Kate Brown, History, Wins the 2014 Ellis W. Hawley Prize from the Organization of American Historians

On Saturday, April 12 in Atlanta, History Associate Professor Kate Brown was awarded the 2014 Ellis W. Hawley Prize from the Organization of American Historians (OAH) for the best book-length historical study of the political economy, politics, or institutions of the United States, in its domestic or international affairs, from the Civil War to the present.


Brown received the award for her book, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford University Press, 2013), in which she tells the stories of Hanford, Washington and Ozersk, Russia. The Soviet and American governments created these communities to produce the plutonium that fueled the nuclear arms race during the Cold War.

In a press release announcing the award, OAH stated: “Brown notes that the major accidents at Hanford and Ozersk were largely unknown to the public, in contrast to the recognition today of Chernobyl and Fukushima. But the costs to the well-being of the workers and the environment were arguably far higher. This revelatory history provides a highly readable and deeply researched model of transnational history.”

Last month, Brown was awarded the 2014 George Perkins Marsh Prize from the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH), also for her book, Plutopia.

Robert Provine, Psychology, in The New Yorker

An article published April 15 in The New Yorker explores the surprising science behind yawning and what makes it so unique. Psychology Professor Robert Provine, author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond, was interviewed for the article and commented on his research studying the concept.

Robert Provine

“Yawning may have the dubious distinction of being the least understood, common human behavior,” Provine observed. The article discusses Provine’s studies that explored contagious yawning, one of which found eighty-eight per cent of people who were instructed to think of yawns yawned themselves within thirty minutes. It also examines how the contagious nature of yawning may be highlighted by something very different than empathy, but rather as a form of communication.

“We’re getting insight into the human herd: yawning as a primal form of sociality,” Provine said. “It’s often said that behavior doesn’t leave fossils,” he added. “But, with yawning, you are looking at a behavioral fossil. You’re getting an insight into how all of behavior once was.”

To read the full article in The New Yorker, click here.

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!

Robert Provine, Psychology, in Slate

Robert ProvineAn article published March 25 in the online magazine Slate examines the factors that cause humans to laugh. The story cites the work and research of Psychology Professor Robert Provine that helps explain why humans laugh.

“For his book, Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine engaged in what he called ‘sidewalk neuroscience,’ tracking and observing real-world laughter,” the article states.

The authors write that Provine’s research helps illustrate the reasons human laugh usually aren’t in response to something that is humorous.

“Provine discovered that the laughter of our everyday lives isn’t for the most part in response to anything resembling jokes,” the authors note. “Instead, most of it occurs in conversations that, out of context, don’t seem funny at all. Provine’s discoveries suggest that laughter is inherently social, that at its core it’s a form of communication and not just a byproduct of finding something funny.”

To read the full article in Slate, click here. Provine was also interviewed about the same topic on “The Arlene Bynon Show” on Sirius XM radio. Additional coverage can be found on Salon.com by clicking here.

UMBC’s 36th Annual Graduate Research Conference

UMBC’s 36th Annual Graduate Research Conference was held on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Organized by the Graduate Student Association, the conference had over 85 oral and poster presentations across a variety of disciplines. The successful conference ended in a lively Pathways to Success Panel.

Poster Presentation with Judges

The Graduate Research Conference seeks to provide an opportunity for students to gain experience presenting their work. Judges evaluate each presenter and provide feedback, giving special recognition to exceptional presentations. This year’s poster and oral presentation winners are listed below.

Poster Session Winners
Morgan Madeira – CSEE
Saadi Habib – Mechanical Engineering
Hui Jun Lim – Psychology
William Easley – Information Systems
Arundhathi Venkatasubraman – CBEE
Kenneth Childers – Chemistry & Biochemistry
Molly Van Appledorn – GES
Kayla Lemons – Biological Sciences
Arya Ashok – Biological Sciences

Oral Presentation Winners
Jonathan McHenry – Mathematics & Statistics
Evgenia Barannikova – Chemistry & Biochemistry
Daniel Schall – GES
Michele Williams – Information Systems
Kimberly Feldman – LLC
David Harris – CSEE

Dennis Coates, Economics, on Econ Journal Watch

Economics Professor Dennis Coates was recently a guest on an Econ Journal Watch podcast discussing his research that found economists mostly frown on government subsidies for professional sports franchises, facilities and events. He was a guest on the program with Brad Humphreys, an associate professor of economics at the University of Alberta.

During the interview, Coates commented on claims that sports stadiums bring economic benefits and prosperity to cities and their immediate metropolitan areas.

“The evidence is that they are minimal at best, and may in fact even be negative,” Coates said. “We think of tangible benefits as job creation and income growth, and any benefits that occur, they occur in a form that is not job creation or income growth or tax revenue growth.”

To listen to the full podcast on Econ Journal Watch and for more on the research by Coates and Humphreys, click here.

Jason Schiffman, Psychology, in The Baltimore Sun

Jason SchiffmanJason Schiffman, an associate professor of psychology, and his team of researchers are leading a study this spring to increase awareness of mental illness and break down the stigma that often prevents those with symptoms from getting the help they need. Their work was featured in an article published March 21 in The Baltimore Sun.

“Many of the folks who need help get lost somehow,” Schiffman said. “”There are so many kids and young adults who slip through the cracks.”

The article details the work behind the study, which will have participants listen to a tape that simulates the voices that those with psychosis hear as they go about their routines, and watch a video in which UMBC students talk about their personal experiences with mental illness.

The research study is part of the overall work Schiffman and his team are doing as part of the Center for Excellence on Early Intervention for Serious Mental Illness, a collaborative effort among the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the university’s Medical Center and UMBC to identify and treat mental illness in young people.

Danielle Denenny and Eryn Bentley, two graduate students working as part of Schiffman’s research team, are also quoted in The Baltimore Sun article titled, “UMBC study among efforts to increase awareness of mental illness.” To read the full story, click here.

Kate Brown, History, Wins Environmental History Book Prize

plutopiaHistory Associate Professor Kate Brown has won the 2014 George Perkins Marsh Prize for her book, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford University Press, 2013).

The award is given by the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) for the best book in environmental history. Brown received her prize March 15 in San Francisco at the annual ASEH conference.

Last fall, Brown presented a Social Sciences Forum on Plutopia which explored the work and research behind her book. More information can be found here.

Robert Provine, Psychology, on BBC News Website

A new Duke University study finds that contagious yawning is linked more closely to a person’s age than their ability to empathize, and it shows a stronger link to age than tiredness or energy levels.

Robert Provine

Psychology Professor Robert Provine was interviewed for a BBC News article about the study and said it was “unique” because it marked the first time a link between ageing and contagious yawning had been demonstrated.

The scientific study of contagious behavior, including yawning and laughing, was conducted in Provine’s lab at UMBC and the new Duke study involved application of his previous methods for examining contagious yawning.

Provine said the findings would “help to get down to the neurological nitty-gritty of contagious behaviors” and mental health disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, adding, “contagious acts such as yawning and laughing remind us that we are often mindless beasts of the herd, not rational beings in full conscious control of our behavior.”

To read the full article on the BBC News website, click here.

UMBC Psychology Research Cited in TES Magazine

A study conducted by researchers at UMBC and the University of Maryland, College Park was featured in a recent Times Educational Supplement article in TES Magazine. The article, titled “To help the little darlings out, let their parents in,” focuses on the study which found that two-thirds of parents think their children are brighter and higher-achieving than their classmates.

The research was conducted by Susan Sonnenschein, an associate professor of psychology, Shari Metzger, a graduate student in the Applied Developmental Psychology program and Laura Stapleton, an associate professor of measurement, statistics and evaluation at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The researchers found that parents who work as classroom assistants develop more of a realistic understanding of their children’s abilities and are able to offer them the specific help they need.

“Ensuring that parents are knowledgeable about their children’s academic skills is important if parents are to effectively assist their children at home with schoolwork,” the researchers said in the report. “Parents who are more knowledgeable about their children’s abilities interact more sensitively with their children, and provide more appropriate learning environments.”

The paper was published in the most recent edition of The Journal of Educational Research. You can read the full article in TES Magazine here.