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Large, Distant Comets More Common Than Previously Thought

August 24, 2017
Contacts: 

Matthew E. Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- A team of astronomers, led by University of Maryland professor James Bauer, has found that there are about seven times more long-period comets measuring at least 1 kilometer across than previously predicted.

Notoriously difficult to study, long-period comets are comets that take more than 200 years to make one revolution around the sun. Because they spend most of their time far from the solar system, many "long-period comets" will never approach the sun in a person's lifetime. In fact, those that travel inward from the Oort Cloud—a group of icy bodies beginning roughly 300 billion kilometers away from the sun—can have periods of thousands or even millions of years.

Bauer, together with colleagues from the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Planetary Science Institute (PSI)  and eight other institutions, made the discovery using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft. The researchers also found that these long-period comets are, on average, nearly twice as big as short-period comets.  Short-period comets have periods of less than 20 years and are also known as "Jupiter family” comets, because their orbits are shaped by Jupiter’s gravity.

The findings were published July 14, 2017, in The Astronomical Journal and reinforce the idea that comets that pass by the sun more frequently tend to be smaller than those spending much more time away from the sun. That is because Jupiter family comets get more sunlight, which causes volatile substances like water to sublimate and drag away other material from the comet’s surface as well.

"The number of comets speaks to the amount of material left over from the solar system's formation," Bauer said. "We now know that there are more relatively large chunks of ancient material coming from the Oort Cloud than we thought."

The Oort Cloud is too distant to be seen by current telescopes, but is thought to be a spherical distribution of small icy bodies at the outermost edge of the solar system. The density of comets within it is low, so the odds of comets colliding within it are low. Long-period comets that WISE observed probably got kicked out of the Oort Cloud millions of years ago. The observations were carried out in 2010 during the spacecraft's primary mission, before it was renamed NEOWISE and reactivated to target near-Earth objects in 2013.

"Our study is a rare look at objects perturbed out of the Oort Cloud," said Amy Mainzer, a co-author of the study based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and principal investigator of the NEOWISE mission. "They are the most pristine examples of what the solar system was like when it formed."

Photo of long comet

Astronomers already had broader estimates of how many long-period and Jupiter family comets are in our solar system, but had no good way of measuring the sizes of long-period comets. This is because the cloud of gas and dust that surrounds each comet—known as a coma—appears hazy in images and obscures the comet’s nucleus.

“These results suggest there are roughly a billion more Oort cloud objects than there are Jupiter Family comets” says Tommy Grav, the second author of the work, based at PSI in Tucson, Arizona.

By using WISE data that shows the infrared glow of the coma, the scientists were able to "subtract" the coma from each comet and estimate the size of the nucleus. The data came from WISE observations of 164 cometary bodies—including 95 Jupiter family comets and 56 long-period comets.

"Our results mean there's an evolutionary difference between Jupiter family and long-period comets," Bauer said.

The existence of so many more long-period comets than predicted suggests that more of them have likely impacted planets, delivering icy materials from the outer reaches of the solar system. Researchers also found clustered orbits among the long-period comets they studied, suggesting there could have been larger bodies that broke apart to form these groups.

The results will be important for assessing the likelihood of comets impacting our solar system's planets, including Earth.

"Comets travel much faster than asteroids, and some of them are very big," Mainzer said. "Studies like this will help us define what kind of hazard long-period comets may pose." 

“With the number of Oort Cloud objects numbering in the trillions,” says Bauer, “ and several times more long-period comets, there are significantly more opportunities than we previously thought to study these time capsules from our early solar system’s formation.” 

 

UMD Recognized Nationally in Sierra Club Sustainability Rankings

August 22, 2017
Contacts: 

Andrew Muir, 301-405-7068

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland improved its overall nationwide sustainability ranking in the recently released Sierra Magazine Cool Schools listing. The university finished No. 33 overall on the list, up from No. 44 in last year’s rankings, and No. 2 out of the Big Ten Conference.

“We are once again honored to be recognized by such an outstanding organization like the Sierra Club for our ongoing campus wide sustainability efforts,” said Scott Lupin, director, Office of Sustainability. “All Terps should be proud of this achievement as we continue to make progress in our Climate Action Plan goals.” 

The Sierra rankings included more than 200 colleges and universities who supplied sustainability data and metrics for reporting. Areas of high performance for UMD included the categories of waste reduction, food, transportation, innovation, and academics. The university also improved in the energy category thanks to ongoing efforts implemented through the President’s Energy Initiatives

The University of Maryland continues to take pride in the campus-wide engagement of staff, students and faculty in developing a culture of sustainability.  The upcoming Sustainability Progress Report set for release this October, will highlight an array of achievements made towards achieving the campus Climate Action Plan goal of carbon neutrality in 2050. 

 

UMD and Bowie State Univ. Launch Training Program to Increase Diversity in Education Research

August 22, 2017
Contacts: 

Audrey Hill, 301-405-3468

College Park, MD--The University of Maryland College of Education and Bowie State University received a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to train undergraduate students from underrepresented populations for doctoral study. Designed to increase diversity in education research, students in the Research Institute for Scholars in Education (RISE) training program will receive research mentoring on language and literacy topics from UMD faculty, while receiving academic mentoring from BSU faculty.

The RISE program, led by UMD College of Education Professor Susan De La Paz and BSU College of Education Professor William Drakeford, will include students and faculty from both universities. The undergraduate juniors selected for the program will be from traditionally underrepresented groups, including students who belong to an ethnic or racial minority and/or are low-income, first generation college students, veterans, or students with disabilities. 

“A diverse group of education researchers is important because addressing cultural and linguistic diversity remains a significant challenge for literacy and language scholars,” Dr. De La Paz said. “The goal of this grant is to enhance the pipeline of education scientists by developing the capacity of underrepresented undergraduates to contribute to rigorous scientific research in the field.”

The five-year grant will fund fellowships for up to 48 pre-doctoral fellows. Through the RISE program, the students will work with researchers from four departments within UMD’s College of Education and College of Behavioral & Social Sciences-- Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education (CHSE), Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership (TLPL), Human Development and Quantitative Methodology (HDQM) and Hearing and Speech Sciences (HESP). Fellows will be paired with researchers who study language and literacy issues for a wide range of student groups, including those who are culturally or linguistically diverse, students who have learning disabilities, are English learners, or have speech, language, or hearing impairments. The research will focus on the needs of students who range from preschool to high school age or who are adults.

Fellows will attend an eight-week summer and two-week winter research seminar, participate in two semester-long research opportunities and receive academic mentorship from BSU faculty and peer mentorship from graduate students on either campus. 

Susan De La Paz is a faculty member in the UMD College of Education’s Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education. William Drakeford, RISE project lead at BSU, is a faculty member in the College of Education’s Department of Teaching, Learning and Professional Development. 

The grant award is funded through the Institute of Education’s Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program.

 

UMD Announces Updates to Fan Code of Conduct and Prohibited Items & Behavior Policies to Enhance Fan Safety

August 18, 2017
Contacts: 

Zack Bolno, 301-314-1482

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland Department of Intercollegiate Athletics has adopted a series of changes to the university’s “Fan Code of Conduct” and “Prohibited Items & Behavior” policies to enhance fan safety during sporting events. Following a recommendation from the university's Athletic Council, the changes strengthen and clarify the existing policies, and affirm the university’s core values of diversity, inclusion and respect.

"We engaged in a comprehensive review of our policies as a reflection of our campus’ ongoing work to combat hate and create a safer campus,” said Kevin Anderson, Director of Athletics. “We are incredibly proud of the positive and supportive behavior that fans of the Maryland Terrapins exhibit, and believe these proactive changes to our policy will ultimately benefit the fan experience for all.”

“The Athletic Council felt strongly that our policies against items and behavior designed to intimidate our fans should be as clear and specific as possible to allow our fans to feel both physically and emotionally safe at our events. We are pleased that our recommendations have been accepted and put into effect,” according to a joint statement from the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Athletic Council.

Changes to the “Fan Code of Conduct” emphasize the university's commitment to creating a safe, comfortable and enjoyable experience not only for fans of all ages, but for student-athletes, coaches and officials; and the importance of that experience both in the athletic venue and across the entire campus. The changes also clarify that fighting, as well as obscene, profane or abusive language or behavior can result in ejection from games.

While intimidating items and actions have already been banned from athletic events, the revised “Prohibited Items & Behavior” language is intended to strengthen the policy. Several items were added to the policy’s prohibited list, including facsimile weapons and flammables of any kind. The changes also reflect clarity in prohibited signage, apparel or other items that display, depict or represent recognizable symbols and/or words that incite, intimidate, or threaten members of the UMD community, specifying both nooses and swastikas in the new policy.

The new policies can be found here: http://www.umterps.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=29700&ATCLID=211662019

 

UMD's Colwell Awarded 2017 International Prize for Biology

August 18, 2017
Contacts: 

Lee Tune, 301-405-4679
Tom Ventsias, 301-405-5933

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Rita Colwell, a Distinguished University Professor in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), has been named the 2017 laureate of the International Prize for Biology for her outstanding contributions to marine microbiology, bioinformatics and the understanding and prevention of cholera.

Photo of UMD Professor Rita ColwellColwell is the 33rd recipient of the International Prize for Biology, generally recognized as one of the most prestigious honors a natural scientist can receive. Past laureates include other renowned biologists, such as John B. Gurdon, Motoo Kimura, Edward O. Wilson, Ernst Mayr and Thomas Cavalier-Smith.

In awarding the prize, Japan’s Society for the Promotion of Science honored Colwell as a pioneer in the use of computational tools and DNA sequencing to identify and classify marine bacteria and other microorganisms, work that helped lay the foundation for the bioinformatics revolution.

The prize also recognizes Colwell’s life-saving contributions to the understanding and prevention of cholera, an acute diarrheal disease, caused by ingestion of water or food contaminated with Vibrio cholera, which according to the World Health Organization is responsible for approximately 1 to 4 million illnesses and 20,000 to 140,000 deaths each year.

Colwell, whose career bridges the disciplines of microbiology, ecology, infectious disease, public health and computer and satellite technology, continues to be a leader in bioinformatics, notably in understanding microbiomes and the application of this knowledge to human health and the diagnosis and treatment of disease. This includes her current work as founder and chairman of CosmosID, Inc., a microbial genomics company focused on molecular diagnostics of human pathogens and antimicrobial resistance.

“It is an extraordinary honor to be named recipient of the International Prize for Biology, a very special honor for a biologist,” said Colwell. “I am deeply grateful to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for this award. I have many friends and colleagues in Japan and look forward to continuing my many collaborations with them.”

The selection committee also cited Colwell's transformational work in these areas:

  • Establishing the taxonomy of vibrio bacteria, which includes Vibrio cholerae.
  • Identifying a previously unknown survival strategy of dormant vibrio cells, which the committee said "has had a profound influence on microbiology and medicine.”
  • Showing how climate change has expanded the habitat range of vibrios, and the occurrence of cholera.
  • Helping prevent the spread of cholera in developing countries by discovering and demonstrating an effective way to use the sari, the traditional dress of women on the Indian subcontinent, as a filter to remove vibrio-carrying plankton from drinking water drawn from ponds, rivers and other surface waters.

There is no Nobel Prize for biology, but Japan’s International Prize for Biology is one of three prizes often considered to be biology’s equivalent. The other two honors often placed in this category are the Balzan Prize and Crafoord Prize.

"We are extremely proud of Dr. Colwell's indelible impact on the field of biology and, more importantly, on human lives," said UMD Interim Vice President for Research Amitabh Varshney. "We applaud her fearless pursuit of translational research and life-saving solutions to global health challenges."

The International Prize for Biology was instituted in April 1985 by the Committee on the International Prize for Biology. The prize, consisting of a certificate, a medal and an award of 10-million yen (more than $90,000) is given to the recipient, along with an imperial gift, a silver vase bearing the imperial crest. The award presentation ceremony and a subsequent reception in honor of Colwell will held in late 2017 at the Japan Academy.

Since 2004 Colwell has been a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is chairman emeritus at Canon US Life Sciences, Inc. She holds a dozen U.S. patents, most involving computational biology.

Colwell has received many awards and recognitions, including the 2017 Vannevar Bush Award given by the U.S. National Science Board; the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize awarded by the King of Sweden; the 2006 National Medal of Science awarded by the president of the United States; and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star bestowed by the Emperor of Japan. She is the recipient of  61 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education and has a geological site in Antarctica, Colwell Massif, named in recognition of her work in the polar regions.

Colwell was the 11th director of the National Science Foundation and the first woman to head the agency. She also co-chaired the Committee on Science, National Science and Technology Council.  She has held numerous advisory positions in the U.S. government, nonprofit science policy organizations, and private foundations and has authored or co-authored 19 books and more than 800 scientific publications.

Colwell also has served as chairman of the Board of Governors of the American Academy of Microbiology, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington Academy of Sciences, American Society for Microbiology, Sigma Xi National Science Honorary Society, International Union of Microbiological Societies, and American Institute of Biological Sciences.  She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Royal Irish Academy, Bangladesh Academy of Science, Indian Academy of Science, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Inventors.  

 

State and University Leaders Gather at UMD To Launch Maryland Energy Innovation Institute

August 15, 2017
Contacts: 

Melissa L. Andreychek, 301-405-0292

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- On August 14, 2017, state and university leaders gathered at the University of Maryland to officially launch the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute (MEI2), created by the state to turn research breakthroughs at UMD and other state colleges and universities into commercial, clean energy solutions that meet the needs of the state and its people.

“[The Maryland Energy Innovation Institute] of course is a great collaboration between the University of Maryland and the Maryland Clean Energy Center, which has been a really important part of the state’s strategy for consistency in our clean energy policies,” said U.S. Senator for Maryland Chris Van Hollen. “More than 100 [University of Maryland] faculty have been involved already in developing breakthrough technologies in the areas of solar, wind, energy efficiency, and battery and fuel cell technology, and [the University] will expand those efforts with the launch of this institute.”

MEI2 Photo

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan authorized $7.5 million in state funding earlier this year for the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute, an initiative designed to catalyze clean energy research programs at academic institutions in the state and attract and develop private investment in clean energy innovation and commercialization. The institute will seek to bolster economic jobs in the clean energy industry sector in Maryland, and also promote the deployment of clean energy technology throughout the state.

“Clean energy is an engineering challenge of our day and, more importantly, of the 21st century,” said Darryll Pines, Dean of UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering and Nariman Farvardin Professor. “Because of the extraordinary commitment of our elected officials who are here today with us, and our partners across the campus and state, we can continue to grow investments in clean energy, innovation, and commercialization for the State of Maryland.”

The Maryland Energy Innovation Institute is a partnership between the state’s Maryland Clean Energy Center (MCEC), directed by Katherine Magruder, and the University of Maryland Energy Research Center (UMERC), directed by Eric Wachsman and situated within UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering. Wachsman is also director of the MEI2.

MEI2 Photo

“When you look at our energy past and our energy future, the first gas lamps in North America turned on in Baltimore almost 200 years ago exactly. The pivot to fossil fuels started here in Maryland—so, isn’t it fitting that the pivot to the next generation of energy also happens in Maryland,” said Maryland State Senator Richard Madaleno. “That’s why I’m soexcited, the General Assembly is so excited, to participate in [the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute] so that the clean energy revolution starts here, and we can capture in Maryland not only the environmental benefits, but the economic benefits, as well.”

Additional speakers included University of Maryland President Wallace Loh; Mary Beth Tung, director of the Maryland Energy Administration; and Joshua Greene, chairman of the board of the Maryland Clean Energy Center and vice president of government and industry affairs at A.O. Smith. Also present were Maryland State Delegate Tawanna Gaines, other government officials, and corporate partners, as well as UMD researchers affiliated with the institute who showcased examples of the kind of battery, fuel cell, solar, and energy efficiency technologies that MEI2 will work to move into commercial use.

 

 

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. 

 

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