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UMass Amherst Computer Scientists Offer WiFi-Based Contact-Tracing Software for National Campus Use

Subhead: WiFi-based software stresses individual privacy in digital contact tracingContact Name: Amee TrivediContact Email: ameetrivedi@umass.eduAugust 5, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Researchers at the Center for Smart and Connected Society at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently released a new digital contact-tracing technique that is based on widely-deployed WiFi technology. They intend the open-source software tool and user manual to help universities and colleges deploy campus contact-tracing as students return under special pandemic management rules this fall.

The project is led by the center’s director, Prashant Shenoy, a professor and associate dean of the College of Information and Computer Sciences. His doctoral student Amee Trivedi created “WiFiTrace” as part of her Ph.D. thesis work. The project also had support from Peter Reinhart, director of UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences.

Public health planners at UMass Amherst are very interested in the software and they are exploring how it may be used in the future to enhance contact-tracing capabilities.

As Shenoy explains, “Unlike Bluetooth-based approaches that require a critical mass of adoption to be effective, WiFi-based contact tracing can be easily deployed by health professionals at universities using our software.” He and Trivedi say they paid very careful attention during WiFiTrace’s development to privacy concerns, so data remains anonymous until people seeking health care provide consent for it to be used.

Shenoy explains that for security reasons such as countering cyber-attacks or network hackers, for example, many colleges and universities already use a campus WiFi network that logs anonymized data on device use. For WiFiTrace use by health professionals, a person who reports to a campus health clinic or a physician that they have become sick may be asked for permission to trace their movements for a period leading up to their illness.

Shenoy points out, “It has always been done with manual methods and interviews until now. We are offering health professionals an additional source of information, that is, what you can get from WiFi logs. People must give permission to search those logs to trace them.” The new software only applies to very specific situations and is entirely confidential and voluntary, he adds.

Trivedi recalls how this idea began in 2016 when she and Shenoy, an expert in how artificial intelligence and machine learning can support energy sustainability, began a project for her doctoral work exploring the use of WiFi data logs for building occupancy detection. The idea was to help managers program heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to save energy and provide user comfort.

“Since then we’ve had a meningitis outbreak and a couple of flu seasons, so we began learning how to use WiFi log data to track an outbreak,” she notes. “As universities move forward with fall reopening this year, the ability to perform contact tracing we hope will be a useful tool for health professionals to manage the early spread of COVID-19 on college campuses.”

Trivedi’s ongoing research at UMass Amherst’s College of Information and Computer Sciences focuses on understanding human and device mobility dynamics with applications to health. She points out that “WiFiTrace” is complementary to bluetooth and not meant to replace it. WiFi systems “work on the network side,” she explains, so users do not need to install apps or take any special actions. By contrast, bluetooth requires a user to install apps on their smartphone and go through a series of approvals to use it. Bluetooth apps also tend to drain the battery quickly, she notes.

 

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst Computer Scientists Offer WiFi-Based Contact-Tracing Software for National Campus UseNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst Computer Scientists Offer WiFi-Based Contact-Tracing Software for National Campus UseTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Researchers at the Center for Smart and Connected Society at UMass recently released a new digital contact-tracing technique that is based on widely-deployed WiFi technology. They intend the open-source software tool and user manual to help universities and colleges deploy campus contact-tracing as students return under special pandemic management rules this fall.

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Ana Caicedo Receives an Alexander von Humboldt Research Award

August 5, 2020

Evolutionary biologist Ana Caicedo, associate professor of biology, has received an Alexander von Humboldt Research Award to support her collaboration with Detlef Weigel, head of the molecular biology department and executive director of the Max Plank Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. Caicedo spent the recent spring semester there as a guest researcher while on sabbatical.

She studies how plants adapt to new environments such as those created by agriculture. Her research focuses on the domestication of crops – a recent study traced the evolution of tomatoes – and the evolution of agricultural weeds, such as weedy rice.

She says of the honor, “I’m delighted at being given this opportunity to work with collaborators in Germany. This award is particularly meaningful to me, given that many of Humboldt’s insights came from his explorations of South America, which is where I grew up.”

She adds, “The Humboldt will make it possible for me to collaborate with Detlef on trying to understand the evolution of agricultural weeds. In particular, we plan to focus on species from the genus Echinochloa– often called barnyard grass – which are among the worst weeds in the world and have evolved resistance to multiple herbicides.”

These weeds have worldwide distribution and invade rice fields primarily, she adds, but also wheat and other crops in countries where rice isn’t grown. “There is some taxonomic confusion among weeds in this group, and there are also some cultivated species whose relationships to the weeds aren’t known. I’m interested in determining the relationship among barnyard grass infestations around the world and why they are such successful weeds.”

The Humboldt Research Award honors scientists and researchers who have distinguished themselves through their fundamental findings over their scientific career and from whom further important achievements can be expected in the future. The foundation awards 100 such research awards per year. Award winners may be invited to spend up to one year cooperating on a long-term research project with specialist colleagues at a research institution in Germany. The award is valued at €60,000.

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Evolutionary biologist Ana Caicedo, associate professor of biology, has received an Alexander von Humboldt Research Award to support her collaboration with Detlef Weigel, head of the molecular biology department and executive director of the Max Plank Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. 

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Weekly Update (Generated Aug. 4, 2020) on the Cumulative U.S. Death Predictions From the COVID-19 Forecast Hub

Contact Name: Nicholas ReichContact Email: nick@umass.eduAugust 5, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Weekly update (generated Aug. 4, 2020) on the cumulative U.S. death predictions from the COVID-19 Forecast Hub.

Nicholas Reich, director of the UMass Influenza Forecasting Center of Excellence and associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, is available to discuss the updated projections, four weeks out, for number of COVID-19 deaths nationally and by state.

Last week, Reich’s team launched a weekly web-based report summarizing key findings from the latest modeling efforts.

According to this week’s report, the new forecast for cumulative U.S. deaths by Aug. 29 is 181,000, with between 6,500 and 7,400 deaths each week for the next four weeks. Last week’s ensemble forecast predicted between 6,900 and 7,500 deaths each week.

For the week ending Aug. 29, the ensemble shows “substantial uncertainty,” with observed deaths between 4,500 and 10,500 deemed possible.

This week’s ensemble model, curated by Reich and his team, combined forecasts from 32 models produced by teams of highly respected infectious-disease forecasters from prominent institutions.

Reich says, “We note that this week several states, most notably Texas, modified the way in which they were reporting ‘probable’ COVID-19 deaths. In Texas, this resulted in a one-time additional count of over 600 deaths in the data that we consider to be ‘ground truth.’ ”

While models in July generally showed broad agreement about the trajectory of the outbreak, “the recent surge in cases has left models with quite different interpretations about what the next few weeks hold in terms of how many reported deaths from COVID-19 we will see,” Reich’s report states.

In the report’s state-by-state breakdown, the latest model estimates that 41 states and U.S. territories have a greater than 50% chance of recording more deaths in the next two weeks compared to the past two weeks. The report also includes sortable and searchable tables that calculate an average daily number of deaths per 100,000 people in each state over the past two weeks, ending Aug. 1, and forecast for the following two weeks, ending Aug. 15.

“Looking at the rate allows for easier comparison across states, where you can see which states have had or are predicted to have proportionally higher rates in comparison to other states,” the report states.

For more information, follow Reich on Twitter @reichlab.

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Weekly update (generated Aug. 4, 2020) on the cumulative U.S. death predictions from the COVID-19 Forecast Hub.

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How Cells Keep Growing Even When Under Attack

Subhead: New findings on stress leads to pathway diversion, putting resources into growthContact Name: Peter ChienContact Email: pchien@umass.eduAugust 5, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – In an unexpected new finding, biochemists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst report observing that a damage-containment system in stressed bacteria can become overrun and blocked, but that this leads to cells responding by turning on very different pathways to make sure that normal growth continues.

Rilee Zeinert, a doctoral student in the Molecular and Cell Biology Program and his advisor, professor Peter Chien, report on their recent experiments and discovery about how bacteria switch gears to respond to different stresses but still maintain normal cell functions like DNA replication in the recent issue of the Cell journal, Molecular Cell. Other contributing authors include Benjamin Tu and Hamid Baniasadi at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Chien says that because all cells must maintain normal growth even during stressful conditions and all cells contain clean-up proteases that degrade used proteins and other waste, similar regulation may be at work in other biological responses. He suggests, “Cancer cells also are constantly growing under protein stress conditions, so understanding how cells in general take advantage of protease competition to respond to stress leads to tempting speculations that we can inhibit similar pathways to block uncontrolled growth.”

In bacteria, a protease known as Lon destroys damaged proteins to protect cells from their toxic consequences and degrades normal signaling proteins, as well. Stress that is toxic to proteins – causing misfolding, for example – prompts the bacteria not only to try to keep removing these damaged proteins, but to maintain processes like replicating DNA for normal growth. Zeinert studied the Lon protease and pathways it uses during cell stress, such as antibiotic attacks or extreme heat, to accomplish this.

In their new paper, the authors show that when bacteria are stressed, the increase in damaged proteins ends up temporarily swamping the Lon protease. This results in stabilization of signaling proteins that would normally be degraded by Lon, which sets off a cascade of responses, Chien explains.

He adds, “The misfolded proteins are canaries in the coal mines. When they build up so much that Lon is now blocked, the cells respond by turning on pathways needed to ensure growth.” In particular, the cells increase the amount of deoxynucleotides – the ‘DN’ of DNA – building blocks that are needed for DNA replication.”

Zeinert, Chien and colleagues discovered this new pathway unexpectedly when they were exploring the essential character of different genes that depend on the Lon protease. Chien recalls, “Rilee was using a new approach that looks at the fitness cost of each gene in different mutant backgrounds. Surprisingly, he found that loss of a normally essential deoxynucleotide synthesis gene was now tolerated in cells missing the Lon protease.”

This meant that by decreasing Lon activity, cells would compensate by making more deoxynucleotides, a result the researchers confirmed with metabolomics, a procedure that measures hundreds of chemicals in a cell at once, he adds.

Chien explains, “The metabolomics told us that there was a substantial shift in all the building blocks for DNA synthesis when Lon activity was compromised. At the same time, we had seen that when cells are stressed they also seem to make more of these molecules.” That connection led the researchers to determine that it was the damaged proteins arising from the stress causing a block of Lon activity that resulted in this response.

Chien, who is director of the Models to Medicine Center in the Institute of Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst, points out that this work was funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in the form of a MIRA grant to Chien and the Chemistry-Biology Training Program, which also supported Zeinert. The MIRA program does not fund individual projects, but broad programs of basic discovery research, to encourage researchers to propose more long-term, innovative, creative projects and to worry less about short-term goals and results.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: How Cells Keep Growing Even When Under AttackNewsletter Headline: How Cells Keep Growing Even When Under AttackTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

In an unexpected new finding, biochemists at UMass report observing that a damage-containment system in stressed bacteria can become overrun and blocked, but that this leads to cells responding by turning on very different pathways to make sure that normal growth continues.

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Developing a Quicker, Safer Method of Cleaning Peanut Butter Factories

Subhead: UMass Amherst food scientist receives grant to solve sticky situationContact Name: Lynne McLandsboroughContact Email: lm@foodsci.umass.eduAugust 4, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – From home bakers to commercial food producers, everyone knows that cleaning peanut butter off utensils and out of bowls is a tricky, sticky proposition. That’s because of the high-fat content of peanuts and the chemical reality that water and oil don’t mix.

To address the more serious implications, University of Massachusetts Amherst food scientist Lynne McLandsborough has received a $434,215 grant from the USDA to develop an oil-based system to clean and sanitize food processing equipment without water, reducing the high risk for Salmonella contamination associated with nuts.

McLandsborough’s award was one of 19 food safety and defense grants totaling $8 million announced recently by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

“Cleaning commercial peanut butter and other nut paste facilities is especially challenging,” McLandsborough says, “since the presence of liquid in the processing environment can promote growth and survival of microorganisms. It is well-established that peanuts and tree nuts are high-risk foods concerning Salmonella contamination, due to the multiple major outbreaks associated with commercially produced peanut butter.

From the food industry’s perspective, McLandsborough’s novel approach to sanitizing peanut butter processing plants with cleaning oils would offer several benefits. The factories could be more easily, safely and quickly cleaned with oil-based solutions than with water-based agents, which currently require a plant shutdown for nearly a week to carry out cleaning.

“The long-term impact of the proposed research is the high potential for translation of the technology to the food industry, which has a high need for non-water-based cleaning,” she says.

Researchers aim both to develop and validate the effectiveness of innovative technologies for non-aqueous cleaning and sanitizing, focusing on combining a variety of organic acids to create oil-based antimicrobial solutions.

To examine the antimicrobial mechanisms of the oil-based cleaners, they will use the Light Microscopy Lab, one of the Core Facilities at the UMass Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS) and designated a Nikon Center of Excellence.  

Through interdisciplinary research across UMass Amherst and with industry partners and collaborations, IALS aims to translate fundamental research into new products, technologies and services that benefit human health and well-being.

“Microscopy will be used with a combination of fluorescent stains to assess the influence of oil-based antimicrobials on membrane disruption, cellular respiration, protein translation and membrane viscosity,” McLandsborough explains. “We will look at non-desiccated and desiccated cells before and after antimicrobial treatment.”

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Developing a Quicker, Safer Method of Cleaning Peanut Butter FactoriesNewsletter Headline: Developing a Quicker, Safer Method of Cleaning Peanut Butter FactoriesTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

From home bakers to commercial food producers, everyone knows that cleaning peanut butter off utensils and out of bowls is a tricky, sticky proposition. That’s because of the high-fat content of peanuts and the chemical reality that water and oil don’t mix.

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UMass Amherst Advisor-Student Pair Wins Highly Competitive Fellowship

Subhead: Fellowship supports doctoral training, faculty mentoring and diversity in STEMContact Name: Lisa KomoroskeContact Email: lkomoroske@umass.eduJuly 31, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Nadia Fernandez of Elkhart, Indiana, a Ph.D. student in Environmental Conservation, with her advisor molecular ecologist Lisa Komoroske, are one of 45 advisor-student teams to receive a coveted 2020 Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study, the organization announced today.

This award identifies emerging scientific leaders in biomedical and life sciences and supports the student’s research and professional goals, aims to improve faculty mentoring skills and promote diversity and inclusion in the sciences. It supports up to three years of the doctoral student’s dissertation research and provides the advisor an allowance to support diversity and inclusion efforts at the graduate and professional levels.

Fernandez says of the honor, “I’m incredibly humbled and honored to be awarded the HHMI Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study. I’m excited to network with other incredible scientists who are committed to increasing diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice in the sciences. I believe this mentorship will support my growth as a scientist, mentee, mentor and advocate for DEIJ issues.”

Her advisor adds, “We are so thrilled to be a part of this unique program. Nadia is conducting exciting, integrative research at the intersection of evolutionary biology and biodiversity conservation and has tremendous potential to become a scientific leader in her field. Not only will the Gilliam award support Nadia’s dissertation research, but also greatly enhance her professional development and network to realize that potential. I am also very excited to implement approaches from the HHMI community to contribute to efforts to improve inclusivity in STEM here at UMass Amherst.”

Fernandez’s dissertation research is focused on understanding how contemporary and historical disturbances influence the structure and persistence of South American freshwater fish populations. In particular, she is using the Golden Dorado, a prized species at the center of an emerging recreational fishery, as a focal study species. In collaboration with Komoroske, her co-advisor Andy Danylchuk and partners in South America, Fernandez will combine approaches from evolutionary biology, population genomics and conservation biology to conduct her research.

Komoroske adds, “Nadia also co-founded the UMass Amherst BRiDGE program, a graduate student-led initiative doing critically needed work to improve visibility and equity for underrepresented early career scientists,” Fernandez and other BRiDGE co-founders recently wrote an opinion piece for the School of Earth and Sustainability on how to diversify academic seminar series and were recognized for their work with an award for excellence in Diversity and Inclusion by the College of Natural Sciences.

The Gilliam program fosters growth of the fellow’s research and professional skills and supports the advisor in regular mentoring training to facilitate connections and form a sense of community for fellows and mentors. The Gilliam fellowships were created in 2004 to honor the late James H. Gilliam, Jr., a charter HHMI trustee and a respected business and civic leader who spent his life nurturing excellence and diversity in science and education.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst Advisor-Student Pair Wins Highly Competitive FellowshipNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst Advisor-Student Pair Wins Highly Competitive FellowshipTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Nadia Fernandez of Elkhart, Indiana, a Ph.D. student in Environmental Conservation, with her advisor molecular ecologist Lisa Komoroske, are one of 45 advisor-student teams to receive a coveted 2020 Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study, the organization announced today.

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Weekly Update (Generated July 28, 2020) on the Cumulative U.S. Death Predictions From the COVID-19 Forecast Hub

Contact Name: Nicholas ReichContact Email: nick@umass.eduJuly 29, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Weekly update (generated July 28, 2020) on the cumulative U.S. death predictions from the COVID-19 Forecast Hub.

Nicholas Reich, director of the UMass Influenza Forecasting Center of Excellence and associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, is available to discuss the updated projections, four weeks out, for number of COVID-19 deaths nationally and by state.

“This week, we are trying something a bit different and providing a web-based report that summarizes some of the key findings from our modeling,” Reich says. “We expect that these reports will become more detailed as the weeks go on.”

The new forecast for cumulative U.S. deaths by Aug. 22 is 173,300, with between 6,900 and 7,500 deaths each week for the next four weeks. However, Reich notes that for the week ending Aug. 22, the ensemble forecast shows substantial uncertainty, with observed deaths between 5,000 and 10,000 deemed possible.

This week’s ensemble model, curated by Reich and his team, combined forecasts from 31 models produced by teams of highly respected infectious-disease forecasters from prominent institutions.

Reich’s new report includes tables, which can be sorted and searched, that show total deaths nationwide and by state as of July 25, as well as the rate of reported deaths standardized per 100,000 people.

“Looking at the rates allows for easier comparison across states, where you can see which states have had or are predicted to have proportionally higher rates in comparison to other states,” Reich says. “These tables calculate an average daily number of deaths per 100,000 population across the last two weeks (ending July 25) and forecast for the following two weeks (ending Aug. 8).”

For more information, follow Reich on Twitter @reichlab.

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Weekly update (generated July 28, 2020) on the cumulative U.S. death predictions from the COVID-19 Forecast Hub.

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UMass Amherst Biologists Zero in on Cells’ Environmental Sensing Mechanism

Subhead: A new collaboration advances the fields of evolution and development Contact Name: Craig AlbertsonContact Email: albertson@bio.umass.eduJuly 28, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Evolutionary and developmental biologist Craig Albertson and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst report that they have identified a molecular mechanism that allows an organism to change the way it looks depending on the environment it is exposed to, a process known as phenotypic plasticity.

In addition to lead investigators Albertson and Rolf Karlstrom, the team includes recently graduated doctoral students Dina Navon and Ira Male, current Ph.D. candidate Emily Tetrault and undergraduate Benjamin Aaronson. Their paper appears now in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Albertson explains that the project stems from a desire to better understand how genes and the environment interact to direct anatomical shape. “We know that our features are determined by genes, but we also know that many physical features are shaped by the environment as well. In identical twins, for example, if one becomes a long-distance runner and the other a body builder, they are going to end up with very different physiques. The skeleton is especially sensitive to such environmental inputs.”                                                                                                               

Albertson works with a system – cichlid fishes – known throughout the scientific world as champions of phenotypic plasticity that can alter, in a single season, jawbone hardness or shape to match feeding conditions. They are also well known for their rapid evolution and diversity in jaw shapes, which has enabled cichlids to adapt to many different food sources, including algae, plankton, fish, snails and even the scales of other fishes.

Albertson has spent much of the past two decades trying to reveal the genetic differences that underlie differences in jaw shape between species. Now he and colleagues identify the well-studied chemical/molecular system known as the Hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathway as an important player. More recently he explored whether the same pathway might also contribute to differences in jaw shape that arise within species through phenotypic plasticity.

An important clue came as Albertson learned more about how this molecular pathway works. He explains, “There is a well-known mechano-sensor on most cells, including those that make the skeleton, called the primary cilium. Cells that lack this organelle are unable to sense or respond to environmental input, including mechanical load. It turns out that several key protein components of the Hedgehog pathway are physically associated with this structure, making it an obvious candidate for an environmentally sensitive signal.”

In the current study, the research team first showed that plasticity in the rate of bone deposition in cichlids forced to feed using different foraging modes was associated with different Hh levels. Greater levels of the signal were detected in fish from the environment where more bone was laid down and vice versa. To really nail the question, Albertson teamed up with Karlstrom, who had previously developed sophisticated tools to study Hh signaling in zebrafish.

He explains, “Rolf has a bunch of really slick transgenic systems for manipulating that molecular signal in real time. It is sort of like a volume knob on your stereo – you can turn it up or turn it down, and then see how it influences your trait of interest.” In this case, they wanted to see whether Hh levels influenced plasticity in bone deposition rates.                      

They found that unmanipulated zebrafish deposited different amounts of bone in different foraging environments. When Hh levels were reduced, these differences went away, but when Hh levels were increased, differences in bone deposition rates were dramatically increased.

Albertson, explains, “Bone cells in these fish are innately sensitive to different mechanical environments. But we were able to play with this system using a single molecular switch – you turn up the Hh signal and the cells become more sensitive to the environment, or you turn the molecular sensor down and the cells become almost deaf to the environment.”

“That the same molecular machinery underlies both the evolutionary divergence and plasticity of the jaw is notable,” Albertson explains. “It is consistent with long-held theory that suggests short-term plasticity might bias the direction of long-term evolution, which explains why evolution can be predictable in lineages that have repeatedly evolved to similar habitats.” Albertson adds, “The Hh signal has also been shown to regulate plasticity in beetle horns, so there may be something special that positions it to be an environmental sensor across tissues and animals.”

Such intriguing questions will be the topic for future investigations, the authors add.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst Biologists Zero in on Cells’ Environmental Sensing MechanismNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst Biologists Zero in on Cells’ Environmental Sensing MechanismTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Evolutionary and developmental biologist Craig Albertson and colleagues at UMass report that they have identified a molecular mechanism that allows an organism to change the way it looks depending on the environment it is exposed to, a process known as phenotypic plasticity.

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UMass Amherst Microbiologists Clarify Relationship Between Microbial Diversity and Soil Carbon Storage

Subhead: More diverse soils did perform better, but drought stress found to be a limiting factorContact Name: Kristen DeAngelisContact Email: deangelis@microbio.umass.eduJuly 27, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – In what they believe is the first study of its kind, researchers led by postdoctoral researcher Luiz A. Domeignoz-Horta and senior author Kristen DeAngelis at the University of Massachusetts Amherst report that shifts in the diversity of soil microbial communities can change the soil’s ability to sequester carbon, where it usually helps to regulate climate.

They also found that the positive effect of diversity on carbon use efficiency – which plays a central role in that storage – is neutralized in dry conditions. Carbon use efficiency refers to the carbon assimilated into microbial products vs carbon lost to the atmosphere as CO2 and contributing to climate warming, DeAngelis explains. Among other benefits, soil carbon makes soil healthy by holding water and helping plants grow.

She and colleagues addressed these questions because they point out, “empirical evidence for the response of soil carbon cycling to the combined effects of warming, drought and diversity loss is scarce.” To explore further, they experimentally manipulated microbial communities while varying factors such as microbe community species composition, temperature and soil moisture. Details are in Nature Communications.

In addition to first author Domeignoz-Horta and others at UMass Amherst, the team includes Serita Frey at the University of New Hampshire and Jerry Melillo at the Ecosystems Center, Woods Hole, Mass.

They point out that carbon in the soil is regulated in part by the rate and efficiency with which the microbes living there can use fresh plant foods and other parts of soil organic matter to grow. DeAngelis says some “soil carbon pools” can “stick around for decades and turn over very slowly. These are ones we really want to have because they help soil stay spongy to absorb water and help bind and release nutrients for plant growth.”

“Diversity is interesting, not just in microbiology but in all organisms, including humans,” DeAngelis says. “It’s controlled by a lot of different factors, and it seems that more diverse systems tend to work more efficiently and to tolerate stress better. We wanted to understand the role of microbial diversity in soil carbon efficiency.”

She adds, “Replicating diversity is tricky, which is why we used a model system soil. Luiz extracted microbes from soil, made serial dilutions of microbe concentrations in a buffer and inoculated the soil to get variation in diversity.” They let the five different microbial mixes grow for 120 days. In addition to other tests, they used a new method based on a heavy, stable isotope of water known as 18O-H2O. It allowed them to trace the oxygen and track new growth over time in the different diversity, soil moisture and temperature conditions.

“One interesting thing we found is that we do see that more diverse communities are more efficient. The microbes grow more than in less diverse communities, but that increase in growth with diversity is lost when they are stressed for water. This suggests that there’s a limit to the stress resilience with high diversity,” she adds.

The authors point out, “Results indicate that the diversity by ecosystem-function relationship can be impaired under non-favorable conditions in soils, and that to understand changes in soil carbon cycling we need to account for the multiple facets of global changes.”

DeAngelis adds, “We were a little surprised at how our approach worked so well. I’m really interested in the temperature/moisture efficiencies and Luiz is more interested in the diversity angle. It was a combination of the two that was the most interesting result.”

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst Microbiologists Clarify Relationship Between Microbial Diversity and Soil Carbon StorageNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst Microbiologists Clarify Relationship Between Microbial Diversity and Soil Carbon StorageTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

In what they believe is the first study of its kind, researchers led by postdoctoral researcher Luiz A. Domeignoz-Horta and senior author Kristen DeAngelis at UMass report that shifts in the diversity of soil microbial communities can change the soil’s ability to sequester carbon, where it usually helps to regulate climate.

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New Research from UMass Amherst’s Sharrow Finds Crises Such as COVID-19 Pandemic Threaten Support for Title IX

Subhead: Authors say the study underscores how crises can have significant consequences for historically-marginalized groupsContact Name: Elizabeth SharrowContact Email: esharrow@umass.eduJuly 24, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – A new study by a pair of researchers including Elizabeth Sharrow, associate professor of public policy and history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has found that male student-athletes and those with sexist attitudes exhibit “alarmingly” low levels of support for ensuring the maintenance of equality and sexual harassment policy under Title IX as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on college athletics.

In the report, published online by the journal Politics & Gender, Sharrow and co-author James Druckman of Northwestern University write that the results accentuate the vulnerability of certain populations during crises, and the importance of maintaining strong institutional policy support during such times.

Sharrow and Druckman conducted a survey with a representative sample of 1,925 student-athletes in May and June. They found middling levels of support for protecting equality and sexual harassment provisions when respondents were asked about each specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic, with respective mean scores notably lower than those found when respondents were asked about their general support of the provisions earlier in the survey.

“This COVID-19 study arose from a multi-year research project in which my collaborator and I are studying attitudes toward gender equity policies and pay-for-play policies among stakeholders in American collegiate athletics,” Sharrow says. “Our previous scholarship found that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 enjoys high levels of support among the beneficiaries of policy in college sport, as well as the American public, but we suspected that times of crisis can undermine popular support for protective policies, particularly among those who don’t directly benefit from policy protections.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly transformed college athletics since March with many institutions cancelling funding for selected teams due to financial strain,” she continues. “We wondered whether Title IX’s protections continue to receive high-levels of support as the crisis unfolds, and found that male college athletes and those with high sexist attitudes exhibit decidedly low levels of support for Title IX and sexual harassment protections during the COVID-19 crisis.”

The researchers found notable differences by gender – specifically a 20.75% decrease in support from women to men when it comes to protecting equality during COVID-19, and a 14.75% decrease in support from women to men for safeguarding anti-harassment protections.

The findings accentuate the importance of maintaining strong institutional policy support for the enforcement of non-discrimination policies, says Sharrow, an expert on the politics of Title IX and the ways that public policy shapes understandings of sex and gender at the intersections of race, sexuality, ability and class.

“We demonstrate why beneficiaries need strong legal safeguards and enforcement of gender equality policies so that protections are not undermined when systems are under stress and/or lack support from advantaged, majority stakeholders,” she says. “Even despite Title IX's implementation, men remain the majority of college athletes. We illustrate that post-crisis recovery efforts will require close oversight on protections for vulnerable groups, irrespective of whether such groups are in a position to advocate on their own behalf. The future for further incorporation of historically-marginalized groups, and the maintenance of hard-won opportunities for women and girls in sport in particular, will depend on it.”

The complete study, “Public Opinion, Crisis, and Vulnerable Populations: The Case of Title IX and COVID-19,” is available online from Politics & Gender via Cambridge University Press.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: New Research from UMass Amherst’s Sharrow Finds Crises Such as COVID-19 Pandemic Threaten Support for Title IXNewsletter Headline: New Research from UMass Amherst’s Sharrow Finds Crises Such as COVID-19 Pandemic Threaten Support for Title IXTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

A new study by a pair of researchers including Elizabeth Sharrow, associate professor of public policy and history at UMass, has found that male student-athletes and those with sexist attitudes exhibit “alarmingly” low levels of support for ensuring the maintenance of equality and sexual harassment policy under Title IX as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on college athletics.

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UMass Amherst Researcher Jessica Schiffman and UMaine Collaborators Receive NSF Grant to Collect and Analyze COVID-19 Droplets

Contact Name: Jessica SchiffmanContact Email: schiffman@ecs.umass.eduJuly 23, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Jessica Schiffman, associate professor of chemical engineering, is collaborating with researchers at the University of Maine to develop a novel bio-inspired membrane that can capture COVID-19 airborne droplets. 

Schiffman and her UMaine counterparts received grants totaling more than $225,000 from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) early-concept grants for exploratory research program, also called EAGER. Collaborating on the project is UMaine biomedical engineer Caitlin Howell and virologist Melissa Maginnis.

Drawing inspiration from the pitcher plant, which has a slippery rim and an inner membrane to capture insects in its digestive fluids, the team will bioengineer a composite material with a liquid layer on the surface to capture pathogenic particles for study. The goal of the research is to develop an insert into an air filtration system to capture virus-containing droplets to make collection and analysis easier. The technology would be inexpensive and widely available for high-risk locations, such as hospitals, schools or elder-care facilities.

Schiffman said the fact that COVID-19 spreads through bioaerosols makes disease surveillance, containment and treatment a challenge. Previous designs of aerosol collection systems have had limited success when it comes to retrieving intact virus particles from large volumes of air. A liquid-gated membrane system, inspired by the pitcher plant, would employ a water-immiscible liquid on the surface of the membrane to create a reusable, reversible liquid trap for live pathogenic particles.

The team will explore the development of new intellectual property that would be well-aligned with manufacturing capabilities in both Massachusetts’ and Maine’s pulp and paper industry.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst Researcher Jessica Schiffman and UMaine Collaborators Receive NSF Grant to Collect and Analyze COVID-19 DropletsNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst Researcher Jessica Schiffman and UMaine Collaborators Receive NSF Grant to Collect and Analyze COVID-19 DropletsTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Jessica Schiffman, associate professor of chemical engineering, is collaborating with researchers at the University of Maine to develop a novel bio-inspired membrane that can capture COVID-19 airborne droplets. 

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Researchers Find Shifts in Breeding Times and Duration for 73 Boreal Bird Species over 40 Years

Subhead: UMass Amherst ecologist, part of Finnish team, used 820,000 nesting recordsContact Name: Malcolm ItterContact Email: mitter@umass.eduJuly 23, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – In a new study out this week, a team including forest ecologist Malcolm Itter at the University of Massachusetts Amherst reports finding “clear evidence of a contraction of the breeding period” among boreal birds in Finland over a 43-year span for which good quality data were available.

The study was run by researchers within the Research Centre for Ecological Change (RCEC) at the University of Helsinki, led by Maria Hällfors with Itter and Laura Antão, all postdoctoral researchers at the time. They were joined by additional researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Finnish Museum of Natural History. Details appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Itter says that for most of the 73 species studied, “we saw an advance in the beginning of the breeding period,” an average 4.6 days, and the breeding period ending earlier, an average of 6.3 days. The average breeding period contracted by 1.7 days over the period with a breeding period contraction in roughly 31 percent of all species.

The researchers report that “this pattern was most common among resident and short-distance migrating species.” This suggests that residents and short-distance migrants “may be better able to respond to increased temperatures in the spring and thus take better advantage of the earlier food and resource availability,” while “long-distance migrants that arrive later may not be able to do so,” Itter explains.

This study is unusual, as researchers looked not only at the onset of the breeding period, but also its end, and duration. They used “unique and extensive long-term bird-banding data” collected over 43 breeding seasons by a small army of experienced, dedicated banders – called ringers in Europe. Tits, thrushes, crows, owls and gulls showed the greatest changes in breeding period. “Any species that had a contraction had an earlier end to the breeding season,” Itter notes.

The authors state, “Our findings highlight the importance of quantifying phenological change across species and over the entire season to reveal shifts in the community-level distribution of bird reproduction.” And, “most importantly, our study suggests that evaluating changes throughout the season is crucial, as earlier and shorter breeding periods in birds may alter community-wide patterns of species co-occurrence and trophic relations across the boreal region.”

Hällfors, Itter and colleagues’ main hypothesis was that as conditions warm, they should see food and other resources become available earlier in the year, and because temperature is the cue for favorable conditions to rear chicks, warmer springs may cause the breeding period to shift forward.

They used a creative combination of techniques for data analysis, including a modeling framework developed for natural community data and primarily to predict species’ range shifts. The model framework was applied in this case to jointly estimate changes in the breeding period of a boreal bird community – breeding beginning, end and duration.

The model included evolutionary history information; the study found that species that shared evolutionary history shared similar breeding shifts. “From a methodological perspective, our study illustrates that a focus on quantifying phenological advances alone may mask important patterns of phenology change across the season,” authors note

Itter says the team expected to see differences in breeding period linked to distinct ecological zones across a latitudinal gradient in Finland, but found instead that “ecological zone didn’t seem to matter, changes in the beginning, duration and end of breeding did not vary strongly by ecological zone for a given species.”

This work was supported by the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation through the RCEC at the University of Helsinki and the Academy of Finland.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Researchers Find Shifts in Breeding Times and Duration for 73 Boreal Bird Species over 40 YearsNewsletter Headline: Researchers Find Shifts in Breeding Times and Duration for 73 Boreal Bird Species over 40 YearsTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

In a new study out this week, a team including forest ecologist Malcolm Itter at UMass reports finding “clear evidence of a contraction of the breeding period” among boreal birds in Finland over a 43-year span for which good quality data were available.

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The Magnetic Field in and around a Spiral Galaxy

Contact Name: Daniel WangContact Email: wqd@umass.eduJuly 22, 2020

This composite image shows the huge extent of a spiral galaxy’s magnetic field. Galaxy NGC 4217 is a star-formingspiral galaxy similar to the Milky Way. It is about 67 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Ursa Major, according to astronomers in an international collaboration called CHANGES. The galaxy is seen edge-on in a visible-light image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and Kitt Peak National Observatory. The magnetic field lines, in green, are revealed by Karl G. Jansky at the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which is supported by the National Science Foundation.

Professor Daniel Wang in the astronomy department is a co-author of a paper released with this image July 21. He says the work “demonstrates that the magnetic field around galaxies plays an essential role in regulating their life.”

He and colleagues say NGC 4217’s magnetic field lines extend as much as 22,500 light-years beyond the galaxy disk. Scientists know that magnetic fields play an important role in many processes such as star formation in galaxies. However, it is not fully understood how such huge magnetic fields are generated and maintained. A leading explanation, called the dynamo theory, suggests that magnetic fields are generated by plasma motion within the galaxy disk. Ideas about the cause of the kinds of large vertical extensions seen in this image are more speculative, and astronomers hope that further observations and more analysis will answer some of the outstanding questions.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: The Magnetic Field in and around a Spiral Galaxy Newsletter Headline: The Magnetic Field in and around a Spiral Galaxy Tag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

Professor Daniel Wang in the astronomy department is a co-author of a paper with a composite image showing the huge extent of a spiral galaxy’s magnetic field, release on July 21. 

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Computer Science Meets Behavioral Sciences: Interdisciplinary Research Focuses on Heat Resilience in the Age of Climate Change

July 22, 2020

As high temperatures become more frequent and intense due to climate change, UMass Amherst scientists are developing interdisciplinary research aimed at helping communities increase resilience to extreme heat by monitoring physiological, mental and behavioral health factors.

Tauhidur Rahman, assistant professor of computer and information sciences, and social scientist Jamie Mullins, assistant professor of resource economics,received a $75,000 planning grant from the National Science Foundation’s Smart and Connected Communities program to fund their project.

They will conduct pilot research in Amherst, with partners at Arizona State University and the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in theOsaka region of Japan also testing the technology and collecting data.

“Extreme heat is becoming an increasingly common event,” Rahman says. “The way it impacts the health and well-being of the individual is very different across the world.”

The researchers plan to measure physiological, subjective and behavioral responses to heat exposure, with the goal of identifying and disseminating technological and social interventions to mitigate heat risk for populations living in hot, urban and semi-urban environments. They will share their insights with community leaders so they can better develop effective strategies for building climate-smart cities and encouraging population resilience.

Rahman, who specializes in next-generation mobile health technologies, plans to capture physiological and environmental data from a community with wearable sensors, as well as off-body contactless sensing. The wearable sensor will passively sense the physiological markers for heat stress and exposure, while the off-body sensing systems will capture crowd behaviors with techniques from physics-based computational imaging and mobile health sensing. The multilevel (individuals and crowds) behavioral markers collected in the U.S. and Japan will be integrated to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the physiology of heat stress and mitigation strategies.

“We will create a model of heat stress at the individual level and then see how we can tie it into more of a population-level model,” Rahman says.

Mullins, whose research area includes the relationship between human health and environmental exposures as well as climate change adaptation, will focus on linking individuals’ behavior to physiological responses to heat exposure through their subjective experiences of heat. “My role will be to work on accurately measuring people’s self-reported well-being and experiences of various thermal conditions to statistically link objective, physiological measures coming from the scientific equipment to actions and behaviors,” Mullins says.

Rahman and Mullins are planning to hold workshops and collaborative activities to strengthen the research ties between UMass, Arizona State and Nara.

Ultimately, the goal is to use the research to create meaningful models and inform individuals and communities on ways to be more heat resilient.

“Going forward, we’ll be thinking how to map the implications of all the data into recommendations and best practices when thinking about designing and moving through environments that we all interact with every day in a world where temperatures are going to be warmer and extreme temperatures are likely to be increasingly common,” Mullins says.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Computer Science Meets Behavioral Sciences: Interdisciplinary Research Focuses on Heat Resilience in the Age of Climate ChangeNewsletter Headline: Computer Science Meets Behavioral Sciences: Interdisciplinary Research Focuses on Heat Resilience in the Age of Climate ChangeTag Review: Tags have been reviewedNewsletter Teaser: 

As high temperatures become more frequent and intense due to climate change, UMass Amherst scientists are developing interdisciplinary research aimed at helping communities increase resilience to extreme heat by monitoring physiological, mental and behavioral health factors.

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Weekly Update (Generated July 21, 2020) on the Cumulative U.S. Death Predictions From the COVID-19 Forecast Hub

Contact Name: Nicholas Reich Contact Email: nick@umass.eduJuly 22, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Weekly update (generated July 21, 2020) on the cumulative U.S. death predictions from the COVID-19 Forecast Hub.

Nicholas Reich, director of the UMass Influenza Forecasting Center of Excellence and associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, is available to discuss the updated projections, four weeks out, for number of COVID-19 deaths nationally and by state.

The new forecast for cumulative U.S. deaths by Aug. 15 is 164,000, with a 10% chance of seeing fewer than 160,000 and a 10% chance of seeing more than 170,000. Interactive visualizations also show the breakdown of projected deaths by state.

The COVID-19 Forecast Hub, curated by Reich and his team, represents multiple models from teams of highly respected infectious-disease forecasters from prominent institutions.

Reich says: “Our national level ensemble forecast combines models from 22 different research groups and predicts that as a nation we will see between 5,500 and 6,400 deaths each week with around 164,000 deaths by Aug. 15.”

For more information, follow Reich on Twitter @reichlab.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Weekly Update (Generated July 21, 2020) on the Cumulative U.S. Death Predictions From the COVID-19 Forecast HubNewsletter Headline: Weekly Update (Generated July 21, 2020) on the Cumulative U.S. Death Predictions From the COVID-19 Forecast HubTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Weekly update (generated July 21, 2020) on the cumulative U.S. death predictions from the COVID-19 Forecast Hub.

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UMass Amherst-Led Research Team Receives $749,998 NSF Grant to Use Edge and Cloud Computing to Improve Drone Capabilities

Contact Name: Michael ZinkContact Email: zink@ecs.umass.eduJuly 21, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – A research team led by a University of Massachusetts Amherst researcher recently received a $749,998 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to improve drone capabilities through edge- and cloud computing.

The research team is led by Michael Zink, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMass Amherst. He is joined by Ewa Deelman from the Information Science Institute at the University of Southern California, Anirban Mandal from the Renaissance Computing Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Prasad Calyam from the University of Missouri.

The research team’s goal is to make use of new technologies in edge- and cloud computing, in addition to the ability to process information in the core of a network, to allow researchers and application developers to create workflows that swiftly generate crucial information for the safe and economic operation of drones. Zink says the team’s work would ultimately lead to new advancements such as aiding drones operating safely by navigating around hazardous weather. To achieve this, detailed weather data has to be collected and processed in a time-critical manner. In addition, the team’s work will lead to approaches that intelligently handle data processing and power consumption to assure that drone missions can be carried out safely.

“The uses for drone technology grow by the day,” Zink said. “Imagine you are about to hop on board an air taxi that will autonomously fly you from your destination in the suburbs of New Jersey to a helipad on top of a skyscraper in Manhattan. Or think of the case where a drone is used to fly a donated organ from one hospital to another where a team of doctors is anxiously awaiting the delivery to carry out the final step of an organ transplant. What might sound as science fiction is currently tested in prototype projects around the country. One of the biggest challenges these projects face is the need for very detailed, close-to-the-ground drone operating altitude weather information for safe operations, and that’s where our research will help.”

In the case of detailed weather information, data provided by weather radars and other meteorological sensors have to be collected, processed, and used as a basis to generate safe flight plans for drones. This process has to be executed very fast to allow safe operation in the case of fast developing weather events, such as severe thunderstorms or tornados.

“Drones are also being used for video surveillance in border security and agriculture,” Calyam said. “Drones can be mounted with high-definition video cameras and sophisticated sensors to collect environmental situational awareness data. Farmers could use drones to monitor the health of crops in fields and take pro-active measures to increase yield or improve drought resistance of crops. In both these cases, large amounts of video/image data is generated that needs to be processed. In some cases, the processing needs to be done instantly in order to fully leverage the intelligence being gathered by the drones in a timely manner. The major challenge is that devices such as the drones or ground control stations do not have the necessary computation or networking capabilities to manage such data processing. Consequently, these devices need to be connected in a secure and resilient manner to edge computing or cloud computing resources, while carefully handling battery capacity limitations of the edge devices.”

Edge computing is a new technology that brings computing resources closer to where devices, in this case drones and weather sensors, gather information. This is in contrast to cloud computing, where computer resources can be located far away from devices in large data centers. The close geographic proximity of edge computing to devices allows for much quicker response times, which is critical when it comes to routing drones around weather and other obstacles. While researchers have been using cloud computing resources for their scientific applications for many years, the use of edge computing is just starting. The project will make contributions in this area and aid researchers in creating workflows that contain edge computing resources to support new research applications.

The drone workflows will be set up on new testbeds on major NSF-supported infrastructures such as GENI, POWDER and FABRIC to study novel architectures for configuring computation and networking resources. The testbeds will help the project team to run experiments that provide insights on how to improve the drone control, as well as video and other data processing.

“Today, we run edge computing experiments and cloud computing experiments in an isolated manner due to knowledge limitations in testbed methodologies within the scientific community. With the testbeds being planned in this project, we will be able to create advanced testbed methodologies to integrate the edge and cloud sides of workflows and validate or correct many of the assumptions we are currently making on what affects application performance,” Calyam said. While the team will demonstrate its approach for drone-based applications, other areas such as autonomous vehicles or personalized healthcare can also be supported by the work.

The project team will enable access to a rich set of resources for researchers and educators from a diverse set of institutions, including historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), community colleges, and women’s colleges, to further democratize research. In addition, collaboration with the NSF’s Research Experience for Undergraduates Site in Consumer Networking will promote participation of under-served/under-represented students in project activities.

Information about the project will be available in the future at: http://www.flynet-ci.org.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst-Led Research Team Receives $749,998 NSF Grant to Use Edge and Cloud Computing to Improve Drone CapabilitiesNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst-Led Research Team Receives $749,998 NSF Grant to Use Edge and Cloud Computing to Improve Drone CapabilitiesTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

A research team led by a UMass researcher recently received a $749,998 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to improve drone capabilities through edge- and cloud computing.

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Physicist Stephane Willocq and Team Receive DOE Support to Study Higgs Bosons

July 20, 2020

This month the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $132 million in funding awards to researchers at more than 50 universities, including physicist Stephane Willocq and his team, who are working on topics in high energy physics. The purpose is “to advance knowledge of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.”

In addition to Willocq, his team on the ATLAS Experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland includes Ben Brau, Rafael Coelho Lopes de Sa, Carlo Dallapiccolaand VerenaMartinez Outschoornin the Physics Department.

The UMass Amherst team brings special expertise in identifying and measuring a class of heavy electrons called muons, fundamental particles like electrons only 200 times heavier. They are expected to offer tell-tale signs of discovery as decay products of new states of matter. The team has written much of the particle identification software for a spectrometer that reconstructs muon trajectories in space “like a connect-the-dot game using traces of energy,” Willocq says.

Among other goals, they plan to use the LHC to produce proton-proton collisions at the highest achievable energies to study the production and decay of Higgs bosons, he explains. They also will search for new phenomena that would shed light on knowledge gaps in the current understanding of the universe, including the origin of mass, or the nature of Dark Matter.

The UMass ATLAS group on campus receives about $2.3 million from DOE based on previous successful studies and with their proposal to further exploit the large dataset collected during Run 2 of the LHC from 2015 to 2018, plus other activities, Willocq says.

He adds that the plan includes analysis in the search for physics beyond the Standard Model and measuring Higgs boson properties. A second focus area is on hardware upgrade and software development for Run 3 and Run 4 that includes an upgrade to the collider at the high-luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL- LHC).

Willocq says, “Specifically, we will work on hardware development for the all-silicon inner tracker as well as on the development of the muon trigger processor for the level-0 MDT trigger.” On the software side, they will work on tracking-related development, including completing the multi-threading migration, developing future software and computing into the HL-LHC era, and continued support and improvement of the inner tracker and muon spectrometer reconstruction.

DOE’s Under Secretary for Science, Paul Dabbar, says, “High energy physics research improves our understanding of the universe and is an essential element for maintaining America’s leadership in science. These projects at 53 different institutions across our nation will advance efforts both in theory and through experiments that explore the subatomic world and study the cosmos.”

Further, DOE observes that “high energy physics serves as a cornerstone of America’s science efforts. It plays a major role in nurturing top scientific talent and building and sustaining the nation’s scientific workforce. It also provides a deeper understanding of how our universe works at its most fundamental level.”

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: Physicist Stephane Willocq and Team Receive DOE Support to Study Higgs BosonsNewsletter Headline: Physicist Stephane Willocq and Team Receive DOE Support to Study Higgs BosonsTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

This month the U.S. Department of Energy announced $132 million in funding awards to researchers at more than 50 universities, including physicist Stephane Willocq and his team, who are working on topics in high energy physics. The purpose is “to advance knowledge of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.”

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Some Decontamination Processes Damage N95 Face Masks

Subhead: UMass Amherst scientist tests hospital masks processed up to 10 times for reuse Contact Name: Richard PeltierContact Email: rpeltier@schoolph.umass.eduJuly 16, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – Certain methods of decontaminating medical face masks for repeated use during the COVID-19 pandemic appear to damage the masks’ integrity and protective function, according to research by a University of Massachusetts Amherst environmental health scientist.

“Some treatments for decontamination had no impact on respirator performance, while other treatments resulted in substantial damage to masks,” writes Richard Peltier, associate professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences and lead author of the paper published July 16 in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

Peltier received a fast-track grant from the National Science Foundation in May to study the impact of various sterilization techniques authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in light of the shortage of medical face masks, also known as N95 respirators.

“Given the global N95 shortages, clinicians face a choice: wearing a used, and potentially infected respirator, or wearing one that was decontaminated through a process that may affect the integrity of the respirator,” says Peltier, whose co-authors include doctors and researchers at New England Baptist Hospital in Boston and UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

Peltier uses state-of-the-art pollution detection instruments and a mannequin head in his lab to measure whether microscopic particles can pass through the masks after they are sterilized. “Respirators must be effective across a range of potential conditions to provide protection since droplets that contain virus particles immediately start to evaporate and shrink,” he explains.

While the testing was limited by the availability of processed masks provided by hospitals in Massachusetts, the study draws several generalizable conclusions, Peltier says.

Respirators that were treated between one and 10 times with specific vaporized hydrogen peroxide (vHP) sterilizers or up to five times with shorter decontamination cycles of gas plasma hydrogen peroxide (gpHP) retain their original filtration capabilities. A decontamination process using ultraviolent germicidal irradiance (UVGI) slowly diminishes filtration efficiency, reaching a level “that warrants caution” after nine repeated treatments, the research found. “However, there are still a number of sterilizer systems that are being used on these masks which we don’t have information about and therefore can’t determine if they keep workers safe,” Peltier says.

Treatments with high concentrations of gpHP or longer processing times degraded filtration performance below the requirement for N95 masks, which should be capable of filtering 95% of 300 nanometer (nm) particles.

For comparison, Peltier also tested a KN95 mask, some brands of which have been removed from the FDA’s emergency-use list due to poor performance, and a four-ply polyester bandana. Neither had been treated with any decontamination technique, and both performed below N95 standards. Peltier also found that immersing an N95 mask in a 10% bleach solution degraded its performance.

Peltier notes that his study did not address the masks’ fit or general integrity, including elastic function, corrosion on staples and compression of the respirator, all of which are important for proper functioning. His research highlights the importance of using decontamination techniques shown to be safe for the reuse of N95 masks.

“We hope this work supports good decision-making that protects those who are on the front lines of this pandemic keeping us all safe,” Peltier says. “Without them, none of us are safe.”

Thumbnail: Image layout: Small images in right columnGateway Headline: Some Decontamination Processes Damage N95 Face Masks Newsletter Headline: Some Decontamination Processes Damage N95 Face Masks Tag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

Certain methods of decontaminating medical face masks for repeated use during the COVID-19 pandemic appear to damage the masks’ integrity and protective function, according to research by a UMass environmental health scientist.

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UMass Amherst Climate Modeler and Team Will Drill Under Greenland’s Ice Sheet to Date its Last Retreat

Subhead: Geoscientists to collect Greenland bedrock as ‘rare and precious’ as moon rocks Contact Name: Robert DeContoContact Email: deconto@geo.umass.eduJuly 16, 2020

AMHERST, Mass. – A team of climate scientists and geologists including Robert DeConto at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently received a five-year, $7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to drill through the Greenland Ice Sheet and into the bedrock below, where they will be able to evaluate how long it has been since the last ice sheet retreated from the continent.

Greenland’s ice sheet holds enough water to raise sea levels nearly 24 feet, and scientists have confirmed that this amount has melted at least once in the last million years, DeConto says. “An overarching question we’re trying to answer is just how sensitive the Greenland Ice Sheet is to a warmer climate. Loss of the ice sheet, even a small amount, would be catastrophic for many people and coastlines,” he adds.

In addition to UMass Amherst, investigators at Columbia, Penn State and the University at Buffalo will receive $3 million in research funds and $4 million for field operations from the National Science Foundation for the project, dubbed GreenDrill. Drilling at four sites will go through hundreds of meters of ice before collecting bedrock.

Columbia geochemist Joerg Schaefer notes that bedrock contains isotopes produced by cosmic rays hitting certain atoms’ nuclei, where they accumulate in rock after exposure to the sun. Analyzing the isotopes will show when and how the ice receded. Schaefer says the rocks there are “comparable to the moon rocks in their rareness and preciousness.”

Among other things, the researchers will use the new data to test the hypothesis that northern Greenland is more sensitive to warming than the southern part. DeConto says, “This project has the potential to substantially improve our understanding of how the ice sheet behaves and responds to a warmer world – with great benefits to society. For a climate scientist, that’s about as exciting as it gets!”

The professor of geosciences and co-director of UMass Amherst’s School of Earth & Sustainability will lead climate- and ice-sheet modeling activities that are central to the project. Modeling will help to explain the geological observations uncovered by the drilling team, he explains. Testing computer models used to make future projections of sea-level rise against geological observations is one of the best ways to gain confidence in our understanding of what the future might hold, he adds.

DeConto and colleagues will also explore how far the ice sheet can be pushed before ice loss become unstoppable and irreversible, and what part of the ice sheet is likely to respond first to a warming climate.

The project is focused on the northern part of the ice adjacent to the Arctic Ocean, which is now warming very quickly, he notes. “There are likely important linkages between the Arctic Ocean – its temperature and loss of sea ice – and the health of the ice sheet.”

The climate- and ice-modeling expert also notes, “It’s absolutely critical that we know how much ice Greenland lost in the past, and this is still very uncertain. GreenDrill will help to answer this question.” Knowing the past informs scientists about the future, he adds, such as the ice sheet’s sensitivity to warming and “how much sea level rise we should be planning for.”

GreenDrill includes an education and outreach component aimed at encouraging diversity and inclusion in the geosciences. Undergraduate students and early-career scientists will be recruited to participate in the research, the researchers note.

Thumbnail: Image layout: Medium images in right columnGateway Headline: UMass Amherst Climate Modeler and Team Will Drill Under Greenland’s Ice Sheet to Date its Last RetreatNewsletter Headline: UMass Amherst Climate Modeler and Team Will Drill Under Greenland’s Ice Sheet to Date its Last RetreatTag Review: Needs reviewNewsletter Teaser: 

A team of climate scientists and geologists including Robert DeConto at UMass recently received a five-year, $7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to drill through the Greenland Ice Sheet and into the bedrock below, where they will be able to evaluate how long it has been since the last ice sheet retreated from the continent.

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Online Webinar Q&A on Facial Recognition and Recommended Regulation

July 14, 2020 *** MEDIA ADVISORY ***

WHO:        Prof. Erik Learned-Miller, UMass Amherst College of Computer and Information Sciences

WHAT:       Online Webinar Q&A on Facial Recognition and Recommended Regulation

WHEN:      4 p.m., Wednesday, July 15

WHERE:    Space is limited. Registration is required.

Award-winning facial recognition expert professor Erik Learned-Miller will offer a one-hour zoom Q&A webinar at 4 p.m. on Wed., July 15, where he will explore face recognition research and discuss a new proposed solution for regulating the young technology that is prone to errors and misuse. The event is free and open to the public.

There are troubling examples of facial recognition problems. Police have used faulty matches as evidence despite being instructed not to rely on the automated technology alone, Learned-Miller says – the nightmare scenario that many concerned citizens and advocacy groups have been worried about.

In the webinar sponsored by the Center for Data Science, Learned-Miller will discuss how we got to today and what should be done about it. He will consider whether all face recognition technology should be banned, or if there is a way for society to benefit from its proper use while protecting against abuses and errors.

In June, Learned-Miller and colleagues at MIT’s Media Lab and the University of Virginia issued a white paper, “Facial Recognition Technologies in the Wild: A Call for a Federal Office,” in which they call for a new approach based on an FDA-inspired model for managing facial recognition technologies at the federal level.

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