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UMD Researchers Address Economic Dangers of 'Peak Oil'

October 16, 2013
Contacts: 

Laura Ours 301-405-5722
Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Researchers from the University of Maryland and a leading university in Spain demonstrate in a new study which sectors could put the entire U.S. economy at risk when global oil production peaks ("Peak Oil"). This multi-disciplinary team recommends immediate action by government, private and commercial sectors to reduce the vulnerability of these sectors. 

While critics of Peak Oil studies declare that the world has more than enough oil to maintain current national and global standards, these UMD-led researchers say Peak Oil is imminent, if not already here—and is a real threat to national and global economies. Their study is among the first to outline a way of assessing the vulnerabilities of specific economic sectors to this threat, and to identify focal points for action that could strengthen the U.S. economy and make it less vulnerable to disasters.

Their work, "Economic Vulnerability to Peak Oil," appears in Global Environmental Change. The paper is co-authored by Christina Prell, UMD's Department of Sociology; Kuishuang Feng and Klaus Hubacek, UMD's Department of Geographical Sciences, and Christian Kerschner, Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Read the article.

A focus on Peak Oil is increasingly gaining attention in both scientific and policy discourses, especially due to its apparent imminence and potential dangers. However, until now, little has been known about how this phenomenon will impact economies. In their paper, the research team constructs a vulnerability map of the U.S. economy, combining two approaches for analyzing economic systems. Their approach reveals the relative importance of individual economic sectors, and how vulnerable these are to oil price shocks. This dual-analysis helps identify which sectors could put the entire U.S. economy at risk from Peak Oil. For the United States, such sectors would include iron mills, chemical and plastic products manufacturing, fertilizer production and air transport.

Peak Oil

The figure above shows sectors’ importance and vulnerability to Peak Oil. The bubbles represent sectors. The size of the bubbles visualizes the vulnerability of a particular sector to Peak Oil according to the expected price changes; the larger the size of the bubble, the more vulnerable the sector is considered to be. The X axis shows a sector’s importance according to its contribution to GDP and on the Y axis according to its structural role. Hence, the larger bubbles in the top right corner represent highly vulnerable and highly important sectors. In the case of Peak Oil induced supply disruptions, these sectors could cause severe imbalances for the entire U.S. economy. [Click here for high-res]

"Our findings provide early warnings to these and related industries about potential trouble in their supply chain," UMD Professor Hubacek said. "Our aim is to inform and engage government, public and private industry leaders, and to provide a tool for effective Peak Oil policy action planning."

Although the team's analysis is embedded in a Peak Oil narrative, it can be used more broadly to develop a climate roadmap for a low carbon economy.

"In this paper, we analyze the vulnerability of the U.S. economy, which is the biggest consumer of oil and oil-based products in the world, and thus provides a good example of an economic system with high resource dependence. However, the notable advantage of our approach is that it does not depend on the Peak-Oil-vulnerability narrative but is equally useful in a climate change context, for designing policies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In that case, one could easily include other fossil fuels such as coal in the model and results could help policy makers to identify which sectors can be controlled and/or managed for a maximum, low-carbon effect, without destabilizing the economy," Professor Hubacek said.

One of the main ways a Peak Oil vulnerable industry can become less so, the authors say, is for that sector to reduce the structural and financial importance of oil. For example, Hubacek and colleagues note that one approach to reducing the importance of oil to agriculture could be to curbing the strong dependence on artificial fertilizers by promoting organic farming techniques and/or reducing the overall distance travelled by people and goods by fostering local, decentralized food economies.

Peak Oil Background and Impact
The Peak Oil dialogue shifts attention away from discourses on "oil depletion" and "stocks" to focus on declining production rates (flows) of oil, and increasing costs of production. The maximum possible daily flow rate (with a given technology) is what eventually determines the peak; thus, the concept can also be useful in the context of other renewable resources.

Improvements in extraction and refining technologies can influence flows, but this tends to lead to steeper decline curves after the peak is eventually reached. Such steep decline curves have also been observed for shale gas wells.

"Shale developments are, so we believe, largely overrated, because of the huge amounts of financial resources that went into them (danger of bubble) and because of their apparent steep decline rates (shale wells tend to peak fast)," according to Dr. Kerschner. 

"One important implication of this dialogue shift is that extraction peaks occur much earlier in time than the actual depletion of resources," Professor Hubacek said. "In other words, Peak Oil is currently predicted within the next decade by many, whereas complete oil depletion will in fact occur never given increasing prices. This means that eventually petroleum products may be sold in liter bottles in pharmacies like in the old days. "

Robo Raven III Harnesses Solar Power

October 14, 2013
Contacts: 

Jennifer Rooks 301-405-1458
Rebecca Copeland 301-405-6602

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – University of Maryland engineering professors S.K. Gupta and Hugh Bruck and their students in the Maryland Robotics Center have developed and demonstrated a new version of the Robo Raven micro air vehicle (MAV) that incorporates solar panels in its wings.

While the solar panels don't produce enough energy to power Robo Raven III in flight (they produce around 3.6 Watts while Robo Raven needs around 30 Watts to fly), they are effective in charging the MAV's batteries when it is stationary.

In his blog, Gupta notes that the development team envisions Robo Raven flying "far away from civilizations" during long missions and needing "a way to 'feed' itself" on its journeys.

Because Robo Raven's large wings have enough surface area to create a usable amount of solar energy, the team decided to incorporate flexible solar cells into them. The captured solar energy is then used to supply Robo Raven's onboard batteries. "These new multi-functional wings will shape the future of robotic birds by enabling them to fly longer, farther, and more independently because they will be getting their power from the sun" says ME Ph.D. student Luke Roberts, a member of the Robo Raven team.

The underlying material of the flexible solar panels is different from that used in the previous version of Robo Raven. That meant the team needed to design new wings and develop a new additive manufacturing process to fabricate them, Gupta says.

The Robo Raven III team (L-R) S.K. Gupta, Luke Roberts, Ariel Perez-Rosado and Hugh Bruck. "We still need to make significant improvements in solar cell efficiency and battery energy density to replicate the endurance of real ravens in Robo Raven III," Gupta says, "but the good news is that Robo Raven III has already demonstrated we can fly with a solar cell and battery combination. Now that we've successfully taken this step, swapping new technologies that are more efficient should be relatively simple."

Gupta has been working on flapping-wing robotic birds for the better part of a decade. His team first successfully demonstrated a flapping-wing bird in 2007. This spring the group introduced Robo Raven, the first flapping-wing MAV with independently flapping, programmable wings.

 

Robo Raven III

New Director to Grow Regulatory Science Initiative

October 11, 2013
Contacts: 

Ted Knight 301-405-3596

Dr. Lex SchultheisCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland has announced the appointment of Dr. Lex Schultheis as director of UMD’s new Regulatory Science and Innovation Initiative. In this new role, which begins on Nov. 4, Schultheis will grow the regulatory science initiative at the university in partnership with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Through this new initiative, UMD researchers are helping to make Americans safer by developing innovative, science-based processes to improve consumer safety and streamline government regulations.

Regulatory Science and Innovation Initiative at UMD
Many of UMD’s programs – including those in engineering; agriculture and natural resources; computer science; mathematics and natural sciences; public health; and public policy – have great relevance to the current challenges that the FDA faces in transforming itself into a “science based, science led” regulatory agency. 

UMD is a partner in the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Nutrition (JIFSAN), a public and private partnership housed near the College Park metro that provides the scientific basis for ensuring a safe food supply and infrastructure for national food safety programs and international food standards. UMD has also been awarded a Center for Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSI) by the FDA in partnership with the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) in an effort to develop new tools, standards and approaches to assess the safety, efficacy, quality and performance of FDA-regulated drugs and medical devices. The CERSI co-director is Professor William Bentley, chair of the Fischell Bioengineering Department. In addition to these initiatives, individual scientists and engineers at FDA and UMD have a long history of working together collaboratively, taking advantage of each other’s expertise and resources.

The mission of the Regulatory Science and Innovation Initiative is to link these activities and foster new connections for each within the FDA. Also, the Initiative will foster further development of research and education programs in partnership with the FDA. As director, Schultheis will plan and grow all facets of the Initiative’s operations, including the development of new applications, products, academic programs, and collaborations between faculty, researchers, students, corporate partners and government agencies.

About Lex Schultheis
Born and raised in Maryland, Dr. Lex Schultheis has made the state his home for most of his life. His undergraduate and Ph.D. training in bioengineering at Johns Hopkins University focused on studies of adaptive control systems and signal processing in the brain. While in graduate school, he attended clinical rounds and observed patients whose illnesses could only be explained by mathematical models. In medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, his interests in modeling physiology expanded to studies of artificial environments, such as patients under anesthesia and humans in space flight.

Dr. Schultheis completed a residency in anesthesiology with a clinical fellowship caring for cardiac surgical patients at Johns Hopkins. He has more than twenty years of experience as an active physician, including direction of a subspecialty division of cardiac anesthesiologists and chairman of a Department of Anesthesiology at the Washington Hospital Center.  Dr. Schultheis has also been a principal investigator for NASA. 

Most recently, Dr. Schultheis has been an expert medical officer in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, and branch chief in the FDA Center for Devices and Radiation Health where he reviews anesthesia and respiratory medical technology. His team was awarded four Critical Path grants from FDA. Nominated by his team, Dr. Schultheis received the 2013 John Villforth Leadership Award in engineering by the Commissioned Corps of the US Public Health Service.

UMD-Led, NSF-Funded DC Innovation Corps Kicks Off

October 10, 2013
Contacts: 

Eric Schurr 301-405-3889
Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — A seven-week program aimed at translating the region's powerful research prowess into successful startups and licensed technologies kicks off this week.  Jointly run by the University of Maryland, the George Washington University, and Virginia Tech, and sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the DC Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program provides real world, hands-on training on how to turn discoveries and innovations into successful products and companies. The ultimate goal is to help build a culture of innovation for the region that rivals that of any in the world.

A seven-week program aimed at translating the region's powerful research prowess into successful startups and licensed technologies kicks off this week. The program launches with a diverse first cohort of 20 teams, including institutional teams from the University of Maryland, Children's National Medical Center, Johns Hopkins University, the George Washington University, Virginia Tech and George Mason University, and company teams from startups drawn from regional tech incubators: UMD’s Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech), the Emerging Technology Center and bwtech@UMBC.

DC I-Corps guides entrepreneurial teams through an intense, seven-week program based upon the Silicon Valley-tested Lean Startup Model, which is designed to greatly improve the 25 percent success rate that is the average for all startups. Rather than using the traditional new venture approach of executing a business plan, operating in stealth mode, and releasing fully functional prototypes, the Lean Start-up Model teaches young ventures to test hypotheses, gather early and frequent customer feedback, and develop and show products that target ideal, early-adopter customers.

"Nothing lays a better foundation and prepares startups for the rapid change and challenges of the 21st century than the Lean Startup Model," said DC I-Corps Director Edmund Pendleton, who also directs UMD’s Mtech VentureAccelerator. "We believe that combining this methodology with the research churning from world-class universities and federal laboratories in this region is the equivalent of releasing lightning from a bottle. Great companies that bolster the region's economy and bring important products into our lives are bound to emerge."

Teams selected for DC I-Corps, segmented by institution, with brief descriptions of the technologies they are developing and the team entrepreneurial lead can be found here.

"I have to tell you how thankful I am for the I-Corps experience," said Len Annetta, a professor of science education at George Mason University and participant in the DC I-Corps. "The last three days sprung me from my professorship comfort zone, and I have learned more in those last three days than I have in the last 10 years."

The DC I-Corps focuses on innovations coming from engineering fields, medical/health/life sciences, and physical and computer sciences. The program builds upon the successful NSF I-Corps initiative, but expands its scope to cover researchers and technologists with no prior NSF affiliation or support.

DC I-Corps is part of a national network of five nodes across the country selected by NSF with additional nodes in Silicon Valley, New York, Atlanta, and Ann Arbor.
   
More than 200 teams have gone through the I-Corps program; that number is expected to hit 300 by Spring 2014. I-Corps teams completing the program and applying for NSF SBIR Phase I grants have seen a 60 percent award rate compared to a historical one in six average. Poor market and commercialization understanding are cited as the most common reason for rejection. 

An additional DC I-Corps cohort customized for National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers will commence on November 4 on the NIH campus in conjunction with the NIH Office of Technology Transfer and BioHealth Innovation Inc. (BHI).

DC I-Corps is led by the University of Maryland's Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech) in the Clark School of Engineering with additional support from these University of Maryland partners: Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship in the Smith School of BusinessUM VenturesMaryland Innovation Initiative, and Maryland Intellectual Property Legal Resource Center.

 

UMD Higgs Hunters Celebrate Nobel Prize in Physics

October 8, 2013
Contacts: 

Lee Tune, 301-405-4679
Heather Dewar, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences today awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 to François Englert and Peter Higgs to recognize their work developing the theory of what is now known as the Higgs field, which scientists say gives mass to subatomic and atomic particles, thus making possible the universe and everything in it. The Nobel Committee noted that the ideas of Englert and Higgs "were confirmed by the discovery of a so called Higgs particle at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva in Switzerland."

University of Maryland scientists played a significant role in the world-wide scientific collaboration that discovered this particle in 2012, when two multi-national research teams generated and detected the long-sought Higgs, or Higgs boson, which scientists say confirms the theory of the Higgs field, an invisible energy plane that exists throughout the universe.

"It is fitting that the Nobel Committee has recognized these theorists," said University of Maryland Physics Professor Nicholas Hadley, chair of the U.S. collaboration board for one of the two experimental teams. "And it is an honor that I and 21 other UMD scientists have been part of the historic international particle accelerator experiments that proved them correct. I congratulate the winners, the particle physics community, and my Maryland colleagues."

Englert and Higgs and colleagues first proposed the existence of the Higgs field in three scientific papers published in 1964. A key concept held that as particles pass through the Higgs field, they interact with a fundamental particle, the Higgs boson, that endows them with mass. Without mass, particles would not be attracted to one another, and would simply float freely around the universe at light speed.

To test the theory, researchers worked for decades to plan and conduct experiments at the world's largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. On July 4, 2012, members of the two teams, known by the acronyms ATLAS and CMS, announced that they had independently found a subatomic particle that fit the criteria for the Higgs boson.

"Without some kind of Higgs-like field, there really wouldn't be a universe at all," said Hadley. "Because the particles would have no mass, and if everything were massless, there wouldn't be atoms, there wouldn't be planets, there wouldn't be stars and there wouldn't be people. The great question has been did Higgs, Englert and colleagues get it right with their particular model? And now it appears the answer is yes."

UMD's 22 scientists are among nearly 1,300 U.S. researchers from 89 U.S. universities and seven U.S. Department of Energy laboratories who participate in the two ongoing Large Hadron Collider experiments. Maryland's team helped to build the CMS particle detector and analyzed the masses of data - many times greater than the contents of all the books in the Library of Congress - generated by the experiment, thus helping to confirm the discovery of the Higgs boson particle.

"To find the Higgs boson, we used a collider to smash together protons traveling just a gnat's eyebrow below the speed of light," said UMD Physics Professor and Chair Andrew Baden. "We reconstructed these tremendously high-energy collisions, which recreate the conditions that existed when the universe was about one-billionth of a second old, and tried to find evidence of a new particle, a Higgs boson. And we found it."

The majority of U.S. scientists participating in Large Hadron Collider experiments do so from their home institutions, remotely accessing and analyzing data through high-capacity networks and grid computing. The United States plays an important role in this distributed computing system, providing 23 percent of the computing power for ATLAS and 40 percent for CMS. Maryland's researchers also helped to build the very high speed electronics transmitting data for CMS.

Students Take Top Prize for Intelligent Trashcan

October 7, 2013
Contacts: 

Carrie Hilmer 301-405-4471

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – University of Maryland electrical and computer engineering students Andres Toro, Zachary Lawrence and Joshua Drubin took home all the marbles at the Fall 2013 MHacks competition, which took place at the University of Michigan.

The team won first prize for building an intelligent trash can that sorts recyclables from garbage, at the world's largest college hackathon. MHacks drew 1,214 participants from 100 schools around the country for 36 hours of building innovative projects from scratch.

Toro, Lawrence and Drubin built a single-stream receptacle bin with a swing top that pivots in a different direction based on measuring the frequency of the sound an object makes when it hits the receptacle. Cans and bottles that create a "ping" end up on one side of a partition, and items like plastic foam cups that generate a "thud" go on the other.

UMD MHacks TeamThe Maryland team was one of only a few to build a physical object rather than an app or web tool. "I never dreamed of coming here and actually winning," Drubin said. "It feels unbelievable" — even on six hours sleep total for the past two nights.

Drubin added, "Participating in MHacks has made me value my education in ECE much more than pre-hackathon. We ended up applying concepts that we've learned in foundation classes such as digital logic and physics in a very real and hands-on way, which is extremely rewarding, and fun."

Fight against Hunger Heads to UMD

October 3, 2013
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin 301-405-9235

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - University of Maryland students in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) are helping to stop the world's number one killer – hunger. With the global population projected to expand to 9 billion people by 2050, it will be up to the leaders of tomorrow – students here at the University of Maryland – to create innovative, sustainable solutions that meet the challenge of feeding our world.

HungerUThe College of AGNR is teaming up with HungerU to host the HungerU Tour on the College Park campus October 7 and 8, 2013. HungerU is a special project of the Farm Journal Foundation's Farmers Feeding the World effort that enlists students to join in the conversation about global hunger issues and the essential role modern agriculture has to play in solving them. The HungerU Tour travels to university campuses across the country, raising awareness among students about the devastating impact of hunger, while empowering them to take action in their own communities.

"The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is excited to form this partnership with HungerU and to broaden the discussion on campus about how to get involved in solving the world food crisis," says AGNR Dean Cheng-i Wei, Ph.D. "Global hunger is an issue many faculty and students in our College are studying and discussing on a daily basis but it's a problem we all need to pay more attention to and work together to overcome."

HungerU's mobile education classroom, which features a mobile education exhibit with digital displays and interactive kiosks, will be outside Cole Field House (at the Farmers' Market location) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on October 7 and 8. This mobile classroom is designed as a space for discussion and engagement on global food and hunger issues and the critical role modern agriculture must play in solving them. Stop by and join the conversation, become empowered and be a part of the solution about how to meet the world's growing demand for safe, nutritious and affordable food.

Click here for more information.

UMD Receives Largest-Ever Archival Gift from AFL-CIO

October 1, 2013
Contacts: 

Eric Bartheld 301-314-0964

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland announced today it has received a gift from the AFL-CIO of its historical archive, an extensive collection of documents, photographs, books and audio and visual recordings pertaining to this federation of labor unions based in Washington, D.C.

The University of Maryland announced today it has received a gift from the AFL-CIO of its historical archive, an extensive collection of documents, photographs, books and audio and visual recordings pertaining to this federation of labor unions based in Washington, D.C. With materials that fill six miles of shelving, the collection is the largest such donation to the university and a boon to scholars of labor studies. Complementing other labor-related collections at the University Libraries, the AFL-CIO archive will establish the university as a top archival repository for labor history in North America.

The collection, appraised at $25 million, dates back to the mid-19th century and fills approximately 20,000 boxes.  The 40 million documents and other materials will help researchers better understand pivotal social movements in this country, including those to gain rights for women, children and minorities.

“This tremendous historic treasure covers some of the most vital periods of our history, and it needs careful exploration,” says University of Maryland President Wallace Loh. “U.S. labor history is an area of faculty strength for us, so I know it will get heavy use from the UMD community, as well as from scholars around the world. We are honored by the gift and the trust placed in our hands.”

“This tremendous historic treasure covers some of the most vital periods of our history, and it needs careful exploration,” says University of Maryland President Wallace Loh. “U.S. labor history is an area of faculty strength for us, so I know it will get heavy use from the UMD community, as well as from scholars around the world. We are honored by the gift and the trust placed in our hands.”“The archive is a game-changer for us,” says Patricia Steele, dean of UMD Libraries. “Because it is comprehensive and so rich in intellectual value, it vastly expands our ability to support researchers on this campus and beyond. The AFL-CIO collection offers unique opportunities for us to collaborate in innovative ways with academic departments, government agencies and partners from labor and industry. We are pleased leaders of the AFL-CIO placed such a high degree of confidence in us to provide a new home for their collection.” 

Additionally, Steele says, the AFL-CIO will also fund a position to support the collection by serving as a liaison with researchers, identifying components for digitization and partnering with interested groups. 

Transfer of the collection to UMD is complete. Materials will be accessible from Hornbake Library, the university’s library for special collections, which features comprehensive environmental controls, a large reading room and exhibition space. Special collections, identified as such because of their rarity or format, frequently distinguish a library’s unique offerings at a time when information is broadly available online.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL-CIO, is the umbrella federation for U.S. unions, with 56 unions representing more than 12 million working men and women.
 
For more than 30 years the University Libraries have acquired archival resources that document the history of the labor movement in North America. Included in the collections are the archives of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union; the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America; the International Union of Marine Shipbuilding Workers of America; the International Labor Communications Association; and the Cigar Makers International Union.
 
UMD is situated within a key national research hub, and the UMD Libraries make up the largest university library system in the Washington D.C.-Baltimore area. The eight-library system supports the teaching, learning and research needs of students and faculty. 

Early Agriculture had Dramatic Effects on Humans

October 1, 2013
Contacts: 

Sean Downey 240-392-0220

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The introduction of agriculture in Europe was followed by regional population crashes despite trends of demographical growth, reports research published in Nature Communications this week. Sean Downey, assistant professor in the University of Maryland's Department of Anthropology, was co-author of the paper. The work suggests that these sharp population decreases weren't due to changing climatic conditions, and therefore the authors propose internal causes. The research represents a major revision to our understanding of how the introduction of agricultural technology impacted humans.

Stephen Shennan, professor of theoretical archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, received grant funding from the European Research Council to study early agriculture and its impact on populations across Europe. His multidisciplinary team of researchers includes co-author Downey, and Mark Thomas, Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, who designed the statistical analysis necessary to produce the findings.

Agriculture was introduced in the Aegean (modern day Turkey) around 8,500 years ago and steadily spread across Europe, reaching France around 7,800 years ago, and Britain, Ireland and northern Europe approximately 6,000 years ago. In all instances, the introduction of agriculture meant a drastic change in food production and consumption patterns, which led to a population boom. Utilizing radiocarbon dating, and an innovative new method for improving the accuracy of this data, the study's authors examined how population levels changed over time across Europe during the late Mesolithic, ("Middle Stone age") and Early Neolithic ("New Stone age").

Map of Central and North Western Europe. Points indicate archaeological site locations and colours delineate the sub-regions used to estimate demographic patterns.The research team discovered that, in all of the 12 different European regions studied, from the South of France to Scotland and Denmark, drastic population fluctuations can be observed. In fact, they note that in some cases population declines were as significant as 30-60 percent from the highest levels achieved after the introduction of agriculture. These dramatic changes in population are of similar scale to the decrease estimated for the much later "Black Death".
 
The authors found that those fluctuations cannot be associated with climatic factors; however, the exact reasons for this population decline remains unknown.

"It's striking that the development of agriculture – one of humanity's major evolutionary steps – failed to buffer against widespread social collapse during this early period of rapid population growth in Europe," explains Downey. "At this point in the research we can only speculate at the direct causes, but the study demonstrates that agriculture-based societies in the past were vulnerable to population collapse on a broad scale." Downey continues by explaining the study's finding: "There were no correlations between the collapse of regional populations and known climate shifts. It wasn't the climate, so we think it must have been the long-term impact new agricultural technologies had on local environments in reducing resources. The stress this caused among farmers was likely exacerbated by other well-known consequences of living in higher-density populations: increased incidence of social conflict and of disease."

The paper is available free via open-access at http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2013/131001/ncomms3486/metrics.

Innovative Testing Program Detects Emerging Drugs

September 30, 2013
Contacts: 

Dr. Eric Wish 301-405-9770

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Emerging drugs of abuse in communities can be rapidly identified by an innovative urine testing system, according to the results of a recently released pilot study conducted by the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) at the University of Maryland and funded by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

The Community Drug Early Warning System (CDEWS) is designed to detect emerging drugs by re-testing urine specimens collected by traditional criminal justice system (CJS) drug testing programs, and examining them for additional drugs of abuse. These include synthetic cannabinoids, man-made chemicals that are applied (often sprayed) onto plant material and marketed as a “legal” high.  Users claim that synthetic cannabinoids mimic Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive active ingredient in marijuana. These products, commonly known as “synthetic marijuana,” “K2” or “Spice”, are often sold in legal retail outlets as “herbal incense” or “potpourri”.

There is an increasingly expanding array of synthetic drugs available.  More than 50 synthetic cannabinoids were identified in 2012, compared to just two in 2009.

SyntheticsThe CDEWS model is based on the premise that emerging drugs of abuse, such as synthetic cannabinoids, often show up in high-risk CJS populations before others in the community. In the pilot study, 1,064 anonymous specimens from five different CJS groups in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia region were sent to an independent laboratory for an expanded CDEWS panel that tests for more than 30 prescription and illicit drugs. Approximately one-half of the sample was also tested for 12 synthetic cannabinoid metabolites.

Synthetic cannabinoids were detected in the specimens from all participating sites. All of the specimens that tested positively included one or two recently identified and federally-prohibited synthetic cannabinoid metabolites.

The pilot study also found that synthetic cannabinoids were as likely to be present in specimens from individuals who had failed the limited CJS screening panel as in individuals who passed. In other words, current drug testing screens that do not include synthetic cannabinoids are likely missing significant drug use (and users) in the populations being monitored. The study’s results suggest that individuals expecting drug tests may be using synthetic cannabinoids because they know it will not be included in the screening panel.

syntheticsThe results demonstrate that CDEWS could be successfully implemented in diverse criminal justice populations, including arrestees, probationers and parolees, and drug court participants and proved its unique ability to uncover emerging drug trends. The findings from this pilot study suggest that CJS drug testing programs should weigh the value of adding synthetic cannabinoid metabolites to their testing protocols and adopting an annual CDEWS type of process for reviewing and updating the drugs included in their testing protocols. Hospital, physician, military, and workplace testing programs should also consider expanded testing of urine specimens to accurately identify drugs recently used.

Finally, the high level of synthetic cannabinoid use detected suggests that local public health systems should implement targeted prevention campaigns to educate the public, especially youth and young adults, about the rapidly changing ingredients in products sold as synthetic cannabinoids and the potential harm that can result from their use. “People who take these drugs are really playing a form of Russian roulette,” said Dr. Eric Wish, the Principal Investigator of the study. Plans are currently being developed to expand CDEWS to additional sites.

The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), at the University of Maryland at College Park, is a multi-disciplinary research center dedicated to addressing the problems substance abuse creates for individuals, families, and communities. Housed in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, CESAR conducts policy-relevant research and evaluation studies, disseminates statistical and other information, assists in training students in substance abuse research methods and policy analysis, and provides technical assistance to agencies and organizations working in substance abuse related fields.

To view the CESAR FAX Synthetic Cannabinoid Series, visit: http://ter.ps/SCSeries.

Pages

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