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Durable Wood Carbon Sponge Could Be the Future of Wearable Sensors, Pollutant Treatment

March 1, 2018
Contacts: 

Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Engineers at the University of Maryland (UMD) have for the first time demonstrated that wood can be directly converted into a carbon sponge capable of withstanding repeated compression and other extreme mechanical conditions. The new sponge can be used in various applications such as energy storage (e.g., batteries), pollutant treatment, and electronic devices and sensors. 

Graphic of wood carbon sponge productionThe UMD engineers’ wood carbon sponge overcomes several limiting factors of other lightweight, compressible carbon sponges because it is simpler, less expensive, and more sustainable to produce. Most lightweight, compressible carbon sponges are made from raw materials that are usually nonrenewable fossil resources—such as graphene—and by a complicated fabrication process that involves multiple steps and environmentally unfriendly chemicals. In contrast, the UMD researchers use a simple chemical process to transform balsa wood, a choice biomass-based material that is both renewable and abundant. Their findings were published in Chem on March 1.

“Our results reveal that rigid and incompressible balsa can be made highly compressible by a chemical treatment and carbonization process, yielding a wood carbon sponge with mechanical compressibility and fatigue resistance and electrical response sensitivity surpassing those of most reported compressible carbonaceous materials,” says corresponding author Liangbing Hu, associate professor of materials science and engineering at UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering.

Hu and colleagues achieved the bendable yet resilient architecture of the wood carbon sponge by using common chemicals to destroy the stiff hemicellulose and lignin fibers that maintain the normal cell-wall structure of balsa wood, then heating the treated wood to 1,000C in order to turn the organic material into carbon alone. The net effect of the process was to collapse the repeated, regular, rectangular pockets typical of the microstructure of balsa and other woods and replace them with a stack of wavy, interlocking, arch-like carbon sheets, likened by Hu to a cross between a coiled spring and a honeycomb.

Normal carbonized wood—obtained from only the heating step without any chemical modifications—is so fragile that any reasonable applied force pulverizes it irreversibly into ash and dust. However, the wood carbon sponge withstood and rebounded from substantial compression for up to 10,000 consecutive trials before deformation set in. Such a performance initially surprised the research team. 

“Our process for creating the wood carbon sponge is unique because we preserve the structure of the wood. This makes the sponge highly compressible and resistant to stress. This means the performance of our wood carbon sponge is one of the best among all lightweight and compressible carbonaceous materials ever reported,” says lead author Chaoji Chen, postdoctoral researcher at UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering.

After conducting further mechanical and electrical tests on the sponge, the researchers were able to incorporate a slice of it into a strain sensor prototype suitable for attachment to a human finger, a quality desirable for use in wearable fitness or health-monitoring electronics.

The researchers believe that the wood carbon sponge could also be incorporated into water purification devices and energy storage and conversation technologies, such as supercapacitors and rechargeable batteries. “The abundant applications illustrate the value of a strategy that explores the hidden potentials of natural materials, such as trees, by drawing inspiration from other natural structures and sources,” Hu says.

 

This work was supported by the Maryland NanoCenter.

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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. Its faculty includes two Nobel laureates, three Pulitzer Prize winners, 60 members of the national academies and scores of Fulbright scholars. 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.

 

 

 

UMD Earns Top 20 Ranking as Peace Corps Volunteer Producer

March 1, 2018
Contacts: 

Jennifer Burroughs, 301-405-4621

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland has been named a top Peace Corps volunteer-producing university for the seventh consecutive year. With 49 alumni currently volunteering worldwide, UMD ranks No. 16 on the list among large universities. Additionally, the state of Maryland ranks No. 10 for top volunteer-producing states overall. 

1,269 UMD graduates have traveled abroad to serve as volunteers to date. The nations’ first “Do Good campus” is also a destination of choice for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), whether to continue their education, or to pursue careers as members of UMD's faculty or professional staff. 

“The diversity of the University of Maryland, College Park was one of the main reasons I chose this school as my alma mater,” said current volunteer and alumna Cherisse Lewis. “There were students from all over and I actively participated in events that involved international or first generation students from many countries, in which Peace Corps volunteered and served. I have always had the urge to serve others and being an immigrant from Jamaica, adjusting to new cultures has always been an interest of mine. For that reason, I wanted to help those in need and those who want to experience interacting with an American,” 

This one of a kind service opportunity provides both tangible benefits and a life-defining leadership experience. Volunteers return from service as global citizens and receive support from the Peace Corps in the form of career services, graduate school opportunities, readjustment allowances, and loan deferment and cancellation opportunities. Since its inception in 1961, the agency has sent more than 230,000 Americans to serve in 141 countries worldwide. 

The Peace Corps ranks its top volunteer-producing colleges and universities annually according to the size of the student body. View the complete 2018 rankings of the top schools in each category here and find an interactive map that shows where alumni from each college are serving here.

 

 

University of Maryland Announces Energy Savings Project at IBBR Shady Grove Facility

February 28, 2018
Contacts: 

Andrew Muir, 301-405-7068

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland announces a new energy savings project at the Institute for Bioscience & Biotechnology Research (IBBR) in Shady Grove. The project is designed to substantially improve the material condition of IBBR’s mechanical systems while subsequently reducing the energy and water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of the facility. 

Through modifications and targeted replacement of key HVAC, lighting and process control equipment with more efficient systems and components, this project will effectively reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 29% and save approximately $379,000 per year in energy and operational costs.  

The project is a partnership facilitated by IBBR, the Maryland Clean Energy Center (MCEC) and the UMD Department of Engineering & Energy.  The Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) provided $79,000 in grants to construct a mini Combined Heat and Power Plant as part of the project.

“This is an exciting project because the Maryland Energy Administration has indicated that this will be the first small scale, commercial application of a micro Combined Heat and Power Plant constructed in the state of Maryland,” said Jim Johnson, Director, Institute for Bioscience & Biotechnology Research (IBBR) Facilities and Lab Services. “A successful outcome would provide a model for other small commercial applications across the State and help demonstrate how University of Maryland is leading the way.”

Scheduled to be complete by the spring of 2019, the $6,209,084 project will align the IBBR facility with the University President’s Energy Initiatives by 2020.

“This energy performance contract project will not only improve the efficiency at our IBBR facility but will also expand the use of demand-management measures to generate additional revenues for the facility via the installation of a mini Combined Heat and Power Plant,” said Mary-Ann Ibeziako, Director of Engineering & Energy.

The university will enter into a shared energy savings agreement and loan agreement with MCEC, who will enter into an energy performance contract with Siemens. The full energy performance contract has a 15-year performance period following a twelve-month construction period. 

“MCEC is excited to help facilitate the financing and development of another university energy efficiency project,” said Wyatt Shiflett, Director of Finance Programs, Maryland Clean Energy Center.  “Leveraging various financial resources, like grant funding from the Maryland Energy Administration, utility rebates and loan financing, were instrumental in developing a project that not only assists the university in meeting its sustainability goals but also makes great business sense.”

For more information, about University of Maryland sustainable energy efforts: sustainability.umd.edu/campus/energy

UMD Continues Action Plan to Shape a More Welcoming and Inclusive Campus

February 27, 2018
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland released a video today with updates on its ongoing action plan to shape a more welcoming and inclusive campus. 

UMD is committed to creating a campus free from hate, one where our community feels physically safe and safe to be who they are. The university has undertaken many actions to accomplish these goals, and significant work is still underway.

  

Additional information on the university’s actions include:

  • Partnered with the Anti-Defamation League on trainings for the President’s Cabinet, Deans and university leadership. 
  • Established and charged the Joint President/Senate Inclusion & Respect Task Force to consider how best to nurture a climate that is more respectful and inclusive of all members of our campus community, stands against hate, and reaffirms the values that define us a University. The task force plans to report its findings in April 2018. 
  • Developed a streamlined protocol for hate-bias incident response that will ensure a coordinated response, provide support to impacted community members and ensure transparency with the campus community. In addition, UMD is in the process of forming a Hate-Bias Response Team to assist victims of hate and bias on campus, and hiring a Hate-Bias Response Program Manager in the Office of Diversity & Inclusion. 
  • Implemented a university-wide survey on campus climate to help us better understand the experiences of students, faculty, staff, and administrators on our campus with respect to diversity, inclusion, equity, hate, bias, well-being, and belongingness. We will use the findings from this research to help inform and shape policies and practices that promote a safe and welcoming campus. 
  • Developed an “African-American History and the University of Maryland: A Campus Landmark Tour” that focuses on the historic and contemporary presence and contributions of African Americans to the physical and social infrastructure of the university. The walking tour is grounded in the history of the institution and the State of Maryland - conveying the complexity of racial politics and slavery as it has impacted the state's flagship institution. 
  • Established a UMD Student Leadership Council for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to help focus and improve collaboration between students and administration. 
  • Completed mandatory training in implicit racial bias for the entire force of 100+ sworn UMPD officers and installed additional surveillance cameras in and around campus buildings. 

The University of Maryland Police Department (UMPD) has 100 police and auxiliary officers serving our community:

  • We have over 400 cameras on and off campus that are monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  
  • There are more than 300 blue light phones on our campus where the caller will be put in direct contact with a UMPD dispatcher. 
  • We offer walking safety escorts that can be requested at any time of the day, year-round.  
  • The UMD Guardian Safety App serves as virtual walking escort service, automatically contacting UMPD if you do not arrive at your expected destination.   

For more information on UMD’s work on these important issues, visit https://umd.edu/weareumd.

 

UMD Admissions Statement on Participation in Nonviolent Protests

February 26, 2018
Contacts: 

Jessica Jennings, 301-405-4618

The University of Maryland's Office of Undergraduate Admissions announced today: 
 
"We recognize that students benefit from civic discourse and dialogue.  Non-academic disciplinary action from high school will not affect a student’s admission to the University of Maryland if they are engaged in peaceful and respectful protest."

UMD Statement on UMPD Charges Announced Today

February 26, 2018
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

Statement from university spokesperson Katie Lawson:

This is a story of "if you see something, say something," and we are grateful for any reported information that helps keep our UMPD police officers safe. 

This individual has been issued a denial of access to campus.

UMPD's news release is available at go.umd.edu/fiy

University of Maryland Named a Fulbright Program Top Producing Institution

February 22, 2018
Contacts: 

Jennifer Burroughs, 301-405-4621

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland has been recognized as a top producer of Fulbright U.S. Students and Scholars by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Listed among research institutions, UMD is one of only 16 schools to be represented in both categories. In addition, the university is also the top producer of Fulbright scholars in the state.

For the 2017-2018 academic year, eleven students and alumni accepted Fulbright student grants to travel across the globe to conduct research and/or teach english abroad for individually designed projects; and seven scholars, faculty & staff members were selected to conduct research, lecture, and/or consult with other scholars and institutions abroad through a variety of international program awards. 

Read more about UMD’s Fulbright winners

Each year, the Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 1,900 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 U.S. scholars, and 900 visiting scholars receive awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals. More than 380,000 "Fulbrighters" from over 160 countries have participated in the program since its inception in 1946.

The top Fulbright-producing institutions are highlighted in the Feb. 18 online edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education

 

UMD Creates Online Tour Commemorating African-American History and Contributions to Campus

February 21, 2018
Contacts: 

Jessica Jennings, 301-405-4618

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Maryland has created a new online tour exploring the history of African-Americans at the university and their contributions to the campus community. The tour, which features 17 locations on campus, is available at umd.edu/blackhistorytour.  

Photo of nyumburu cultural centerIn telling the history of the African American experience on campus, the tour begins with the university’s founding when Maryland was a slave-holding state. It charts the path of the legal battle to desegregate the campus led by Thurgood Marshall, civil rights advocate and the first African-American Supreme Court justice, and the trailblazers who were among the first black students to attend the university. The tour includes landmarks that celebrate the contributions of African-Americans to our campus and community, including the David C. Driskell Center, Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building, the Harriet Tubman room in Stamp Student Union, and Frederick Douglass Square.

“All of us need to learn this important history,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. “These stories of African-American struggles and contributions span the history of our campus and our nation. We need to make hem part of our shared memory.”

“Our historical legacy is an important part of the campus climate for diversity,” said Roger L. Worthington, UMD’s chief diversity officer. “We approached Dr. Nickerson to help us with this project and planned the launch for Black History Month as a way of acknowledging the struggles of our past and charting a path forward in building a more welcoming future. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion is pleased to support this important initiative as we continue to work together toward unity, respect and inclusion.”

The tour was developed using the expertise of Kim Nickerson, assistant dean, equity administrator and diversity officer in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, who took a critical look at the university’s history to identify and curate key moments that were shaped by African-Americans. The tour draws on university archives, reports by campus colleagues and other sources.

“Like our country, the University of Maryland is continuously evolving to live up to our core values and ideals. The evolution includes telling a more complete history of our campus by acknowledging the painful past, but also celebrating the triumphs,” said Nickerson. “We hope this work serves as a source of affirmation and inspiration and that it invites other diverse voices to share their stories.”  

Guided tours will be offered later this spring, which are being developed by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and UMD doctoral student Nana Brantuo.   

The University of Maryland is committed to creating a safe and inclusive campus for its entire community. In addition to longstanding programs on diversity, the university has invested millions into new trainings and initiatives, including hiring a hate-bias response program manager and implementing a streamlined protocol for hate-bias incident response, rolling out a campus-wide climate survey, and launching the Center on Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education. In addition, the university is comprehensively reviewing policies through a task force with the goal of shaping a more equitable, diverse and inclusive campus.  

 

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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. Its faculty includes two Nobel laureates, three Pulitzer Prize winners, 60 members of the national academies and scores of Fulbright scholars. 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.

 

UMD Awarded $1.4 Million to Design New Treatment for PCBs, Heavy Metals in Stormwater

February 19, 2018
Contacts: 

Anjanette Riley, 301-405-2057

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Environmental engineers at the University of Maryland (UMD) were recently awarded a $1.4 million grant from the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) to design a modular stormwater treatment system for Department of Defense (DoD) sites. Conducted over three years, the research will target for the removal of three environmental contaminants: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and copper.

DoD has for years worked to remove or cap contaminated sediment in waterways that receive stormwater runoff from their sites, including the Puget Sound and tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. But the grant to UMD is among the first efforts taken by SERDP, a partnership between the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, and DoD, to remove harmful chemicals before the runoff leaves a DoD site.

The project is led by Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Birthe Kjellerup. Together with co-investigator Allen P. Davis, UMD postdoctoral scholar Devrim Kaya, and several undergraduate students, along with collaborators from the University of Washington-Tacoma, Morgan State University, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Baltimore-based planning and design company Biohabitats, Kjellerup will design a treatment system ready for future field testing.

The final design could be applicable at industry sites and in communities across the country.

PAHs are created during the combustion of carbon-based materials—everything from wood to gasoline to meat—and exist in high concentrations in the coal tar sealcoat used to protect parking lots and driveways. Like PCBs, which were commonly used in electrical equipment, plastics, dyes and other industrial materials prior to being banned by Congress in 1979, this group of chemicals has been shown to cause cancer and disrupt hormone and reproductive systems in animals. Fish and other aquatic animals can also suffer neurological, reproductive, and sensory challenges when exposed to higher levels of copper.

The research team will identify wood chips, compost, and other natural media that trap these contaminants and can be layered to obtain the highest removal rates. Each layer will be chosen based on its ability to effectively treat high flows of water with minimal maintenance. DoD site managers will be able to mix and match the layers to create the optimal “treatment train” for a location’s contaminants and climate.

To boost the effectiveness and sustainability of the system, the researchers will explore ways to seed the media with microbial communities capable of immobilizing copper and biodegrading PCBs and PAHs into harmless byproducts. The team will also develop a passive sampling strategy to monitor reduction levels.

“The challenge will be creating stable biofilms for regions with different rainfall patterns so the bacterial community isn’t washed away,” said Kjellerup, adding that the project is among the first to examine how the accumulation of potentially toxic metals in a treatment system affects microbial activity.

“PCBs especially are incredibly long lasting and difficult to degrade,” said Davis. “If we are able to design a system that reliably degrades PCBs, that would increase its sustainability and extend the value of the project.”

The team will design their system using flow data and stormwater samples collected at naval installations in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. and at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington. As a first step, they will measure PCB, PAH, and copper concentrations and map the relationship between contaminant loads and the sizes of particulate matter.

Throughout the testing and design process, researchers will work closely with engineers at Biohabitats, who have successfully implemented large-scale, nature-based treatment systems throughout the country, to ground-test findings and ensure that the final design is cost effective and aligns with industry best practices.

“We hope this project can be a seed that grows into future collaborations with the University of Maryland,” said Christopher Streb, an ecological engineer and bioworks practice leader at Biohabitats. “Stream restoration, living shoreline work, or any other landscape modifications for ecological services would benefit from a closer relationship between academia and practitioners.”

 

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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. Its faculty includes two Nobel laureates, three Pulitzer Prize winners, 60 members of the national academies and scores of Fulbright scholars. 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.

 

 

 

Two UMD Science Majors Win Prestigious Churchill Scholarships

February 13, 2018
Contacts: 

Abby Robinson, 301-405-5845

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Two seniors at the University of Maryland have been awarded 2018 Winston Churchill Scholarships, which offers full funding to pursue one-year master’s degrees at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. 

The scholarship—valued at $50,000 to $60,000—covers all educational fees and provides living and travel allowances. Nationally, 15 students in the sciences, engineering or mathematics receive Churchill Scholarships annually. Since its inception in 1963, only two UMD students previously received the award, and this is the first time two were selected in the same year. Both UMD students are enrolled in the university’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS). 

Photo of Christopher Bambic

Christopher Bambic—a physics and astronomy dual-degree student, who is a Stamps Banneker/Key Scholar and a member of the University Honors program within the Honors College—will pursue a Master of Philosophy degree in astronomy. He plans to study the connection between microscale plasma physics and macroscale astrophysical phenomena.

 

 

 

Photo of Yousuf Khan

Yousuf Khan—a biological sciences major specializing in cell biology and genetics, who is a Banneker/Key Scholar and a member of the Integrated Life Sciences program within the Honors College—will pursue a Master of Philosophy degree in pathology. He plans to study programmed ribosomal frameshifting in eukaryotic organisms. This mechanism allows organisms to pack a larger amount of genetic information into a relatively short sequence of RNA.

 

 

Following their time in Cambridge, both Bambic and Khan plan to pursue doctoral degrees in the United States and ultimately pursue academic careers.

“We are extremely proud of Christopher and Yousuf, who have both managed to combine excellent academic records with outstanding research achievements,” said Gerald Wilkinson, interim dean of CMNS. “They are superb representatives of the college. Their success in such a prestigious competition is testimony to their abilities and the education they have received at the University of Maryland.”

For more information on Bambic and Khan, please visit https://go.umd.edu/fhu

 


Photo credit: Faye Levine

 

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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. Its faculty includes two Nobel laureates, three Pulitzer Prize winners, 60 members of the national academies and scores of Fulbright scholars. 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.

 

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