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Calculating the Fuel that Powers Earth's Inner Engine

September 13, 2016

Abby Robinson 301-405-5845
Lee Tune 301-405-4679 

With three new detectors coming online in the next several years, scientists expect to collect enough geoneutrino data to measure Earth’s fuel level by 2025

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Earth requires fuel to drive plate tectonics, volcanoes and its magnetic field. Like a hybrid car, Earth taps two sources of energy to run its engine: primordial energy from assembling the planet and nuclear energy from the heat produced during natural radioactive decay. Scientists have developed numerous models to predict how much fuel remains inside Earth to drive these processes—and estimates vary widely—but the true amount remains unknown. 

By 2022, scientists expect to be able to detect at least 536 antineutrino events per year at these five underground detectors: KamLAND in Japan, Borexino in Italy, SNO+ in Canada, and Jinping and JUNO in China.In a new paper, a team of geologists and neutrino physicists boldly claim it will be able to determine by 2025 how much nuclear fuel and radioactive power remain in the Earth’s tank. The study, authored by scientists from the University of Maryland, Charles University in Prague and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, was published on September 9, 2016, in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

“I am one of those scientists who has created a compositional model of the Earth and predicted the amount of fuel inside Earth today,” said one of the study’s authors William McDonough, a professor of geology at the University of Maryland. “We’re in a field of guesses. At this point in my career, I don’t care if I’m right or wrong, I just want to know the answer.”

To calculate the amount of fuel inside Earth by 2025, the researchers will rely on detecting some of the tiniest subatomic particles known to science—geoneutrinos. These antineutrino particles are byproducts of nuclear reactions within stars (including our sun), supernovae, black holes and human-made nuclear reactors. They also result from radioactive decay processes deep within the Earth.

Detecting antineutrinos requires a huge detector the size of a small office building, housed about a mile underground to shield it from cosmic rays that could yield false positive results. Inside the detector, scientists detect antineutrinos when they crash into a hydrogen atom. The collision produces two characteristic light flashes that unequivocally announce the event. The number of events scientists detect relates directly to the number of atoms of uranium and thorium inside the Earth. And the decay of these elements, along with potassium, fuels the vast majority of the heat in the Earth’s interior.

To date, detecting antineutrinos has been painfully slow, with scientists recording only about 16 events per year from the underground detectors KamLAND in Japan and Borexino in Italy. However, researchers predict that three new detectors expected to come online by 2022—the SNO+ detector in Canada and the Jinping and JUNO detectors in China—will add 520 more events per year to the data stream. 

“Once we collect three years of antineutrino data from all five detectors, we are confident that we will have developed an accurate fuel gauge for the Earth and be able to calculate the amount of remaining fuel inside Earth,” said McDonough.

The new Jinping detector, which will be buried under the slopes of the Himalayas, will be four times bigger than existing detectors. The underground JUNO detector near the coast of southern China will be 20 times bigger than existing detectors.

“Knowing exactly how much radioactive power there is in the Earth will tell us about Earth’s consumption rate in the past and its future fuel budget,” said McDonough. “By showing how fast the planet has cooled down since its birth, we can estimate how long this fuel will last.”

In addition to McDonough, UMD geology graduate student Scott Wipperfurth also contributed to this study.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (Award Nos. EAR 1068097 and EAR 1067983), and by Fundamental Research Grants for Central Public Research Organizations, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences (Award No. YYWF201623). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

The research paper, “Revealing the Earth’s mantle from the tallest mountains using the Jinping Neutrino Experiment,” Ondřej Šrámek, Bedřich Roskovec, Scott A. Wipperfurth, Yufei Xi, and William McDonough, was published online September 9, 2016 in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

University of Maryland Achieves First Flight of a Solar-Powered, Piloted Helicopter

September 9, 2016

Jennifer Rooks 301-405-1458
Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A University of Maryland student team has once again achieved new aviation heights, this time by successfully lifting a helicopter and passenger through the sole use of solar power.

After successfully completing the longest duration flight for a human-powered helicopter in fall of 2013, the UMD Gamera Team, a student team originally inspired in 2012 by the American Helicopter Society’s Sikorsky Prize, has continued raising the bar. In 2014, a new group of undergraduate students took over Team Gamera, reinventing itself as Solar
Gamera to test the feasibility of applying solar power
in achieving human helicopter flight.

"Today you are seeing the first successful flights of the Gamera Solar-Powered Helicopter," said Ph.D. student William Staruk, who assisted with the flight and was a member of Gamera's Human-Powered Helicopter Team. "You are seeing aviation history being made in the history of green aviation and rotary blade aviation."

With materials science major Michelle Mahon in the cockpit, Solar Gamera achieved two successful flights, flying for 9 seconds and gaining more than a foot of height.

"It's just a matter of drift before [Solar Gamera] gets longer flights," explained Staruk. "It's easier to trim than human-powered helicopter thanks to electronic controls."

Solar Gamera Team (Left to right): Distinguished Professor Inderjit Chopra (advisor), Loic Barret (AE B.S. '16), Michelle Mahon (Materials Science '17  , Pilot), Tyler Sinotte (Aerospace Engineering Graduate Student), Tyler DeGraw (Aerospace Engineering '17), Lauren Trollinger (Aerospace Engineering Graduate Student), Henry Cameron (Astronomy), Scott Jordan (Aerospace Engineering '17), Assistant Research Scientist Dr. Vikram Hrishikeshavan, Senior Research Scientist Dr. V.T. Nagaraj and George Murphy (Computer Science)While electronic controls offer an advantage over Gamera's human-powered predecessor, the challenge of lifting a 100-foot square rotorcraft solely through solar power has posed its own unique set of challenges.

“This is about inspiring and educating students, that’s our product here," explained Distinguished Professor and Gamera faculty advisor Inderjit Chopra. “No one thought that solar energy could lift a person [via helicopter]."

The craft may never engage in long-distance flight, but through this project's immense hands-on opportunities, students hone their engineering chops and find focus for their future.

"When I started this, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my engineering degree," said Anthony Prete (B.S. '16), who served as Gamera S' team lead during the 2015-2016 school year. "This experience focused me into something, design."

More than a hundred students from across the Clark School have worked on Gamera at some point in the more than six years the team has been active, offering unlimited possibilities to explore achieving the impossible in engineering and flight.

"This project has come a long way in the past six or seven years from human-power to solar-power," added Staruk. "So we are breaking barriers of all sorts in aviation with this one airframe and we are very proud of that work here at the University of Maryland."

University of Maryland Named a Top Minority Degree Producer by Diverse Magazine

September 8, 2016

Kristen Seabolt 301-405-4621

UMD continues to make strides as a national leader in diversity and inclusion 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland has been named a Top 100 Minority Degree Producer by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. UMD ranked No. 28 overall for conferring the most undergraduate degrees to minority students and No. 12 overall for graduate and professional degrees. 

UMD ranked No. 11 for conferring bachelor degrees in social sciences, No. 12 for bachelor degrees in agriculture, No. 13 for bachelor degrees in mathematics and statistics, No. 14 for bachelor degrees in biological and biomedical sciences, and No. 14 for bachelor degrees in education. 

Furthermore, among specific minority groups, UMD ranked No. 4 for graduating African American students with Bachelor degrees in social sciences, No. 4 for graduating African American students with Bachelor degrees in biological and biomedical sciences, No. 4 for graduating Asian American students with Bachelor degrees in education, and No. 4 for graduating African American students with Masters degrees in Engineering. UMD also tied at No. 1 for total minority students with doctoral degrees in mathematics and statistics. 

“We are proud of our success in educating a diverse student body -- the next generation of leaders,” said Kumea Shorter-Gooden, Ph.D., Chief Diversity Officer at UMD. “These accomplishments reflect our commitment to inclusive excellence -- our awareness that in order to provide an excellent education for all students and to excel in research, scholarship and creative works, we must be diverse.” 

Areas UMD ranked in the top 5 include:

  • African American students with Bachelor degrees in Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics
  • African American students with Bachelor degrees in Social Sciences
  • African American students with Bachelor degrees in Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • African American students with Bachelor degrees in Area, Ethnic, Cultural, Gender and Group Studies
  • Asian American students with Bachelor degrees in Education
  • African American students with Masters degrees in Engineering
  • African American students with Masters degrees in Library Science
  • Total Minority students with Doctoral degrees in Mathematics and Statistics
  • Asian American students with Doctoral degrees in Mathematics and Statistics
  • African American students with Doctoral in Engineering
  • Asian American students with Doctoral degrees in Visual and Performing Arts

This recognition comes as the university continues to make strides as a national leader in diversity and inclusion. Earlier this year, UMD was named a Top 10 Best College for African Americans by MONEY and ESSENCE magazines.  

For more information and complete Diverse rankings, visit http://diverseeducation.com/top100/

University of Maryland Launches "Democracy Then & Now: Citizenship and Public Education"

September 7, 2016

Katie Lawson 301-405-4622

Campus-wide initiative to engage students, faculty and staff on the role of public education
in American democracy

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland has launched a campus-wide initiative on the intersection of public education, American democracy and civic engagement called “Democracy Then and Now: Citizenship and Public Education.” Through a series of conversations, lectures, student projects and voter registration drives, the initiative will engage UMD students, faculty and staff on the historical and contemporary relationship between public education and citizenship. 

“It is the responsibility of a land-grant institution to educate students in preparation for citizenship in both a professional and personal context,” said Mary Ann Rankin, UMD’s senior vice president and provost. “It’s gratifying to see so many scholars join together across campus to advance public education and civic participation.” 

The initiative spans more than a dozen colleges, schools, departments and offices across the university. For the eight weeks leading up to the November elections, the initiative will trace the history of UMD as an original land-grant institution responsible for fostering civic engagement, and will offer perspectives on the shifting educational and political opportunities of Americans, documented and undocumented. 

The keynote event is a reading and conversation with Claudia Rankine, award-winning poet and author of “Citizen: An American Lyric,” which holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category. The conversation will take place on Thursday, September 29, 2016, at 5:30 p.m. in The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at UMD. The event is free but tickets are required.

For more information on “Democracy Then and Now: Citizenship and Public Education,” including a full listing of events, visit http://dtn.umd.edu.



Education Week

Historic Visions of Education at the University of Maryland
Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 4 PM, Parren Mitchell Art-Sociology Building 2203
Lecturer: Ethan Hutt, Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership, University of Maryland

Classics Week

Democratic Readings of Addison’s “Cato” Then and Now: Classical Receptions Before and After Barack Obama
Thursday, Sept. 15 at 4 PM, Tawes Hall 0310
Lecturer: Judith P.  Hallett, Professor, Department of Classics, University of Maryland

Agriculture and Resource Economics Week

The Unifying Role of the Land-Grant University in 21st Century America
Monday, Sept. 19 at 3:30 PM, Biology-Psychology Building 1250
Lecturer: Angus Murphy, Professor and Chair, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, University of Maryland

English Week

Public Education in the Early American Republic
Monday, Sept. 26 at 3:30 PM, Tawes Hall, Ulrich Recital Hall
Lecturer: Ralph Bauer, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Maryland

Claudia Rankine in Conversation with Sheri Parks
Thursday, Sept. 29 at 5:30 PM, The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
Free, Tickets Required

Informal Meeting with Students
Friday, Sept. 30 at 10 AM, McKeldin Library, Special Events Room 6137 
Guest Speaker: Claudia Rankine, Award-winning poet and author of “Citizen: An American Lyric”
Moderator: Josh Weiner, Professor, Department of English, University of Maryland


Philosophy Week

Most Americans Shouldn’t Vote
Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 3:30 PM, Martin Hall 1108
Guest Speaker: Jason Brennan, Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Chair and Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University

Public and Personal Morality in a Democracy
Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 3:30 PM, Tawes Hall, Ulrich Recital Hall
Lecturer: Susan Dwyer, Executive Director, Honors College and Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Maryland

Rhetoric and Communication Week

Rhetoric and Politics in America: What’s Past is Prologue
Monday, Oct. 10 at 1 PM, Tawes Hall, Ulrich Recital Hall
Lecturers: Shirley Logan, Professor, Department of English, and Trevor Parry-Giles, Professor, Department of Communication, University of Maryland

Internationalizing U.S. Public Higher Education
Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 1:30 PM, Tawes Hall, Ulrich Recital Hall
Guest Speaker: Amy Wan, Associate Professor and Co-Director of First Year Writing, Queens College, CUNY

From the Schoolhouse Gate to the Jailhouse Door: Constitutional Rights on Campus
Thursday, Oct. 13 at 3:30 PM, Knight Hall, Eaton Theater
Guest Speaker: Frank LoMonte, Executive Director, Student Press Law Center

History Week

Promises of Consent and Equality? Public Education After the American Revolution
Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 3:30 PM, Taliaferro Hall 2110
Lecturer: Holly Brewer, Burke Chair of American History and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Maryland

American Democracy and Science
Thursday, Oct. 20 at 4 PM, Physical Sciences Complex, Lobby
Lecturer: Thomas D. Cohen, Professor, Department of Physics, University of Maryland

Government and Politics Week

The Architecture of Thomas Jefferson for a New Democracy
Monday, Oct. 24 at 5 PM, Architecture Auditorium 0204
Lecturer: Cynthia R. Field, Adjunct Professor, and Isabelle J. Gournay, Associate Professor, School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, University of Maryland

Citizenship and the Right to Public Education for Undocumented Immigrants
Thursday, Oct. 27 at 3:30 PM, Jimenez Hall 0220
Lecturer: Robert Koulish, Director, MLaw Programs and Joel J. Feller Research Professor, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, University of Maryland


With Justice for All? Bryan Stevenson and the First Year Book
Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 4 PM, Stamp Student Union Colony Ballroom
Guest Speaker: Bryan Stevenson, Author of “Just Mercy,” the 2016–17 First Year Book at University of Maryland

Of Slaves, Sharecroppers and Convicts: Unsettling Clemson University’s History
Monday, Nov. 7 at 3:30 PM, Tawes Hall 2115
Guest Speaker: Rhondda Thomas, Associate Professor, Department of English, Clemson University


Maryland Humanities
Office of Undergraduate Studies
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
College of Arts and Humanities
Philip Merrill College of Journalism
Honors College
College Park Scholars
School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Center for Literary and Comparative Studies
Center for Global Migration Studies
Department of English
Department of Classics
Department of Philosophy
Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership
First Year Book Program
Local Americanists Group

Lifeline Across the Bay

September 6, 2016

The University of Maryland Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Site and University of Maryland Shore Regional Health teamed up for Maryland's first civil unmanned aerial delivery of simulated medical cargo across the Chesapeake Bay.

"Lifeline Across the Bay" Marks Milestone for the University of Maryland

September 1, 2016

Pamela R.M. Phetphongsy 301-405-6266, Lee Tune 301-405-4679

First-of-its-kind flight across the Chesapeake Bay demonstrates
key role UAS can play in emergency situations

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Site and the University of Maryland Shore Regional Health recently conducted the state’s first civil unmanned aerial delivery of simulated medical cargo. Engineers from UMD flew a Talon 120LE fixed wing aircraft across the Chesapeake Bay with saline solution simulating four vials of Epinephrine to demonstrate the key role that UAS can play in emergency situations.  

“This is a major achievement for our test site and for the University of Maryland,” said Darryll J. Pines, Dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering. “What this flight demonstrates is the incredible potential that UAS have in assisting first responders in emergencies. As more of these aircraft enter the skies, demonstrations of their use in service to humanity will grow substantially.” 

Weighing 22 lbs. at take-off, the small UAS was hand launched from the shores of Flag Ponds Nature Park in Lusby, Md. and landed at Ragged Island Private Airport in Cambridge, Md., flying 12 miles in total. It was greeted by a security officer from UM’s Shore Regional Health who retrieved the package and transported it to the UM Shore Medical Center at Dorchester.

“We wanted to simulate a situation when weather, traffic, or other disaster made more traditional means of transportation impossible. UAS are faster to deploy, less weather dependent, and less expensive,” said Matthew Scassero, Director of the UMD UAS Test Site. 

“Through this partnership with the University of Maryland Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site, Shore Regional Health was able to explore new ways of providing access to medical care to rural areas of the eastern shore,” says Dr. William Huffner, Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President, Medical Affairs at Shore Regional Health. “Being on the forefront of innovation and technology will help Shore Regional Health continue to be the region’s leader in patient centered health care.”

UAS technology has the potential to bring supplies to medical staff, but also directly to patients in isolated areas. “In emergency situations, every second counts,” said Scassero. “Imagine being able to deploy insulin or another critical medication to someone in need by landing or dropping it right in their backyard.”

The Talon 120LE is made of 7075 aircraft grade aluminum, foam and composite materials. Scassero said that the team chose a Talon 120LE because of its “payload capacity, stability and reliability.” With an endurance of greater than two hours, its modular nose payload section and wing pods it can carry experimental payloads up to 2.5 lbs. The aircraft flies autonomously and lands on its belly. 

Scassero believes that use of UAS technology will be critical in emergencies of the future. “Using UAS for cargo will allow them to operate in tandem with manned aircraft to work together for these types of humanitarian missions and others, such as search and rescue,” he said.

To access photos of this historic flight, visit: http://go.umd.edu/Lifeline

UMD Research Uncovers Warning Signs for Stone Age Population Collapse

August 31, 2016

Sara Gavin 301-405-1733
Sean Downey 301-405-1423

Findings demonstrate relationship between behavior, innovation and population shifts

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Following the arrival of early agricultural crops from southwest Asia, ancient European societies experienced a series of population booms followed by a collapse that historical scientists are still working to explain. New research from the University of Maryland published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) uncovers indicators—called early warning signals—that foretold of this dramatic shift in population long before it happened.  

Led by Sean Downey, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of AnthropologySean Downey, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, the UMD research team analyzed a catalogue of radiocarbon dates from the European Neolithic period (Stone Age), which began roughly 8,000 years ago. In 2013, it was Downey and colleagues who first discovered the boom-bust cycle in ancient Europe, but the researchers next wanted to determine whether statistical patterns could be detected that preceded the population decline. 

“To our knowledge, this study is the first to find early warning signals of major demographic shifts among human populations,” Downey said. “You need long time sequences to show these collapses or shifts are coming. And although we have seen studies showing this in biology and ecology, nobody’s ever shown it for humans, mainly because the data requirements are very high.”

Understanding why ancient populations experience rapid growth or decline is monumentally important to the health of modern societies, Downey suggests, in order to prevent the past from repeating itself. In this instance, the invention of human agriculture served as the catalyst for major population changes that led to an eventual collapse. Downey explains that there is relevance to contemporary debates over whether modern technological developments can continue to outpace rapidly increasing population growth.

“Our population structure is being perturbed by our behavior,” Downey said. “Technology may not necessarily buffer us from all the consequences of rapid population growth. In fact, it may have been innovations in agricultural technology that triggered the kinds of instability we’ve seen during the European Neolithic Period.”

Downey is hopeful the statistical framework developed in this research will provide a way to analyze complex dynamics in human populations and ultimately help the emerging field of sustainability science monitor and prevent catastrophic consequences of societal shifts. 

“You have to look at these issues from an evolutionary time frame and we simply don’t have the data to be able to do that except from archaeology,” Downey said. “The historical sciences contain information that can help improve the resilience of modern society.”

Downey’s research team included W. Randall Haas, Jr., a post-doctoral associate in the UMD Department of Anthropology, and Stephen J. Shennan, Professor of Theoretical Archaeology for the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.

Early warning signals (EWS) increase before Early Neolithic population collapse in Ireland. Image courtesy of Sean S. Downey, University of Maryland.

UMD Researchers Study Brain Circuits and Social Interactions in Children with Autism

August 29, 2016

Sara Gavin 301-405-1733

Psychology faculty awarded $2.6 million to study brain pathways associated with social interactions in autism

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — A research team from the University of Maryland Department of Psychology received a $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) to investigate whether certain brain networks in children with autism spectrum disorders make social interaction more difficult than for typically developing children.

“While it is clear that atypical social interaction plays an important role in autism, we still do not understand what may be going on in the brain to account for these difficulties,” said Dr. Elizabeth Redcay, an assistant professor of psychology, who is leading the five-year study.

While other researchers have attempted to answer this question using more traditional methods, Dr. Redcay and her team will use an innovative, interactive approach to examine how brain circuits change during social interactions in real-time while children are undergoing a functional MRI scan.

Both typically developing children and children with autism spectrum disorders between the ages of seven and 14 will visit UMD to complete activities and games in the Developmental Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, and then to undergo a brain scan at the university’s Neuroimaging Center. Researchers will spend a significant amount of time prior to the scans getting to know the children and making them comfortable with the process by having them practice lying still inside a mock scanner decorated to resemble a spaceship. Once inside the real machine, children will be able to hear and see an experimenter through an image projected onto a mirror. As the experimenter and child engage in back-and-forth conversation and go through various scenarios, researchers will be watching for changes in various areas of the brain.

“We actually have children receive live feedback from a social partner (the experimenter) so if they do something like perform a task quickly enough, such as pushing a button to answer a question, then they can see their social partner come online and give them a positive thumbs up or some kind of positive reward,” Dr. Redcay explained. “This way we can study these brain networks and how these brain networks are interacting with each other when children are actually having social interactions.”

Gaining a better understanding of the systems underlying social interaction could lead to the development of new strategies to help children on the autism spectrum overcome social challenges, which may improve other aspects of life as well.

“The amount that a child shares with others and that motivation to engage with others in social settings is important to forming friendships and close personal relationships, but it’s much more than that too,” Redcay said. “It’s directly related to how many words a child learns, how good they are at understanding people even years later so basically that fundamental ability of being able to engage in social interactions successfully is really important early in development in autism but continues to be important throughout the life span.

Collaborators on Dr. Redcay’s research team include UMD Psychology Professor Dr. Luiz Pessoa, Dr. Audrey Thurm from the National Institutes of Health and several UMD graduate and undergraduate students.







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