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)

Jeffrey Gardner Receives Dept. of Energy Early Career Award

gardnerThe U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected UMBC’s Jeffrey Gardner, assistant professor of biological sciences, for a 2015 Early Career Research Program award. This program supports exceptional researchers early in their careers, when many scientists do their most formative work.

The DOE award will provide five years of support for Dr. Gardner’s research into the use of plants as a renewable energy source. Most animals can’t use wood as an energy source because they are unable to digest plant cell walls. Termites are able to get energy from wood thanks to the help of bacteria that live in the termites’ digestive system. Similarly, bacteria living in soil can digest freshly fallen wood and other plant materials, which gives the bacteria energy while converting the fallen plant material into more soil.

The Gardner lab is focused on improving our understanding of one of these soil bacteria, in the hope that the techniques used by these bacteria to extract energy from plants can someday be used by humans as a renewable source of clean energy. Dr. Gardner’s work is focused on how this particular species of bacterium is able to detect the presence of digestible plant material and on how these bacteria regulate the production of chemicals they use to digest it efficiently. Dr. Gardner takes an interdisciplinary approach, studying both the genetics and biochemistry of the bacteria.

“I am extremely excited to be selected for a DOE Early Career Award,” said Dr. Gardner. “It presents an excellent opportunity to pursue fundamental research that can translate into applied bioenergy solutions.”

COEIT and CNMS Host AAAS “Communicating Science” Faculty Workshop

AAAS19On Friday, April 10, the College of Engineering and Information Technology and College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences hosted a “Communicating Science” workshop for STEM faculty, organized through UMBC’s Office of Institutional Advancement. Over 40 faculty registered for the day-long event.

Speaker Linda Hosler from the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) presented strategies for communicating scientific research to public audiences and media. Faculty honed concise, accessible messages about their scientific research and practiced presentations on camera and in an interview setting. The workshop also helped researchers identify pathways and opportunities to communicate about scientific research with a range of audiences, from policy makers and funding agencies, to news media, to students and colleagues in other fields.

Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Their Legacy for Today (4/21)

Rachel CarsonAuthor Lecture and Book Signing, Organic Refreshments
Tuesday, April 21, 4-6 p.m.
Albin O. Kuhn Library, 7th floor

As part of Earth Week at UMBC, Dr. Robert K. Musil will present a talk on his book Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America’s Environment (Rutgers University Press, 2014). Dr. Musil is president of the Rachel Carson Council, senior fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, American University, and former CEO of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

In the book, Dr. Musil tells the story of Rachel Carson, who is credited with advancing the global environment movement. The following description of the book is posted on its website: “In Rachel Carson and Her Sisters, Robert K. Musil redefines the achievements and legacy of environmental pioneer and scientist Rachel Carson, linking her work to a wide network of American women activists and writers and introducing her to a new, contemporary audience. Rachel Carson was the first American to combine two longstanding, but separate strands of American environmentalism—the love of nature and a concern for human health. Widely known for her 1962 best-seller, Silent Spring, Carson is today often perceived as a solitary ‘great woman,’ whose work single-handedly launched a modern environmental movement.”

The event is sponsored by several groups on campus, including The College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, The College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, Biological Sciences Department, Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, Education Department, Gender and Women’s Studies Department, Geography and Environmental Systems Department, History Department, Honors College, Interdisciplinary Studies Program, Sustainability Matters, and Women in Science and Engineering Group.

Vanderlei Martins on the Value of Cube Satellites

CubeSatVanderlei Martins, a professor of physics and researcher with the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET) joined Sheilah Kast on Maryland Morning to discuss his cube satellite or CubeSat project. Martins is working with students, other professors and NASA scientists to build the backpack-sized satellite. Martins plans to use his tiny satellite to study the role of aerosols, particles in the atmosphere, in cloud formation. Aerosols, he says, are essential for forming clouds. If there weren’t any aerosols there wouldn’t be any clouds.

Listen to the program


Biology and Batteries

In the quest to make a better battery Evgenia Barannikova, a graduate student at UMBC in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, has isolated a peptide, a small sequence of amino acids, which binds to lithium manganese nickel oxide (LMNO), a material that can be used to make high performance batteries.


“Biology provides several tools for us to solve important problems,” said Evgenia Barannikova, a graduate student at UMBC. Barannikova works in the lab of Mark Allen and studies how biological molecules in general can improve the properties of  in batteries. “By mimicking biological processes we can find the better solution,” she told

Read more at: 
Scientific American

8th Frontiers at the Chemistry Biology Interface Symposium (5/16)

15548045321_db56861c58_zThis day-long symposium is designed to highlight research in the mid-Atlantic region and provide an intimate environment to foster discussion at all levels. The schedule will include invited and submitted talks as well as poster sessions. There is no charge to attend this symposium, and everyone – Research Scientists, Faculty, Post-Docs and Graduate Students – involved in research from academic, government and local industrial institutions is encouraged to participate.

This year’s symposium is hosted by the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UMBC on May 16, 2015.

Click here for more information.