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UMD Research Provides Comprehensive Monitoring of Forest Loss in Brazilian Amazon

April 14, 2017

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

College Park, Md.—New research led by the University of Maryland (UMD) employs satellite image time series to better understand the dynamics of forest cover loss in the Brazilian Amazon. While rates of deforestation in the country have slowed significantly over the last decade, Brazil remains the single largest contributor to natural forest loss among tropical countries.

The study uses a statistical sample to produce unbiased (free from map errors) estimates of forest loss area in different types of forests: primary and secondary humid tropical forests; natural and secondary woodlands; and plantations. It also attributes the drivers of forest loss, such as conversion of forests to pastures and croplands, selective logging, mining and fires. 

“Brazil’s current national forest monitoring system focuses almost solely on deforestation in primary forests —the process of forest clearing and conversion to nonforest land uses. However, that only tells us part of the story,” said Alexandra Tyukavina, a post-doctoral researcher with the UMD's Department of Geographical Sciences. “Our research seeks to dig deeper into the dynamic causes of forest loss in all types of forests so that we can better understand the consequences such as carbon emissions and biodiversity losses.” 

One of the major findings of the study is that by the year 2013, all other forest disturbance types surpassed deforestation in primary forests in area, but deforestation in primary forests still remained the major source of aboveground carbon loss. Results of this research were published in Science Advances on April 12.

Researchers are working to expand the current study into the other tropical regions, such as Central Africa and Indonesia, to provide a comprehensive story on forest loss drivers pan-tropically. 

Members of the research team from the UMD's Department of Geographical Sciences include Tyukavina, Matthew Hansen, Peter Potapov, Kevin Smith-Rodriguez, Chima Okpa and Ricardo Aguilar. Stephen Stehman from the Department of Forest and Natural Resource Management at the State University of New York also contributed.


Film Producer and Former MLB Player Mark Ciardi to Speak at UMD Commencement

April 13, 2017

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland announced today that UMD alumnus Mark Ciardi ’83, Founder and CEO of Apex Entertainment and former Major League Baseball pitcher, will deliver the university’s commencement address on Sunday, May 21. Ciardi will address thousands of graduates, family and friends during the ceremony at the Xfinity Center.

Headshot of Mark Ciardi“Mark Ciardi is an outstanding example of an alum who pursued success with focus and tenacity,” says Mary Ann Rankin, UMD's senior vice president and provost. “He knows how to tell an inspirational story, and his remarks will surely prepare and motivate our University of Maryland graduates to pursue their dreams.”

The alum recently shared his enthusiasm to address a diverse and dynamic graduating class.

“I am honored by the opportunity to share my story with Terps as they make this achievement in their academic career and prepare for what comes next,” said Mark Ciardi ‘83. “I hope to encourage students and faculty by sharing the risks I have taken on my entrepreneurial path and the message of perseverance that is often found in my films. And as always, it’s tremendous to be back on the campus that I love.”

Ciardi, who played on the university’s baseball team and graduated with a B.S. in business, is a sports-film producer known for blockbuster movies such as Million Dollar Arm, Secretariat, Invincible, The Rookie, The Game Plan, McFarland, USA, and Miracle, as well as his Emmy award winning ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, “Big Shot.”  

Upon graduation, Ciardi was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers and played in the majors in 1987. He retired a year later due to injury. Prior to starting Apex, an independent content production firm, he was the co-founder of Mayhem Pictures, where he secured a first look deal with Walt Disney Studios.

Ciardi has returned to campus on multiple occasions to share his entrepreneurial journey with students as part of the Robert H. Smith School of Business Dingman Speaker series. He also serves on the university’s Board of Trustees and is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.



Three UMD Students Named 2017 Goldwater Scholars

April 12, 2017

Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Three University of Maryland students have been awarded scholarships by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which encourages students to pursue advanced study and careers in the sciences, engineering and mathematics. The Goldwater Foundation also recognized a fourth UMD student with an honorable mention. 

UMD juniors Christopher Bambic, Eliot Fenton and Prayaag Venkat were among the 240 Barry Goldwater Scholars selected from 1,286 students nominated nationally this year. UMD junior Natalie Livingstonreceived honorable mention. All four students plan to pursue doctoral degrees in their areas of study, with aspirations to become university professors or researchers at government laboratories. 

Photo of Christoper BambicChristopher Bambic—a physics and astronomy double major who is also a member of the University Honors Program and a Stamps Banneker/Key Scholar—is interested in the role plasmas play in active galactic nuclei feedback in galaxy clusters. 

In January 2017, Bambic presented the research he completed with his faculty mentor Astronomy Professor Christopher Reynolds at the American Astronomical Society meeting. Bambic’s project addressed magnetic draping in galaxy clusters and the role magnetic fields play in active galactic nuclei feedback. He is currently preparing the work for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.  

Bambic will spend this summer working at the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge in England. There, he will use space-based X-ray telescopes to research the roles of turbulence and sound waves in heating the plasma in galaxy clusters.  

“Christopher is an extraordinary young scientist. He is already operating at the level of an excellent graduate student, even though he is only an undergraduate,” said Reynolds. “I cannot imagine a more deserving candidate for a Goldwater Scholarship.” 

Photo of Eliot FentonEliot Fenton—a physics major who is also a member of the College Park Scholars’ Science, Discovery and the Universe program and a UMD President’s Scholar—plans to study atomic, molecular, and optical physics in graduate school. He intends to pursue an academic career in quantum mechanics and quantum computing. 

Working with his faculty mentor, Physics Professor and Joint Quantum Institute Fellow Luis Orozco, Fenton’s research has yielded significant technical breakthroughs in the production and characterization of high-quality optical transmission nanofibers used to trap atoms for quantum physics and computing studies. His achievements earned him an invitation to the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark in the summer of 2016, where he worked with experienced scientists to refine nanofiber fabrication techniques.

In January 2017, Fenton co-authored a peer-reviewed publication in the journal Optica that described the measurement of a nanofiber with sub-Angstrom precision—less than the diameter of an atom. Fenton will spend nine weeks this summer as an undergraduate researcher at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, where he will gain hands-on experience with subatomic physics research. 

“Eliot is a deep and fast thinker who understands the concepts explained to him, and immediately generalizes them to situations in the laboratory,” Orozco said. “He shows a rare level of intellectual leadership and a questioning mind that that is the key to a successful career in science.” 

Photo of Prayaag VenkatPrayaag Venkat—a computer science and mathematics double major who is also a member of the University Honors Programand a Banneker/Key Scholar—is interested in an area of theoretical computer science known as approximation algorithms, which look for the closest optimal solutions to complex problems for which exact solutions are impractical. 

Venkat has worked with his faculty mentor, Professor and Elizabeth Stevinson Iribe Chair of Computer Science Samir Khuller, to address a number of problems suitable for approximation algorithms. He contributed to a poster presentation at a meeting organized by the National Science Foundation in October 2016, and has submitted a paper to the 2017 Algorithms and Data Structures Symposium this summer. 

One of Venkat’s first projects was to design space-efficient data structures for solving problems in computational geometry, under the guidance of Computer Science Professor David Mount. 

“Even though Prayaag is still an undergraduate, if he were to enter our Ph.D. program right now, he would easily be among the top 10 percent,” Mount said. “In spite of his intellectual ability, energy, creativity and independence, he is very down-to-earth and unassuming.” 

Photo of Natalie LivingstonNatalie Livingston—a bioengineering major who is also a member of the University Honors Program, the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society and the Alpha Eta Mu Beta biomedical engineering honor society—is interested in using nanoparticles as tools for precision drug delivery. 

Working with her faculty mentor, Fischell Department of Bioengineering Assistant Professor Steven Jay, Livingston has worked to develop a new method of loading nanoparticles for drug delivery. In the summer of 2015, Livingston studied antibiotic resistance as a summer intern at the National Institutes of Health, and in the same year received a National Science Foundation-funded Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation grant. 

In 2016, Livingston received a competitive Howard Hughes Medical Institute undergraduate research fellowship to help with her research efforts. In the same year, she co-authored a peer-reviewed publication in the journal Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering on the use of sonication to load small RNAs into extracellular vesicles to knock down oncogenes. 

“Natalie is highly mature and has a strong work ethic, and she thinks clearly about scientific problems,” Jay said. “She has already developed into a highly qualified researcher and she will be a success in whatever path she chooses.” 

The Goldwater Scholarship program was created in 1986 to identify students of outstanding ability and promise in science, engineering and mathematics, and to encourage their pursuit of advanced study and research careers. The Goldwater Foundation has honored 58 University of Maryland winners and five Honorable Mentions since the program’s first award was given in 1989. In the past five years, UMD’s 20 nominations have yielded 17 scholarships and two honorable mentions. Prior Goldwater Scholars and nominees from UMD have continued their impressive academic and research pursuits at leading institutions around the world and have gained additional recognition as:

  • A Rhodes Scholar
  • A Truman Scholar
  • A Fulbright Scholar
  • National Science Foundation graduate research fellows
  • Gates Cambridge and Churchill Scholars
  • A Clarendon Fund Scholar 

Colleges and universities may submit up to four nominations annually for these awards. Goldwater Scholars receive one- or two-year scholarships that cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 per year. These scholarships are a stepping-stone to future support for their research careers.

University of Maryland to Lead NIH-Funded Center for Engineering Complex Tissues

April 11, 2017

Alyssa Wolice, 301-405-3936

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland (UMD) announced today that it will lead a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded Biomedical Technology Resource Center (BTRC) aimed at advancing techniques to create complex tissues and parts for the body, such as organs and bones. The NIH awarded a $6.25 million grant to the newly established Center for Engineering Complex Tissues (CECT), for which Rice University and the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) will serve as key partners.

“For years, tissue engineers have worked to improve quality of life for millions impacted by illness or trauma,” said John P. Fisher, CECT director and Fischell Family Distinguished Professor and chair of UMD’s Fischell Department of Bioengineering. “By bringing together experts in bioengineering, biomaterials, and additive manufacturing, CECT will serve a critical role in fostering the kind of technological advancement that has the potential to transform how bones, tissue, and organs are repaired or replaced.”

Alongside Fisher, Rice University Louis Calder Professor of Bioengineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Antonios Mikos will serve as the center’s associate director. Anthony Atala, WFIRM director, and James Yoo, WFIRM associate director, will serve as co-principal investigators. Curt Civin, director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, will also provide collaborative support as part of the MPowering the State partnership between the University of Maryland, College Park and Baltimore campuses.

Building on the group’s longstanding bioengineering, biomaterials, and additive manufacturing expertise, the center will serve as a national hub for transforming current tissue engineering and 3-D printing technologies into new and improved platforms for everyday uses in regenerative medicine. 

3-D bioprinting – a technology application through which engineers create cell patterns in a confined space using 3-D printing – offers new avenues through which engineers can respond to the growing need for tissues and organs suitable for transplantation. While still a young frontier in regenerative medicine, 3-D bioprinting offers hope that one day human health advancements will no longer be mired by organ donation shortages or organ transplant incompatibility.

“CECT is unique as it focuses both on the engineering of complex tissues and on the growing field of bioprinting,” Mikos said. “This grant is a great opportunity and responsibility to further develop the field and move it to the clinic.”

At the core of CECT’s research capabilities are three technology research and development projects that will promote development across three main biological systems: stem cell culture (UMD), fabrication of cellular constructs (WFIRM), and construction of heterogeneous tissue scaffolds (Rice). Additionally, CECT will oversee six collaborative projects, six service projects, and multiple training programs to foster expert collaboration for the advancement of tissue engineering.

“We are proud to be part of this collaborative effort to advance the field of 3-D bioprinting,” Atala said. “We believe bioprinting represents one of the most promising strategies for increasing the number of patients who can benefit from replacement tissues and organs.”

“Many of today’s most transformative advancements in human health came to life because leaders in STEM worked collaboratively to share knowledge, ideas, and creative vision,” said Darryll J. Pines, Dean of the University of Maryland A. James Clark School of Engineering. “CECT will play a key role in bringing together innovators from a variety of science and engineering disciplines who are working to address a critical health need.”


Sixth Annual Good Neighbor Day Unites Community through Service

April 11, 2017

Ceylon Mitchell, 301-852-3042

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Over 700 volunteers participated in 11 community service projects across Greater College Park during the University of Maryland’s Sixth Annual Good Neighbor Day on April 1st. The event, which doubled its number of volunteers from last year, is a day of service learning that brings together the greater College Park community to beautify shared spaces, educate and engage in sustainable practices, and take pride in the city.

Photo of GND 2017Good Neighbor Day is a partnership between the University of Maryland, the City of College Park, and The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The event began in 2011 with 50 volunteers and one service project, and has grown steadily ever since. To view photos from this year’s Good Neighbor Day, click here. For a video recap, click here.

“The University of Maryland became the nation’s first Do Good campus last fall, and since then, we’ve seen a major influx in the number of students, faculty, staff, and alumni who are eager to work together to positively impact the community,” said Gloria Aparicio Blackwell, director of the university's Office of Community Engagement. “I’m so thrilled that we saw such a spike in volunteer participation at Good Neighbor Day and that the message to ‘do good’ is resonating with our community.”

This year’s service projects focused on environmental efforts and social impact in support of a “healthy community.” Service projects included litter clean-ups in waterways that affect the Anacostia Watershed, native flower and tree plantings, invasive plant removal, the College Park Parkrun 5k, landscaping work at Cherokee Lane Elementary School, as well as many others. A youth bicycle safety demonstration and a community expo were also organized, as well as food and clothing drives to benefit the College Park Community Food Bank and GreenDrop. 

"The best thing about Good Neighbor Day is the camaraderie between students and the community,” said UMPD Chief David Mitchell. “We have a saying: 'You only get out of a community, what you put in.' And this is an investment. Once again this year we've done an amazing job with the City of College Park."

"Throughout the day, I was impressed and pleased to see so many smiling faces working together to benefit the community where we live, work, and play,” said Carlo Colella, vice president of the university’s Division of Administration & Finance.

In total, over 2,000 trees, shrubs, and flowers were planted, nearly 100 bags of debris were collected, about 1,500 square feet of weeds were pulled, a pollinator garden was created, and Terps Against Hunger, a student-led group from UMD, packaged 22,000 meals for individuals and families in need. The event collected 3,500+ pounds of food for the College Park Community Food Bank and diverted 93 percent of its waste from the landfill by providing monitored recycling and composting waste stations at the College Park Community Center. 

“Good Neighbor Day is an important event,” said Mayor Patrick Wojahn. “Every year we top the previous year and the event keeps growing. It really brings everyone from the community together—the university, long-term residents, faculty, local agencies— in order to make a positive impact on the community and the neighborhoods. It’s something we can be proud of.”



UMD Researchers Uncover Alarming Trend in U.S. Maternal Death Statistics

April 7, 2017

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

COLLEGE PARK, Md.—New research from the Maryland Population Research Center (MPRC) at the University of Maryland uncovers some disturbing developments in maternal deaths in the United States, particularly concerning older mothers. When comparing data collected between 2008-2009 with data from 2013-2014 in 27 states and the District of Columbia, researchers found a 90% increase in the maternal death rate for women aged 40 and over. The researchers caution, however, that they suspect this spike is skewed by errors in data collected on standard U.S. death certificates.  

“This increase in maternal deaths among women aged 40 and older is implausibly high and rapid, and we believe it has much to do with problems related to how information is collected at the time of death and with an over-reporting of maternal deaths,” said Marian MacDorman, a research professor at the MPRC and the study’s lead investigator. 

However, even if much of this increase is the result of over-reporting, the researchers’ core findings represent several reasons for concern: 

  • The maternal death rate continues to increase in the United States;
  • The U.S. maternal death rate is much higher than in other industrialized countries; and
  • The United States lacks a reliable way to collect information about why this is happening and about which segments of the population are most vulnerable   

Researchers analyzed data collected in the District of Columbia and 27 states that include a pregnancy question on the U.S. standard death certificate filled out by physicians, medical examiners and coroners. While researchers did not find a significant increase in mortality rates for women under 40 who died during or soon after pregnancy, they did discover a jump (58%) in the number of maternal deaths with nonspecific causes. 

“The large increases in maternal mortality rates for older woman and among nonspecific causes throw up a red flag about data quality problems,” MacDorman said. “We need to address these issues immediately so that we are able to effectively target efforts to prevent maternal deaths and improve maternity care for the 4 million U.S. women giving birth each year.”

The results of this study were published in Obstetrics & Gynecology and build upon earlier research by MacDorman and colleagues that revealed the U.S maternal death rate increased 27% overall between 2000 and 2014, while rates declined internationally. The research team recommends improving the pregnancy question data with periodic validation studies and data quality checks at both the state and national levels, as well as an increase in state maternal mortality review committees.  

Maternal mortality has long been seen as a primary indicator of the quality of health care both in the United States and internationally. In 1990, the United Nations named maternal mortality reduction as a Millennium Development Goal, leading to an unprecedented effort to reduce maternal mortality worldwide. Maternal mortality decreased by 44% worldwide from 1990 to 2015, including a 48% decline among developed regions. In contrast, the U.S. maternal mortality rate has not improved and appears to be increasing. 

MacDorman’s co-authors include Marie Thoma from the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland, as well as Eugene Declercq from the School of Public Health at Boston University. 


UMD-led Study Finds Ancient Earth’s Fingerprints in Young Volcanic Rocks

April 7, 2017

Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267 

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- Earth’s mantle is made of solid rock that nonetheless circulates slowly over millions of years. Some geologists assume that this slow circulation would have wiped away any geochemical traces of Earth’s early history long ago. But a new study led by University of Maryland geologists has found new evidence that could date back more than 4.5 billion years. 

Photo of a fountain of lava erupts from Hawaii’s Kilauea Iki craterThe authors of the research paper studied volcanic rocks that recently erupted from volcanoes in Hawaii and Samoa. The rocks contain surprising geochemical anomalies—the “fingerprints” of conditions that existed shortly after the planet formed. 

The researchers are not yet sure how Earth’s mantle preserved these anomalies. But the group’s results suggest that some of these rocks contain material that survived through all of Earth’s history—and that the planet’s interior may not be well mixed after all. 

“We found geochemical signatures that must have been created nearly 4.5 billion years ago,” said Andrea Mundl, a postdoctoral researcher in geology at UMD and the lead author of the study. “It was especially exciting to find these anomalies in such young rocks. We don’t yet know how these signatures survived for so long, but we have some ideas.” 

The anomalous signatures are found in the ratios of key isotopes of two elements: tungsten and helium. 

In the case of tungsten, which has many isotopes, the important ratio is tungsten-182 to tungsten-184. The heavier isotope, tungsten-184, is stable and has existed since the planet first formed. Tungsten-182, on the other hand, results from the decay of hafnium-182, which is highly unstable. All naturally occurring hafnium-182 decayed within the first 50 million years of Earth’s history, leaving tungsten-182 in its place. 

Tungsten and hafnium behaved very differently during the planet’s first 50 million years. Tungsten tends to associate with metals, so most of it migrated to Earth’s core, while hafnium, which tends to associate with silicate minerals, stayed in Earth’s mantle and crust. Most of the rocks on Earth have a similar ratio of tungsten-182 to tungsten-184, and this ratio serves as a global baseline. Geologists can learn a lot from rocks with an unusually high or low amount of tungsten-182—which indicates how much hafnium-182 was present in the rock long ago. 

“Nearly all of these anomalies formed within the first 50 million years after the solar system formed,” Mundl said. “Higher than normal levels of tungsten-182 are seen in very old rocks that most likely contained a lot of hafnium long ago. But lower levels of tungsten-182 are rare, and resemble what we might expect to see deep beneath the surface, in or near the planet’s metallic core.” 

Mundl and her colleagues observed an unusually low amount of tungsten-182 in some of the rocks from Hawaii and Samoa. On its own, the tungsten isotope ratio is interesting, but not enough to make any convincing conclusions. But the researchers also observed that the same rocks contain an unusual ratio of helium isotopes. 

Helium-3 is extremely rare on Earth, and tends to show up in samples of rock that have not been melted or otherwise recycled since the planet first formed. Helium-4, on the other hand, can form from the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium. A higher than normal ratio of helium-3 to helium-4 typically indicates very old rocks that have not been significantly altered since the planet formed. 

“Variations in the isotopic composition of helium have been long known, but have never been correlated with other geochemical parameters,” said Richard Walker, professor and department chair of geology at UMD and a co-author of the paper. “Rocks with high helium-3 to helium-4 ratios have commonly been speculated to contain ‘primitive’ mantle material, but how primitive was not known. Our tungsten data show that it is very primitive indeed, with the source region most likely forming within the first 50 million years of solar system history.” 

Mundl, Walker and their co-authors suggest a few different scenarios that could have produced the tungsten and helium anomalies they observed in volcanic rocks from Hawaii and Samoa. Perhaps the volcanoes are drawing material from Earth’s core, where the ratios are expected to favor low tungsten-182 and high helium-3. 

Alternatively, the rocky outer surface of the Earth might have formed in patches, with vast magma oceans in between. Parts of these magma oceans may have crystallized and sunk to the boundary between the mantle and the core, preserving the ancient tungsten and helium signatures. 

“Each of these scenarios contain some inconsistencies that we can’t yet explain,” Mundl said. “But this is an exciting result that is sure to generate lots of interesting new research questions.”

*In addition to Mundl and Walker, this paper includes contributions from Vedran Lekic, assistant professor of geology at UMD. The research study was published April 7 in the journal Science. 

Photo caption: A fountain of lava erupts from Hawaii’s Kilauea Iki crater on December 5, 1959. Two rock samples from this eruption contain geochemical anomalies that could date back 4.5 billion years, shortly after the Earth first formed. Photo credit: USGS/J.P. Eaton.

UMD Researcher Awarded NSF Grant to Advance Diversity in STEM Fields

April 6, 2017

Audrey Hill, 301-405-3468

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- A University of Maryland researcher won a National Science Foundation grant to investigate how social capital and social networks influence the academic and career outcomes of college students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The grant award, which is expected to total about $500,000 during the three-year research period, will help identify factors that affect an individual’s ability to leverage connections in ways that support achievement and advance equity in STEM fields.

Photo of Julie Park

Led by Julie J. Park, assistant professor in the UMD College of Education, the research will address a NSF goal of broadening participation of underrepresented groups in STEM fields. According to a 2017 NSF biannual report on STEM field representation, women, persons with disabilities, and people of color remain underrepresented in STEM education and employment. The research is designed to help advance diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“Our study will examine how social connections affect key outcomes for STEM students, including retention in STEM majors, GPA, and job placement,” Dr. Park explained. “It will also shed light on areas of inequality that affect persistence in STEM, helping educators understand barriers that affect different populations.”

The research team, comprised of Dr. Park, Mark Kevin Eagan of University of California, Los Angeles, and Young K. Kim of Azusa Pacific University, seeks to understand how STEM students move from having social ties to accessing critical information and resources exchanged within networks of social ties. They will examine this link in three STEM higher education settings: student-faculty interaction, friendships and study partners, and information networks that influence post-graduate plans.

For this project, the team of researchers will also analyze data on STEM student peer groups, student-faculty interactions, and information networks. Researchers will also conduct interviews with STEM majors in their senior year and STEM field employees on how their social and professional networks influenced their academic and career paths.

The study will explore diversity and participation in the STEM field by examining a variety of issues, including the role of race/ethnicity and gender in study partners and peer groups and the likelihood of STEM students of certain backgrounds experiencing discrimination from faculty.

“By identifying inequalities in students’ abilities to turn social ties into support that facilitates success, this research could help educators design interventions that aid success for STEM students of diverse backgrounds,” said Dr. Park.


Twenty-four UMD Students and Alumni Named NSF Graduate Research Fellows

April 4, 2017

Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Twenty-four undergraduate students, graduate students and alumni from the University of Maryland have been selected for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, along with 31 honorable mentions. The prestigious award, which recognizes exceptional graduate students who are pursuing research-based Master's and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as social and behavioral science, is the country’s oldest graduate fellowship program. 

“We are proud of our students for receiving such a highly-competitive award, and are excited about the future contributions they will make in their fields through extensive research, innovation, and thoughtful leadership,” said Dr. Francis DuVinage, director of national scholarships office and Maryland Center for Undergraduate Research.

The National Science Foundation received over 13,000 applications this year and selected 2,000 students for the award. Recipients will receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 and a $12,000 cost of education allowance. They will also have the opportunity to participate in international research and professional development through the organization’s various initiatives. 

For a complete of list of 2017 NSF recipients, please visit FastLane

Safer Batteries Made With Wood

March 31, 2017

Martha Heil626-354-5613 

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- Inspired by the structure of wood, engineers at the University of Maryland have used modified wood as a unique architecture for the negative electrode of a lithium metal battery, seeking to prevent some of the key factors that lead to battery failure.

Photo of Wood HotelLithium ion shuttling in rechargeable batteries provides energy to power phones, laptops, and even light bulbs. When the battery is charged, the lithium metal expands; and when it is discharged, the lithium metal deflates. This rapid change in size can lead to an undesirable side-effect, branch-like growths of lithium on the surface of the lithium metal. The damage builds up over time and pose safety hazards, such as overheating or fire. This novel design for a safer lithium metal battery, created by Ying Zhang, a UMD Ph.D. student in the department of materials science and engineering, can be used to boost the energy density of a battery-- increasing the power available for portable electronics and electric vehicles, while reducing the risk of the battery overheating. 

In this new type of battery, the engineers store lithium in the natural channels of carbonized wood, channels that were once used to carry water and nutrients, instead of storing lithium particles (ions) in a metal block.

The wood acts as a “hotel” to provide lots of rooms (channels) to accommodate many guests (lithium metal). As the lithium metal “guests” enter the wood hotel, it accommodates them all and stores them comfortably and securely in each room, while maintaining the wood’s rigid exterior structure. The number of lithium particles (guests) can increase and decrease within each room, but the overall structure will not be damaged or collapse.

A battery made this way can operate safely even with fast charge and discharge rates. Metric engineers use current density of a battery to describe how quickly the lithium metal is deposited at the surface. A high current density is equivalent to having excessive guests flow into and out of the wood “hotel,” which can cause issues when pile-ups occur at the door. These pile-ups can be avoided by simply increasing the number of doors available to the lithium ions as they enter the wood “hotel”-- the approach the engineers at UMD used. If the overall number of lithium metal “guests” entering at one time remains the same, only a small number of “guests” are passing through any door at a given time. This is known as the local current density. By using the large surface area provided by the walls of each channel in the wood host, the local current density can be minimized, facilitating the controlled movement of lithium metal. 

Batteries that use bulk lithium metal foil, which is the conventional alternative, can be compared to an unstable hotel with only one door for guests to enter and exit. When the battery is put to the test under high current density conditions, its single door cannot manage the large flow of guests, making it easier to crack, which can lead to hazards within the battery. On the other hand, the wood “hotel” design, with its many straight channels, provides plenty of doors for guests so the lithium metal can be corralled into individual channels, behaving in an orderly, predictable manner even under high current density (3 mA/cm2) and avoiding branch-like structures of lithium that can cause battery failure. Something that had its start as natural wood helps engineers build stronger, more stable batteries for the future.

“This is part of our ongoing research to use natural materials to improve batteries,” said senior research group leader Liangbing Hu, an Associate Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and a member of the University’s Energy Research Center (UMERC). “Using nature’s bio-structure, we can find inspiration to create new ways of storing energy, and we can use renewable materials too.”

This research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on March 20, 2017, in a paper entitled, “High-capacity, low-tortuosity and channel-guided lithium metal anode.” To read the paper in its entirety, please follow this link.