UMBC scientists receive Maryland Innovation grant from TEDCO to advance bioremediation of PCB-contaminated sediments

Professor Kevin Sowers, Professor of Marine Biotechnology at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET), and Professor Upal Ghosh, at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, have received a $100,000 grant from the Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII). The grant will fund research to that will ameliorate the environmental harms of PCB’s. The program is an initiative of the Technology Council of Maryland (TEDCO) created in 1998 to spur commercialization of scientific research in Maryland as part of the state’s efforts to foster economic development through academic research.

Sowers is a global leader in environmental science and has pioneered a method that uses activated carbon pellets seeded with microorganisms that degrade the concentration of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in sediments. In recent laboratory experiments, the cultures Sowers created resulted in over 80% reduction in the PCB mass after treatment.

“Our hope is that this method for treating PCB’s will have a tangible impact in restoring previously degraded areas – both on land and in bodies of water,” says Sowers. “PCB’s have long been a harmful and largely intransigent pollutant and our work is intended to address serious health impacts these chemicals have on people, animals and the environment.”

Sowers is collaborating in this work with Upal Ghosh, a professor at the Department of Chemical, Biochemical, and Environmental Engineering at UMBC. “The magnitude of PCB sediment contamination and associated water quality problems in the United States is reflected in more than 3,200 state and local advisories that have warned the public about of the health impacts of consuming contaminated fish. These warnings cover 24% of total river miles throughout the United States,” Ghosh says. “The advisories include 100% of the Great Lakes and 35% of all other lakes nationwide.” PCBs are frequently reported as the leading contaminants at impacted sites. Current remediation technologies are expensive, destructive to environmentally sensitive areas, and difficult to coordinate with local activities. The technology proposed by Sowers and Ghosh addresses existing challenges and is especially suitable for environmentally sensitive sites such as wetlands and difficult-to-reach areas under-pier structures in contaminated harbors. This technology advances an in-situ remediation approach using activated carbon that has been recently developed by Ghosh and commercialized through a startup company Sediment Solutions.

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 between and among the partnership universities and it leverages each institution’s unique strengths.

“The MII program is critically important to our partner universities and the citizens of Maryland,” noted Russell Hill, IMET Director, “because it facilitates the transformation of basic science into practical and far-reaching applications. We are grateful for TEDCO’s support and foresight in addressing this important environmental issue and are proud of the excellent research being done by Dr. Sowers and Dr. Ghosh.”


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 leading 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.


Curtis Menyuk, William Streifer Scientific Achievement Award, COEIT

Curtis Menyuk recently received the The IEEE Photonics Society William Streifer Scientific Achievement Award. The award is given to recognize an exceptional single scientific contribution which has had a significant impact in the field of lasers and electro-optics in the past 10 years. The award is given for a relatively recent, single contribution, which has had a major impact on the Photonics Society research community. It may be given to an individual or a group for a single contribution of significant work in the field. Menyuk received the award, “For seminal advances in the fundamental understanding and mitigation of polarization effects in high-performance optical fiber communication systems.” 

Menyuk received the B.S. and M.S. degrees from MIT in 1976 and the Ph.D. from UCLA in 1981. He has worked as a research associate at the University of Maryland, College Park and at Science Applications International Corporation in McLean, VA. In 1986 he became an Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and he was the founding member of this department. In 1993, he was promoted to Professor. He was on partial leave from UMBC from Fall, 1996 until Fall, 2002. From 1996 – 2001, he worked part-time for the Department of Defense, co-directing the Optical Networking program at the DoD Laboratory for Telecommunications Sciences in Adelphi, MD from 1999 – 2001. In 2001 – 2002, he was Chief Scientist at PhotonEx Corporation. In 2008 – 2009, he was a JILA Visiting Fellow at the University of Colorado. For the last 25 years, his primary research area has been theoretical and computational studies of lasers, nonlinear optics, and fiber optic communications. He has authored or co-authored more than 230 archival journal publications as well as numerous other publications and presentations, and he is a co-inventor of 5 patents. He has also edited three books. The equations and algorithms that he and his research group at UMBC have developed to model optical fiber systems are used extensively in the telecommunications and photonics industry. He is a member of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, and the IEEE. He is a former UMBC Presidential Research Professor.

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.

U.S. News Ranks UMBC’s Information Systems Online M.S. as a Top Program

Congratulations to UMBC’s Department of Information Systems for being ranked a top online graduate program in information technology by U.S. News & World Report. The UMBC program was ranked #19 in the nation, and is one of just two programs in Maryland to appear on the list.

See the rankings.

Learn how U.S. News & World Report calculated the rankings.

Chess Team Places 2nd in “World Series” of College Chess

Congratulations to the UMBC Chess team for placing second in the 2013 Pan-Am Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship held December 27-30, 2013 at Texas Tech. The team will advance to the “Final Four” of chess to be held in New York City in the Spring along with Webster Univ. (1st), Illinois (3rd) and Texas Tech (4th).

During the championship, UMBC defeated the University of West Indies, the University of Toronto, the University of Texas, Brownsville, Webster University C, and the University of Texas, Dallas A. UMBC’s only loss was to Webster University A, in round three. UMBC Team B won the Division V prize.

The UMBC Chess Team A for the 2013 Pan-Am Champioship had the following members.

UMBC chess team fun chess2013-5308

  • Board 1: GM Niclas Huschenbeth (USCF rating 2610)
  • Board 2: GM Akshayraj Kore (2519)
  • Board 3: M Levan Bregadze (2469)
  • Board 4: IM and WGM Nazi Paikidze (2378)
  • Alternate: WGM Sabina Foisor (2315)

Read more about the Pan Am.

Stuart Schwartz, CUERE, on the Marc Steiner Show

On December 17, Stuart Schwartz, a senior research scientist at the Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education (CUERE) was a guest on the Marc Steiner Show.

Schwartz discussed his latest research which uses a kind of Asian radish

“This radish can grow to the size of something between a fat carrot and an egg plant,” says Schwartz to Steiner.

“It’s able to penetrate pretty compacted soils,” adds Schwartz.

And says Schwartz, “We’ve been looking at compacted soils in Baltimore because that creates a lot of runoff.”

Planting these radishes on vacant lots, says Schwartz, is a natural low cost way to address run off problem without having to bring in bulldozers to de-compact the soil.

Find out how the radishes help control run off.


Gymama Slaughter, CSEE, Receives NSF CAREER Award

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on December 11, 2013 that Gymama Slaughter, an assistant professor of computer science and electrical engineering (CSEE), received an NSF CAREER Award.

NSF notes, “The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

“We are delighted about this NSF CAREER Award to Dr. Slaughter,” says Dr. Karl Steiner, Vice President for Research at UMBC. “This prestigious award recognizes Dr. Slaughter’s rapidly growing reputation as a productive and promising researcher and teacher and it also reflects well on UMBC’s ability to attract and nurture top faculty talent as embodied by Dr. Slaughter.”

Slaughter will use the $400,000 award to “fabricate and characterize a self-powered biosensing microsystem that simultaneously generates bioelectricity and monitors glucose.”

Read more about Gymama Slaughter.


First hackUMBC concludes successfully

“Held in the UMBC Skylight Room from 7:00pm Friday to 7:00pm Saturday this past weekend, UMBC’s first-everhackathon was open to all UMBC students of any skill level, from innovators and explorers to designers and hardcore coders. Its purpose was to allow students to mingle and collaborate for 24 continuous hours of community exploration to grow technology projects from scratch while expanding their connections to other students, industry leaders, and faculty. Admission was free and attracted students from across the UMBC campus community, including CS, CE, EE, IS, Biology, Biotechnology, Math, Physics, and Media Studies.”

Read the full story

Amy Hurst, Information Systems, Collaborates on $3.7 million project

Amy Hurst, Collaborates on Multi-University Project To Improve Web and Cloud Computing Accessibility

Will Help People With Disabilities Take Full Advantage of Online Resources

“The researchers are working on methods for easily modifying software to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Researchers will develop ways to make it easier for people with disabilities to log on to the Web, make user interfaces more accessible, and change the presentation of information on the Web to streamline experiences for people with disabilities, caregivers and service providers. The researchers also will look for ways to leverage help from other people on the Web — crowdsourcing — to increase accessibility for all.

“Authentication or logging into a service is an integral yet mundane part of peoples’ Internet experience,” said Yang Wang, assistant professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse. “However, most existing authentication schemes tend to be difficult to use for people with disabilities. We’re very excited about this opportunity to explore new authentication schemes that can provide a much better experience for people with disability.”

The team also will explore ways to dynamically change pointing and clicking actions on Web pages. “For example, if an individual is having difficulty smoothly controlling a mouse, we could detect this and smooth their input,” said Amy Hurst, assistant professor of human-centered computing in the Information Systems Department at UMBC.”

Read the full article