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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

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University of Maryland Scientists Unveil First-Ever Study of Urbanization Impact on Soils in Multiple Cities

May 16, 2017

College Park, MD -- Urban soils provide extensive ecosystem services that properly regulate the surrounding environment for all living organisms. Nutrient management, water purification and plant growth are on the short list, but these can become compromised by urbanization. To understand the deeper effects of urbanization on city soils, a team of researchers, including Stephanie Yarwood, associate professor in UMD’s Environmental Science and Technology Department, have published a first-of-its-kind study examining microbial communities in these soils within five different cities. Results uncovered an alarming decrease in ectomycorrhizal fungi, an important organism that enhances plant growth and improves overall health of soils through stabilization and aggregation. This study offers clear evidence of how human urbanization may lead to a decline in diversity of unique populations of microbes on a global scale, in some cases those that have profound implications for human quality of life.

Photo of Urban GreenspaceRecent research suggests that human health is improved when the city includes abundant greenspace. Trees are fundamental to improving air quality and are proven locations for individuals to relieve stress. Ectomycorrhizal fungi help trees take up water, mineral salts and metabolites and can also fight off harmful parasites, predators and soil pathogens. Indeed, many trees are highly dependant on their fungal partners and in areas of poor soil, might not even survive without them. The absence of these fungi in soils in urban locations results in nutrient deficiencies that may require the addition of synthetic fertilizers. 

Through an examination of the biogeography (distribution of species among different geographical areas) of microbial communities, Yarwood determined that there are unique local populations of ectomycorrhizae. Due to the overall decrease in these organisms, combined with the existence of increasing local populations, it is believed that urbanization contributes to a loss of global biodiversity.

“We are excited to unveil this first-ever comparison of five cities on three continents to report an important, impactful global trend, versus a single study and location which has been tackled in the past,” said Yarwood, PhD, of UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “This study demonstrates the need to maintain viable soil and plant areas that continue to serve as natural habitats for microorganisms such as ectomycorrhizae. At its core, this is a human health issue, and we hope our research influences city residents to become more aware of the importance of improving their soils.”

To facilitate this widespread understanding of the effects of urbanization on microbial communities, Yarwood and her team collected samples from five cities – Baltimore (USA), Helsinki (Finland), Lahti, (Finland), Budapest (Hungary), and Potchefstroom (South Africa) – as part of the Global Urban Soil Ecological Education Network, an innovative grassroots effort to coordinate international research about the effects of urbanization on microbial communities. Yarwood hopes these efforts will serve as a model for valuable new insights into emerging global trends.

The study “Urbanization erodes ectomycorrhizal fungal diversity and may cause microbial communities to converge” by Yarwood and colleagues from the USDA Forest Service, Johns Hopkins University, University of Helsinki, North-West University (South Africa), University of Veterinary Science (Budapest) and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences,  was recently published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. 

Image Credit: Creative Commons License 

Joint President/Senate Sexual Assault Prevention Task Force Statement

May 16, 2017

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

In October 2016, I charged this Joint Task Force—chaired by Steve Petkas, Resident Life, and comprised of 16 faculty, staff, and students representing areas from student conduct, to public health, to athletics—to examine how the University of Maryland can better prevent sexual assault within our community.

Over the course of six months, the Joint Task Force worked with due diligence to gather information and recommend a comprehensive sexual assault prevention plan that encompasses five areas: (1) programming; (2) communication strategy; (3) coordination of the prevention efforts; (4) resources and implementation; and (5) process evaluation and outcome assessment.

Some highlights of the Joint Task Force’s recommendations include: year-by-year programming for undergraduate students to repeat and reinforce key messages, as well as specialized programming for graduate students; a centralized website for one easy-to-navigate location with information about University resources, services, and policies; a new sexual assault prevention awareness campaign; and a dedicated staff person to oversee and implement this comprehensive prevention plan.

The Joint Task Force also recommended a phased implementation of this plan, mindful of the time, effort, and funding required to do so properly.

The complete report of the Joint Task Force can be found at https://go.umd.edu/px6 (pdf).

I have accepted the recommendations and will begin this summer the process of implementing them. 

I commend and thank the Joint Task Force for its indefatigable work and its well-considered recommendations. To create a campus that is free from all forms of sexual misconduct is an ambitious and essential undertaking that is in the interest, and is the responsibility, of every member of our University community.

University of Maryland-Phillips Collection Fellowship Awarded

May 15, 2017

Alana Carchedi Coyle, 301-405-0235
Sarah Corley, 202-387-2151 x235

WASHINGTON, DC and COLLEGE PARK, Md.—The University of Maryland Center for Art and Knowledge at The Phillips Collection has awarded its 2017–18 Fellowship in Modern and Contemporary Art History to Dr. Kate E. Cowcher, a 2017 graduate of Stanford University and scholar of art in Africa during the Cold War.

Photo of Dr. Kate Cowcher“We are thrilled to have Dr. Kate E. Cowcher as our next postdoctoral fellow in modern and contemporary art history,” said Dr. Klaus Ottmann, Deputy Director for Curatorial and Academic Affairs at the Phillips. “She is an outstanding scholar whose path-breaking studies of African art and Cold War modernism have already proven her to be a major force in the still developing field of global modern and contemporary art history.”

“We are pleased to recognize Dr. Kate E. Cowcher's scholarship with this well-deserved fellowship,” said Mary Ann Rankin, Senior Vice President and Provost at the University of Maryland. “Our partnership with The Phillips Collection aims to celebrate scholarship and innovation in the arts, and Dr. Cowcher's work at the University of Maryland Center for Art and Knowledge certainly does that.”

Dr. Cowcher’s doctoral dissertation focused on the art of the Ethiopian revolution and on the movement of artists and their objects between the First, Second, and Third Worlds. Recognizing that Ethiopia, which was never successfully colonized, maintains a strong sense of its own historical continuity, Dr. Cowcher explored the rupture that led to it becoming the last “People’s Democratic Republic” to be founded before the fall of the Berlin Wall. In her dissertation, she examined the centrality of images surrounding the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, the rapid growth and unexpected trajectory of graphic art, the push for realism, the import of Soviet art concepts, and the appropriation of cultural heritage as propaganda and resistance.

Challenging existing histories of Ethiopian art that dismiss the 1970s and 1980s as years of cultural dearth, Dr. Cowcher’s research reveals both the military regime’s manipulation of images in an attempt to reduce the population to passive spectatorship and efforts by artists to push back through ink, paint, and exhibitions. Dr. Cowcher’s findings were informed by extensive research she conducted in Ethiopia, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art.

At the University of Maryland Center for Art and Knowledge at The Phillips Collection, Dr. Cowcher will develop her dissertation into a manuscript, revealing the involvement of Ethiopia’s artists in domestic turmoil as well as the cultural geopolitics of the late Cold War. Aiming to further illuminate these artists’ participation on the global stage, Dr. Cowcher’s book will trace their journeys to Moscow, Havana, Pyongyang, and back. Her book will also engage with current concerns about Africa’s creative agency within Soviet and non-aligned politics.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to spend a year as a Fellow at the Center for Art and Knowledge,”said Dr. Kate E. Cowcher. “The Phillips Collection’s wealth of European and American modern masterpieces, combined with UMD faculty interests in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Cold War, make it an ideal location for developing my research in modernism, revolution, and cultural exchange in 20th-century Ethiopia.”

This summer, Dr. Cowcher will co-chair a panel with Dr. Polly Savage (SOAS University of London) on socialist aesthetics in Africa at the Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA) Triennial in Ghana. In addition to presenting her work on the manifestations of “socialist realism” in Ethiopia, the panel will include other papers on Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Angola, and Benin.

Dr. Cowcher grew up near Stratford-upon-Avon in England and attended school in Chipping Campden. She holds an undergraduate M.A. from the University of Edinburgh, an M.A. from the Courtauld Institute of Art, and PhD from Stanford University. Prior to attending Stanford, she was a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard University.

Fellowships at the UMD Center for Art and Knowledge

The Phillips Collection and the University of Maryland host two postdoctoral fellowships during the academic year. These fellowships allow recipients to work with the Phillips’s exceptional collection of modern and contemporary art and the University of Maryland’s leadership programs in art historical scholarship, interdisciplinary experimentation, and virtual technologies. During the academic year, fellows teach at least one public lecture and participate in other programs and discussions with scholars, critics, museum staff, and students at the museum and university. 

The Fellowship in Modern in Contemporary Art History supports research and teaching topics in American, European, or non-western art of all media from 1780 to the present. Dr. Max Rosenberg has resided as the fellow for the 2016–17 academic year. A scholar of postwar German art, Rosenberg has spent much of his tenure working on a book manuscript based on his dissertation, “Transforming Documenta: Art, Legitimacy and Modernity in Postwar West Germany.”

The Fellowship in Virtual Culture researches emerging forms of virtual culture and the advancement of technology to enhance and deepen the museum visitor’s experience. Dr. Nicole Riesenberger has served as the 2016–17 fellow and will remain in residence for the 2017–18 academic year. Throughout her tenure thus far, Riesenberger has worked closely with museum staff and UMD’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies to evaluate the use of new technologies and make recommendations that enrich the visitor experience. 

Unexpectedly Primitive Atmosphere Found Around Distant “Warm Neptune”

May 12, 2017

Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267
NASA: Elizabeth Zubritsky, 301-614-5438

COLLEGE PARK, Md-- A new study led by NASA, with contributions from the University of Maryland, reveals that the distant planet HAT-P-26b has a primitive atmosphere composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium. Located about 437 light years away from Earth, HAT-P-26b orbits a star roughly twice as old as the sun. The analysis is one of the most detailed studies to date of a “warm Neptune,” a planet that is Neptune-sized and orbits close to its star. 

Photo of distant planet HAT-P-26bBy combining observations from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, the researchers determined that HAT-P-26b’s atmosphere is relatively clear of clouds and has a strong water signature, although the planet is not a water world. The study, published in the May 12, 2017 issue of the journal Science, also provides the best measurement to date of water on an exoplanet of this size.

“Not too long ago, it was exciting just to find an exoplanet,” said Drake Deming, a professor of astronomy at UMD and a co-author of the study. “But now, as technology and methods become more refined, we are building a whole new understanding of the wide diversity of planetary systems beyond our own. It’s a very exciting time to be in this field.”

The discovery of such a primordial atmosphere on this Neptune-sized planet has implications for how scientists think about the birth and development of planetary systems. Compared to Neptune and Uranus, the planets in our solar system with about the same mass, HAT-P-26b likely formed either closer to its host star or later in the development of its planetary system—or a combination of both.

“Astronomers have just begun to investigate the atmospheres of these distant Neptune-mass planets, and almost right away, we found an example that goes against the trend in our solar system,” said Hannah Wakeford, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study. “This kind of unexpected result is why I really love exploring the atmospheres of alien planets.”

To study HAT-P-26b’s atmosphere, the researchers used data from transits— occasions when the planet passed in front of its host star. During a transit, a fraction of the starlight gets filtered through the planet’s atmosphere, which absorbs some wavelengths of light but not others. By looking at how the signatures of the starlight change as a result of this filtering, researchers can work backward to figure out the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

In this case, the team pooled data from four transits measured by Hubble and two seen by Spitzer. Together, these observations covered a wide range of wavelengths from yellow light through the near-infrared region.

“To have so much information about a warm Neptune is still rare, so analyzing these data sets simultaneously is an achievement in and of itself,” said co-author Tiffany Kataria of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Because the study provided a precise measurement of water, the researchers were able to use the water signature to estimate HAT-P-26b’s metallicity—an indication of how rich the planet is in all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. Astronomers calculate metallicity to provide clues about how a planet formed.

To compare planets by their metallicities, scientists use the sun as a point of reference—almost like describing how much caffeine a beverage has by comparing it to a cup of coffee. Jupiter has a metallicity about 2 to 5 times that of the sun. For Saturn, it’s about 10 times as much as the sun. These relatively low values mean that the two gas giants are made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium.

The ice giants Neptune and Uranus are smaller than the gas giants but richer in the heavier elements, with metallicities of about 100 times that of the sun. So, for the four outer planets in our solar system, the trend is that the metallicities are lower for the bigger planets.

Scientists think this happened because, as the solar system was taking shape, Neptune and Uranus formed in a region toward the outskirts of the enormous disk of dust, gas and debris that swirled around the immature sun. Summing up the complicated process of planetary formation in a nutshell: Neptune and Uranus would have been bombarded with a lot of icy debris that was rich in heavier elements. Jupiter and Saturn, which formed in a warmer part of the disk, would have encountered less of the icy debris. 

Two planets beyond our solar system also fit this trend. One is the Neptune-mass planet HAT-P-11b. The other is WASP-43b, a gas giant twice as massive as Jupiter.

But Wakeford and her colleagues found that HAT-P-26b bucks the trend. They determined its metallicity is only about 4.8 times that of the sun, much closer to the value for Jupiter than for Neptune.

“This analysis shows that there is a lot more diversity in the atmospheres of these exoplanets than we were expecting, which is providing insight into how planets can form and evolve differently than in our solar system,” said David K. Sing of the University of Exeter and the second author of the paper. “I would say that has been a theme in the studies of exoplanets: Researchers keep finding surprising diversity.”


UMD's CP Dream Team Builds Community with Basketball

May 11, 2017

Ceylon Mitchell,  301-852-3042

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The CP Dream Team, a University of Maryland initiative designed to showcase relationships between community youth and local law enforcement officials through food, fun, and friendly basketball games, will host its quarterly game on Friday, May 12 at 7 p.m. at the College Park Community Center. Local youth will play with officers from University of Maryland Police Department, Prince George’s County Police Department and The M-NCPPC Park Police in an effort to build trust, camaraderie and mutual respect.

Photo of CP Dream Team To recognize National Police Week, the game will begin with a moment of silence to honor those who have died in the line of duty. Friday’s program will include door prizes and a halftime performance from the Paint Branch Elementary School Busy Bee Bucket Band. This ensemble resulted from a collaboration between the University of Maryland School of Music’s SHARP program and local elementary schools.

“This is one of the office’s best projects ever,” states Gloria Aparicio Blackwell, director of the university's Office of Community Engagement. “It has been incredible to see the CP Dream Team grow into a regular event that the participants look forward to attending. We are now in the process of adding an educational component to be implemented in the near future.”

The CP Dream Team, a partnership between UMD, The M-NCPPC College Park Community Center, Lakeland Community Heritage Project, Embry Center for Family Life, and local law enforcement agencies, was previously featured on the Big Ten Network and at a Maryland Women's Basketball game. 

The CP Dream Team is also made possible with the support of its new partner, the Prince George’s County Police Athletic League. 

Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center at the University of Maryland Will Transform the Classroom Experience

May 11, 2017

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland dedicated the new Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center today, named for Baltimore-based developer, philanthropist and 1961 alumnus, Edward St. John, founder and chairman of St. John Properties. The 187,000-square-foot space, which includes 12 classrooms and nine teaching labs with a total of 1,500 seats, will elevate the culture of collaborative learning on campus.

Photo of Edward St John Teaching and Learning Center“It’s exciting that the vision for a space that will transform the classroom experience and shape the way faculty teach has come to fruition,” said St. John '61, D.P.S. '12 (Hon.), who donated $10 million toward the building’s construction. “This center will create a new and innovative standard of teaching that accelerates interactive learning and will impact the education of more than 12,000 UMD students each day for years to come.”

Focused on a student-centered approach to learning and teaching, the center features labs, informal study spaces, group study rooms, and technology-enhanced TERP Classroomswith flexibility such as tiered seating, mobile desks and swiveling chairs that encourage active learning and collaboration. TERP is an acronym for Teach, Engage, Respond and Participate, which helps explain the fundamental principles of the design.  Other unique features include four food spaces and two green roofs, one of which is intended for instructional use.

“The St. John Center will hasten the transformation of our learning and teaching for generations of students,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. “Its classrooms and teaching labs will give our faculty the flexibility and technology to perfect their art. Edward St. John and the state have made a magnificent contribution to campus excellence."

The center will also house the university’s Teaching and Learning Transformation Center, the main hub for the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and the Division of Information Technology’s Academic Technology and Innovation team.

The center is a key example of how architecture can drive the function of a building. “The inspiring classroom designs in the Edward St. John Center challenge faculty to teach and students to learn in ways that research has shown work better than traditional lecture methods,” said Mary Ann Rankin, UMD's senior vice president and provost. “It will enable the transformation of teaching and learning in a fundamental way.”

Innovative TERP Classroom designs in various rooms include features like round tables or a tiered structure, which allows students to move seamlessly from lecture to discussion mode, promote group interaction and problem-solving. The classrooms also feature technology that encourages wireless screen sharing, making it possible for students to collaborate with their peers in classes of all sizes. Both formal and informal meeting spaces throughout the building give students space to study together and work on group projects. A dedicated Loft space in the center will support innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center represents the beginning for enhancing collaborative learning at UMD. There are currently 10 active learning prototype spaces on campus, and Provost Rankin has committed to converting more classrooms on campus to active learning spaces.

Centrally situated between Campus Drive and McKeldin Mall, the Center was built at the former site of Holzapfel Hall and Shriver Laboratory. This dynamic academic space is part of the university’s Greater College Park initiative, a $2 billion public-private investment to revitalize Baltimore Avenue and the academic campus. Classes will begin in the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center on May 30, 2017 for the start of UMD’s summer session.

To view photos of the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center, click here





UMD Study Finds that ACA Eased Financial Burden for People with Individual Health Insurance

May 10, 2017

Kelly Blake, 301-405-9418

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – As the U.S. Congress moves to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, researchers at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health conducted a study to better understand the impact ACA has had on families burdened by medical expenses. A data analysis shows that between 2013 and 2015, there was a 6.7 percentage point decline in the rate of medical financial burden for people who purchased health coverage directly from insurance companies. For the study, which is based on data collected by the Census Bureau, an individual experienced financial burden if they spent more than 10 percent of their family income on premiums or out-of-pocket medical expenses.

“The data provide a clear signal that people in the individual insurance market experienced financial relief after the implementation of the ACA,” said Dr. Michel Boudreaux, assistant professor of health services administration in the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health and first author of the study published in the May issue of Health Affairs. “It is likely that we could see a reversal to these trends if consumers lose the financial protections that currently exist through the ACA."

A major objective of the ACA was to reduce financial burden, especially for individuals purchasing health insurance directly through insurers and not through an employer— referred to as “nongroup or individual market.”  To make coverage and care more affordable, the ACA instituted reforms such as eliminating the practice of charging premiums based someone’s health status. The law also provided subsidies to mitigate the burden of premiums and cost sharing for low-and-moderate-income families. The ACA subsidies vary by income and by how much premiums actually cost. The goal was to make sure that people with low and moderate incomes would not have to pay more than a certain portion of their income on premiums or out of pocket costs.

The study showed that the decrease in financial burden was concentrated among people with low-and-moderate- incomes (those living at 400% or below of the federal poverty level). Individuals whose incomes were below $47K for an individual or below $97K for a family of four historically had the highest financial burdens, but were able to receive subsidies in the health insurance marketplaces established by the ACA. For them, the rate of financial burden was down 10 percent after the implementation of the ACA. The average annual spending for people in the “nongroup market” declined by about $800.

Dr. Boudreaux explains that under the Republican bill, the Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA), everyone will get a flat dollar amount that varies by age. “Young healthy people might see lower costs and sick older people may see much higher costs,” he said. “Additionally, because the subsidies are not pegged to actual premium costs, financial protection may decrease in regions that have high premiums.” The AHCA also includes large cuts to Medicaid, the program that covers some 70 million people with lower incomes. Over the long term, these changes to Medicaid may have an even greater impact on families, Boudreaux said.



UMD-led Exercise Study Offers Hope in Fight Against Alzheimer’s Disease

May 8, 2017

Kelly Blake, 301-405-9418

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- A new study led by researchers from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health examines how physical activity impacts brain physiology and suggests that it may be possible to reestablish some protective neuronal connections. Dr. J. Carson Smith, associate professor of kinesiology, and colleagues explored how a 12-week walking intervention with older adults, ages 60-88, affected functionality of a brain region known to show declines in people suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

"The brain’s posterior cingulate cortex (PCC)/precuneus region is a hub of neuronal networks which integrates and disperses signals,” explains Dr. J. Carson Smith, senior author of the paper, Exercise Training and Functional Connectivity Changes in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Healthy Elders, and director of the Exercise for Brain Health Laboratory. “We know that a loss of connectivity to this hub is associated with memory loss and amyloid accumulation, both signs of MCI and Alzheimer’s.”

For this reason, reduced connectivity to the PCC/precuneus region is seen as a potential biomarker to detect cognitive impairment even before symptoms of MCI or AD may appear. It is also a potential target to test the effectiveness of interventions such as exercise to improve brain function in those exhibiting symptoms of MCI.

Dr. Smith’s research team recruited two groups—one with 16 healthy elders and another with 16 elders diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment to participate in an exercise intervention that included walking for 30 minutes, four times a week (at 50-60 percent of heart rate reserve) for three months.

Before and after the exercise intervention, participants in both groups underwent fMRI brain scans to assess functional connectivity between multiple brain regions and the PCC/precuneus. After completing the intervention, both groups showed improved ability to remember a list of words, however only the MCI group showed increased connectivity to the PCC/precuneus hub, which was evident in 10 regions spanning the frontal, parietal, temporal and insular lobes, and the cerebellum.

“These findings suggest that the protective effects of exercise training on cognition may be realized by the brain re-establishing communication and connections among the brain’s so-called default mode network, which may possibly increase the capacity to compensate for the neural pathology associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Smith.

While it is unclear yet whether the effects of exercise training can delay further cognitive decline in patients diagnosed with MCI, the neural network connectivity changes documented in this study provide hope that exercise training may stimulate brain plasticity and restore communication between brain regions that may have been lost through Alzheimer’s disease. The specificity of these effects in the MCI group further suggest that exercise may be particularly useful in those who have already experienced mild memory loss. Future studies planned by Dr. Smith’s team aim to include exercise control conditions, and to incorporate exercise combined with cognitive engagement, among healthy older adults who are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. 





Gov. Hogan Signs into Law $7.5M Maryland Energy Innovation Institute at UMD

May 4, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Governor Larry Hogan held a signing ceremony today that included a bill authorizing $7.5 million in funding to create the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute (MEI2) at the University of Maryland (UMD), an initiative that will 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 bolster economic jobs in the clean energy industry sector in Maryland, and also promote the deployment of clean energy technology throughout the state.

Photo of  Gov Hogan at Bill Signing“We are proud to sign legislation to create the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute, which will develop and attract private investment and commercialize clean energy innovation in our state,” said Governor Hogan. “We thank the legislature for working with our administration on these bipartisan efforts to grow clean energy investment and jobs, and ensure that Maryland continues to lead the charge when it comes to protecting our environment.”

MEI2 is a collaboration between the Maryland Clean Energy Center (MCEC) and the University of Maryland Energy Research Center (UMERC) within UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering. UMD is an established leader in energy research, with more than 100 faculty and students developing innovations that harness the power of clean energy such as solar photovoltaic technology, solar heating, geothermal, wind, biofuels, ethanol, and other sources. 

“The University of Maryland continues to lead the way in clean energy research, moving discoveries and technology into the commercial space,” said University of Maryland Provost Mary Ann Rankin. “This is the perfect means to bring together expertise in science, government and industry to bring value to the State of Maryland.”

“The University of Maryland has made numerous breakthroughs in battery, fuel cell, solar, wind, and energy efficiency technologies,” said Eric Wachsman, University of Maryland professor and director of MEI2. “The Maryland Energy Innovation Institute will provide the critical infrastructure to enable these breakthroughs to become commercially viable companies benefiting both the economy and the environment of the State of Maryland." 

UMERC, which has been led by Wachsman for eight years, is a multidisciplinary university initiative dedicated to advancing the frontiers of energy science and technology, with a focus on energy storage, efficiency, and clean energy generation. The center has attracted approximately $70 million in funding and has spun off six companies, to-date. 

"This policy and funding commitment allows MCEC to move forward in our efforts to advance the Maryland Clean Energy economy,” said Josh Green, Vice President of Government and Industry Affairs, A. O. Smith Corporation and Chairman of the MCEC Board of Directors. “The board looks forward to continuing our partnership with the University of Maryland."

MCEC was created by the General Assembly of Maryland to support innovation and technology deployment to achieve renewable energy generation, energy conservation, and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. MCEC uses statute enabled financing authority to leverage private capital investments and provide financing to assist residential, commercial, municipal, and not-for-profit consumers.

MEI2 is one of several programs in Governor Hogan’s 2017 Environmental Package, which includes market-based solutions to protect and preserve Maryland’s environment and natural resources. 


Photo: Front row, from left to right: Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., President of Senate, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and House Speaker Michael Busch. Photo credit: Executive Office of the Governor.


University of Maryland Students Win National Soil Judging Championship

May 4, 2017

Graham Binder, 301-405-9235

COLLEGE PARK, MD. -- A student team from the University of Maryland's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources took first place in the recent 57th National Soils Competition, where contestants from 24 universities from seven regions around the country inspected various soil pits and worked to correctly identify, evaluate and describe five soil profiles. 

Photo of soil judging competitionIn the competition, hosted by the Northern Illinois University, the Terps finished fourth in the group portion, followed by a dominant showing in the individual portion of the contest with all four UMD contestants finishing in the top 11 (among a field of 93). The combined individual and group scores vaulted UMD into first place overall, marking the second time in the past five years that UMD students have claimed the top spot. It is the fourth time a Terp team has won the national title in the 57 years of the contest.

Soils are the most complex and ecologically significant biogeochemical systems on Earth. Soil processes and soil as a resource are critical to all terrestrial ecosystems, from prairies to tundra, wetlands to forests, and cities to farms. Soil Science is at the center of the study of what the National Science Foundation terms the Critical Zone - the confluence of the air, land and waters that support life on Earth.

“This is a highly prestigious competition with a long, storied history, and it is a tremendous point of pride for our students, our college and the university as a whole to bring home the win,” said Martin Rabenhorst, Ph.D of UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and team coach. “These events provide outstanding educational opportunities for our students – and a chance to study soils, landscapes, geology and agriculture in areas they may never have seen. And while these trips are a lot of work, they also are a lot of fun. Many of our graduates consider soil judging the highlight of their college experiences.”

For the soil judging championship, practice and contest pits included a collection of soils that were mostly Argiudolls, Hapludalfs, Endoaquolls and Hapludolls. These were formed from a variety of parent materials including loess, till, outwash, alluvium, colluvium, residuum, and eolian sands. The following students from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources placed: Kristi Persing (first place); Philip Schwartz (fifth place); Shelley Porter (ninth place) and Daniel Smith from the A. James Clark School of Engineering (11th place). The Terp team finished ahead of Kansas State (second), University of Wisconsin Platteville (third), Purdue University (fourth) and University of Wisconsin Stephens Point (fifth).

The Terps won the 1972 National Championship in Blacksburg, VA (Coach Martin Rabenhorst as a team member) and then in 1984 in San Luis Obispo, CA (Rabenhorst Coach) and most recently in Platteville, WI in 2013 (Assoc. Professor Brian Needelman Coach). Terp Judger Chenlin Zhu began an MS program in Environmental Science and Technology within the college this semester, and five of the other team members will be graduating this May (Porter, Smith, Persing, Agee, and Kramer.)  The college hopes to have all the others back on the team this coming fall when they head to Rhode Island for the northeast regional contest.



Photo of older man with cochlear implant
October 16
Multidisciplinary research will examine strategies to improve communication challenges for millions of senior citizens. Read