Visual Ecology, Tom Cronin

A new book written by Tom Cronin and colleagues — the publisher’s note says:

“Visual ecology is the study of how animals use visual systems to meet their ecological needs, how these systems have evolved, and how they are specialized for particular visual tasks. Visual Ecology provides the first up-to-date synthesis of the field to appear in more than three decades. Featuring some 225 illustrations, including more than 140 in color, spread throughout the text, this comprehensive and accessible book begins by discussing the basic properties of light and the optical environment. It then looks at how photoreceptors intercept light and convert it to usable biological signals, how the pigments and cells of vision vary among animals, and how the properties of these components affect a given receptor’s sensitivity to light. The book goes on to examine how eyes and photoreceptors become specialized for an array of visual tasks, such as navigation, evading prey, mate choice, and communication.”

LA Times: Mantis shrimp wear tinted shades to see UV light, Tom Cronin and Michael Bok

“When you look at a mantis shrimp, you see a vivid lobster-like crustacean whose forearms can strike with the force of a .22-caliber bullet. But when a mantis shrimp looks at you, we have no idea what it sees. That’s because the mantis shrimp possesses one of the most complex eyeballs on the planet, an organ that allows it to perceive a rainbow of colors in both the visible and ultraviolet spectrum without the massive brainpower required for human vision,” so writes Julia Rosen of the Los Angeles Times.

Rosen’s story, Mantis shrimp wear tinted shades to see UV light, tells of Tom Cronin and Michael Bok’s paper. Cronin is a professor of biology and Bok a graduate student who has now moved on to a post doc at Lund University.

The paper, which was recently published in the journal, Current Biology, reported that, “that that mantis shrimp use a set of filters to separate ultraviolet light into discrete colors that get picked up by the animals’ photoreceptors.”

U.S. News, Colleges Work to Engage Women, Minorities in STEM Fields, Penny Rheingans

Delece Smith-Barrow of U.S. News & World Report, recently wrote about the importance of engaging women and minorities in STEM fields. Smith-Barrow interviewed UMBC’s Penny Rheingans, director for the Center of Women in Technology (CWIT).

Smith Barrow wrote: “If students struggle in class and have few peers and faculty that look like them, it’s easy for them to think, “maybe I’m not supposed to be here, either,” says Penny Rheingans, director for the Center for Women in Technology at the University of Maryland—Baltimore County.

Prospective college students who are women or underrepresented minorities can determine if a school can help them in their STEM endeavors by finding out what resources colleges offer these kinds of students.

The Center for Women in Technology at UMBC​ provides mentoring services, ​seminars that discuss topics such as networking and time management and a number of other resources, Rheingans says. A living and learning residence community provided through the program caters to women and men in STEM, but the former group dominates.

“Eighty-five percent of students who live on our floor are women,” she says.

Rheingan encourages prospective students to keep an eye out for school environments that have structures in place that support women. “You’re looking for a community,” she says. Visiting the college and talking to current students is one way to find out about the community, she says.”



Say Something: Jesse Smith

The Chronicle has just featured math major and Meyerhoff Scholar Jesse Smith in their Say Something audio series.

Smith talks about his experience with the Meyerhoff program and how peer
connections through the program have given him a sense of confidence and
what is possible to achieve in his career. The article also links to the
HHMI story about the Meyerhoff Replication Project.

Manil Suri in the Washington Post on “How Not to Be Wrong”

“Can mathematics help you win at Powerball? Improve your chances of finding a handsome man to date who’s not a jerk? How about prove the existence of God? While we’re at it, might the promise of such provocative explorations lure you into picking up a treatise on perhaps your least favorite subject?” writes Manil Suri in the opening paragraph of his Washington Post Book Review.

The book in question is, “How Not to Be Wrong,” by Jordan Ellenberg.

“Ellenberg’s talent for finding real-life situations that enshrine mathematical principles would be the envy of any math teacher. He presents these in fluid succession, like courses in a fine restaurant, taking care to make each insight shine through, unencumbered by jargon or notation. Part of the sheer intellectual joy of the book is watching the author leap nimbly from topic to topic, comparing slime molds to the Bush-Gore Florida vote, criminology to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The final effect is of one enormous mosaic unified by mathematics,” writes Suri.

Read the Entire Review

Books by Manil Suri

UMBC Partners With Newcastle University in Urban Water Quality Study

Upal Ghosh, professor in chemical and biochemical engineering, has partnered with Newcastle University in the project:

Development of Sustainable Technologies to Investigate, Restore and Protect the Urban Water Environment. Newcastle University, University of Maryland Baltimore County (US), Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil), Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (India) and CSIR-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute Nagpur (India)

The grant instituted through Newcastle University will support student and faculty research exchanges among the partnering institutions.

The project will examine urban water quality and was summarized by the researchers:

Urban water quality is under enormous pressure around the world because of increasing population density and economic activity in cities. Pollution disturbs the ecosystem functioning of urban streams, rivers, ponds and lakes; poses a risk to public health; decreases the value of surface waters for public recreation; and makes water more costly to treat for use. While faecal and industrial chemical pollution remain substantial challenges, new threats to urban water quality are emerging in highly populated areas from chemicals in widely used consumer and household products such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and biocides. At the same time, existing water pollution control infrastructure is costly and very energy-intensive (i.e. consumes 1.4% of national electricity in the UK) and should be replaced with more energy-efficient or net energy producing alternatives. In their infrastructure expansion, emerging economies like India and Brazil are presented with golden opportunities to leapfrog beyond the traditional wastewater treatment models and install more sustainable technologies that also address emerging challenges. The proposed global partnership between environmental engineers from Newcastle University (NCL), UK, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), USA, the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), Brazil, the CSIR-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (CSIR-NEERI) in Nagpur, India, and the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IITD), India, will pool knowledge, skills, technology testing and analytical facilities, and access to field sites and the facilities of industrial partners for the development of innovative methods to detect and monitor existing and emerging threats to the urban water environment, and sustainable technologies to reduce identified pollution releases and to remediate existing pollution deposits. This initiative will seek to recover urban water resources and their recreational and health values for the people living in cities, thus creating more desirable urban neighborhoods and providing new business opportunities.

Rachel Brewster in Science Magazine

Rachel Brewster, an associate professor in the department of biological sciences, was profiled in a recent issue of Science magazine. The article titled, The Adapter, explores how Brewster, in a world of tight funding, adapts her work on neural development, and continues training graduate students.

Jennifer Couzin-Frankel writes in Science:

Brewster landed at UMBC in 2003, after marrying a biologist she met at New York University (NYU) who accepted a job at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Since securing tenure, she aspired to create a different culture from the one she experienced during her postdoc, in a prestigious lab at NYU’s Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine. “I do not want to have the kind of cutthroat lab where people feel the pressure to work Saturday, Sunday, 16 hours a day,” she says. “But then there’s of course a price to pay,” she admits. “The price to pay is in productivity.”

“Her lab uses zebrafish to disentangle how the early brain is shaped, and Brewster has also made it a priority to support women and students from minority groups. In part that reflects her own background—she grew up in Switzerland, the child of a Jamaican mother and a British Guyanese father who worked for the United Nations. She’s fiercely proud of UMBC, a state school that graduates a remarkable 40% or so of its students, many of them minorities, from science-based majors, well above the national average of 25%. “A lot of our students are daughters and sons of recent immigrants, people who still believe in the American dream and who are investing every penny and dime they have to get their kids an education,” she says.”

If you’re looking for a good read about one of UMBC’s scientists then this article may be for you.

Read more


Dr. Belay Demoz Appointed Director of UMBC’s Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET)

Dr. Belay Demoz has been appointed as Professor in the Department of Physics and Director of the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET), a cooperative center between UMBC and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). Dr. Demoz’s appointment will be effective August 1, 2014.

Dr. Demoz joins the UMBC community from Howard University where he held the position of Professor of Physics and Atmospheric Science. Prior to his appointment at Howard University, he served as a Physical Scientist at NASA GSFC from 2002 to 2008. Between 1998 and 2002 he held the position of Research Assistant Professor at UMBC and JCET.

Dr. Demoz received his Ph.D. in Atmospheric Physics and his M.Sc. in Atmospheric Science from the Desert Research Institute at the University of Nevada-Reno in 1992, after completing his B.Sc. in Physics with a Minor in Mathematics at Asmara University, Eritrea, East Africa, 1984.

Belay Demoz May 2014 copyThe appointment of Dr. Demoz concludes a successful international search for a capable leader to continue building on the strong relationships between UMBC and NASA. Dr. Demoz’s prior experience at NASA Goddard and with JCET makes him an ideal choice to lead JCET into the future. Dr. Demoz will continue on the work of Dr. Raymond Hoff, who served as JCET Director from 1999 until 2011. Since 2011, Ms. Danita Eichenlaub has been the Administrative Director for JCET. She will work closely with Dr. Demoz to continue strengthening JCET’s research and academic mission.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all of the members of the Search Committee. Their commitment and hard work represents a strong contribution to secure the continued success of UMBC’s relationship with NASA and the future growth of UMBC as a research university.

Established in 1995 under the Direction of Dr. Harvey Melfi, JCET operates under a cooperative agreement between UMBC and NASA GSFC. JCET meets the common interest of UMBC and GSFC to develop new technology for environmental remote sensing. JCET staff includes tenured faculty, research faculty, research support staff, students and administrative support staff. Currently there are 17 research faculty members with affiliations to academic departments at UMBC and 5 UMBC tenured faculty members with a JCET affiliation. JCET also includes 19 additional research faculty members and four scientific support staff. JCET faculty are affiliated with the Departments of Physics, Geography and Environmental Systems, Chemistry & Biochemistry, Mathematics & Statistics and Education. Both graduate and undergraduate students work with JCET faculty. JCET’s research focuses on themes, which align with NASA’s Earth Science Interests: engineering, mesoscale atmospheric processes, climate and radiation, atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, hydrospheric and biospheric sciences, and solar system science including geodesy and geophysics.

Zhibo Zhang receives $710K grant from NASA

Zhibo Zhang, an Assistant Professor in the Physics Department, and his collaborators received a three-year grant of $710K from NASA’s Sciences of Terra and Aqua program to study the Marine Boundary Layer (MBL) clouds.

The MBL clouds cover about 20% of Earth’s surface. They play a pivotal in Earth’s radiative energy budget. Prof. Zhang’s research will help us understand the horizontal and microphysical structure of MBL clouds and provides guidance for the development of future NASA satellite missions.

As PI, Zhang will lead a group of researchers from UMBC, NASA GISS, and the Univ. of Illinois.

Zhang was also recently selected to receive the NASA New (Early Career) Investigator Program (NIP) awards in Earth Science. The NIP is a highly competitive and prestigious award established by NASA in 1996 to encourage integrated environments for research and education for scientists and engineers at the early stage of their professional careers. This year more than 130 scientists nationwide applied for this program and only 21 were selected.

The NIP will fund Zhang and his graduate student for three years to investigate the climatic effects of above-cloud aerosols (e.g. soot and dust) using data from NASA satellites. When elevated above clouds, aerosols can generate strong warming effect on the climate due to enhanced absorption. Dr. Zhang’s research is aimed to understand the size of this effect and its potential implications to global warming.

UMBC scientist receives Maryland Innovation grant from TEDCO to advance the development of a vaccine to combat a deadly fish virus

Professor Vikram Vakharia, Professor of Marine Biotechnology at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET) in Baltimore, received a $100,000 grant from the Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII). Vakhria will use the funds to develop a vaccine against viral infections in fish populations. Such viruses can be devastating to fish populations world-wide. A vaccine could have tremendous implications for hatcheries and rearing ponds that provide high-protein fish to tens millions of people.

Many viral diseases in fish have been reported worldwide. Of particular concern is infections caused by nervous necrosis virus (NNV). This virus is of concern because it impacts both warm- and cold-water fish in marine environments. The virus has resulted in severe economic losses in many Asian and European countries, Australia and North America. It is estimated that 5% of loss in the finfish aquaculture industry is due to disease and translates into over $1 billion global annual loses. The disease is associated with high mortality (up to 100 %) particularly in larvae and juvenile fish species. Therefore, technologies are needed to immunize large populations of fish with vaccines that are efficient and economical.

“The health of fish is critical to the aquaculture industry and the countless number of people who consume fish in every corner of the world,” said Vakharia, a global leader in viral diseases of aquaculture. “Nervous necrosis virus (NNV) infects more than 40 fish species and currently, there are no commercial vaccines available to prevent this disease,” Vakharia added.

The goal of Vakharia’s research is to develop and evaluate the efficacy of a recombinant NNV vaccine.

“Dr. Vakharia’s research is critically important from both an environmental and economic perspective,” noted Russell Hill, Director of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET). “The development of a new vaccine will support the aquaculture industry and help provide food for millions of people. We greatly appreciate TEDCO’s support and foresight in addressing this important work through the Maryland Innovation Initiative.”

The Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) was created as a partnership between the State of Maryland and five Maryland academic research institutions (Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, University of Maryland College Park, University of Maryland Baltimore and University of Maryland Baltimore County). The program is designed to promote commercialization of research conducted among the partnership universities and to leverage each institution’s unique strengths.

The Maryland State Legislature created TEDCO in 1998 to facilitate the transfer and commercialization of technology from Maryland’s research universities and federal labs into the marketplace and to assist in the creation and growth of technology-based businesses in all regions of the State. TEDCO is an independent organization that strives to be Maryland’s lead source for entrepreneurial business assistance and seed funding for the development of startup companies in Maryland’s innovation economy.

Located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology is a strategic alliance involving scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the University of Maryland Baltimore and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Scientists are engaged in cutting-edge research in microbiology, molecular genetic analysis and biotechnology, using marine resources to develop new drug therapies, alternative energy and other innovations to improve public health and economic opportunities. IMET also contributes to sustainable marine aquaculture and fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay and other marine ecosystems.