Research Discoveries

PORTABLE AI DEVICE TURNS COUGHING SOUNDS INTO HEALTH DATA FOR FLU FORECASTING
UMass Amherst researchers Tauhidur Rahman and Forsad Al Hossain ’24PhD have invented a portable surveillance device powered by machine learning called FluSense, which can detect coughing and crowd size in real time, then analyze the data to directly monitor flu-like illnesses and respiratory illness trends.

The FluSense creators say the new edge-computing platform, envisioned for use in hospitals, health care waiting rooms, and larger public spaces, may expand the arsenal of health surveillance tools used to forecast seasonal flu and other viral respiratory outbreaks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or SARS. Results of their study were published in Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. mosaic.cs.umass.edu

UMASS EXPERT FINDS DISINFORMATION PRODUCTION HAS BECOME DIVERSIFIED AND ‘DEMOCRATIZED’
A new report co-authored by Jonathan Corpus Ong, associate professor of global digital media in the Department of Communication, highlights key trends in election-related disinformation and integrity interventions from the study of three Southeast Asian nations.

The report, published by the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, offers to shed new light on the various ways in which state actors themselves are actively involved in disinformation production.

UMASS GRANTED $10 MILLION TO STUDY JAIL-BASED OPIOID ADDICTION TREATMENT
Elizabeth Evans, co-principal investigator and UMass Amherst assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, is among the scientists at a dozen institutions nationwide to form the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network (JCOIN), an ambitious, $155 million effort funded by the National Institutes of Health to improve opioid addiction treatment in criminal justice settings. Over the next five years, researchers will study the impact of evidence-based medications for opioid use disorder, behavioral interventions, digital therapeutics, and patient-centered treatments in 15 states and Puerto Rico. They will focus on a range of justice settings, including jails, drug and problem-solving courts, policing and diversion, and probation and parole.

DANCE PROFESSOR DIRECTS NEA-FUNDED CLINICAL TRIAL
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) approved funding for a clinical trial led by Aston K. McCullough, assistant professor of dance science in the Department of Music and Dance.

The two-year trial will determine the effects of a group-based dance/movement program on physical and mental health in women who are survivors of domestic/intimate partner violence. The study seeks to confirm a dose-response relationship between exposures to group-based dance/movement, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, and changes in heart rate variability among survivors. The $190,000 trial is funded by a $95,000 NEA Research: Art Works award, with additional support from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

COMPUTER SCIENCE-MATH-ENGINEERING TEAM FORMS NEW NSF INSTITUTE
The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded a collaborative team, led by Associate Professor Andrew McGregor (computer science), a three-year, $1.5 million grant to further develop the foundations of data science in a project that created NSF’s national TRIPODS Institute for Theoretical Foundations of Data Science. Based at UMass Amherst, the institute conducts rigorous analyses of existing data sciences approaches, together with the development of new ideas to ensure the optimal use of available computational and statistical resources, and to develop a principled and systematic approach to relevant problems rather than relying on a collection of ad hoc solutions.

NEW MECHANISM INVOLVED IN PROMOTING BREAST CANCER IDENTIFIED
A new approach to studying the effects of two common chemicals used in cosmetics and sunscreens found they can cause DNA damage in breast cells at surprisingly low concentrations, while the same dose did not harm cells without estrogen receptors.

The research, published January 15, 2020, in Environmental Health Perspectives, identifies a new mechanism by which estrogens and xenoestrogens—environmental chemicals that act like estrogens— may promote breast cancer, says D. Joseph Jerry, UMass Amherst professor of veterinary and animal sciences. Jerry also serves as science director of the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute and co-director of the Rays of Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research, in a partnership between UMass Amherst and Baystate Medical Center.

GETMANSKY SHERMAN CO-LEADS EFFORT TO COMBAT CATASTROPHES WITH BIG DATA
Mila Getmansky Sherman, a finance professor in the Isenberg School of Management, is co-leading a multi-disciplinary team from around the United States to use big data to identify risk factors across systems for catastrophic events such as major power outages and natural disasters. The team has received a $2.42 million grant under the National Science Foundation’s Harnessing the Data Revolution Big Idea program.

TECHNOLOGY BEING DEVELOPED TO DETECT FOODBORNE DISEASE
UMass Amherst food scientist Matthew Moore has received two grants from the USDA to apply new technology in an effort to more quickly detect and trace foodborne disease caused by noroviruses and bacteria. Under the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, Moore and UMass Amherst associate professor of chemistry Min Chen received a $490,000 grant to develop and evaluate a portable sensing device capable of both identifying and subtyping foodborne pathogens, including bacteria and viruses.

MATERIALS SCIENTISTS BUILD SYNTHETIC SYSTEM WITH COMPARTMENTS LIKE REAL CELLS
Polymer chemists and materials scientists have achieved some notable advances that mimic nature, but one of the most common and practical features of cells has so far been out of reach: intracellular compartmentalization. It refers to the way many different organelles, vesicles, and other “water-in-water” soft structures in the cell contain and isolate chemical reactions and processes.

A research team, led by UMass Amherst’s Professor Thomas Russell ’79PhD, reveals how they take advantage of differences in electrical charge to create an “all aqueous,” water-in-water construct that achieves compartmentalization in a synthetic system. Details appear in the August 22, 2019, issue of Chem.

NECKLACE-LIKE WIRELESS DEVICE TO IMPROVE UNDERSTANDING OF SCHIZOPHRENIA
Two high-tech health researchers at UMass Amherst have received a $1.15 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a wireless device worn like a necklace that aims to transform the understanding and treatment of schizophrenia.

Sunghoon Ivan Lee and Jie Xiong, both assistant professors at the College of Information and Computer Sciences, took on the project after a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital approached Lee about inventing a way to measure the social interactions of people with schizophrenia. Lee and Xiong will carry out their research in the Center for Personalized Health Monitoring at UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences.

RESEARCHERS FIND EXPLANATIONS FOR GENDER PAY GAPS ACROSS GOVERNMENT SCIENCE AGENCIES
While government employment is commonly believed to be controlled by neutral, formal pay structures, new research from a team led by UMass Amherst sociologist Laurel Smith-Doerr has found that, in a number of science-based federal agencies, gaps and differential implementation in current standardization schemes create gendered outcomes. The research indicates that the resulting pay gaps between men and women at these agencies can also be associated with the cultural gender frames of the agencies’ field of research.

The complete report, “Gender Pay Gaps in U.S. Federal Science Agencies: An Organizational Approach,” is available online at the American Journal of Sociology website.

RESEARCH SHOWS NANOPLASTICS ACCUMULATING IN PLANT TISSUES
As concern grows among environmentalists and consumers about micro and nanoplastics in the oceans and in seafood, UMass Amherst environmental scientist Baoshan Xing says little is known about the behavior of nanoplastics in terrestrial environments, especially agricultural soils. Now, Xing and collaborators at Shandong University, China, provide direct evidence that nanoplastics can accumulate in plants, depending on their surface charge. Plant accumulation of nanoplastics can have both direct ecological effects and implications for agricultural sustainability and food safety. Details are in the June 22, 2020, article in Nature Nanotechnology.

ENVIRONMENTAL DNA IN RIVERS OFFERS NEW TOOL FOR DETECTING WILDLIFE COMMUNITIES
Collaborating with researchers in England and Scotland, UMass Amherst ecologists Christopher Sutherland and Joseph Drake ’22PhD report a new method of identifying an “entire community of mammals”—including elusive and endangered species that are otherwise difficult to monitor—by collecting environmental DNA (eDNA) from river water. The team set out to validate the eDNA method because it may offer a monitoring tool that could revolutionize conservation and ecology research. Details of their international collaborative work are in the March 10, 2020, issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology.

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