bergbreiter, who holds a joint appointment in mechanical engineering and ISR,  and two colleagues from Northwestern University, L. Catherine Brinson and Mitra Hartmann, were awarded a $1,000,000 grant to better understand how animals use the sense of touch to gather information and then use this information to perform complex behaviors. The University of Maryland’s portion of the grant is $320,000.

Neural Engineering of Complex Behaviors PhotoUsing brain imaging to study how our brains adapt  to varying sound environments 

Recent, growing evidence suggests that sophisticated brain functions happen when more than one region of the brain is activated at the same time, and the brain forms networks between these regions that can dynamically reconfigure. These networks allow humans to rapidly adapt to changes in their sound environment, such as when walking from a quiet street into a noisy party. Currently, little is known about the workings of these brain networks, which bind, organize, and give meaning to higher cognitive functions.

Adaptive auditory processing is one such higher function. It is the brain’s ability to attend to, segregate, and track one of many sound sources, to learn its identity, commit it to memory, robustly recognize it, and use it to make decisions. And it is in this area that the new NSF funding will support new research by Simon and Babadi. 

“Deciphering the neural mechanisms underlying the brain’s network dynamics is critical to understanding how the brain carries out universal cognitive processes such as attention, decision-making and learning,” notes Simon. “However, the sheer high-dimensionality of dynamic neuroimaging data, together with the complexity of these [brain] networks, has created serious challenges, in practice, in its data analysis, signal processing, and neural modeling.”

The researchers will use modern signal processing techniques to combine high temporal resolution, non-invasive recordings with high spatial resolutions.

“Our work will bring new insight to the dynamic organization of cortical networks at unprecedented spatiotemporal resolutions, and can thereby impact technology in the areas of brain-computer interfacing and neuromorphic engineering,” says Babadi. “It will also allow for the creation of engineering solutions for early detection and monitoring of cognitive disorders involving auditory perception and attention.”

Neuromorphic engineering is the use of a very large-scale system of integrated circuits to mimic neuro-biological architectures present in the nervous system.

Using robotic whiskers to help understand how animal brains’ use real ones

The research by Bergbreiter and her two Northwestern colleagues will advance understanding of how animals first gather information through the sense of touch and then how the use this information to perform complex behaviors.  At Maryland, Bergbreiter will be developing artificial, modular, reconfigurable whiskers that imitate the functions of animal whiskers.  

Neural Engineering of Complex Behaviors Photo

The whiskers will be mounted on robotic platforms that can mimic the head movements of animals, contributing to the development of novel robots and sensors that use touch to sense an object’s location, shape, and texture, to track fluid wakes in water, and to sense the direction of airflow.

“Engineering arrays of sensors to serve as physical models of a rat's whiskers will allow us to better understand the connections between what a rat senses and its actions,” Bergbreiter says. “Using this understanding, we can design robots with the ability to explore dark areas or work in other challenging environments that require a sense of touch or flow.”

The NSF Neural and Cognitive Science Program

The complexities of brain and behavior pose fundamental questions in many areas of science and engineering, drawing intense interest across a broad spectrum of disciplinary perspectives while eluding explanation by any one of them. Rapid advances within and across disciplines are leading to an increasingly interconnected fabric of theories, models, empirical methods and findings, and educational approaches, opening new opportunities to understand complex aspects of neural and cognitive systems through integrative multidisciplinary approaches. According to NSF this program seeks to support innovative, integrative, boundary-crossing proposals that can best capture those opportunities

"It takes insight and courage to tackle these problems," said Ken Whang, NSF program director in the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate (CISE). "These teams are combining their expertise to try to forge new paths forward on some of the most complex and important challenges of understanding the brain. They are posing problems in new ways, taking intellectual and technical risks that have huge potential payoff."

 

UMD Researchers Discover Link Between Regular Energy Drink Use and Later Drug Use Among Young Adults

August 8, 2017
Contacts: 

Kelly Blake, 301-405-9418

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Could young adults who regularly consume highly caffeinated energy drinks be at risk for future substance use? A new study by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers, published in the journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, suggests that there is reason for concern. In a study of young adults across a five-year period (from ages 21-25), Dr. Amelia Arria and colleagues with the Center on Young Adult Health and Development (CYAHD) found evidence that individuals who regularly consumed highly caffeinated energy drinks, and sustained that consumption over time, were significantly more likely to use cocaine, nonmedically use prescription stimulants (NPS), and be at risk for alcohol use disorder (AUD) at age 25. Participants were recruited for the study while enrolled as college students, and were surveyed at regular intervals to track changes in various health and risk-taking behaviors, including energy drink consumption and drug use.

“The results suggest that energy drink users might be at heightened risk for other substance use, particularly stimulants,” said Dr. Arria, associate professor of behavioral and community health and CYAHD director. “Because of the longitudinal design of this study, and the fact that we were able to take into account other factors that would be related to risk for substance use, this study provides evidence of a specific contribution of energy drink consumption to subsequent substance use.”

Previous research by CYAHD researchers has documented the relationship between energy drink (ED) consumption and high-risk drinking behaviors, as well as the likelihood of other accompanying drug use, but this study is the first to examine the unique effect of different trajectories of ED consumption on likelihood of later substance use.

Notably, more than half (51.4%) of the 1099 study participants fell into the group with a “persistent trajectory,” meaning that they sustained their energy drink consumption over time.

Members of this group were significantly more likely to be using stimulant drugs such as cocaine and prescription stimulants non-medically and be at risk for alcohol use disorder at age 25. The research singles out ED consumption as the contributory factor because they controlled for the effects of demographics, sensation-seeking behaviors, other caffeine consumption, and prior substance use at age 21.

Those in the “intermediate trajectory” group (17.4%) were also at increased risk for using cocaine and NPS relative to those in the “non-use trajectory” who never consumed energy drinks (20.6%). Members of the “desisting trajectory” group (those whose consumption declined steadily over time) and the non-use group were not at higher risk for any substance use measures that were tested.

While the biological mechanism that might explain how someone who persistently consumes energy drinks might go on to use other stimulant drugs remains unclear, the research indicates a cause for concern that should be further investigated.

Dr. Arria’s research group has previously examined the health risks from consuming highly caffeinated energy drinks and she has been a leader in efforts to protect adolescents and children from these risks, which include negative impacts on cardiovascular function or even death. She has also joined with other medical and public health experts who urged the FDA to regulate energy drinks. Unlike soft drinks, energy drinks remain unregulated by the FDA and are not subject to federal labeling requirements to list caffeine content or additional ingredients whose interaction with caffeine is not well understood.

“Future studies should focus on younger people, because we know that they too are regularly consuming energy drinks,” Dr. Arria suggests. “We want to know whether or not adolescents are similarly at risk for future substance use.”

Funding for this study was provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

 

UMD Scientists Find First Clear Evidence of an Upper Level Atmosphere on an Exoplanet

August 7, 2017
Contacts: 

Lee Tune, 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- An international team of researchers from UMD, University of Exeter,  NASA and other institutions has found compelling evidence for a stratosphere on an enormous planet outside of the solar system. Previous research spanning the past decade has indicated possible evidence for stratospheres on planets in other solar systems, but this finding on planet, WASP-121b, is the first time that glowing water molecules have been detected—the clearest signal yet to indicate an exoplanet stratosphere.

“When it comes to distant exoplanets, which we can’t see in the same detail as other planets here in our own solar system, we have to rely on proxy techniques to reveal their structure,” said Drake Deming, a professor of astronomy at UMD and a co-author of the study. “The stratosphere of WASP-121b so hot it can make water vapor glow, which is the basis for our analysis.”

The planet, located approximately 900 light years from Earth, is a gas giant exoplanet commonly referred to as a “hot Jupiter.”  The scientists made the new discovery using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The research is published in the August 3, 2017 issue of the journal Nature.

In our solar system all the planets have some kind of atmosphere, but the composition, density and number of layers vary greatly. Earth’s atmosphere has five layers, of which the troposphere is closest to the planet surface and in which temperature falls as the altitude increases. The stratosphere is the next layer and here temperatures increase with higher altitudes, a phenomena also found in the stratosphere of WASP-121b. The last three layers of Earth’s atmosphere are the mesosphere, the thermosphere, and the last layer, the exosphere, which merges with the emptiness of outer space .

To study the stratosphere of WASP-121b, scientists used spectroscopy to analyze how the planet’s brightness changed at different wavelengths of light. Water vapor in the planet's atmosphere, for example, behaves in predictable ways in response to certain wavelengths of light, depending on the temperature of the water. At cooler temperatures, water vapor blocks light from beneath it. But at higher temperatures, the water molecules glow.

The phenomenon is similar to what happens with fireworks, which get their colors when metallic substances are heated and vaporized, moving their electrons into higher energy states. Depending on the material, these electrons will emit light at specific wavelengths as they lose energy. For example, sodium produces orange-yellow light and strontium produces red light.

The water molecules in the atmosphere of WASP-121b similarly give off radiation as they lose energy, but it is in the form of infrared light, which the human eye is unable to detect.

“Theoretical models have suggested that stratospheres may define a special class of ultra-hot exoplanets, with important implications for the atmospheric physics and chemistry,” said Tom Evans, research fellow at the University of Exeter and lead author of the study. “When we pointed Hubble at WASP-121b, we saw glowing water molecules, implying that the planet has a strong stratosphere.”

WASP-121b has a greater mass and radius than Jupiter, making it much puffier. The exoplanet orbits its host star every 1.3 days, and the two bodies are about as close as they can be to each other without the star's gravity ripping the planet apart. This close proximity also means that the top of the atmosphere is heated to a blazing hot 2,500 degrees Celsius – the temperature at which iron exists in gas rather than solid form.

In Earth's stratosphere, ozone traps ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which raises the temperature of this layer of atmosphere. Other solar system bodies have stratospheres, too—methane is responsible for heating in the stratospheres of Jupiter and Saturn's moon Titan, for example. In solar system planets, the change in temperature within a stratosphere is typically less than 100 degrees Celsius. However, on WASP-121b, the temperature in the stratosphere rises by 1,000 degrees Celsius.

Though researchers have not been able to positively identify the cause of the heating they hope upcoming observations at other wavelengths to address this mystery.  

Vanadium oxide and titanium oxide gases are candidate heat sources, as they strongly absorb starlight at visible wavelengths, much like ozone absorbs UV radiation. These compounds are expected to be present in only the hottest of hot Jupiters, such as WASP-121b, as high temperatures are required to keep them in the gaseous state. Indeed, vanadium oxide and titanium oxide are commonly seen in brown dwarfs, ‘failed stars’ that have some commonalities with exoplanets.

NASA's forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope will be able to follow up on the atmospheres of planets like WASP-121b with higher sensitivity than any telescope currently in space.

"This super-hot exoplanet is going to be a benchmark for our atmospheric models, and will be a great observational target moving into the Webb era," said Hannah Wakeford, a research fellow at the University of Exeter and a co-author of the research paper.

 

 

 

University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Breaks Ground on Research and Academics at Cole Field House

August 4, 2017
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) and University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) gathered with key partners, elected officials and donors on Wednesday to celebrate the latest milestones in the construction of the new Cole Field House. 

The event marked the completion of the first phase in construction of the new Cole Field House with a dedication of the just completed indoor practice fields; and celebrated the groundbreaking of the second phase of the project, which includes the Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance, a clinical treatment center and space for UMD’s Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Led by University System of Maryland Chancellor Robert Caret, UMB President Jay Perman and UMD President Wallace Loh, the event underscored the importance of Cole Field House in putting the state of Maryland at the forefront of training the next generation of researchers, doctors, athletes and entrepreneurs. Maryland Senate President, Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., spoke to emphasize the importance of the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership, and UMD’s head football coach DJ Durkin discussed the world class facilities that UMD’s student athletes will now have access to.

A panel discussion highlighted how Cole Field House will change how we view, prevent and treat traumatic brain injury. The panel, moderated by Chancellor Emeritus of the University System of Maryland, Dr. Brit Kirwan, included Elizabeth Quinlan, Professor, Department of Biology, UMD, and Scientific Co-director, Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance; Alan Faden, Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, UM School of Medicine, UMB, and Scientific Co-director, Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance; and Andrew Pollak, James Lawrence Kernan Professor and Chair, Department of Orthopedics, UM School of Medicine Program in Sports Medicine, UMB.

View photos from the event here. 

Photo of ribbon cutting at Cole Field House event

The $196 million project is scheduled to be completed and ready for occupancy in 2019. 

 

 

University of Maryland Statement on August 3, 2017 Death of Contract Construction Worker

August 3, 2017
Contacts: 
Statement from Carlo Colella, Vice President of Administration & Finance
 
The university community is deeply saddened to learn of the death of a construction contractor working on campus today. We extend our heartfelt condolences.
 
The University of Maryland Police Department and Maryland Occupational Safety and Health will investigate the incident. 
 

UMD, UMB Offer First Look into New Cole Field House

July 31, 2017
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

College Park, Md.-- The University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) will join with key partners to mark the completion of the first phase in construction of the new Cole Field House with a dedication of the recently completed indoor practice fields. The institutions will also celebrate the groundbreaking of the second phase of the project, which includes the Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance, a clinical treatment center and space for UMD’s Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The new Cole Field House will be a state-of-the art facility bringing research, innovation, athletics and clinical practice under one roof. The collaboration at Cole Field House will enable novel and groundbreaking work in brain injury and neuroscience that benefits the State at large.

WHO:

Robert L. Caret, Chancellor, University System of Maryland
Jay A. Perman, President, UMB
Wallace D. Loh, President, UMD
DJ Durkin, Football Head Coach, UMD
Elizabeth Quinlan, Professor, Department of Biology, UMD, and Scientific Co-director, Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance
Alan Faden, Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, UM School of Medicine, UMB, and Scientific Co-director, Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance
Andrew Pollak, James Lawrence Kernan Professor and Chair, Department of Orthopedics, UM School of Medicine Program in Sports Medicine, UMB

WHEN:

August 2, 2017
11:00 - Program begins
**Media availability to follow. Requests for interviews should be made in advance of the event.

WHERE:

Cole Field House
University of Maryland
4090 Union Dr., College Park, MD 20742

  • See on a map here
  • Parking will be available in Lot 1. Media should RSVP to secure a parking spot.

Four UMD Students Awarded 2017 Hollings Scholarship

July 31, 2017
Contacts: 

Leon Tune, 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Four University of Maryland students have been awarded the 2017 Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Rising juniors Logan Kline, Anna Lowien, Cara Schiksnis and Emma Thrift, will each receive up to $9,500 per year for the last two years of their undergraduate career and participate in a 10-week, full-time paid summer internship at NOAA  facility. to gain hands-on educational training experience in NOAA-related science, research, technology, policy, management and education. 

Awarded annually, the Hollings Scholarship program recruits and prepares students for public service careers with NOAA and other natural resource and science agencies, or careers as teachers and educators in oceanic and atmospheric science. This year, NOAA awarded 110 Hollings scholarships to students from 64 universities in 33 states.

UMD awardees include: 

Photo of Logan KlineKline, president of the Environmental Science and Policy Student Association (ENSPire), is an environmental science and policy major with a concentration in Marine and Coastal Management. As ENSPire president, she works to unite ENSP majors by organizing career panels, social events, open forums with esteemed faculty members and fundraisers on behalf of the program. She conducted research in the Wetland Ecology lab under UMD professor Dr. Andrew Baldwin, examining carbon sequestration in restored versus natural wetlands. She also served as a Sustainability Advisor in the Office of Sustainability. This summer, Kline is working as an Interpretation and Environmental Education Intern for Fish and Wildlife at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia.

 

 

Photo of Lowien

An environmental science and policy (ENSP) major with a concentration in environmental geosciences and restoration, Lowien is a member of the College Park Scholars Science and Global Change program. She conducts research in the laboratory of Michael Evans, an associate professor of geology at UMD. This summer, Lowien is analyzing cellulose from tropical trees in locations that experience changes in rainfall when El Niño and La Niña events occur. Her results will contribute to the study of whether and how human-caused changes in atmospheric composition have impacted El Niño. 

 

 

 

Photo of Cara SchiksnisSchiksnis, an environmental science and technology major with a concentration in environmental health, works in the Aquatic Toxicology Lab on campus. A member of the Gemstone Honors Program, she and her Gemstone team, Oyster, are working to increase populations of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay by designing structures to which developing oysters can attach and grow -- thereby improving the water quality in the bay and supporting a diverse and dynamic bay ecosystem. This summer, Schiksnis is interning at Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey, working with product stewardship to increase the company’s sustainability and minimize the environmental impacts of their products. This fall, Schiksnis will take sustainability classes while studying abroad in Florence, Italy.

 

Photo of Emma Thrift

Thrift, a biological sciences major and intern in the Plant Ecology Laboratory at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, studies mycorrhizal fungi that live in plant root systems and are necessary for orchid seeds to germinate. Thrift’s work focuses on how mycorrhizal fungi affect orchid populations, and she hopes to apply the results toward conserving orchids and orchid biodiversity in the wild. Thrift is also a CMNS student and a member of the College Park Scholars Science and Global Change program.

 

Gamma-ray Burst Captured in Unprecedented Detail

July 28, 2017
Contacts: 

Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Gamma-ray bursts are among the most energetic and explosive events in the universe. They are also short-lived, lasting from a few milliseconds to about a minute. This has made it tough for astronomers to observe a gamma-ray burst in detail.

Image of a gamma ray burstUsing a wide array of ground- and space-based telescope observations, an international team led by University of Maryland astronomers constructed one of the most detailed descriptions of a gamma-ray burst to date. The event, named GRB160625B, revealed key details about the initial “prompt” phase of gamma-ray bursts and the evolution of the large jets of matter and energy that form as a result of the burst. The group’s findings are published in the July 27, 2017 issue of the journal Nature.

“Gamma-ray bursts are catastrophic events, related to the explosion of massive stars 50 times the size of our sun. If you ranked all the explosions in the universe based on their power, gamma-ray bursts would be right behind the Big Bang,” said Eleonora Troja, an assistant research scientist in the UMD Department of Astronomy and lead author of the research paper. “In a matter of seconds, the process can emit as much energy as a star the size of our sun would in its entire lifetime. We are very interested to learn how this is possible.”

The group’s observations provide the first answers to some long-standing questions about how a gamma-ray burst evolves as the dying star collapses to become a black hole. First, the data suggest that the black hole produces a strong magnetic field that initially dominates the energy emission jets. Then, as the magnetic field breaks down, matter takes over and begins to dominate the jets. Most gamma-ray burst researchers thought that the jets were dominated by either matter or the magnetic field, but not both. The current results suggest that both factors play key roles.

“There has been a dichotomy in the community. We find evidence for both models, suggesting that gamma-ray burst jets have a dual, hybrid nature,” said Troja, who is also a visiting research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “The jets start off magnetic, but as the jets grow, the magnetic field degrades and loses dominance. Matter takes over and dominates the jets, although sometimes a weaker vestige of the magnetic field might survive.”

The data also suggest that synchrotron radiation—which results when electrons are accelerated in a curved or spiral pathway—powers the initial, extremely bright phase of the burst, known as the “prompt” phase. 

“Synchrotron radiation is the only emission mechanism that can create the same degree of polarization and the same spectrum we observed early in the burst,” Troja said. “Our study provides convincing evidence that the prompt gamma-ray burst emission is driven by synchrotron radiation. This is an important achievement because, despite decades of investigation, the physical mechanism that drives gamma-ray bursts had not yet been unambiguously identified.”

Comprehensive coverage of GRB160625B from a wide variety of telescopes that gathered data in multiple spectra made these conclusions possible, the researchers said.

“Gamma-ray bursts occur at cosmological distances, with some dating back to the birth of the universe,” said Alexander Kutyrev, an associate research scientist in the UMD Department of Astronomy and a co-author of the research paper. “The events are unpredictable and once the burst occurs, it’s gone. We are very fortunate to have observations from a wide variety of sources, especially during the prompt phase, which is very difficult to capture.” 

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope first detected the gamma-ray emission from GRB160625B. Soon afterward, the ground-based MASTER-IAC telescope, a part of Russia’s MASTER robotic telescope network located at the Teide Observatory in Spain’s Canary Islands, followed up with optical light observations while the prompt phase was still active. 

MASTER-IAC gathered critical data on the proportion of polarized optical light relative to the total light produced by the prompt phase,, providing the crucial link between synchrotron radiation and the prompt phase of this gamma-ray burst. 

A magnetic field can also influence how much polarized light is emitted as time passes and the burst evolves. Because the researchers were able to analyze polarization data that spanned nearly the entire timeframe of the burst—a rare achievement—they were able to discern the presence of a magnetic field and track how it changed as GRB160625B progressed.

“There is very little data on polarized emission from gamma-ray bursts,” said Kutyrev, who is also an associate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “This burst was unique because we caught the polarization state at an early stage. This is hard to do because it requires a very fast reaction time and there are relatively few telescopes with this capability. This paper shows how much can be done, but to get results like this consistently, we will need new rapid-response facilities for observing gamma-ray bursts.”

In addition to the gamma-ray and optical light observations, NASA’s Swift Gamma-ray Burst Mission spacecraft captured X-ray and ultraviolet data. The Reionization and Transient InfraRed/Optical Project camera—a collaboration between NASA, the University of California system and the National Autonomous University of Mexico installed at Mexico’s Observatorio Astrónomico Nacional in Baja California—captured infrared data. 

The group also gathered radio observations from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s Australia Telescope Compact Array, located north of Sydney in rural New South Wales, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array outside of Socorro, New Mexico.

In addition to Troja and Kutyrev, UMD co-authors of this paper include Adjunct Assistant Professor Brad Cenko and Astronomy Graduate Student Vicki Toy.

This research was supported by NASA (Award Nos. NNX09AH71G, NNX09AT02G, NNX10AI27G, NNX12AE66G, NNH14ZDA001N and NNH15ZDA001N), El Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, Mexico (CONACyT; Award Nos. INFR-2009-01-122785 and CB-2008-101958), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Award No. IN113810), the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States-El Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología Collaborative Grants Program (UC MEXUS-CONACyT; Award No. CN 09-283), the Russian Science Foundation (Award No. 16-12-00085) and the United Kingdom Space Agency. The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

 

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