Alycia Marshall ’95, Mathematics, Wins National STEM Award

Alycia Marshall ’95, mathematics, was named one of 100 Inspiring Women in STEM by Insight into Diversity for her work with the Engineering Scholars Program at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC).

alycia-marshallMarshall drew on her experience working with Meyerhoff Scholars at UMBC to start the Engineering Scholars Program at AACC with help from a National Science Foundation grant. As the principal investigator for the program, Marshall was instrumental in connecting underrepresented students with scholarships, mentoring, and support services.

Read “AACC professor selected for national STEM award” on Eye on Annapolis.

Michael Summers, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Awarded Distinguished Scientist Fellowship

Mike2012Michael Summers, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, was awarded a Distinguished Scientist fellowship from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). CAS is the national academy for natural sciences in China and offers the President’s International Fellowship Initiative (PIFI), which gives highly-qualified scientists from around the world the opportunity to work, study, and collaborate with Chinese institutions and researchers.

Summers was one of 30 scientists worldwide awarded a 2015 Distinguished Scientist fellowship by CAS and will conduct a lecture tour in China next month. Distinguished Scientists are internationally recognized for their research and are chosen for their outstanding scientific accomplishments.

UMBC Biological Sciences Faculty Explain Benefits of Active Learning in Nature News

Sarah LeupenSeveral UMBC biological sciences faculty and staff were featured in a Nature article on July 15 about the benefits of active learning in science courses. Neuroscientist Sarah Leupen was quoted in the story and described a question that spurs interesting discussion in her introductory physiology class: You’re innocently walking down the street when aliens zap away the sensory neurons in your legs. What happens?

“We usually get lots of vigorous debate on this one,” said Leupen, who spends most of her class time firing such questions at her students. “It’s lovely to experience.” Leupen said the students grapple with the material they learn by discussing the options in teams. And if a team gets a question wrong, she says, “that’s usually a good thing — because then they really remember it.”

Jeff LeipsJeff Leips, a professor of biological sciences, is also quoted in the article and said it requires compromise to get past simply communicating factual knowledge covered in a course. “You have to accept that you can’t cover everything to the same level,” he said.

Linda Hodges, a biochemist and head of the Faculty Development Center at UMBC, is the author of a forthcoming book on overcoming obstacles to education reform. She noted that for many scientists, active learning can be at odds with their beliefs about teaching content and the factual knowledge covered in a given course.

Read “Why we are teaching science wrong, and how to make it right,” in Nature.

Judges Needed for Undergraduate Research Symposium

undergradsymposiumCNMS is very pleased to announce that the 18th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Chemical and Biological Sciences will take place on Saturday, October 3, 2015 at UMBC.

As in prior years, the Symposium invites mentor-approved submissions from undergraduates investigating any aspect of chemistry, biology, or biochemistry. Research results will be disseminated in a daylong event that typically offers more than 200 student contributions and gathers more than 400 beginning scientists, mentors, and other guests. The event features two sessions of posters judged by pairs of participating mentors and other qualified attendees. Judges will rank first and second place posters in each category with non-financial awards presented at the event’s end. STEM-focused workshops offered during the morning and afternoon will be of added interest to student researchers.

Faculty judges are critical to the success of the event. We ask faculty members to please consider volunteering when registering. Additional information about judging is provide on the website.

Judges are asked to complete advanced registration by Midnight EST, September 15, 2015

Bill LaCourse, College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, Describes STEM Retention Efforts in eCampus News

A National Center for Education Statistics report found that 48% of undergraduate students who entered science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) fields in 2003-2009 left those majors by spring 2009, sparking discussions about how the U.S. can increase the number of qualified candidates in STEM fields. Bill LaCourse, dean of the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, spoke to eCampus News this week about strategies used at UMBC to retain students in those majors.

billlacourse“Students come into college interested in STEM, but [schools] do a lot of things to push them away,” LaCourse said. He urged colleges to rethink the way they teach STEM courses and make student retention a campus-wide effort. LaCourse also discusses STEM BUILD@UMBC, a holistic student support initiative supported by a National Institutes of Health grant. The initiative uses professional advisors, supportive student communities, and inter-collegiate collaboration to better engage students. “This country needs more scientists, more medical professionals, and more technology gurus… and achieving that goal starts with active, interesting learning that keeps students engaged throughout their educational careers and beyond,” he said.

The article also quoted a previous conversation with President Hrabowski on the same topic. In the article, Dr. Hrabowki spoke about “weed-out” classes as part of the problem in students leaving STEM majors.

Click here to read “Universities share best practices to retain STEM students.”

Eileen Meyer and Markos Georganopoulos, Physics, Use Hubble Telescope to Observe Rare “Shock Collision”

Eileen Meyer and Markos Georganopoulos, physics, published an article in Nature last week detailing their research on black holes. Meyer, the lead author of the paper, is completing a postdoctoral position at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore before beginning her professorship at UMBC.

Eileen-Meyer_bioUsing photographs taken with the Hubble Space Telescope over the past 25 years, Meyer and Georganopoulos observed a “shock collision” of plasma jets, indicating that plasma jets run into each other and gain energy in that manner. “Something like this has never been seen before in an extragalactic jet,” Meyer said. “This will allow us a very rare opportunity to see how the kinetic energy of the collision is dissipated into radiation.”

Georganopoulos_markos-bio-“The collision of outward moving components in jets has long been known, but this is the first time we actually see it happening,” co-author Markos Georganopoulos told Discovery News.

View a time-lapse of shock collision below:

Their research has received national and international media attention. Read coverage of their study below:
Hubble spots a high-speed collision in an extragalactic jet (L.A. Times)
Watch a Superfast Jet of Gas Burst from a Massive Black Hole (TIME)
Black hole glimpsed playing cosmic billiards (BBC)
Hubble Witness to Relativistic Crash in a Black Hole Jet (Discovery)
UMBC physicists witness black hole history: ‘Something like this has never been seen before’ (

Biological Sciences Faculty and Ph.D. Student Find Light-Sensitive Components in Cephalopod Skin

croninThomas Cronin, biological sciences, and Alexandra Kingston, Ph.D. candidate in biological sciences, worked with scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts to find that squid and cuttlefish possess light-sensitive proteins called opsins on their skin. Their findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Biology last week and have received widespread media coverage.

Their discovery suggests, but does not prove, that cephalopods might be able to sense light through their skin. “All the machinery is there for them to be light-sensitive but we can’t prove that,” Cronin told National Geographic. “We don’t know if they contribute to camouflage or are just general light sensors for circadian cycling or are driving hormonal changes. They have a job to do but we don’t know what it is.”

Click here to read “Octopuses, and Maybe Squid, Can Sense Light With Their Skin” in National Geographic.

Additional coverage:
Light Sensors in Cephalopod Skin (The Scientist)
Scientists say octopuses use opsins in their skin to detect light and color, not their eyes (Standard Daily)
Cephalopods can sense Light through Skin (NY City News)
Cephalopods skin is intrinsically light sensitive contributing to unique and novel patterning abilities (US Finance Post)