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Advances in Research

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NOVEMBER 2014

 

UAB PARTICIPATING IN NEW RESEARCH WHICH SHOWS CHANGES IN THE EYE MIGHT PREDICT ONSET OF FRONTOTEMPORAL DEMENTIA

Changes to the eyes might help diagnose the onset of frontotemporal dementia, the second most common form of dementia, according to new research from scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Gladstone Institutes and the University of California, San Francisco. Findings published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine show that a loss of cells in the retina is one of the earliest signs of frontotemporal dementia in people with a genetic risk for the disorder – even before any changes appear in their behavior.

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NEW RESEARCH AT UAB PRESENTS AN IMPROVED METHOD TO LET COMPUTERS KNOW YOU ARE HUMAN

CAPTCHA services that require users to recognize and type in static, distorted characters may be a method of the past, according to studies published by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. CAPTCHAs represent a security mechanism that is often seen as a necessary hassle by Web services providers – necessary because they seek to prevent web resource abuse, yet a hassle because the representation of a CAPTCHA may not be easy to solve. Moreover, successful attacks have been developed against many existing CAPTCHA schemes. The UAB researchers focused on a broad form of game-like CAPTCHAs, called dynamic cognitive game,
or DCG, CAPTCHAs, which challenge the user to perform a game-like cognitive task interacting with a series of dynamic images.

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UAB RESEARCH QUESTIONING SODIUM INTAKE GUIDELINES SUPPORTED IN NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE EDITORIAL

Recent studies suggest national dietary guidelines for sodium intake are unrealistic, and that the recommended level of sodium could be associated with a higher risk of cardiac disease and mortality. In an invited New England Journal of Medicine editorial, “Low Sodium – Cardiovascular Health Benefit or Risk?” UAB Distinguished Professor of Medicine Suzanne Oparil, M.D., reinforces the research efforts of the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology study. The PURE study provides new evidence about the association of sodium and potassium intake – estimated from morning urine specimens – with blood pressure, death and major cardiovascular events.

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NOVEL MECHANISM INVOLVED IN MEMORY DISCOVERED BY UAB RESEARCHERS

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham report the discovery of a novel mechanism in the brain involved in the formation of memory and learning. In findings reported online in Nature, the research team describes the role of a histone subunit known as H2A.Z. The discovery could have therapeutic ramifications for conditions including dementia, age-related memory loss or even post-traumatic stress disorder.

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HUDSONALPHA AND UAB COMPREHENSIVE CANCER CENTER LAUNCH CONSORTIUM, ANNOUNCE MULTIPLE HIRES

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center have established a joint cancer research consortium that will combine pioneering efforts to diagnose, treat, and care for patients and families affected by cancer. As a demonstration of each institution’s commitment to tackling the second leading cause of death in the United States, both organizations announced their intention to hire multiple faculty investigators in cancer genomics.

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UAH EARTH SYSTEM SCIENCE CENTER RESEARCH IS FEATURED COVER STORY IN THE BULLETIN OF THE AMERICAN METEOROLOGICAL SOCIETY

Research conducted by UAH Atmospheric Science Professor Dr. Kevin Knupp, along with graduate students and fellow researchers in the Earth System Science Center (ESSC), on the deadly tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011, is featured as a cover story in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS).

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UAH ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AWARDED NOAA SANDY SUPPLEMENTAL PROJECT

UAH Atmospheric Science Associate Professor Dr. John Mecikalski is awarded a NOAA Sandy Supple-mental Project to improve 1-4 hour convective storm prediction.

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UAH COLLEGE OF SCIENCE FACULTY MEMBERS AWARDED NSF S-STEM PROPOSAL

Drs. Debra Moriarity, Joseph Ng and Luciano Matzkin, all of the UAH Department of Biological Sciences, are the principal investigators on a proposal that has been funded by NSF to provide scholarships to students interested in biotechnology. The grant will provide funds to develop and assess methods to improve the retention and graduation rate of STEM students. The investigators will be collaborating with the Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology to develop research experiences and workshops as part of this program. The award is for $638,000 over a 5 year period.

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UAH PHYSICS PROFESSOR AWARDED OBSERVING PROPOSALS FOR CHANDRA X-RAY ASTRONOMY MISSION

Two observing proposals of the Chandra X-ray astronomy mission were awarded to Dr. Ming Sun, totaling $74,000.

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UAH COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING PROFESSORS RECEIVE AWARDS AND GRANTS

- Dr. George Nelson, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, has been awarded a $202,413 grant from the National Science Foundation to perform research on alloys for high-capacity anodes in Li-ion batteries. This work is being performed in collaboration with researchers at Texas A&M University. Professor Nelson is also leading the UAH side of a team selected for an Air Force Phase II SBIR to develop an oxidation resistant high temperature heater for wind tunnel applications (Pending Amount: $149,960). This work will continue collaboration first established through the UAH Industry/University Graduate Student Research Program with local industrial partner Plasma Processes.

- Dr. Sarma Rani, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, received $173,000 for three years from the National Science Foundation to perform research on understanding the role of turbulence in the formation of precipitation in cumulus clouds. This work is being performed in collaboration with researchers at Cornell University.

- Dr. Farbod Fahimi, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, received $300,000 for three years from the 2014 NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. The REU grant focuses on “Fundamental Research Topics Related to Unmanned Systems,” and provides summer support for engineering and science students from around the country. In the first year of the program (June-August 2014), ten top under-graduate students from diverse institutions in the nation participated in research projects defined by six UAH professors in the College of Engineering and the College of Science. The REU program will continue until 2017, when it can be renewed.

- Dr. Babak Shotorban, a newly promoted Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has received an NSF award to investigate fundamental charging of dust in complex plasmas. The duration of the award, totaling $135,000, is three years. The project will be conducted in collaboration with Baylor University.

- Dr. Sampson Gholston, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering and engineering management, received $250,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Transportation to mentor disadvantaged businesses competing for Alabama construction contracts and subcontracts.

- Dr. Paul Collopy, professor of industrial and systems engineering and engineering management, received $120,000 grant from The National Science Foundation to develop new theoretical approaches to the design of large engineered systems.

- Dr. Phillip Farrington, professor of industrial and systems engineering and engineering management, received a $400,000 grant from Space and Missile Defense Command to support the INSPIRESS outreach program to educate and encourage high school youth to pursue engineering and science in college. He also received $600,000 for the third installment of a $3.5 million dollar research program in systems engineering from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

- Dr. Hongyu Zhou, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, received $49,967 award from UAH IIDR addressing the development of a new generation of bio-inspired multifunctional composites.

- Dr. Zhou also received a $149,925 equipment grant from UAH for establishing the infrastructure hazard mitigation and intelligent materials laboratory for interactive research on civil structures and infrastructural materials.

- Dr. Michael Anderson, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, received a $51,241 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for CFIRE Work Plan at UAH; a $25,874 grant from Auburn University for the evaluation of maintenance compliance for 5309 and 5310 Agencies; and a grant from the Alabama Department of Transportation for the Procurement of a Simulator to Support Rural Transit Driver Training ($1,193,614).

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UAH CYBERINFRASTRUCTURE RESEARCH PUBLISHED

A chapter describing cyber-infrastructure research performed by the UAH Information Technology and Systems Center (ITSC) was published in Remote Sensing and Modeling: Advances in Coastal and Marine Resources, a Springer International Publishing book in the Coastal Research Library series. This chapter describes the Northern Gulf Coast Hazards Collaboratory (NG-CHC), established to catalyze collaborative research via enhanced cyberinfrastructure to reduce regional vulnerability to natural and human disasters by facilitating high performance modeling to test hypotheses focused on engineering design, coastal system response and risk management of coastal hazards. Dr. Sara Graves, director of ITSC, is a principal investigator on the project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Research Infrastructure Track II program.

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UAH CSPAR BALLOON EUSO TEAM HAS FIRST-FLIGHT SUCCESS

UAH CSPAR graduate student Matthew Rodencal, Douglass Huie of the Rotorcraft Systems Engineering and Simulation Center (RSESC) and Dr. James Adams of CSPAR were part of a team in Canada that successfully rendezvoused with a stratospheric balloon carrying the prototype of the Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO) telescope on a moonless night over a remote area of the province of Ontario, Canada. EUSO is being developed for a flight on the International Space Station to record the luminous tracks left by extremely energetic cosmic rays when they strike the Earth’s atmosphere.

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UA RESEARCHERS DEVELOPED NOVEL METHOD FOR MAKING ELECTRICAL CELLULOSE FIBERS

By using liquid salts during formation instead of harsh chemicals, fibers that conduct electricity can be strengthened, according to a patent issued to a team of researchers at UA. The new method of crafting the fibers could open up normally flimsy materials, such as cotton, to conduct electricity in technologies normally reserved for stronger fibers. The inventors of the patent are Dr. Scott Spear, a research engineer with UA’s Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs, known as AIME; Dr. Anwarul Haque, associate professor of aerospace engineering and mechanics; Dr. Robin Rogers, the Robert Ramsay Chair of Chemistry at UA and director of UA’s Center for Green Manufacturing; Dr. Rachel Frazier, a research engineer at AIME, and Dr. Dan Daly, director of AIME.

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LIPID DEFICIENCY LINKED TO NEURON DEGENERATION IN UA LAB STUDY

A type of lipid that naturally declines in the aging brain impacts – within laboratory models used to study Parkinson’s disease – a protein associated with the disease, according to a study co-authored by UA researchers. The study, which published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focuses on lipids, fat-like molecules that naturally occur in organisms, and their potential roles in a complex process that leads to the death of neurons that produce dopamine. When dopamine-producing neurons malfunction or die, this leads to the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease.

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STUDENTS’ RELIGIOSITY MORE INFLUENTIAL THAN EDUCATION IN VIEWS ON EVOLUTION, UA RESEARCH SHOWS

College students’ views on evolution are shaped significantly more by religiosity than education, according to a survey of Southern students by UA researchers. The study, said to be the first in-depth analysis on the acceptance of evolution in this region, was to be published in October in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach. Co-authored by Dr. Leslie Rissler, a UA professor of biological sciences, and two of her graduate students, Sarah Duncan and Nicholas Caruso, it used data gathered from questionnaires answered by approximately 3,000 UA students.

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UA PSYCHOLOGISTS RECEIVED GRANTS TO EXPAND ‘COPING POWER’ RESEARCH

The UA Center for Prevention of Youth Behavior Problems received a pair of grants totaling more than $2.2 million to expand Coping Power, a children’s behavioral therapy program co-designed by Dr. John Lochman, a professor of psychology and director of the Center for Prevention of Youth Behavior Problems. He will serve as principal investigator on a four-year, $1.5 million grant to test the efficacy of his Early Adolescent Coping Power program, tested extensively with elementary school-aged children, with 720 at-risk seventh-grade youth and their caretakers in Virginia and Alabama. The grant is a sub-award from a larger grant awarded by the Institute for Education Sciences to the University of Virginia.

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UA’S CULVERHOUSE PARTNERED WITH LOCKHEED MARTIN ON RESEARCH LAB

Imagine saving companies hundreds of thousands of dollars by having college students find cost-saving measures in bits of data as part of a class project. As a leader in business analytics education since 2002, UA’s Culverhouse College of Commerce has been doing just that. Now, it is expanding on this innovative approach by partnering with advanced technology company Lockheed Martin to combine academia and industry to create a first-of-its-kind data analytics laboratory to help companies better compete in a global economy. The laboratory will serve as a premier research center for data analytics, providing collaboration and research across government, industry and academia to help companies anticipate and solve critical problems.

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UA RESEARCHERS EMBARKED ON NEW SEARCH FOR MYSTERIOUS DARK MATTER

Three UA physicists are among dozens of researchers planning and developing a new international search for dark matter – invisible material scientists believe makes up roughly 27 percent of the universe’s mass. The project, on which the UA scientists have collaborated since near its 2012 outset, received a boost recently when the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation announced it was one of three new dark matter projects selected for support. Dark matter is known to exist, scientists say, partly because they see the influence of invisible materials in gravity, including both within and around our own Milky Way galaxy.

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UA BIOLOGY STUDENT RECEIVED AWARD, CASH PRIZE FOR BIRTH DEFECT RESEARCH

Kristin R. Di Bona, a doctoral candidate and graduate research assistant in UA’s department of biological sciences, was named the 2014 recipient of the Teratology Society’s Marie W. Taubeneck award. The award, which includes a cash prize, is presented annually to a student or postdoctoral fellow in recognition of scholarship in the study of birth defects and developmentally-mediated disorders, as well as service to the Society. Di Bona earned the award for her graduate research, which focuses on the developmental and reproductive toxicity of iron oxide nanoparticles. Award recipients are selected for their level of enthusiasm for developmental and reproductive toxicology, their courage to pursue new methods and areas of research and their leadership among and mentoring of fellow students.

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SLEEPY STUDENTS EMPHASIZE STUDIES, SOCIAL ACTIVITY TO DETRIMENT OF HEALTH, ACCORDING TO UA STUDY

College students are typically more sleep deprived than the rest of us and often ignore the health benefits of adequate slumber, said Dr. Adam Knowlden, assistant professor in UA’s department of health science. He recently surveyed college students about their sleep behaviors and attitudes and co-authored an article in Family & Community Health. The health benefits of sleep did not factor into students’ decisions about whether or not to get adequate sleep, said Knowlden of the students in the study. This might suggest the students offset sleep when faced with other activities they deem more important, such as academic coursework or social activities. Students in the study cited job stress and a lack of time as the two greatest factors that prevented them from getting enough sleep.

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BASEBALL, BANKS, AEROSPACE TOP TOPICS AT UA BUSINESS ANALYTICS SYMPOSIUM

Already branded “innovators” by SAS, the world’s largest advanced business analytics and software service provider, organizers of the Culverhouse College of Commerce Institute of Business Analytics again championed new ideas when they hosted UA’s seventh Business Analytics Symposium. At least a dozen world-renowned data analytics experts − including Ray O. Johnson, chief technology officer of Lockheed Martin, and Paul Adams of the Atlanta Braves − explained how they use statistics, data mining, predictive modeling and operations research in their work. Presenters explained how predictive models are impacting their businesses, from dog food to energy grids. Dr. Wayne Winston, an award-winning Indiana University professor and analytics consultant, outlined how mathematical models can be used to help baseball, football and basketball teams devise player and lineup selections and game strategy.