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University of Maryland, Capital One Partner to Drive Innovation, Fueling Talent Pipeline in Data and Machine Learning

December 12, 2017

 Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland and Capital One today announced a partnership aimed at developing a talented pipeline of students to join the workforce in areas of key national need, such as machine learning, data analytics and cybersecurity.

A cornerstone of the new partnership will be the launch of an innovation lab in the university’s Discovery District. Situated along Baltimore Avenue, the lab will give UMD students the opportunity to apply what they are learning in the classroom—in topics like data science, technology and automation—to real-world problems and experiences.

Capital One has also invested $3 million through an endowment gift to help advance machine learning leadership at the university. The gift’s impact includes $2.1 million used to endow a faculty chair in the Department of Computer Science, and $900,000 to help support research and educational initiatives in machine learning, data analytics and cybersecurity. In addition, the university will collaborate with Capital One to develop academic courses offered through its First-Year Innovation & Research Experience (FIRE) program. 

“The opportunities that this partnership will bring to UMD will have a tremendous impact on our students’ ability to meet urgent workforce needs,” said UMD Senior Vice President and Provost Mary Ann Rankin. “This partnership will not only help attract and retain top faculty and students, but will also propel UMD to national prominence and excellence in these critically important fields.”

“We are thrilled to extend our long-standing partnership with the University of Maryland to this important initiative, which will further position the University as one of the leading academic institutions and talent hubs for machine learning, data analytics, and cyber security not only in the region, but in the nation,” said Adam Wenchel, vice president of AI and data innovation, Capital One. “At Capital One, we are steadfast in our belief that machine learning and data analytics can greatly enhance our customers’ experience, and we are proud to support the next generation of technology innovators from UMD that will continue to harness these opportunities more broadly.”

“Thanks to Capital One and Adam Wenchel, the Computer Science Department will be able to add more outstanding faculty to our machine learning and cyber security groups," said Larry Davis, professor and interim Chair, Department of Computer Science. "This partnership will provide more of our 3200 undergraduates and 250 graduate students opportunities to take specialized classes and work with machine learning and cyber security experts who will make major contributions to the field.” 

In August, the Maryland Department of Commerce, through the state’s Maryland E-Nnovation Initiative, provided the University of Maryland with $2.1 million in matching funds for its Capital One Chair in Machine Learning and Computer Science. These funds will endow an additional two professorships in the field, and will help elevate research, education and entrepreneurship activities. 

“Higher education institutions are significant economic drivers for the entire state of Maryland," said Commerce Secretary Mike Gill. "The research they conduct and the bright young minds they nurture fuel Maryland's economy and keep our state on the cutting edge of technology and discovery. We are proud to partner with the University of Maryland and look forward to seeing the fruits of the professorships for years to come.”

The University of Maryland maintains academically strong programs in data analytics, cybersecurity and machine learning, a subfield of computer science that allows analyses of and conclusions from patterns in data. Through the partnership, UMD will create FIRE research streams that focus on research problems in these fields. Each FIRE stream will be jointly designed by Capital One’s senior scientists and researchers in collaboration with UMD faculty.

“These FIRE streams will allow motivated students to gain valuable experience in tackling relevant challenges in these critical areas early in their academic careers," said FIRE Program Director Patrick Killion, Ph.D. "Capital One's commitment to and use of machine learning in their daily operations provides an opportunity that will greatly improve our program and help us produce the country's best and brightest graduates in these fields.”

The partnership between the university and Capital One is part of the university’s Greater College Park initiative, a $2 billion public-private investment to rapidly revitalize the Baltimore Avenue corridor and academic campus, which includes creating a dynamic public-private research hub. Capital One is the first, major private sector anchor to join UMD’s Discovery District, leasing 7,500 square feet in the “Diamondback Garage”, a mixed-use development located behind The Hotel at UMD that will bring new jobs to Prince George’s County.

“We are taking a major step forward in growing the Discovery District with Capital One’s presence in a new and dynamic facility located in Diamondback Garage,” said Ken Ulman, chief strategy officer for economic development at UMD. “This means more jobs for Greater College Park, more vibrancy in our surrounding communities, and a new model for how the University can engage private sector partners.”  

As a historically data-driven company, Capital One continuously seeks opportunities to create breakthrough consumer experiences through new technologies. The company’s Center for Machine Learning, which is home to several leading machine learning experts, focuses on the hiring and empowering of data scientists and the centralization of knowledge in a rapidly changing business industry. Along with the University of Maryland, the group has developed strategic partnerships with marquee universities across the country to attract and retain the best data science and machine learning talent. This builds on Capital One’s existing partnership with UMD as the university’s banking partner and generous supporter of Maryland Athletics. 

UMD and NASA Join Forces to Improve Global Food Security through Satellite Data

December 8, 2017

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- Inbal Becker-Reshef, Ph.D. from the University of Maryland (UMD) Department of Geographical Sciences has been selected by NASA to lead a new multidisciplinary consortium dedicated to enhancing the use of satellite data for improving food security and agriculture around the world. The Earth Observations for Food Security and Agriculture Consortium (EOFSAC) will combine the expertise of more than 40 partners to advance the adoption of Earth observations in informing decisions affecting the global food supply. The consortium will partner with NASA’s Food Security Office at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center (GSFC), strengthening the long-standing collaboration between GSFC and the UMD Department of Geographical Sciences (GEOG). 

EOFSAC image“Events such as food price spikes and food shortages related to severe weather illustrate the risks associated with knowledge gaps around food production and supply,” explained Becker-Reshef, Associate Research Professor and co-lead of UMD’s Center for Global Agricultural Monitoring Research (CGAMR). “Satellite data can help identify areas vulnerable to things like drought, flooding and fire, as well as variability in soil, crop conditions and yield status. The goal of this new consortium is to get this data into the hands of more people making decisions about agriculture and food production.”

The EOFSAC’s core objectives are to enhance the use of Earth observations by key decision- and policymakers, which can:

  • increase food security and resilience
  • reduce food price volatility and vulnerability
  • improve awareness and understanding of the applications of NASA’s and other satellite data products by users from a wide range of sectors. 

NASA awarded the EOFSAC a total of $14.5 million over a five-year period through its Research Opportunities in Earth and Space Science (ROSES) grant program. The consortium aligns with NASA’s priority to make its Earth observations freely and openly available to those seeking solutions to important global issues such as food security, changing freshwater availability and human health. It will also constitute NASA’s contribution to the G20-GEOGLAM initiative, with which faculty members from UMD GEOG are significantly involved. 

“NASA’s observations of Earth’s complex natural environment are critical to understanding the global food system. Through this partnership, NASA is interested in how uses of remote sensing data can enhance organizations’ planning and operations, and support broader food security assessments, commodity pricing, risk assessments and policy analysis,” said Dr. Christa Peters-Lidard, Deputy Director for Hydrosphere, Biosphere and Geophysics in the Earth Sciences Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Through this innovative effort, UMD is partnering with top researchers, humanitarian aid organizations, economists, policymakers, agribusiness, defense and intelligence specialists, high-tech companies, financial experts, and other disciplines and sectors. Collaborators include other U.S. institutions such as UC Santa Barbara, Stanford University, University of Wisconsin, Texas A&M University, University of Vermont, USAID, USDA; and a range of international organizations, UN organizations, NGOs, and ministries in countries like Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Argentina, and Canada.

“The UMD Department of Geographical Sciences is uniquely qualified and deeply honored to lead this innovative program that will harness expertise from around the world to develop new solutions to challenges facing the global food supply,” said Dr. Chris Justice, Chair of the UMD Department of Geographical Sciences and scientific lead for the EOFSAC. “Providing decision-makers with access to timely, objective, accurate and actionable information can strengthen food security, market stability and human livelihoods.”

In addition to Becker-Reshef and Justice, members of the UMD Geographical Sciences team leading the EOFSAC include: Alyssa Whitcraft, Alona Bunning, Matt Hansen, Sergii Saskum, Mike Humber, Brian Barker, Christina Justice, Ritvik Sahajpal, Indrani Kommareddy, Belen Franch, Jean Claude Roger, Varaprasad Bandaru, Cesar Izzauralde, Estefania Puricelli, Catherine Nakalembe, and Mark Sullivan.

Learn more about the EOFSAC and the NASA Food Security Initiative.



UMD Professor Receives $1M from USDA NIFA to Increase Poultry Yield and Advance Animal Well-Being

December 6, 2017

Samantha Watters, 301-405-2434

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Professor Tom Porter, Ph.D. has been awarded two grants, totaling $1M, from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) to explore ways to increase poultry yield and meat production while improving the lives of the animals. Additionally, Porter will examine the natural growth hormone processes and resistance to heat stress caused by severe weather patterns. 

“By 2050, the world will be in the wake of a large food shortage,” explained Porter, professor in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences. “To meet the demand of a growing population and combat hunger, it is anticipated that meat production alone will have to increase 43 to 47 percent across the board, with little to no new land or space for meat production. This presents a major food crisis.”

Porter has been studying the mechanisms behind natural growth hormone production in poultry for 27 years, with consistent federal funding for his work. His research has explored what controls production of the bird’s own growth hormone, when it begins, how to target the DNA to control growth hormone production, and what cellular mechanisms are involved. Porter will use the grant from USDA NIFA’s Animal Nutrition, Growth, and Lactation Program to continue this research. 

“If there is no new land for meat production, the best way to meet our agricultural and food supply needs is through more efficient and effective growth,” said Dr. Porter. 

By inducing the natural growth hormone production process a little earlier in chick development, critical parameters like body weight, yield, composition and feed efficiency (or the amount of feed needed to produce a pound of meat) may be improved, providing more insight into these mechanisms. 

In addition, funding from USDA NIFA’s Animal Well-Being Program will support a new research project. To improve animal welfare, well-being, and overall poultry production, Porter will use the grant to develop a protocol to easily condition chicks to better handle heat waves as adult birds. Chickens begin to exhibit significant heat stress at sustained temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. With the ever increasing extremes in our global climate, heat waves with prolonged temperatures over 95 degrees are increasingly common. Significant heat stress not only causes the birds to suffer, but often leads to premature death on a large scale. Eggs are normally incubated at 99.5 degrees, and chicks are kept at 92 degrees thereafter. Exposing chicks to 100-degree heat for an additional day when they are young, reduces heat stress and mortality rates by 50 percent.  What is not understood is how this mechanism works, how this affects poultry production and overall yield, and if the protocol can be optimized with more or less conditioning.

“I am a physiologist, and really an endocrinologist, so understanding the mechanisms that regulate hormones and stress is what I enjoy,” said Porter. “But everything we do is to improve the well-being and lives of the animals themselves and to ultimately improve poultry production. That is the key to this work.”  

Quantum Computing Moves Forward with Record Setting UMD-NIST 53 Qubit Quantum Simulator

November 30, 2017

Emily Edwards, 301-405-2291
Lee Tune, 301-405-4679 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A team of scientists from the University of Maryland (UMD) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have created a quantum simulator using 53 interacting atomic qubits to mimic magnetic quantum matter. Prior to this breakthrough, leading researchers had only created quantum simulators of 20 qubits or less.

Artist's depiction of quantum simulation. Lasers manipulate an array of over 50 atomic qubits in order to study the dynamics of quantum magnetism

Quantum simulators are a restricted type of quantum computer that use qubits to mimic complex quantum matter. By deploying 53 individual ytterbium ions—charged atoms trapped in place by gold-coated and razor-sharp electrodes—the UMD-NIST quantum simulator is on the cusp of exploring physics that is unreachable by even the fastest modern supercomputers. 

The building of qubit simulators is a key step in efforts to build a full-fledged quantum computer capable of tackling any complex computational problem. And, according to the UMD-NIST team, adding even more qubits is just a matter of lassoing more atoms into the mix. 

“We are continuing to refine our system, and we think that soon, we will be able to control 100 ion qubits, or more,” said Jiehang Zhang, a postdoctoral researcher in the UMD Department of Physics, and the lead author of a paper about the team’s 53 qubit quantum simulator that appears in this week’s issue of the journal Nature.  “At that point, we can potentially explore difficult problems in quantum chemistry or materials design.” 

The UMD-NIST paper appears in Nature together with a complementary paper on a previously announced 51 qubit quantum simulator designed by Harvard and MIT researchers that uses rubidium atoms confined by an array of laser beams. 

“Each ion qubit is a stable atomic clock that can be perfectly replicated,” said UMD team lead Christopher Monroe, a Distinguished University Professor of Physics and Bice Sechi-Zorn Professor at UMD, and co-founder and chief scientist of IonQ Inc., a UMD-based quantum computing startup company. “They are effectively wired together with external laser beams. This means that the same device can be reprogrammed and reconfigured, from the outside, to adapt to any type of quantum simulation or future quantum computer application that comes up.”  

Monroe, who is also a fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute and the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science, has been one of the early pioneers in quantum computing and the UMD-NIST quantum simulator is part of a blueprint for a general-purpose quantum computer.  

Quantum hardware for a quantum problem 

While modern, transistor-driven computers are great for crunching their way through many problems, they can screech to a halt when dealing with more than 20 interacting quantum objects. That’s certainly the case for quantum magnetism, in which the interactions can lead to magnetic alignment or to a jumble of competing interests at the quantum scale. 

“What makes this problem hard is that each magnet interacts with all the other magnets,” said UMD research scientist Zhexuan Gong, lead theorist and a co-author of the study. “With the 53 interacting quantum magnets in this experiment, there are over a quadrillion possible magnet configurations, and this number doubles with each additional magnet. Simulating this large-scale problem on a conventional computer is extremely challenging, if at all possible.” 

When these calculations hit a wall, a quantum simulator may help scientists push the envelope on difficult problems. Qubits are isolated and well-controlled quantum systems that can be in a combination of two or more states at once. Qubits come in different forms, and atoms—the versatile building blocks of everything—are one of the leading choices for making qubits. In recent years, scientists have controlled 10 to 20 atomic qubits in small-scale quantum simulations. 

Currently, tech industry behemoths, startups and university researchers are in a fierce race to build prototype quantum computers that can control even more qubits. But qubits are delicate and must stay isolated from the environment to protect the device’s quantum nature. With each added qubit, this protection becomes more difficult, especially if qubits are not identical from the start, as is the case with fabricated circuits. This is one reason that atoms are an attractive choice that can dramatically simplify the process of scaling up to large-scale quantum machinery.  

An atomic advantage 

Unlike the integrated circuitry of modern computers, atomic qubits reside inside of a room-temperature vacuum chamber that maintains a pressure similar to outer space. This isolation is necessary to keep the destructive environment at bay, and it allows the scientists to precisely control the atomic qubits with a highly engineered network of lasers, lenses, mirrors, optical fibers and electrical circuitry.  

“The principles of quantum computing differ radically from those of conventional computing, so there’s no reason to expect that these two technologies will look anything alike,” said Monroe. 

“Quantum simulations are widely believed to be one of the first useful applications of quantum computers. After perfecting these quantum simulators, we can then implement quantum circuits and eventually quantum-connect many such ion chains together to build a full-scale quantum computer with a much wider domain of applications,” said study co-author Alexey Gorshkov, a NIST theoretical physicist, JQI and QuICS fellow, and adjunct assistant professor in the UMD Department of Physics.

Photo: Artist's depiction of quantum simulation. Lasers manipulate an array of over 50 atomic qubits in order to study the dynamics of quantum magnetism. Photo credit: E.Edwards/JQI.

UMD Joins Regional Leaders, Coalition of Stakeholders to Launch Pathways to Opportunity along Maryland’s Purple Line

November 29, 2017

Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland, along with government and community stakeholders, nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and local residents, joined together to launch a landmark agreement to create pathways to opportunity for all who live, work and invest along the Purple Line corridor. Pathways to Opportunity: A Community Development Agreement for the Purple Line Corridor, developed and led by the Purple Line Corridor Coalition (PLCC), articulates a collective vision for equitable economic and community development along the 16.2-mile Purple Line light-rail corridor, and advances strategies to achieve that vision through the pursuit of four shared goals: support and grow local businesses; build a thriving labor market; ensure housing choices for all; and support vibrant, sustainable communities. It is the largest collaborative effort by regional leaders and public and private community stakeholders to shape development along the corridor. 

Photo of Montgomery County Executive Leggett, Prince George's County Executive Baker and  Loh“What this event really signals is the true beginning of this project— to ensure that the Purple Line light-rail creates a place of opportunity for all who live, work and invest in the corridor, and to sustain and support vibrant, healthy communities,” said Gerrit Knaap, director of the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth and architect of the PLCC. “We are at the cusp of an unprecedented opportunity for economic growth and expansion—not just along this corridor, but for the entire metropolitan region. And we have a shot to shape that growth sustainably, equitably and in ways that create new pathways to opportunity, particularly for the culturally rich but economically fragile communities that dot the corridor.”

The community agreement is the result of a four-year process spearheaded by the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth and several community stakeholders, who together, form PLCC. The launch event, which was held on Tuesday, November 29,  attracted over 200 stakeholders from throughout the state, including UMD President Wallace D. Loh, Congressman Jamie Raskin (D), Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, and representatives from PLCC partners— Enterprise Community Partners, CASA, Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, and Purple Line NOW

The event helped further conversations around the opportunities and challenges surrounding the four goals, as well as the next steps needed to move the vision forward. A key strength of Pathways to Opportunity: A Community Development Agreement for the Purple Line Corridor is the full range of expertise available within the coalition. Coalition members are experienced in areas such as housing, transportation, job creation and community development. In addition to individual expertise, data analytics developed through the National Center for Smart Growth, which pinpoint areas of opportunity and vulnerability, will be used to inform policy recommendations and fortify efforts to pursue support and funding. 

The Purple Line Corridor Community Development Agreement was created over several years through an open, inclusive stakeholder process led by PLCC, which engaged more than 300 residents, business owners, nonprofit leaders and public officials. The Purple Line light-rail project broke ground in August. Running from New Carrolton, MD to Bethesda, MD, the light-rail project is 16.2 miles and comprises 21 stations. It is the first transit line to connect the Washington Metropolitan Transit System and represents one of the region’s largest transit investments in the 21st century. Inspired by successful and sustainable transit projects in Denver, Seattle and Minneapolis–Saint Paul, the PLCC plans to leverage this major transit investment to benefit both current and future residents, employees, and property owners throughout the region. 

“Considerable research and experience suggests that communities are better able to capitalize on major public investments when they work together, think corridor-wide, and plan ahead,” said Knaap. “The community development agreement was an important first step.”


Photo (from l to r): Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker and UMD President Wallace D. Loh. Photo credit: University of Maryland

University of Maryland Named a Top College for LGBTQ Students

November 27, 2017

Jennifer Burroughs, 301-405-4621

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland has been named the seventh best college for LGBTQ students in the 2017 ranking by Campus Pride and Best Colleges. UMD’s LGBT Equity Center is featured for its campus impact within the ranking.

The new ranking combines the Best Colleges academic and affordability metrics and the Campus Pride Index Score, which measures LGBTQ-friendly campus life. Only universities with a 4.5 or 5 star rating, indicating above average performance in all eight of the LGBTQ-inclusive factors on the Campus Pride Index, were considered.

“Excellence is embodied by continuous improvement and engagement across diverse campus communities," said Nic Sakurai, Acting Director, LGBT Equity Center. “No campus is a perfect place for LGBTQ+ people, but what makes the critical difference and what makes the University of Maryland a great place to be is active involvement of LGBTQ+ people and allies across many spheres of academic and campus life, working together to promote intersectional social justice for all.” 

The LGBT Equity Center has been at the forefront of the university’s efforts to cultivate strong communities for Terps of all gender identities and sexual orientations since its inception in 1998. Recent strides made by this office, in conjunction with Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy (MICA) and many other campus partners, have helped make UMD a place where all are welcome: 

  • TransTerps: A campus-wide campaign that identifies, disseminates, and implements good practices for transgender inclusion on campus. The centerpiece of this campaign is to offer tools for offices and student groups to be able to assess and continuously improve their good practices for trans inclusion on campus, including sample syllabus language about names/pronouns, examples of ways to share about pronouns, and examples of good practice for demographic data collection and inclusive restroom signage. Dozens of departments and groups on campus have signed on and are working to improve the climate for trans and gender non-conforming people. 
  • Lavender Leadership Honor Society: A first-of-its-kind collegiate leadership honor society focusing on LGBTQ+ social justice. The society has inducted over 100 members of UMD students, staff, faculty and alumni to the group in addition to honorary inductions for several notable figures including, the Mayor of College Park Patrick Wojahn; actress and advocate Laverne Cox; and noted scholar Cathy Cohen. The society is advised and supported by a student board, and is also affiliated with a series of workshops focusing on leadership development that puts racial justice into focus in the LGBTQ+ community context.
  • LGBT Studies: Both a minor and a certificate in LGBT Studies are offered through the Department of Women's Studies. The program has been in existence formally since 2002 and as of last year has graduated 89 students with certificates and 43 with minors. All LGBT Studies graduates are recognized during the annual Lavender Graduation ceremony hosted by the LGBT Equity Center and supported by the Novak Family LGBT Student fund. 

For more information on UMD’s LGBT Equity Center, visit: https://lgbt.umd.edu/

LGBT Equity Center

LGBT Equity Center

Lavender Graduation

UMD​ ​Announces​ ​Streamlined​ ​Protocol​ ​for​ ​Hate-Bias​ ​Incident Response

November 27, 2017

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland announces a new hate-bias incident response protocol that will ensure a coordinated response, provide support to impacted community members and ensure transparency with the campus community. In addition to the new protocol, the university’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion will hire a Hate-Bias Response Coordinator to assist with these efforts as part of UMD’s ongoing efforts to combat hate and create a safer campus.

“A clear and transparent protocol for hate-bias incidents on our campus is essential to ensuring a sense of safety for our students, faculty and staff,” said Roger L. Worthington, UMD’s chief diversity officer. “I believe this is an important step forward in maintaining a campus community deeply rooted in equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

Under the protocol, community members can report hate-bias incidents to the University of Maryland Police Department (UMPD) or the university’s Office of Civil Rights & Sexual Misconduct (OCRSM). Once the incident report is reviewed, the offices inform one another and consult with relevant campus administrators regarding necessary and appropriate action. To ensure transparency for all hate-bias incidents on campus, the Office of Diversity & Inclusion in the future will maintain a log of incidents that will be updated as reports are received. A system for notifying the broader campus community is in the final stages of development and will be announced in the coming weeks.

The Hate-Bias Response Coordinator will provide leadership for a newly established Hate-Bias Response Team, whose membership is currently under development. The coordinator will formulate action plans in coordination with the Hate-Bias Response Team and work with individuals and/or groups affected by any hate-bias incidents. The coordinator, along with members of the Hate-Bias Response Team, will be available for support and guidance to individuals and communities affected by hate-bias incidents. The Office of Diversity & Inclusion will work to continually improve the protocol to ensure its effectiveness based on feedback from the Hate-Bias Response Team.

The protocol has been formally submitted to the Joint President/Senate Inclusion & Respect Task Force to ensure it is reviewed within the wider frame of the task force’s charge to consider how to best nurture a climate that is respectful and inclusive of all members of the campus community, stands against hate and reaffirms the values that define the university. The task force will have the opportunity to make recommendations for revisions to the protocol if appropriate.

The full protocol can be found at https://faculty.umd.edu/diversity/documents/hate-bias-protocol.pdf.

Five UMD Alumni Make Forbes 2018 "30 Under 30" List

November 27, 2017

Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

COLLEGE PARK, Md.— Five University of Maryland alumni were recognized by Forbes Magazine as the world’s brightest young people for their “impressive, inspiring and enviable” achievements. Marian Cheng ’10, Natalya Gallo ’11, Tian Li M.S. ’15, Ph.D. ’16, Erik Martin ’16 and Jake Rozmaryn were named in Forbes’ 2018  “30 Under 30” lists for accomplishments that include the creation of transparent wood and new research developments in underwater ecosystems.

The lists profile young change-makers who are leading the way in their fields and show promise for the future. The “30 Under 30” lists cover 20 different industries and honorees are selected by a panel of judges from thousands of nominations. This year’s alumni join some of the most renowned authors, artists, athletes, and entrepreneurs from around the world, as well as UMD alumni who made the list in previous years.

UMD’s 2018 30 Under 30 winners include:

Marian Cheng ’10 made the Food and Drink list. Cheng and her sister Hannah opened Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings, a restaurant inspired by their mom’s Taiwanese dumplings, in New York’s East Village in 2014. They added a second location in Nolita last year.

Natalya Gallo ’11, now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, San Diego, was named to the Science list. Gallo studies the warming climate’s effect on ocean conditions, and how that will influence the health of fish and fisheries. Along with engineer collaborators, she’s developed new tools to study underwater ecosystems.

Tian Li M.S. ’15, Ph.D. ’16 made the Energy list for contributing to the creation of transparent wood. The see-through wood developed at UMD is stronger than traditional wood, as well as more energy-efficient and less expensive to manufacture than glass for windows.

Erik Martin ’16 was named to the Games list. Martin designs outreach programs for Unity Technologies, a video game development company. He was formerly a policy adviser for President Barack Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy; while there, Martin helped create the White House Education Game Jam, in which game developers, teachers, learning researchers and students came together to develop educational software.

Former Terp Jake Rozmaryn was named to the Energy list. Rozmaryn was the CEO and founder of Eco Branding, a public relations and marketing agency that focuses on clean-tech companies. He's now vice president of strategy and business development for the Antenna Group, a public relations and marketing agency dealing with energy, sustainability, emerging tech and life sciences.



UMD-led Collaboration Sheds Light on Origin of Excess Anti-matter

November 21, 2017

Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- A mountaintop observatory in Mexico, built and operated by an international team of scientists led by University of Maryland Professor of Physics Jordan Goodman, has captured the first wide-angle view of gamma rays emanating from two rapidly spinning stars. The High-Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) Gamma-Ray Observatory provided a fresh perspective on high-energy light streaming from these stellar neighbors, casting serious doubt on one possible explanation for a mysterious excess of anti-matter particles near Earth.

The HAWC observatory perched next to a volcano in MexicoIn 2008, astronomers observed an unexpectedly high number of positrons—the anti-matter cousins of electrons—in orbit a few hundred miles above Earth’s atmosphere. Ever since, scientists have debated the cause of the anomaly, split over two competing theories of its origin. Some suggested a simple explanation: The extra particles might come from nearby collapsed stars called pulsars, which spin around several times a second and throw off electrons, positrons and other matter with violent force. Others speculated that the extra positrons might come from processes involving dark matter—the invisible but pervasive substance seen so far only through its gravitational pull.

Using new data from the HAWC observatory, researchers made the first detailed measurements of two pulsars previously identified as possible sources of the positron excess. By catching and counting particles of light streaming from these nearby stellar engines, HAWC collaboration researchers found that the two pulsars are unlikely to be the origin of the positron excess. Despite being the right age and the right distance from Earth, the pulsars are surrounded by an extended murky cloud that prevents most positrons from escaping, according to results published in the November 17, 2017 issue of the journal Science.

“This new measurement is tantalizing because it strongly disfavors the idea that these extra positrons are coming to Earth from two nearby pulsars, at least when you assume a relatively simple model for how positrons diffuse away from these spinning stars,” said Goodman, lead investigator and U.S. spokesperson for the HAWC collaboration. “Our measurement doesn’t decide the question in favor of dark matter, but any new theory that attempts to explain the excess using pulsars will need to account for what we’ve found.”

Francisco Salesa Greus, the lead co- author of the new paper and a scientist at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow, Poland, added that “we are closer to understanding the origin of the positron excess after excluding two of the main source candidates.”

An Eye in the Sky

As with an ordinary camera, collecting lots of light allows HAWC to build sharp images of individual gamma-ray sources. The most energetic gamma rays originate in the graveyards of big stars, around stellar remains like the spinning pulsar remnants of supernovae. But that light doesn’t come from the stars themselves. Instead, it's created when the spinning pulsar accelerates particles to extremely high energies, causing them to smash into lower-energy photons left over from the early universe.

The size of the debris field around powerful pulsars, measured by the patch of sky that glows bright in gamma rays, tells researchers how quickly matter moves relative to the spinning stars. This enables researchers to estimate how quickly positrons are moving and how many positrons could have reached Earth from a given source.

Using a recently published HAWC catalog of the high-energy sky, scientists have absolved the nearby pulsar Geminga and its sister—the pulsar PSR B0656+14—as sources of the positron excess. Even though the two are old enough and close enough to account for the excess, matter isn’t drifting away from the pulsars fast enough to have reached the Earth.

“The gamma rays HAWC measures demonstrate that there are high-energy positrons escaping from these sources,” said Rubén López-Coto, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany and a corresponding author. “But according to our measurement, they could not be significantly contributing to the extra positrons seen at the Earth.”

This measurement wouldn’t have been possible without HAWC’s wide view. It continuously scans about one-third of the sky overhead, which provided researchers with a broad view of the space around the pulsars. Other observatories watching for high-energy gamma rays with a much narrower field of view missed the extended nature of the pulsars.

The HAWC Observatory sits at an elevation of 13,500 feet, flanking the Sierra Negra volcano inside Pico de Orizaba National Park in the Mexican state of Puebla. It consists of more than 300 massive water tanks that sit waiting for cascades of particles initiated by high-energy packets of light called gamma rays—many of which have more than 10 million times the energy of a dental X-ray.

When these gamma rays smash into the upper atmosphere, they blast apart atoms in the air, producing a shower of particles that moves at nearly the speed of light toward the ground. When this shower reaches HAWC’s tanks, it produces coordinated flashes of blue light in the water, allowing researchers to reconstruct the energy and cosmic origin of the gamma ray that kicked off the cascade.

“Thanks to its wide field of view, HAWC provides unique measurements on the very-high-energy gamma ray profiles caused by the particle diffusion around nearby pulsars, which allows us to determine how fast the particles diffuse more directly than previous measurements,” says Hao Zhou, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a corresponding author of the new paper.

It’s possible that a new insight about the astrophysics of these pulsars and their local environments could account for the positron excess at Earth, but it would require a more complicated theory of positron diffusion than physicists in the collaboration think is likely.  On the other hand, dark matter may provide the right explanation, but more evidence will ultimately be needed to decide.

Photo: The HAWC Observatory, perched next to a volcano at an altitude of 13,500 feet, uses its 300 massive water tanks to scoop up the products of high-energy particle collisions happening in the upper atmosphere. Photo credit: Jordan Goodman/University of Maryland

University of Maryland Statement on Tax Bill -- November 20, 2017

November 20, 2017

Jessica Jennings, 301-405-4618

University of Maryland and University System of Maryland express concerns on tax bill attacking higher education

University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh, alongside the Chancellor of the University System of Maryland and twelve of his counterparts in the state of Maryland, expressed concerns about the impact on higher education of H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The letter, written to Maryland’s Congressional delegation, notes several provisions of most concern.

On the proposal to treat tuition remission as taxable income, they write, “The proposed repeal of Section 117(d)(5) would lead to a completely unaffordable increase in taxable income and make the pursuit of a graduate degree much more challenging, if not impossible, for many of our students.”

The full announcement and letter can be read below: 

USM Chancellor and Presidents Share Concerns with Maryland Lawmakers About Tax Bill
Jointly Sign Letters to Each Member of Maryland Congressional Delegation

Adelphi, Md. (Nov. 17, 2017) – On behalf of the University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents, Chancellor Robert L. Caret and the presidents of USM’s 12 institutions have co-signed letters to each member of Maryland’s Congressional delegation, expressing their strong concerns regarding several proposed tax changes in H.R. 1, the Tax and Jobs Act.  The leaders of the state’s public higher education system specifically cite several the bill’s provisions, including the proposed elimination of certain tax benefits, that threaten the ability of students and families to pay for college. 

“This legislation comes at a time when lawmakers and the public are keenly focused on college costs and debt,” they write.  “The USM has worked to keep higher education affordable and student debt burden low.  H.R. 1, in its totality, goes against those ideals by eliminating tax benefits that help students and families pay for college, increasing institutional costs, and diminishing our ability to raise revenue which, in turn, disrupts budgeting and planning for students and institutions alike.”

The text of the letter, signed and sent individually to each member of the Maryland delegation, is below:

On behalf of the Board of Regents, Office of the Chancellor and the 12 institutions that comprise the University System of Maryland (USM) we are writing to express our concerns regarding several proposed tax changes in H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The USM includes institutions with a variety of missions that would be individually and adversely impacted by the wide-ranging scope of proposed tax changes.

"This legislation comes at a time when lawmakers and the public are keenly focused on college costs and debt.  The USM has worked to keep higher education affordable and student debt burden low.  H.R. 1, in its totality, goes against those ideals by eliminating tax benefits that help students and families pay for college, increasing institutional costs, and diminishing our ability to raise revenue which, in turn, disrupts budgeting and planning for students and institutions alike."

The following provisions of H.R. 1 are of most concern to the USM: 

Individual student and family benefits 

The proposed elimination of the Student Loan Interest Deduction and the Lifetime Learning Credit would increase college costs for millions of undergraduate and graduate students across the US.  Separately, the modified American Opportunity Tax Credit proposed in H.R. 1 eliminates the ability of part-time students to claim an education tax credit while acquiring or improving job skills, the purpose of the Lifetime Learning Credit. 

Employee and graduate student benefits 

The bill would eliminate Section 127, a popular employer-provided benefit that allows an employee to exclude from income up to $5,250 per year in assistance for any type of educational course work at the undergraduate and graduate level. H.R. 1 also eliminates Section 117(d), which gives colleges and universities an important tool for recruiting and retaining valued employees. The elimination of these popular and bipartisan provisions in the tax code would have an immediate and adverse consequence on students and employers. 

Section 117(d), for instance, allows colleges and universities to lower the cost of tuition for their graduate students who are serving as teaching or research assistants without the tuition reductions counting as taxable income.  According to recent Department of Education data, nearly 55 percent of all graduate students have adjusted gross incomes of $20,000 or less and nearly 87 percent had incomes of $50,000 or less. The proposed repeal of Section 117(d)(5) would lead to a completely unaffordable increase in taxable income and make the pursuit of a graduate degree much more challenging, if not impossible, for many of our students. 

Charitable giving benefits 

In an era of tight state budgets, USM institutions have relied on the generosity of donations both large and small. H.R. 1 doubles the standard deduction and eliminates the charitable deduction for a significant number of taxpayers. The House bill would destabilize charitable giving to all nonprofit organizations and Maryland’s public universities would not be immune to the ramifications. 

Higher education financing benefits 

We are also concerned that the bill would eliminate Section 3602, which allows state and local governments to execute tax-exempt “advance refundings” of outstanding tax-exempt bonds. Tax-exempt advance refundings provide states and localities with an important tool for refinancing outstanding debt at lower interest rates and have generated many billions of dollars of interest savings over decades, lowering the cost of important infrastructure investments. Universities within USM have saved millions through tax exempt bond refinancing, lowering the cost of important building projects such as student housing, academic buildings, laboratory facilities, and more.   

State and local income tax benefits 

Another provision, which may have downstream impacts on public higher education, is the proposed elimination of the state and local income tax deduction (SALT). Maryland ranks #10 in the country for state and local tax collections.  This could make a challenging situation worse in the state’s effort to generate revenue to support public higher education. 

The USM, Board of Regents, Chancellor and institution presidents are committed to active and constructive participation with our national association partners in coming weeks as the tax reform proposal continues to take shape. We hope that you’ll help share our voice in the coming weeks with your colleagues and work with us to protect these important tax benefits for our students, our employees, and residents across the state of Maryland. 



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