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UMD Team Tops for Performance & Operations at SpaceX Hyperloop Competition

February 1, 2017
Contacts: 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A University of Maryland team, UMDLoop won the performance and operations award and placed 5th in pod design and construction at the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition held in Hawthorne, California, January 27-29.
 
This competition was the second in a series of a SpaceX competitions aimed at encouraging student innovation and advancing the Hyperloop concept for a new form of transportation in which passenger-carrying pods travel between cities at very high speeds through above-ground, low-pressure tubes.

During the current three-day event, 27 teams from around the globe pitted pod against pod to see which teams would have a chance to test their creation in SpaceX's vacuum-sealed one-mile test track adjacent to its headquarters. As part of the competition, teams underwent rigorous safety inspections and testing that evaluated all aspects of the pod's design from structural and functional to mechanical and navigation. In addition, each team had the opportunity for an open-air run, where they operated their pod on the test track without vacuum pressure.


"This has been a remarkable experience for our students, staff and advisors," said Darryll Pines, Dean of UMD's A. James Clark School of Engineering and Nariman Farvardin Professor of Aerospace Engineering. "UMD Loop competed well, and it has been a great partnership between two UMD colleges. We are extremely proud of the UMD Loop Team who strongly represented the University of Maryland."

It's been over a year since the UMD team successfully competed in the first SpaceX hyperloop event, an initial competition during which pod designs from more than 115 teams were winnowed down to those from 30 teams selected to move forward in the next phase of competition and take their pods from design to reality. During that year, the UMD team—which now includes more than 60 students from the university's A. James Clark School of Engineering; College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences; and Department of Communication—devoted itself to the possibilities of Hyperloop travel and built one of the first pods of its kind.

"I'm blown away by our team's performance this week. We truly earned our spot as a top team in this competition," said Kyle Kaplan, aerospace engineering senior and team captain. "At the end of the day, I could not be more proud of our team and how well we worked together to succeed. Even though I wish we were given the opportunity to push the limits of our pod, I was extremely impressed by how we performed! Top five in the world, that's nothing to be disappointed about."

The Delft Hyperloop team, of Delft University in the Netherlands, got the highest overall score. Technical University of Munich, Germany secured the award for the fastest pod. And MIT placed third overall in the competition, which was judged by SpaceX engineers.

"The team has been a dream to work with," said chief faculty advisor Noah Ryder, a research associate and lecture in the Department of Fire Protection Engineering. "They have logged countless hours and made numerous sacrifices to be a part of making history, and their hard work has paid off."

Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and the originator of Hyperloop concept, spoke at this weekend’s competition and described the event as a way to encourage innovation in transport technology and get people excited about new forms of transport.

"It was fantastic to see so many different perspectives and people so passionate about working toward pushing the boundaries of transportation," said physics major and team project lead Erich Robinson-Tillenburg.

For computer science major and aerodynamics lead Paul Garvey, the competition was "hours upon hour of problem solving, and we loved every minute of it!"

Building on the enthusiasm and engineering achievements of the most recent competition, SpaceX will host another pod competition weekend during the summer of 2017. The UMD team plans to be there with a redesigned pod that has already been accepted for the competition.

"They are already gearing up to start all the analysis, building and testing that is needed to get race-ready again," said Ryder. "While some students will be graduating and won't be participating, we have recruited a new group of eager students to ensure that the program is able to thrive with the continued support of the university and our generous sponsors without whom we wouldn't have been able to bring our ideas to fruition."

UMD's pod Prometheus featured a passive magnetic levitation control and breaking using neodymium magnets—the strongest type of commercially available permanent magnet, a unique chainmail breaking system and a multi-link suspension system for smoothing the ride.

Autism May Begin Early in Brain Development UMD Research Shows

January 31, 2017
Contacts: 

Matthew Wright 301-405-9267, Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Autism is not a single condition, but a spectrum of disorders that affect the brain’s ability to perceive and process information. Recent research suggests that too many connections in the brain could be at least partially responsible for the symptoms of autism, from communication deficits to unusual talents.

New research from the University of Maryland suggests that this overload of connections begins early in mammalian development, when key neurons in a region of the brain known as the cerebral cortex begin to form their first circuits.  

By pinpointing where and when autism-related neural defects first emerge in mice, the study results could lead to a stronger understanding of autism in humans—including possible early intervention strategies. The researchers outline their findings in a research paper published January 31, 2017 in the journal Cell Reports.

“Our work suggests that the neural pathology of autism manifests in the earliest cortical circuits, formed by a cell type called subplate neurons,” said UMD Biology Professor and senior study author Patrick Kanold. “Nobody has looked at developing circuits this early, in this level of detail, in the context of autism before. This is truly a new discovery and potentially represents a new paradigm for autism research.”

The cerebral cortex is the outer part of the mammalian brain that controls perception, memory and, in humans, higher functions such as language and abstract reasoning. The developing cerebral cortex contains a distinct class of cells called subplate neurons, which form the brain's first connections or circuits. As the brain grows, the interconnected subplate neurons build a network of scaffolding thought to support other neurons that grow later in development. 

“The cortex is a very important region in the adult human brain that undergoes a complex, multi-stage development process,” said Daniel Nagode, a former postdoctoral researcher at UMD and lead author of the study. “Because our findings implicate the earliest stages of cortex circuit formation in a mouse model, they suggest that the pathological changes leading to autism might start before birth in humans.” 

To study the relationship between autism and subplate neuron development in mice, Kanold, Nagode and their collaborators began with a well-established mouse model of autism. The model involves dosing mouse embryos with valproic acid (VPA) on day 12 of their 20-day gestation period by injecting the drug into the mother mouse. 

VPA has a known link to autism in humans and also induces autism-like cognitive and behavioral abnormalities in mice. For example, normal newborn mouse pups will emit frequent, high-pitched noises when they are separated from their littermates, but VPA-treated pups do not.

The researchers used a technique called laser scanning photo-stimulation to map the connections between individual subplate neuron cells in the brains of the mouse pups. Within the first week after birth, the VPA-dosed mice showed some patches of abnormal “hyperconnected” subplate neurons. In contrast, control mouse pups dosed with plain saline solution showed normal connections throughout their cortical tissue.

Ten days after birth, the patches of hyperconnected subplate neurons had grown more widespread and homogeneous in the VPA-dosed pups compared with the normal (control) pups. Because subplate neurons help lay the foundation for cortical development in all mammalian brains, a thicket of hyperconnected subplate neurons in the developing cortex could result in permanent hyperconnections. 

“Subplate neurons form critical developmental structures. If their early progress is impaired, later development of the cortex is also impaired,” Kanold explained. “In a developing human fetus, this stage is a critical gateway, when subplate neuron circuits are the most abundant.”

If the same dynamic plays out in human brains, hyperconnections in the developing cortex could result in the neural pathologies observed in human autism, Kanold said. In mice as well as in humans, the critical window of time when subplate neurons develop is very short.

“The timing of the effects is important. The hyperconnectivity in VPA pups occurs only in small patches a few days after birth,” Nagode said. “But after 10 days, the hyperconnectivity becomes much more widespread.”

In mice, subplate neuron development takes place mostly after birth. Eventually, the subplate neurons die off and disappear, their job done, as other neural circuits take their place. In humans, however, the first subplate neuron connections form in the second trimester. By the time humans are born, most of their subplate neurons have already disappeared.

“Our results suggest that we might have to interfere quite early to address autism,” Kanold said. “The fetal brain is not just a small adult brain, and these subplate neurons are the major difference. There may, in fact, be other developmental disorders we can tackle using this information.”

In addition to Kanold and Nagode, the study features contributions from UMD Assistant Research Scientists Daniel Winkowski and Ed Smith; Postdoctoral Associate Xianying Meng; Undergraduate Researchers Hamza Khan-Tareen and Vishnupriya Kareddy; and UMD School of Medicine Professor Joseph Kao.

Their research paper, “Abnormal development of the earliest cortical circuits in a mouse model of Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Daniel Nagode, Xiangying Meng, Daniel Winkowski, Ed Smith, Hamza Khan-Tareen, Vishnupriya Kareddy, Joseph Kao, and Patrick Kanold, was published January 31, 2017 in the journal Cell Reports.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (Award Nos. R01DC009607, R01GM056481, CEBHT32DC00046 and CEBHF32DC014887). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of that organization.

 

 

UMD Response to Executive Order

January 29, 2017

The University of Maryland joins other member institutions of the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities in expressing concern over the temporary banning from entry into the U.S. of visa and green card holders of seven mostly Muslim countries. The potential for negatively impacting the educational and research missions of our campus is significant. We are currently assessing how this executive order may affect the students and scholars at our campus who come from these countries. In the meantime, I join my colleagues from across the U.S. in an emphatic message of support ​for them and their families​.

It is in America's national interest that we continue to welcome talented individuals of all nations to study, teach, and do research here and retain America's global leadership in higher education. 

 

Wallace D. Loh

President, University of Maryland

UMD’s Student-Powered News Service Launches Partnership with Associated Press

January 27, 2017
Contacts: 

Dave Ottalini 301-405-1321

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland announced today that the Capital News Service (CNS), the 26-year-old, student-powered and professionally edited news service of UMD’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, will contribute news stories to The Associated Press.

With bureaus in Washington, Annapolis and College Park, CNS delivers public affairs news about Maryland via partner news organizations, a destination website, a nightly on-air television newscast and affiliated social media channels. CNS routinely wins awards from major journalism organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Press Photographers Association and others.

“Since its earliest days, CNS has strived to provide the kind of unbiased and accurate news that is the hallmark of The Associated Press,” said Lucy Dalglish, dean of the Merrill College. “Distributing CNS through the AP is another indication of the professionalism of our student journalists.”

“This collaboration with CNS will give more quality content to AP’s customers in Maryland even as it furthers the students’ experience,” said Ravi Nessman, AP’s interim South Region Editor.

 The AP, founded in 1846, is the essential global news network, with teams in more than 260 locations in over 100 countries. On any given day, more than half the world’s population sees news from AP.

 Under the new partnership, the AP will move select stories produced by Capital News Service to its global clients. Already, CNS stories have appeared on the websites of news organizations across the country.

UMD and VA Maryland Health Care System Collaborate on MS Research

January 25, 2017
Contacts: 

Alyssa Wolice 301-405-3936

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland Fischell Department of Bioengineering is collaborating with the Veterans Affairs (VA) Maryland Health Care System on a research project focused on multiple sclerosis (MS). Led by Christopher M. Jewell, PhD, an assistant professor in bioengineering, the VA-funded project seeks to use nanotechnology to control the disease without compromising normal immune function that often occurs during autoimmune diseases. Ultimately the team hopes this preclinical research could contribute to reducing cost and burden of disease for MS patients and their families.
           
Recently funded by the VA’s Office of Research and Development, Biomedical Laboratory Research and Development Service as a VA Merit Award--the first given to a University of Maryland College Park faculty member--the four-year, $1.1 million project is titled, “Tunable assembly of regulatory immune signals to promote myelin-specific tolerance.”

The project will explore strategies that could control MS with a vaccine-like specificity that keeps the rest of the immune system functional. Currently, conventional treatments for MS often compromise the immune system, leaving patients vulnerable to infection. MS—for which there is no cure-- occurs when a patient’s immune system mistakenly attacks myelin in the brain, leading to slow loss of mobility over decades.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Jewell will be joining the VA Maryland Research and Development Service,” said Thomas Hornyak, MD, PhD, associate chief staff for Research and Development at the VA Maryland Health Care System.  “His study merges immunology, bioengineering, and chemistry, and presents an exciting new direction for biomedical research at our facility,” he added.

Importantly, several pre-clinical reports and clinical trials have investigated the idea that co-administration of myelin peptide and tolerizing immune signals to lymph node tissues that coordinate immune response can promote the development of regulatory T cells (TREGS) that ameliorate disease.

“This research will study a new idea to promote TREGS that control disease and importantly, test the idea in both preclinical models and in samples from human MS patients,” said Jewell, who will soon be a part of the VA Maryland Health Care System’s Research and Development Service. 

“One of the most exciting aspects is our multidisciplinary team that brings together engineers, clinicians, and immunologists from the VA, the University of Maryland College Park, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. This will allow us to design new materials and test them in both preclinical models, and in samples from human MS patients. We hope the project will shed new light on some of the mechanisms of autoimmunity, and contribute to more specific and long-lasting treatment options for veterans that also reduce the financial burden on veterans and their families," he added.
           
Thus, this research project could lead to permanent improvements for MS patients, improvements that could greatly reduce healthcare costs for them and their families.
           
“This latest collaborative effort to advance multiple sclerosis research demonstrates how critical it is that engineers work together with fellow scientists and clinicians to create solutions to today’s most pressing health challenges,” said Darryll J. Pines, dean of the University of Maryland A. James Clark School of Engineering.
           
The project also fosters interdisciplinary collaborations between other team members, including Dr. Walter Royal, MD, at the VA Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence located at the Baltimore VA Medical Center and with Dr. Jonathan Bromberg, MD/PhD, at the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore.
           
“The potential outcomes of this research can bring lasting improvements to lives of veterans struggling with MS and to their families, who often serve as caregivers, “said Dr. Adam Robinson, director of the VA Maryland Health Care System. “MS is a debilitating disease over time, and we’re excited that Dr. Jewell and his team are pushing forward with a project that can positively impact large numbers of veterans.”
           
In collaboration with an array of academic centers such as University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the VA Maryland Health Care System conducts a range of science and medical research projects, from basic science to clinical and rehabilitative medicine, totaling about $27 million annually.

UMD Researchers Develop Electrogenetic Device to Switch Genes On and Off

January 23, 2017
Contacts: 

Alyssa Wolice 301-405-3936, Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Researchers from the University of Maryland have made a new advance in developing an electrogenetic device to direct gene expression via electrodes, a step that could help shape the future of biosensors, as well as wearable – and possibly implantable – bio-hybrid devices.
 
Expanding on previous applications of microelectronic  devices to in synthetic biology, the UMD team, led by William Bentley, UMD Distinguished University Professor and director of the university’s Robert E. Fischell Institute for Biomedical Devices, demonstrated in a recently published Nature Communications paper that small molecules offer a wide repertoire for molecular communication. The team is using redox biomolecules – tiny cellular messengers that are vital to the health of all body cells – to carry electronic information to engineered bacterial cells.
 
To do this, the group has developed a patent-pending electrogenetic device that uses an electrode and engineered cells to control how and when genes are expressed from a synthetic gene circuit.
 
“Researchers have long used microelectronic devices embedded with biological components, such as high throughput DNA sequencing technologies, to interrogate biology, but such devices have the potential to do much more – perhaps even allow scientists to control biology,” Bentley said.
 
Previously, Bentley’s team took a first step by developing a methodology to load and control enzymes onto microelectronic chips by modulating natural redox molecules located between the enzymes and the electrode. Building on this, the team is now modulating redox molecules in order to link electrode-actuated signals to cells specifically engineered to respond by activating gene expression. This methodology could open doors for scientists looking to drive intricate biological behaviors – such as by controlling biofilms or even producing therapeutics in microdevices.
 
Bentley, along with fellow Fischell Department of Bioengineering (BIOE) and UMD Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research (IBBR) professor Gregory Payne and the rest of the research team, note that once scientists gain the ability to measure, disrupt, or enhance these biomolecular signals, they will be well-positioned to develop advanced technologies to study and manipulate the biological environment.
 
“Electronics have transformed the way we live our lives, and there have been increasing efforts to ‘connect’ devices to biology, such as with glucometers or fitness trackers that access biological information,” Payne said. “But, there are far fewer examples of electronics communicating in the other direction to provide the cues that guide biological responses. Such capabilities could offer the potential to apply devices to better fight diseases such as cancer or to guide inflammatory responses to promote wound healing.”
 
Applying their methodology, the team demonstrated the ability to control gene expression to induce the movement of bacteria – known as “bacterial swimming” – and to build a cellular information relay in which one group of bacteria interprets the electronic signal and passes the information to another group to change its gene expression.
 
The team’s circuit relies on redox signaling processes prevalent in most biological systems, including the human body. Redox processes are involved in protecting the body from oxidative damage, such as when a person is exposed to bright sunlight.
 
“Like our bodies, bacteria have adapted ways to escape oxidative damage,” Bentley said. “Our team has engineered bacterial cells to instead interpret the oxygen signaling processes, and we have developed a genetic circuit that relies on the associated molecular cues for actuating a programmed response.”
 
To guide the production of proteins that direct cell function, Bentley and his team – which includes the paper’s first author, IBBR researcher and BIOE alumna Tanya Tschirhart (Ph.D. ’15) – tap into this process by using pyocyanin (Pyo), a metabolite and molecular signal with the ability to oxidize and reduce other molecules for gene induction. To utilize Pyo in this way, Bentley’s team is working with a redox-responsive regulon in E.coli to sense and respond to oxidative stress. This enables the team to turn “on” or “off” the gene expression or, specifically, protein production of the expressed gene.
 
Even more, by electronically controlling the oxidation state of another redox molecule, ferricyanide, Bentley’s team has been able to amplify the specific increases or decreases in protein levels in E. coli. Their efforts have demonstrated for the first time the utility of using biologically relevant redox molecules in translating electronic signals to changes in engineered bacterial gene expression. Further, they have showed that electronically activated cells could be made to send natural, biological signal molecules to neighboring cells, to ultimately control their behavior. In this way, the group’s electrogenetic device can be “programmed” to control “remote” biological behavior.
 
Unlike previous synthetic biology efforts, Bentley’s group carried out minimal “rewiring” of cells to take advantage of native redox interactions and provide insights into their developing role as mediators for bioelectronic communication.
 
The group believes their system can be tailored to produce a variety of responses, guide various cell behaviors, and further the use of other electronic and redox-based systems to access and affect biomolecular information transfer, such as in microbial fuel cells or bioelectrosynthesis systems. Additionally, the team’s electrogenetic device could serve as a powerful addition to the “biofabrication” toolbox, furthering the utilization of biologically-inspired nanoscale processes by bridging the fabrication and communication gaps between microelectronics and biological systems.
 
In addition to Bentley, Payne, and Tschirhart, research team members and co-authors include: Eunkyoung Kim (IBBR), Ryan McKay (IBBR, BIOE), Hana Ueda (IBBR, UMD Department of Mathematics), Hsuan-Chen Wu (IBBR), Alex (Eli) Pottash (IBBR, BIOE), and Amin Zargar (BIOE), as well as Alejandro Negrete and Joseph Shiloach of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Biotechnology Core Laboratory.
 
This research is supported by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the National Science Foundation.
 
Full text of the Nature Communications paper, “Electronic control of gene expression and cell behavior in Escherichia coli through redox signaling,” is available online: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/NCOMMS14030

New UMD Model Analysis Shows Paris Climate Agreement Is ‘Beacon of Hope’ for Limiting Climate Warming & Its Damage

January 20, 2017
Contacts: 

Matthew Wright 301-405-9267, Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – In December 2015, the world’s nations negotiated the Paris Climate Agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. Using a University of Maryland developed climate model, UMD scientists have conducted a new, empirical analysis that indicates there is a good chance that the world will be able to limit climate warming to 2 degrees Celsius, or less, if countries achieve the greenhouse gas reductions pledged during the Paris meeting.

The authors describe their new findings and previously published model in a just published book: Paris Climate Agreement: Beacon of Hope.

“We’ve developed an empirical model of global climate that we use to forecast future temperature out to the year 2100,” said Timothy Canty, a research professor in atmospheric and oceanic science at UMD and a co-author of the book. “This is a model that ingests massive amounts of observational data.”

Climate models that forecast global warming use of one of four numbered scenarios to describe greenhouse gases in the future atmosphere. Researchers refer to these projections as representative concentration pathway (RCP) scenarios, each of which accounts for the influence of greenhouse gases and other pollutants on climate out to year 2100. RCP 4.5, one of the more optimistic pathways, assumes that human emissions of greenhouse gases will level off soon and then decline after a few decades.

“The most important result from our modeling efforts is that the RCP 4.5 scenario is the two degree global warming pathway,” said Austin Hope, a graduate student in atmospheric and oceanic science at UMD and a co-author of the book. “If the world keeps emissions to RCP 4.5, then we will likely stay beneath 1.5 degrees of global warming and almost certainly beneath two degrees of global warming,”

To achieve emissions reductions, the Paris Agreement requires each participating country to commit to a pledge, called an intended nationally determined contribution (INDC). Most INDCs only extend to the year 2030, however.

“Our research shows that if the Paris Climate Agreement is met, it will put us on the RCP 4.5 pathway, but this can only happen if two important things occur,” said Walter Tribett, a research scientist in atmospheric and oceanic science at UMD and a co-author of the book. “One, all conditional and unconditional INDCs must be met. Two, the mitigation of greenhouse gases needed to meet the Paris goal must be propagated out to 2060.”

Each INDC is different, based on the status and needs of each country. But most recognize the importance of non-emitting, renewable sources of energy.

“To achieve RCP 4.5, half of the world’s global energy must come from renewable sources by year 2060,” said Brian Bennett, a research scientist in atmospheric and oceanic science at UMD and a co-author of the book.

This is an ambitious goal that requires a large-scale global transition to renewable energy. Researchers can track access to electricity, most of which still comes from the burning of fossil fuels, using satellite imagery of night light across the globe. Noticeable differences exist between the developed and developing world.

“Europe is lit up at night where its large population centers exist. The United States is equally lit up at night and we are seeing China emerge in the night light data,” said Ross Salawitch, a professor of chemistry as well as atmospheric and oceanic science at UMD and a co-author of the book. “But largely absent in the night light data is India, and totally absent is Africa.”

The book’s authors suggest that the developing world will have a great need for renewable energy solutions. But the developed world has a large role to play as well.
“This will require large-scale transfer of technology and capital from the developed to the developing world,” noted Salawitch, who also has an appointment with UMD’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC). “And at the same time this is happening, the developed world must reduce its own dependence on dependence on fossil fuels—not a little bit, but massively—by 2060.”

The book, Paris Climate Agreement: Beacon of Hope, Ross Salawitch, Timothy Canty, Austin Hope, Walter Tribett and Brian Bennett, was published by Springer Climate.

This work was supported by NASA (Award No. NNX16AG34G). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of that organization.

To download a PDF of the book free of charge, or to purchase a hard copy: http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319469386
For more information: http://parisbeaconofhope.org 

Renowned UMD Professor Rita Colwell Named a Fellow in the National Academy of Inventors

January 20, 2017
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301-405-4679, Tom Ventsias 301-405-5933

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Rita Colwell, a Distinguished University Professor in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), has been named a Fellow in the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

This is the latest of Professor Colwell’s many recognitions and awards, which also include the 2006 U.S. National Medal of Science; the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize; “The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star,” awarded by the Emperor of Japan; and membership in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Swedish Royal Academy of Science, Irish Royal Academy of Science, and the Bangladesh and Indian academies of Science.

The National Academy of Inventors recognizes  “academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.” This is a well suited recognition, colleagues say, for a scientist who has uncovered new insights, bucked prevailing wisdom, applied existing technologies in innovative ways and created new technologies and initiatives to advance human knowledge and human health.

Colwell’s many achievements and firsts include:

  • a dozen U.S. patents, most involving computational biology;
  • founding the company CosmosID, which uses next-generation DNA sequencing to advance new discoveries in microbiome research; and
  • leading numerous science organizations, including the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 1998-2004 as NSF’s first woman director.

However, Colwell, a microbiologist, is world renowned in large part for her fundamental and highly innovative work to understand the Vibrio bacteria that cause cholera and reduce the incidence and impact of this disease around the world. Cholera, an acute diarrheal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated by Vibrio cholerae, is responsible for an estimated 3–5 million illnesses and more than 100,000 deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization.

As part of her cholera work, she was the first to:

  • use DNA sequencing to finally prove to a doubting healthcare establishment that the Vibrio bacterium that causes cholera was, in fact, the same water-borne Vibrio bacterium found naturally in the environment;
  • write a computer program that could identify this bacterium;
  • show that this bacterium can lie dormant awaiting favorable conditions, and that its natural habitat, or host, is one of the tiny organisms that constitute marine plankton;
  • track and predict cholera outbreaks with satellite data;
  • demonstrate that warmer surface ocean temperatures stimulate the growth of cholera bacteria, and directly lead to an increase in the number of cholera cases;
  • create filters made of old sari cloth that can strain plankton and its hitchhiking bacteria out of drinking water.

“Rita Colwell’s tireless dedication toward improving human health by using computational resources is an inspiration to the entire UMIACS research community. We are very proud to call her a colleague,” said Mihai Pop, professor of computer science and interim director of UMIACS.
 
Colwell’s discoveries led her to conclude that climate (on a macroscale) has significant impacts on certain human diseases, notably those transmitted by vectors like mosquitoes or zooplankton. In 2016 Colwell led an international study showing that over the past half century there has been a clear correlation between warming of North Atlantic waters, increasing numbers of Vibrio bacteria in those waters, and rising numbers of people along U.S. and European North Atlantic coasts who have become infected by pathogenic Vibrio bacteria.

Read a Big Ten Network Q&A with Professor Colwell about her selection to the NAI here.

Professor Colwell is the fourth University of Maryland faculty member to earn recognition from the National Academy of Inventors. Distinguished University Professor Ben Shneiderman, in the department of computer science, John S. Baras, professor and Lockheed Martin Chair in Systems Engineering, and  Robert E. Fischell, a UMD alum and a professor of practice in the Fischell Department of Bioengineering, were all named NAI fellows in 2015.

Colwell will be officially honored at a ceremony and banquet on April 6, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. With the election of the 2016 class, there are now 757 NAI Fellows, representing 229 research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutes.

Tracking the World's Final Wilderness Frontiers

January 17, 2017
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin 301-405-1733

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Researchers from the University of Maryland utilize satellite imagery to demonstrate that forest wildlands—forests least affected by human activity—are steadily shrinking and pinpoint ways to help preserve these landscapes that are critically important to the health of the planet.

Led by Associate Professor Peter Potapov from the UMD Department of Geographical Sciences, the research team used Landsat satellite images from 2000 and 2013 to map intact forest landscapes (IFL) around the globe. Researchers defined IFLs as areas of forest and associated naturally treeless ecosystems spanning a minimum of 200 square miles with no remotely detected signs of human activity. They found that these forest wildlands decreased globally by 7.2 percent during this time period—amounting to nearly 355,000 square miles lost—primarily due to industrial logging, agricultural expansion, fire and mining/resource extraction. Their work is featured in a January 13th publication of Science Advances.
 
“Forest wildlands have an extremely high conservation value and are irreplaceable due to the range of ecosystem services they provide such as harboring biological diversity, stabilizing carbon storage and regulating water flow,” Potapov said. “Furthermore, the size of the wildland matters: the larger the size, the higher the conservation value. That’s why we need to be concerned about losing any portion of these precious forest landscapes.”

Not only did researchers discover an overall reduction in IFLs worldwide, they found that the rate of reduction is increasing: The loss of tropical forest wildland tripled between 2011 and 2013 when compared to the period between 2001 and 2003.

During their analysis, researchers discovered that areas of forest wildland designated as legally protected areas were less likely to suffer a reduction in size and advocate for the adoption of more national and international policies to preserve IFLs and their abundant contributions to the environment.

Co-author Matt Hansen, professor of geographical sciences at UMD, emphasized the importance of intact forests, stating “The high carbon stocks found within forest wildlands alone illustrate their potential benefit to climate change mitigation strategies.  However, their stability can be compromised very rapidly. For example, increased human access through road building reduces forest intactness even without the loss of many trees. Importantly, IFLs only shrink in extent as they are defined as landscapes absent of observable human impacts.”

Along with Potapov and Hansen, the research team included Research Associate Svetlana Turubanova from the UMD Department of Geographical Sciences and partners from organizations around the world, including: Laestadius Consulting in Silver Spring, MD; Greenpeace; Global Forest Watch Canada; World Resources Institute; and NGO Transparent World in Moscow, Russia.

Related UMD research stories:

UMD Researchers Define & Measure Planet's Total Forest Area

Dynamic Alert System Will Protect Global Forests

UMD Leads 1st Local-to-Global Mapping of Forest

Pages

Photo of leafy green vegetables
March 23
Contamination of soil with wild pig and cattle feces has direct correlation to E. coli prevalence in leafy greens.  Read
March 16
62 UMD graduate programs and specializations ranked among the top in the nation.
March 15
NASA awarded a cooperative agreement to UMD to continue collaborative research in the field of Earth system science. Read