UMBC Research Forum Tackles High-Performance Computing

UMBC hosted its semi-annual Research Forum on May 1, 2015.  This semester’s forum focused on the role high-performance computing (HPC) can play in a variety of interdisciplinary applications, and featured speakers from diverse programs such as information systems, chemistry and biochemistry, geography and environmental systems, and computer science and electrical engineering.  UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski noted, “The mid-Atlantic region has one of the greatest concentrations of super-computing in the world.  That gives us a certain advantage as researchers.”  One key advantage is the facility of creating partnerships, “not just between universities, but with companies,” Hrabowski said.

HighPerformanceComputingThe forum keynote speaker, Al Grasso, is the CEO of MITRE Corporation, a critical UMBC partner.  MITRE and the University System of Maryland are developing the first federally-funded research and development center (FFRDC) devoted exclusively to cybersecurity.  It’s also unique among the FFRDCs, because it addresses applications in both the public and private sectors.

“I couldn’t think of a better partner to have to deal with one of the most complex problems that this nation and, quite frankly, the world face today,” said Grasso of UMBC.  The group of institutions involved in the FFRDC is “the brain trust in this country” for cybersecurity, Grasso added.  While the current partnership is focused on the FFRDC and cybersecurity, Grasso hopes MITRE’s partnership with UMBC will expand.  “What excites me is not only what we’re doing today, but what we could be doing in the future,” he said.

Jack Suess, UMBC Vice President of Information Technology, said, “HPC is the poster child for these kinds of collaborations here at UMBC.”  Several industry partners and 16 departments at UMBC have all contributed funds to grow the university’s computing power for research, which creates a “robust HPC environment,” he said.  Matthias Gobbert, Director of the High-performance Computing Facility at UMBC, added that in April 2015 there were 71 active users of the facility from 28 different research groups on campus.  Seventeen theses and 181 other publications have come from work done at the facility since 2008.

UMBC’s growing computing power is impressive, but research on these machines addresses fundamental questions that are “nothing new,” according to Milt Halem, UMBC Site Director of the Center for Hybrid Multicore Productivity.  Compared to several decades ago, “what’s different is the scale and scope of these problems,” he said.

A panel at the forum addressed how HPC can impact health care.  “High-performance computing has the potential to completely change the way we practice medicine,” said Eliot Siegel, Professor of Diagnostic Radiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  He envisions doctors using gigantic databases to help recommend treatments and make prognoses based on thousands of data points from patients with similar backgrounds and symptoms.  With fingertip access to thorough aggregate health information and advanced computational tools, doctors could answer some patient questions, like “How likely is my cancer to go into remission with surgery alone?” in seconds rather than days.

Ian Stockwell, Director of Special Studies at UMBC’s Hilltop Institute, sees another use for HPC in health care.  “Health and medicine are not the same thing,” he said.  Getting to a doctor’s office or pharmacy is a challenge for many, and housing quality and location can play a big role in physical and emotional health, too.  Stockwell is working on using HPC to integrate information about an individual’s lifestyle and medical history, which would allow for a more holistic approach to health.  That would create the possibility of providing non-medical (and often less-expensive) interventions that improve health.  Stockwell acknowledges the challenges to an integrative approach, such as initially getting individuals to fill out extensive surveys about their lifestyle, but “anything we can do is better than the status quo,” he said.

The two afternoon panels focused on cybersecurity and on modeling, simulation and visualization.  Poster sessions allowed for mingling, in hopes that attendees would forge new collaborations.  Irene Qualters, Director of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure at the National Science Foundation, also spoke.  She emphasized the diversity of computational requirements and instrumentation for new research projects.  She also addressed the unprecedented growth in data collection that HPC makes possible and the importance of collaboration.  “Collaborations are geographically distributed and conversations are international,” she said.  And, with research budgets expected to stay flat, “that will be more incentive to collaborate across agencies,” she added.

While challenges like funding can make research today tricky, Qualters is quick to point out the silver lining.  “This is a world of opportunity.  This is an important and a very exciting time, and I hope you’re feeling it at your institution,” she said.  The Research Forum and new FFRDC demonstrate that UMBC is pouncing on new opportunities.  President Hrabowski acknowledged that in this era of tight funding, “the name of the game will be interdisciplinarity, collaboration, having the right attitude, multi-year process, and execution,” he said.  “Welcome to UMBC.”

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.”

Amanda Knapp Featured in AMA’s Get Women Riding Campaign

AmandaKnappDuring the month of May the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) is launching the Get Women Riding Campaign. The program promotes motorcycling to women and girls.

As part of this national campaign, Amanda Knapp, assistant vice provost of academic standards and policy administration, is featured on the AMA website alongside inspirational women of motorcycling. Serving as a positive advocate for the sport, Knapp continues to inspire young girls and women to get out and ride, “overcoming the societal stereotype that motorcycling is something for men only.”

Click here to see Knapp’s profile on the American Motorcyclist Association’s website.

Nancy Kusmaul, Social Work, Selected for 2015 Hartford Change AGEnts Policy Institute

Nancy Kusmaul, an assistant professor of social work, was recently selected to participate in the 2015 Hartford Change AGEnts Policy Institute. She is one of 18 scholars to be selected from a nationwide pool of highly qualified candidates. The institute takes place from June 7-9 in Washington, D.C.

As part of the program, Kusmaul will be analyzing policy issues in a collaborative environment and will work to develop strategies to leverage stakeholder support through coalitions and grassroots efforts. Topics at the institute range from federal policy and regulatory change to state and local policy work.

Nancy KusmaulDuring the institute experience, participants will go to Capitol Hill and to other federal regulatory offices to meet with representatives. Kusmaul will be discussing improvements to nursing home regulations to make nursing home care more person-centered. She hopes to meet with Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings and Senator Barbara Mikluski while on the Hill.

“I am passionate about improving nursing home care for older adults in this country. This institute allows me to shape the policies that impact the day to day lives of the people I have worked with as a nursing home social worker and continue to work with as a social work researcher,” Kusmaul shares.

The Policy Institute is one of many opportunities offered by the interprofessional Hartford Change AGEnts Initiative. The Initiative leverages the John. A. Hartford Foundation’s powerful community—helping its scholars and grantees learn from and support one another while they adopt, evaluate, and sustain changes in practice and service delivery that improve the health of older Americans and their families.

The Hartford Change AGEnts Grant is operated out of The Gerontological Society of America. The Society is a national organization of professionals in the field of aging and is dedicated to the promotion of scientific study. It is designed to encourage exchanges among researchers and practitioners and to foster the use of gerontological research in forming public policy.

Further information about the Hartford Change AGEnts Initiative and the Policy Institute is available here.

V-LINC Honors Department of Mechanical Engineering for “Partnership of the Year”

Rothman Award

From left: Darek Bushnaq, V-LINC President, Theo Pinette, Executive Director, Neil Rothman, Mechanical Engineering Professor, and Angela Tyler, Volunteer Manager

On April 30, V-LINC honored UMBC’s department of mechanical engineering at their annual volunteer recognition event at the Cylburn Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. V-LINC is a Baltimore-based non-profit organization that connects engineers and people with disabilities to create technological solutions to improve participants’ independence and quality of life.

The mechanical engineering department received V-LINC’s “Partnership of the Year” honor. Professor of the Practice Neil Rothman, mechanical engineering, accepted the award on behalf of the department. Rothman has worked with student teams to design innovative solutions for V-LINC clients, including an adaptive swing, interchangeable tool, squeeze machine, and elliptical machine.

UMBC was one of several organizations honored by V-LINC at their volunteer recognition event. Other awardees included Johns Hopkins University’s department of bio-medical engineering and the Baltimore chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. UMBC has enjoyed a long history of partnership with V-LINC. Dean Drake, associate vice-president for research, serves on V-LINC’s board of directors and David Salkever, public policy, was one of the co-founders of LINC, a predecessor organization.

Constantine Vaporis, History, To Serve as Smithsonian Journeys Expert in Japan

vaporisIn April 2014, Asian Studies Program Director Constantine Vaporis was selected as a Smithsonian expert for tours of Japan. Vaporis is leaving next week to deliver five formal lectures and will also be providing the informal educational component for the tour, Eternal Japan: From Tokyo to Kyoto. The formal lectures are as follows:

  1. From Edo to Tokyo
  2. The Countryside and Agriculture in Japan: Past and Present
  3. Sake: From Rice to Ritual
  4. Samurai and the Castle Towns of Tokugawa Japan
  5. Buddhism & Japan’s Ancient Capitals

To read a profile of Vaporis on the Smithsonian Journeys website, click here.

UMBC in Times Higher Education’s “100 Under 50″ 2015 Rankings

100-under-50-logoUMBC has been named to the Times Higher Education “100 Under 50″ ranking for the fourth consecutive year — one of seven U.S. universities to be recognized on this year’s list. THE’s “100 Under 50″ ranks the top 100 universities worldwide under 50 years old.

“So many universities in this ranking have shown they can match the ancient global elite and have proven that with the right drive, what others have developed over centuries can be achieved in a matter of decades,” said Phil Baty, editor of THE. “They are a truly exciting and dynamic group of institutions which should serve as a lesson to the rest of the world – that the traditional global world order is not unassailable and visionary young universities can break through.”

Click here for details.