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Advances in Research

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SEPTEMBER 2014

 

UAB STUDY OF BLOOD THINNERS TO ADVANCE PERSONALIZED MEDICINE

Oral anticoagulants, or blood thinners, are widely used to prevent and treat strokes, heart attacks and venous clots. UAB researchers will tackle the most feared complication of anticoagulation therapy – serious or fatal hemorrhage or bleeding – with a $3.5 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health. UAB researchers have spearheaded efforts to understand how an individual’s genetic makeup, clinical factors, environment and lifestyle interact to affect response to warfarin, the most commonly used oral anticoagulant.

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UAB RESEARCH ON ROUNDWORMS UNLOCKS NEW INFORMATION ON FERTILITY

UAB research published in the journal, Science, about the fertility of roundworms may have implications for everything from captive pandas to infertile couples struggling to conceive. The Science paper, by UAB and colleagues at Vanderbilt University and Louisiana State University, reveals for the first time the details of how a fertility sensing system works.

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PAIR OF NEW UAB STUDIES AIMS TO IMPROVE MATERNAL AND CHILD HEALTH IN KENYA

Janet Turan, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Health Care Organization and Policy at the UAB School of Public Health, will continue her work in reducing the effects of HIV-related stigma among pregnant women in Kenya as principal investigator of a new project in collaboration with investigators at the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the University of California San Francisco with a three-year award of more than $600,000 from the National Institute of Mental Health. Additionally, Turan is co-principal investigator on another new R01 grant in the amount of $1,721,830, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development for the next five years, that will focus on eliminating new pediatric HIV infections and saving mothers’ lives, as well as simplifying antiretroviral therapy implementation.

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UAB STUDY IDENTIFIES WAY BRAIN TUMORS FUEL THEIR GROWTH

In a study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, Markus Bredel, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology and senior scientist in the neurooncology program at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, and colleagues demonstrate that a phenomenon known as “alternative splicing” allows brain tumors to incapacitate a key tumor suppressor gene, and that this splicing event happens in a tissue-specific context.

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UAB CREATES BIOENERGETIC HEALTH INDEX THAT COULD BECOME A KEY TOOL IN PERSONALIZED MEDICINE

UAB School of Medicine researchers have created an experimental blood test that, for the first time, determines a “Bioenergetic Health Index,” or BHI, by gauging the performance of mitochondria, the cell’s energy powerhouses. They reported their laboratory findings in a recent issue of the journal Clinical Science. Until now, a test of mitochondrial health has been elusive, experts say; but it could prove to be a significant early warning system for people with chronic diseases known to damage the mitochondria, such as HIV, alcoholic hepatitis, age-related diseases and more.

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PASSWORDS?

SOON YOU MAY LOG IN SECURELY WITHOUT THEM USING A PROGRAM BEING PERFECTED AT UAB

Passwords are a common security measure to protect personal information, but UAB researchers are working to perfect an easy-to-use, secure login protection that eliminates the need to use a password – known as zero-interaction authentication. Research led by Nitesh Saxena, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences and assurance pillar co-leader of the Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research, was presented during the International Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communications and the Financial Cryptography and Data Security conference.

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UAB STUDY: LRRK2 INHIBITORS MAY BE KEY TO COMBATING PARKINSON’S DISEASE

An enzyme closely associated with genetic forms of Parkinson’s disease appears to play a larger role in its progression than previously thought, says Andrew West, Ph.D., John A. and Ruth R. Jurenko, Endowed Professor in Neurology and lead author on a study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The new research offers encouraging evidence that drugs to block this enzyme, known as leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 or LRRK2, could slow or prevent Parkinson’s. The genetic model used in the UAB study more closely mimics Parkinson’s disease than do other, more frequently used models, which suggests that inhibiting LRRK2 in humans could help more than those with the less-common genetic forms.

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UAB STUDY SHOWS HOW BRAIN TUMOR CELLS MOVE AND DAMAGE TISSUE, POINTS TO POSSIBLE THERAPY

In a Nature Communications paper, UAB researchers have shed new light on how cells called gliomas migrate in the brain and cause devastating tumors. The findings show that gliomas – malignant glial cells – disrupt normal neural connections and hijack control of blood vessels. The study provides insight into the mechanisms of how glioma cells spread throughout the brain as a devastating form of brain cancer, and potentially offers a tantalizing opportunity for therapy.

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UAB RESEARCHERS RECOMMEND LOW-CARB DIET FOR DIABETICS

A study accepted for publication in Nutrition from UAB researchers and other institutions says patients with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes should eat a diet low in carbohydrates. The study offers 12 points of evidence showing that low-carbohydrate diets should be the first line of attack for treatment of Type 2 diabetes, and should be used in conjunction with insulin in those with Type 1 diabetes.

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UAH ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE PROFESSORS CONDUCT FIELD STUDIES IN PANAMA

Atmospheric Science Assistant Professor, Dr. Phillip Bitzer, and ESSC Research Associate, Jeff Burchfield, in collaboration with Dr. Steve Yanoviak of the University of Louisville, are currently on Barro Colorado Island in Panama doing initial field work in support of an NSF grant on the Ecology of Lightning in Tropical Forests.

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UAH ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE PROFESSORS CONDUCT FIELD STUDIES IN PERU

Atmospheric Science Professors, Dr. Tom Sever and Dr. Robert Griffin, along with researchers at Boston University, are jointly conducting field studies in northern Peru focused on the application of satellite remote sensing for identifying the remnants of ancient human adaptation to past environments.

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UAH ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE PROFESSORS PARTICIPATE IN NASA IPHEX

Atmospheric Science Associate Professor, Dr. Lawrence Carey, and graduate student Charanjit Pabla are participating in the NASA Integrated Precipitation and Hydrology Experiment (IPHEX) in the Great Smoky Mountains. The focus of the study is on orographic rainfall using satellite remote sensing, radar, ground instruments and research aircraft.

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UAH COLLEGE OF SCIENCE ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR GROWS PROTEIN CRYSTALS ON THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION

UAH College of Science Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Dr. Joe Ng, coworkers, and biotech company iXpress-Genes, sent protein samples to crystallize on the ISS via SpaceX3. Samples were returned May 18th in the SpaceX3 Dragon capsule. They were received at UAH in early June where the analyses are still in progress.

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UAH COLLEGE OF SCIENCE BIOTECH STARTUP COMPANY PUTS FIRST INSTRUMENTATION PRODUCT ON THE MARKET

iXpressGenes, a UAH supported biotech company at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, founded by UAH Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Dr. Joe Ng, launched its first instrumentation product, CrystalX2. CrystalX2 is an automated fluorescent imager that reveals early nucleation of protein crystal growth. The instrument expedites the high-throughput screening of crystallization conditions to obtain macro-molecular crystals suitable for crystallographic analyses and subsequently structural determination. Molecular Dimensions is distributing the product and it is being shown in scientific conferences.

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UAH SOPHOMORE’S PRODUCT DRAWING INVESTOR ATTENTION

Nestegg Bio, a 3D printing start-up founded by UAH student Tanner Carden and collaborators Devon Bane, Gavon Carden, and Tim Gualdin, was selected to participate in the GIGTANK Accelerator program by The Company Lab in Chattanooga, TN.  Co.Lab will invest $15,000 toward accelerating development of Nestegg Bio, a company that leverages an innovative 3D printing process to lower the cost of producing cellular structures used in drug testing. Advised by Biology Department Chair Dr. Debra Moriarity, the developers of CarmAl were earlier awarded $9,948 in UAH Charger Innovation Fund support. As part of its investment, business incubator Co.Lab worked to accelerate the NestEgg Bio startup at Chattanooga’s Gigtank startup accelerator this summer.

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UAH MODELING & SIMULATION STUDENTS WIN $10,000 EACH TO SUPPORT THEIR STUDIES

UAH Ph.D. students Mitchell Bott and Daniel O’Brien won the RADM Fred Lewis Postgraduate I/ITSEC Scholarship, which is awarded by the National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA). The I/ITSEC scholarship, which has been awarded annually since 1989, is highly prestigious and sought after in the Defense M&S community. Normally the awards go to one M.S. and one Ph.D. student each year; it is somewhat unusual for two Ph.D. awards to be given in the same year. However, it is unprecedented for both awards in a year to go to students at the same university. Previous years’ awards have gone to students from Old Dominion University, the University of Central Florida, Texas A&M University, Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Southern California, and Iowa State University.

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UAH COLLEGE OF SCIENCE DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR’S JOURNAL SELECTED BY THE JOURNAL OF PLASMA PHYSICS

Distinguished Professor Dr. Gary P. Zank’s article “The equations of reduced magnetohydrodynamics JPP 48, 85 (1992)” was selected by the Editorial Board of the Journal of Plasma Physics as one of the 12 “Classic JPP Papers.” The list was made by the vote of the Editorial Board, who was asked to choose from amongst all papers with more than 100 citations.

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UAH COLLEGE OF BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION PROFESSORS RECEIVE GRANT EXTENSION

Dr. Al Wilhite, professor of economics, and Dr. Eric Fong, associate professor of management, received a second year of grant funding from the Office of Research Integrity (U.S. Department. of Health and Human Services) for their project, “Measuring the Extent of and Reactions to the Practices of Honorary Authorship and Coercive Citation in Academic Publishing and Grant Writing.”

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UAH COLLEGE OF BUSINESS PROFESSORS’ ARTICLE ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

Dr. Yeqing Bao, associate chair and associate professor of marketing, Eric Fong, associate professor of management, and Tim Landry, associate professor of marketing, received acceptance of a paper entitled “Strategic Consensus of Market Orientation: A Transition Economy’s Perspective” by the Journal of Strategic Marketing.

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UAH COLLEGE OF BUSINESS PROFESSOR CO-AUTHORS PAPER

Dr. Wafa Orman, assistant professor of economics, co-authored a paper, “Playing with Other People’s Money: Contributions to Public Goods by Trustees,” which received acceptance by the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics.

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UAH COLLEGE OF BUSINESS PROFESSORS CO-AUTHOR PAPER

Dr. Eric Fong, associate professor of management, Dr. Ivey MacKenzie, assistant professor of management, Dr. Wafa Orman, assistant professor of economics, and Dr. Xuejing Xing, associate professor of finance, co-authored a paper, “Relative CEO Pay and Firm Value,” which received acceptance by the Journal of Business Research.

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UAH VICE PRESIDENT FOR RESEARCH AWARDED $4.2M NSF GRANT

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Awarded UAH a grant to establish a Cyber Corps Scholarship for Service (SFS) program, which will begin this fall semester. UAH will now be able to provide full-ride scholarships under this grant to students selected as recipients. These scholarships provide two years of full tuition, stipends of between $20K-$30K per academic year depending on undergraduate/graduate status, and funding for health insurance, books, and professional development.

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THREE UAH EARTH SYSTEM SCIENCE UNDERGRADUATES SPEND SUMMER CONDUCTING RESEARCH

A U.S. Navy veteran is one of three Earth System Science undergraduates who spent last summer conducting research funded through UAH’s Research and Creative Experiences for Undergraduates (RCEU) program. Robert Rossell worked with Cameron Handyside in UAH’s Earth System Science Center to study the impact expanding irrigation in Alabama might have on water supplies in various watersheds. While Rossell studied water supplies, Christopher Phillips worked with Udaysankar Nair, an assistant professor in atmospheric science, to study climate change in semi-arid Niger. Phillips and Nair used weather station and satellite data from 2005 through 2007 to study aerosol concentrations over Niamey, Niger’s capital, where the population has increased from under 10,000 to about a million in the past 100 years. Jeanné le Roux used the new ISERV telescope aboard the International Space Station to look for new information about ancient cultures.

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UAH AND THE EUSO BALLOON

The EUSO BALLON is a balloon-borne prototype for the Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO). UAH currently has a NASA research grant to participate in this international space mission. The international EUSO team is preparing a campaign to fly EUSO BALLOON in Canada in August 2014. UAH’s role in this campaign is to fly a helicopter under the balloon carrying light sources that will be used to calibrate EUSO BALLOON. This will be done over remote areas of Canada that are far from anthropogenic light sources on a moonless night.

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GRANTS AWARDED TO UAH CSPAR RESEARCHERS AND FACULTY

- Sergey Borovikov: Analysis of Heliospheric Transient Events at Earth Orbit from Multiple Spacecraft Observations; 4/1/2014 – 3/31/2017; overall value: $406,395.

- Vladimir Florinski; NSF; FRG: Collaborative Research: Developing Mathematical Algorithms for Adaptive, Geodesic Mesh MHD for use in Astrophysics and Space Physics; 7/1/2014 – 6/30/2017; overall value: $162,256.

- Dr. Hu of Department of Space Science received a new grant from Naval Research Laboratory, entitled “The Grad-Shafranov Modeling of Interplanetary Magnetic Flux Ropes” for the project period 06/27/2014-06/26/2018 of total amount $199,756.

- Peter Jenke: MSFC CA, GBM Earth Occultation Monitoring; 5/1/2014 – 4/30/2015; $41,495.

- Peter Jenke: MSFC CA, Studies of Accreting Binary Pulsars with the Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor in cycle 6; 5/1/2014 – 4/30/2015; $24,485.

- Peter Jenke: MSFC CA; Unveiling the Nature of Torque REvesrals n Accreting Pulsars; 6/15/2014 – 6/14/2015; $28,432.

- Nikolai Pogorelov: Project MCA07S033 “Modeling Heliospheric Phenomena with an MHD-kinetic Code and Observational Boundary Conditions,” XSEDE time allocation on TACC HP/NVIDIA Interactive Visualization and Data Analytics System (Maverick): 7000 TACC Dell PowerEdge C8220 Cluster with Intel Xeon Phi coprocessors (Stampede): 2385578 TACC Long-term tape Archival Storage (Ranch): 350000. The value of these awarded resources is $88,969.

- Nikolai Pogorelov: NSF SHINE: Solar wind with a Time-dependent, MHD, Interplanetary Scintillation Tomography; 7/1/2014 – 6/30/2017; overall value: $443,955.

- Gary P. Zank; ACHE GSRP, Laxman Adhikari; Transport of Turbulence throughout the Heliosphere; 8/15/2014 – 8/14/2015; $18,750.

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UA SCIENTISTS IDENTIFIED METABOLIC LINK BETWEEN AGING, PARKINSON’S

UA researchers identified within animal models an enzyme that links genetic pathways that control aging with the death of dopamine neurons – a clinical hallmark of Parkinson’s disease. Further study is needed, but the enzyme could later prove a target for boosting efforts to prevent or reduce problems associated with the malfunction of dopamine-producing neurons in the brains of diseased patients. The findings show that a gene the scientists discovered to be “neuroprotective” also codes for a basic enzyme in the breakdown of glucose, in the pathway of glycolysis. Glycolysis is the primary cellular pathway by which cells break down sugar to generate energy. Fourteen of the paper’s 17 co-authors are, or were at the time of the study, affiliated with UA, including multiple undergraduate students.

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UA SCIENTISTS DEMONSTRATED IMPROVED CATALYST CONTROL, ENERGY SAVINGS COULD RESULT

Inspired by how enzymes work in nature’s biological processes, researchers have demonstrated a way to improve control of synthetic catalysts, according to a paper co-authored by Dr. David Dixon, the Robert Ramsay Chair of Chemistry at UA, which was published in an online issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Catalysts accelerate chemical reactions so that they go faster and use less energy. Estimates indicate that the economic impact of catalytic processing, including pollution abatement, is $10 trillion annually, Dixon said. The UA researcher cited improving the conversion of biomass – typically plant-based materials – into transportation fuels as an example of how designing more efficient catalysts could benefit society. The research is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

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UA RESEARCHER EARNED NATIONAL AWARD FROM CUBA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

A UA professor’s archaeological research in Cuba has earned him the National Prize from the Cuba Academy of Sciences, a major national award in that country. Dr. Vernon James Knight, a professor in the department of anthropology and curator of southeastern archaeology at UA, received the award for research he conducted at the archaeological site of El Chorro de Maíta in eastern Cuba. The international collaborative research project lasted from 2006 to 2012 and involved researchers from five countries and seven institutions. The award for the project was given, in part, because of the large amount of publicity the project received worldwide. At least 36 articles were published about the project, including publicity generated by the BBC, the New York Times, the National Geographic Society, and American Archaeology magazine.

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WITH PATENTED TECHNOLOGY, UA PROFESSOR HOPES TO IMPROVE ELECTRONIC DEVICES

Electronic devices could be made cheaper, smaller and more efficient by reducing the complexity of their internal method of converting and regulating energy, according to a patent by Dr. Jaber Abu Qahouq, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UA. An indispensable part of electronic devices, a power converter transforms incoming electricity to a form useable by the device. Increased sophistication of electronics, especially mobile technology, has required more complexity in power converters, driving up costs and energy used by the electronics. However, Qahouq developed a controller for power converters that does not need to sense the current traveling through the device in order to improve the way power is supplied to the device. This could eliminate existing methods used for the same function.

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TEAM OF UA ENGINEERING STUDENTS WON 2014 NASA ROBOTIC MINING CONTEST

A team of students brought home a national title after winning the top prize at a NASA contest. Made up of students from UA and Shelton State Community College, Alabama Astrobotics earned the most points in NASA’s Robotic Mining Competition, which challenged collegiate engineering and computer-science students to build a robot capable of navigating and excavating simulated Martian soil. This was the fifth annual Robotic Mining Competition NASA had hosted. Made up of students from across engineering disciplines, computer science and other areas of campus, the team of UA and Shelton State students won the contest in 2012, and placed third a year ago. Alabama Astrobotics won the Joe Kosmo Award for Excellence. The team was awarded $7,750 to be used towards next year’s competition.

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UA PLANK CENTER’S CO-SPONSORED RESEARCH STUDY LED TO BOOK RELEASE

Research sponsored by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at UA, Heyman Associates and IBM Corporation has led to the release of Public Relations Leaders as Sensemakers. The book presents foundational research on the public relations profession, providing a current and compelling picture of expanding global practice. The book probes the role of public relations leaders in the digital age and is grounded in research conducted with 4,500 communication professionals in 23 countries, the largest study of leadership ever conducted in the profession. The book explores key issues in public relations, how leaders manage them, how they influence practice, and how future leaders will be different. Country and regional profiles depict the state of leadership development in the field today.

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UA ENGINEERING PROFESSOR RECEIVED OAK RIDGE POWE GRANT

Dr. Lin Li, assistant professor of metallurgical and materials engineering at UA, was one of 35 researchers selected to receive a nationally-competitive grant from Oak Ridge Associated Universities through the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Awards program. The awards are given to professors in the first two years of their tenure-track position in life sciences; mathematics and computer science; engineering and other applied science; physical sciences; policy; management; or education. Each winner receives a $5,000 grant, and their ORAU-affiliated university agrees to match the sum. This award will support Li’s research on multi-scale modeling of shear banding in metallic glasses.

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UA PROFESSORS HOSTED CYBERCRIME WORKSHOP AT INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE

Drs. Diana Dolliver and Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar, assistant professors of criminal justice at UA, presented a cybercrime research workshop to top international and national law enforcement intelligence officers at the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts annual training convention in Atlanta. Seigfried-Spellar and Dolliver are hopeful the establishment of the UA Cyber Institute, a research center that will focus on cyber security-related issues, will aid in their research efforts. Dolliver recently received two grants to research online drug trafficking trends on the Tor Network. Seigfried-Spellar received a grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to help establish an on-campus digital forensics task force, which will process cases and allow student interns to gain hands-on experience.

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SHRIMP, 30,000 VOLTS HELPED UA START-UP LAND $1.5 MILLION FOR URANIUM EXTRACTION

The U.S. Department of Energy selected a UA start-up company for an approximate $1.5 million award to refine an alternative material to potentially extract uranium from the ocean. Uranium, which naturally occurs in seawater and in the Earth’s crust, is the fuel for nuclear power. For decades, scientists have sought a more economical and efficient way to remove it from the ocean. Unlike other scientists, the UA-based company 525 Solutions is developing an adsorbent, biodegradable material made from the compound chitin, which is found in shrimp shells and in other crustaceans and insects. The researchers have developed transparent sheets, or mats, comprised of tiny chitin fibers, modified for the task. When suspended beneath the ocean’s surface, the mats are designed to withdraw uranium.

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UA GRADUATE STUDENT ATTENDED NATIONAL RESEARCH SYMPOSIUM

Ashley Jolly, a UA doctoral student studying organic chemistry, was one of approximately 75 graduate students who presented their research at the American Chemical Society Division of Organic Chemistry Graduate Research Symposium at the University of California, Irvine. The symposium provides graduate students studying organic chemistry the opportunity to interact with leaders in academia, industry, funding agencies and publishing at a single venue, as well as opportunities to attend workshops, participate in round-table discussions and learn about post-graduate opportunities. Jolly discussed her research working with large macromolecules with characteristics that make them potential vectors for selective drug delivery.

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UA’S RANDALL RESEARCH PROGRAM RECOGNIZED 15 BUDDING INVESTIGATORS

Fifteen UA undergraduate researchers received recognition through the Randall Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award Program. The program recognizes the best research activity conducted by UA undergraduates, who are nominated by faculty and staff research directors. In 1997, the Randall Publishing Co., now Randall-Reilly Publishing, and the H. Pettus Randall III family created the Randall Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award Program in memory of Henry Pettus Randall Jr., a distinguished UA alumnus and creator of Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.