Justin Jacobs, Statistics Ph.D. Student, Receives Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering

Justin Jacobs, a doctoral candidate in statistics at UMBC, has won the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering (PECASE). This is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers, and recognizes Justin’s work with the intelligence community.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper presents UMBC's Justin Jacobs with PECASE honor.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (far right) presents UMBC’s Justin Jacobs (center right) with his PECASE plaque.

Justin received the award from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on January 23, 2014, and he will be recognized by President Obama in a ceremony at the White House later this month.

At UMBC, Justin is being co-advised by Anindya Roy and John Zweck (now at UT Dallas), and plans to graduate this May. His dissertation is titled, “Density Estimation on Differential Manifolds.” He is completing his Ph.D. while employed with the National Security Agency.

President Clinton established the PECASE award program in 1996. The White House website notes, “Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.” Learn more about PECASE and this year’s recipients in this White House Press release.

Congratulations, Justin, for this is a remarkable achievement!

Yonathan Zohar, Marine Biotechnology, on NPR’s The Salt

yoniDespite the popularity of seafood, fish farming is not a common practice in the United States due to concerns about waste and disease. However, recent technological innovations could offer solutions to those problems.

Yonathan Zohar, marine biotechnology, was interviewed by NPR about his work with the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology. Zohar has found a way to farm fish without the risk of disease or need for antibiotics, explaining, “The idea is to have the entire life cycle in completely clean and controlled conditions that are disease-free, so you don’t introduce anything from the outside.” Zohar is also working on a new type of fish food that would eliminate the concerns about waste.
To listen to the story, entitled “The Future Of Clean, Green Fish Farming Could Be Indoor Factories” on NPR, click here.

Tom Cronin, Biology, in WIRED

What’s the Absurd Creature of the Week in WIRED science? Why it’s none other than one of biologist Tom Cronin’s favorite sea critters, the mantis shrimp. And the eyes of these creatures are Cronin’s specialty and that’s where he comes into the article.

“As with bees or flies or crabs, they are compound eyes, but unlike those creatures, mantis shrimp “have a very unusual adaptation in that multiple parts of the same eye view the same point in space,” said biologist Tom Cronin of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, “which is sort of like having multiple eyes in one, in a way.” Whereas we use two eyes to judge distance, mantis shrimp can do that with a single eye.”

“On top of that, some mantis shrimp can see a variety of colors in ultraviolet, so “they’re seeing colors that no other animal can see, in a sense,” said Cronin. “Basically color is a property of the nervous system so it’s not really present in the real world, but they can see aspects of the ultraviolet that nothing else can see.”

There are some neat photos with the article and some videos. Well worth a read.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, Writes Washington Post Op-Ed

ManilSuriHeadShotIn a Washington Post op-ed titled, “Court ruling ignores India’s rich heritage of diversity,” UMBC mathematics professor Manil Suri critically examines the Indian Supreme Court’s recent decision to reinstate a 19th-century law criminalizing homosexual acts (Section 377), a law which had been repealed by a lower-court decision in 2009.

In his analysis, Suri draws attention to how the ruling “criticized previous judges for relying too much on foreign precedents in their ‘anxiety to protect the so-called rights of LGBT persons.’”

Suri argues that the foreign imposition in this case is actually the statute itself. He notes: “The statute was passed in 1860 as part of Britain’s colonization of India. Other former British colonies, from Malaysia to Jamaica, have the same law on their books, also labeled Section 377.” He concludes, “India needs to be reminded of its rich heritage of diversity, its historically liberal attitude toward variations in human behavior.”

You can read Suri’s full op-ed here.

Susan Hoban Brings the Mars Rover to the UAE

Susan Hoban made the, Nationalin a story about a science fair in the UAE.

Dr Susan Hoban, associate professor of physics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, introduced students to the wonder of Nasa’s Mars Rover, before allowing them to build their own, albeit smaller, versions.hoban2012

“We want to use Mars as an inspiration to show the students that engineering is a career that they should choose, especially for girls, who maybe do not think that it is something they can do,” she said.

“My hats off to the organisers because it is a great undertaking. We hope that kids leave here thinking that engineering is fun.”

Read the story.

Manil Suri, Math and Fashion

Manil Suri was featured in a “Math and Fashion” episode on the
Scholastic website. This is their first episode with the specific aim of
popularizing mathematics among school kids by tying it to a popular


Tim Gunn, the super host of the hit TV series “Project Runway” introduced Suri, where he talked about math for about 90 seconds right near the beginning of the 26 minute show. The famous fashion designer, Diane von Furstenberg, also talks about how math is useful in her line of work.

Watch the video

Campus Child Care Center – Follow-up

This is a follow-up to keep the campus community informed regarding the unexpected closure of the Y Preschool Center at UMBC on Sept. 18 due to water damage and related safety considerations. There have been a number of questions about the center, and we would like to provide the campus community with additional information.

How has the closure impacted UMBC families using campus child care services?

The 18 UMBC families directly impacted by the closure faced a very difficult challenge in finding alternative arrangements for their children on such short notice. Individuals and offices throughout the campus stepped up to support affected parents and families, serving as points of contact to hear needs and concerns, and assisting with referrals to other campus offices, as needed. Human Resources was able to arrange for liberal leave policies to go into effect for employees unable to make it to work in the days following the closure. The Office of Undergraduate Education worked with students affected by the closure to address any short-term academic concerns.

On behalf of the campus, we would particularly like to thank Jess Myers, director of the Women’s Center, Fritze Charne-Merriweather, special assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs, Jarrett Kealey, assistant director in the Office of Undergraduate Education, and the Human Resources and The Women’s Center staff.

For anyone still facing concerns or challenges, please contact Fritze Charne-Merriweather at 410-455-2395 or charne@umbc.edu. The Women’s Center is located in The Commons, Room 004 and can be reached at 410-455-2714 or womens.center@umbc.edu.

When will we know more about the future of child care/preschool service on campus?

After the remaining materials in the center are removed (to be completed the week of Oct. 7), we will consult outside experts to determine the logistics and cost associated with repairing the damaged building, which will help us to determine the feasibility of the repairs. We anticipate a full report, including a cost estimate, by December.

UMBC values child care as an important part of supporting families and a good work-life balance. While the building evaluation is conducted, we will bring together a group of interested campus community members to explore the future of child care for the UMBC community. Anyone interested in participating in this discussion should contact Lynne Schaefer, lschaefer@umbc.edu.

Why wasn’t the problem found sooner?

The child care center situation was identified when staff in the center reported water damage on a portion of the drywall. Facilities Management then removed several feet of drywall to determine the cause.

UMBC has two methods for identifying water infiltration problems in buildings: visual inspection and self-reporting. As our building engineers and tradespersons perform work throughout the campus, they will take note of anything they see that may require further investigation. Occasionally, we receive calls from offices to report visible water damage. Unfortunately, with more than 4 million sq. ft. of building space on campus, these are the only feasible methods for identifying such occurrences. It is not advisable to perform destructive testing unless water damage is evident, visually.

We will continue to periodically report on this issue, as it evolves. In the meantime, if you have any questions, concerns or comments, please contact Lynne Schaefer, Vice President for Finance and Administration at lschaefer@umbc.edu.

President Hrabowski speaks about education and U.S. workforce on Education Nation panel

national_education_summit_logoUMBC President Freeman Hrabowski joined U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former governor of Michigan John Engler and U.S. Manufacturing Council’s Mary Isbister to discuss the role of higher education in preparing the U.S. workforce for global competitiveness in a panel discussion at NBC News’ fourth annual Education Nation Summit.

The segment, What It Takes: Keeping Up with the Competition, Part II – Our Workforce, moderated by NBC NewsTODAY” co-anchor Matt Lauer, revolves around the recently released Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) report, which compares the skills and competencies of the adult workforce in 23 countries. According to the exam, Americans performed below the international average on math, reading and problem-solving.

“Scores will continue to go down until we bridge the gap between the haves and have nots,” said Dr. Hrabowski. “We need a new value system that it’s cool to be smart in America. We need to celebrate academics like we celebrate sports.”

The panel discussion was also covered by WBAL-TV in a story highlighting the disparity in test results between the U.S. and other nations. Dr. Hrabowski agreed with Sec. Arne Duncan that the growing “opportunity gap in our country” needs to be addressed. “We have so many, a large percentage, of our Americans who are from low-income families, who have not had an education and have not had the opportunity to learn to read and think critically,” Hrabowski said.

The Education Nation Summit brings together more than 300 of the country’s top thought leaders and influencers in education, government, business, philanthropy and media to discuss the relationship between education and opportunity – helping to engage the U.S. in an unprecedented discussion about how to improve education and prepare our youth for the jobs of the future.

Yonathan Zohar, Department of Marine Biotechnology, WJZ CBS Baltimore

Yonanthan Zohar talks about the Aquaculture Research Center at the Institute for Marine and Environmental Technology. Zohar spoke to WJZ about over fishing the world’s oceans.

“In the 70s when I started, I knew that we are going to run out,” said Dr. Yonathan Zohar.

“That sparked Zohar and a group of scientists to create the aquaculture research center. It’s a fish farm that is completely green and self-sustaining,” said WJZ reporter, Gigi Barnett.

“All the solid waste that is produced by the fish is removed, collected and converted to bio-fuel,” Zohar said.