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Recent Sustainability Research Highlights

The Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET) was formed under a Cooperative agreement between the Earth Science Division of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) in 1995. The JCET family consists of its business staff, students, research faculty, GSFC Sponsors, appointed fellows and affiliated tenured/tenure-track faculty. JCET is an innovative center where these scientists interact in a seamless fashion with the support of an efficient business and administrative unit.

UMBC recently launched the Goddard Planetary Heliophysics Institute (GPHI) through a cooperative agreement with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland. Based at GSFC, GPHI is a center for collaborative research in solar-planetary sciences linking researchers from UMBC, the University of Maryland, College Park, and American University. The Institute focuses on phenomena ranging from solar wind to sunspots, including the effects that weather on the Sun can have on Earth and our orbiting satellites. The recent realignment of the former University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute faculty has brought many new scientific and technology-development assets to UMBC. Maryland Sustainable Mariculture (MSM), a spin-off company founded by UMBC marine biotechnology faculty, is currently negotiating with a group of international investors who plan to lease space at the Columbus Center in downtown Baltimore to model marine aquaculture in a public display. Other partnerships with Federal and State agencies have allowed UMBC to leverage State funds and contribute to the policy arena, the environment (through our Center for Urban Environmental Research& Education – CUERE), health care (through our Hilltop Institute), and teacher education (through the Center for Excellence in STEM Education, and the Maryland Geographic Alliance).

Several UMBC faculty are key researchers on two major federal awards related to sustainability that will receive $32 million over 5 years from NSF.

Under the NSF Sustainability Research Network, “Urban Water Innovation Network (U-WIN): Transitioning Toward Sustainable Urban Water Systems,” led by the University of Colorado at Boulder, will establish six highly connected regional urban water sustainability hubs in densely populated urban regions across the US to serve as innovation centers to help communities transition to sustainable management of water resources. Claire Welty, chemical, biochemical and environmental engineering serves as the U-WIN Associate Director for Research for this national network.

The NSF Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, led by the University of Wisconsin, is a multi-institutional partnership devoted to investigating the fundamental molecular mechanisms by which nanoparticles interact with biological systems to enable the development of nanotechnology in a sustainable manner, for societal benefit. Zeev Rosenzweig, chemistry and biochemistry, serves as UMBC’s lead faculty. The first annual meeting of this center is planned for April 2016 here at UMBC.

Researcher Highlights (Updated 2015)

Jay Herman of JCET/UMBC is the PI on a major satellite instrument. The DSCOVR spacecraft has just started obtaining full Earth view data from the Sun-Earth Lagrange-1 point. This satellite will study climate change and solar flares (Solar Wind) in a totally new way from the L-1 point – a point in deep space where the gravitational pull between Earth and Sun is equal.

Lorraine Remer of JCET/UMBC was appointed Deputy Team Leader to NASA’s PACE (Pre-Aerosols, Clouds and ocean Ecosystem) Science Team. The PACE Science Team will define the science for the PACE mission. PACE is NASA’s only designated global atmospheric and oceanic satellite mission for the 2020s, and Remer will help lead this team to a consensus statement of these science objectives.

An interdisciplinary team of UMBC undergraduates—engineers, environmental scientists, and artists—designed and built a human-powered vehicle for Baltimore City’s “Kinetic Sculpture Race.” Their prize in the race included an invitation to travel to California for the national competition.

Christopher Hennigan, assistant professor, chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering, has received an NSF CAREER Award to conduct research related to understanding the sources, transformation, and fate of pollutants in the atmosphere. This is UMBC’s 28th CAREER Award for young faculty since 1995.

For the third consecutive year, the Homer and Martha Gudelsky Family Foundation has made a generous philanthropic gift to support the sustainable aquaculture work of marine biologist Yonathan “Yoni” Zohar Chair of UMBC’s Department of Marine Biotechnology at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET) in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. This year’s grant of $600,000 is the foundation’s largest gift to Professor Zohar, and brings the foundation’s total support of his pioneering research to nearly $1 million. OTD continued to actively interact with Maryland Sustainable Mariculture (MSM), the Baltimore-based company that licensed UMBC/IMET’s urban aquaculture IP, towards commercialization and scaling up of this technology in Baltimore City.

With funding from industry and BP, Yoni Zohar and his team in marine biotechnology at IMET continued to make progress towards closing the life cycle and developing hatchery technologies for the giant blue fin tuna, with the goal of enabling the aquaculture of this important species that is being fished-out from our oceans.

Kevin Sowers from marine biotechnology and IMET, in collaboration with Upal Ghosh from chemical, biochemical and environmental engineering, started field studies applying their technology to bio-remediate PCBs from heavily polluted waters. Their research is funded by DOD and the town of Altavista, Virginia.

Kevin Omland, biological sciences, is funded by a $1.8 million collaborative grant from the Research Council of Norway. He and his colleagues at the University of Oslo are studying the formation of hybrids between two species of ravens in the western US. This example of “speciation reversal” in ravens is strikingly similar to our own hybridization with Neanderthals, which caused their extinction thousands of years ago. His Ph.D. student, Karan Odom is working on bird song, specifically on female song. She was interviewed live on the BBC World Service about her work showing that that majority of the world’s songbirds have both male and female song, contradicting a belief going back to Darwin. She just presented her work at the American Ornithologists Union Meeting at the University of Oklahoma in which she showed that females likely use song to defend their territories from other females.

Hua Lu, biological sciences, has received a four-year grant from National Science Foundation with a total of $800,000 to study how the circadian clock affects plant innate immunity. The circadian clock has profound influence on physiology and behavior of many organisms, including plants where her work suggests it is essential to plant’s resisting disease-causing pathogens.

Bernard Lohr, biological sciences, has received a fourth consecutive year of funding by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ($80,000) for his lab’s work on the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, the most endangered songbird in the continental U.S. Work led by his graduate student, Sarah Luttrell, produced the first successful hatching of the species in captivity. The work was presented at the meeting of the Association of Field Ornithologists in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Timothy Nohe, director of the Center for Innovation, Research and Creativity in the Arts, and professor of visual arts, has been selected by the Warnock Foundation as a “social innovator” for his work to create accessible online and smartphone delivered urban forest stewardship resources.

History Professor Kate Brown has been awarded an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Collaborative Research Fellowship to study the long-term effects of low doses of radiation on human health in the context of the Chernobyl disaster nearly three decades ago. Brown will be working with Timothy Mousseau, an evolutionary biologist at the University of South Carolina. The two scholars, with Brown providing the humanist perspective and Mousseau the scientist perspective, will collaborate to explore how knowledge and ignorance of the impact of the disaster has been produced over the last thirty years. The two-year project, titled Chernobyl Revisited: An Historical Inquiry into the Practice of Knowing, will aim to historically analyze three decades of scientific research on Chernobyl and Fukushima to highlight the known and debated impact on humans, animals, and plants from long term, low dose exposure to radiation. The research comes at a time when nuclear power is being discussed as a solution to climate change and energy independence.

UMBC’s Dr. Jeffrey Gardner in Biological Sciences received a 2015 DOE Early Career Award for his work in understanding the degradation and regulatory modeling of plant biomass for renewable energy production.

UMBC has joined the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology (CSN) as a primary collaborator on groundbreaking research exploring how modern nanomaterials interact with the environment and living organisms. The center seeks to “use fundamental chemistry to enable the development of nanotechnology in a sustainable manner, for societal benefit.”