UNM Research News

UNM Human Research Protections Program receives full AAHRPP accreditation

The University of New Mexico Human Research Protections Program (HRPP), UNM’s provider of regulatory and ethical review services for human research at UNM Main & Branch Campuses, today announced that it has received full accreditation by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protections Programs (AAHRPP), effective March 20, 2017. AAHRPP serves to protect the rights and welfare of research participants, and also to build public trust and confidence in research.

The UNM Institutional Review Board (IRB) was established over two decades ago to meet the review needs of sponsors, contract research organizations and investigators across the Main and Branch campuses. The HRPP, which includes the IRB, the University and the researchers, provides oversight for all research activities involving human participants at the University of New Mexico. The HRPP is not an office, but rather a collective effort of all who participate in the conduct, review, approval and facilitation of human research at UNM.

They join eight other organizations in earning AAHRPP accreditation this quarter, bringing the total to 238 accredited organizations overall.

“Undertaking the process of national accreditation was a way to show that UNM has a tremendous interest in the protection and safety of participants in human research,” said HRPP Director Linda Petree. “The accreditation process was quite intensive. It involved implementing a substantial number of policies and procedures, developing relationships with all of the components of the program, as well as a site visit that included IRB records review and interviews with over 30 individuals who are involved in the HRPP. I am very proud to have been a part of this significant achievement and to work with UNM’s amazing research community.”

“National accreditation from AAHRPP underscores the main campus IRB's commitment to rigorous standards for the protection of individuals & communities involved in human research as well as to our service to the research community,” said IRB Chair and Associate Professor Christine Mermier. “Organizations with accredited IRBs are also more likely to build public trust in research, as well as to develop a competitive advantage for funding organizations and regulatory agencies.”

“UNM Office of Research & Compliance and its Office of the IRB are committed to the continuous improvement of the HRPP and other research compliance programs, said Research Compliance Director Ana Andzic-Tomlinson. “The AAHRPP accreditation is evidence of our commitment to process improvement and the highest level of quality in supporting the mission of protecting the rights and welfare of human research participants and fostering research integrity and ethics.”

To earn AAHRPP accreditation, organizations must demonstrate that they have built extensive safeguards into every level of their research operation and that they adhere to high standards for research. In today’s global, collaborative research enterprise, organizations increasingly rely on AAHRPP accreditation status to help identify trusted research partners.

A nonprofit organization, AAHRPP provides accreditation for organizations that conduct or review human research and can demonstrate that their protections exceed the safeguards required by the U.S. government. To learn more, visit www.aahrpp.org

]]>Latest NewsResearchFri, 24 Mar 2017 16:46:22 GMTThe University of New Mexico Human Research Protections Program (HRPP), UNM’s provider of regulatory and ethical review services for human research at UNM Main & Branch Campuses, today announced that it has received full accreditation by the Association...Vanessa Tanhttp://news.unm.edu/news/unm-human-research-protections-program-receives-full-aahrpp-accreditationFri, 24 Mar 2017 16:12:00 GMT

Peabody, Chackerian to receive the 2017 STC.UNM Innovation Fellow Award

Dr. David Peabody and Dr. Bryce Chackerian, professors in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology have been chosen to receive the 2017 STC.UNM Innovation Fellow Award in recognition of their achievements as leading innovators at The University of New Mexico. 

The STC.UNM (STC) Board of Directors presents this special award each year to a university faculty inventor(s) whose body of technologies have made a significant social and economic impact on society and the marketplace.  The award will be presented to Peabody and Chackerian at STC’s 2017 Innovation Awards Dinner on April 4. 

The annual event also recognizes UNM faculty, staff and students who have received issued U. S. patents, trademarks and registered copyrights within the past year. In addition to receiving the Innovation Fellow Award, Peabody and Chackerian will each receive an Innovation Award for five issued patents this year.                                                                                                                                                                 

“We are so pleased to recognize these two top innovators at UNM with the 2017 STC.UNM Innovation Fellow Award,” said STC CEO Lisa Kuttila on behalf of the entire STC.UNM Board of Directors. “Each in his own right is an outstanding inventor, and as collaborators, they are a match made in heaven. Dr. Peabody and Dr. Chackerian’s body of technologies represent a new way to make vaccines using their novel virus-like particle platform. 

Dr. David Peabody, 2017 Innovation Fellow Award recipient

“These VLP technologies have limitless potential to treat infectious and chronic diseases.  The importance of innovations in vaccine development, particularly to developing countries, cannot be under-estimated. Vaccines that are more effective, faster to create, and cheaper to make are a global need that require our ingenuity to treat preventable infectious diseases and the new and unknown ones on the horizon.  And now an entirely new class of vaccines is being developed for chronic diseases, the new treatment frontier.”

“We do many things well at the UNM Health Sciences Center, but I’m particularly proud of the work that David Peabody and Bryce Chackerian have been doing to develop vaccines to address a wide variety of human illnesses,” said UNM HSC Chancellor and School of Medicine Dean Paul Roth. “Their research represents a significant step forward in medical technology.

"For the first time, the power of the human immune system might be harnessed against some of our most pressing health concerns, including infectious diseases like Human Papillomavirus, HIV and Zika virus, as well as to treat chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease and cancer. I want to congratulate them for this much-deserved award.”

Peabody received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Utah. As a postdoctoral fellow, he trained in the laboratory of Dr. Paul Berg (Nobel Prize, 1980) at the Stanford University Medical School and came to UNM as an assistant professor in 1984.

For most of his career, he studied the single-strand RNA viruses of bacteria (the RNA bacteriophages) as model systems to understand the role of RNA-protein interactions in gene regulation, but in the last 10 years turned his attention to adapting the virus-like particles (VLPs) of these phages as platforms for vaccine discovery and delivery.

Dr. Bryce Chackerian, 2017 Innovation Fellow Award recipient

Chackerian received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington.  As a postdoctoral fellow, he trained in the laboratory of Dr. John Schiller at the National Cancer Institute.  In 2004, he joined the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology at UNM. He is a member of the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Center for Infectious Disease and Immunity. 

Chackerian's laboratory is interested in vaccine development, particularly the use of virus particles as platforms for antigen display.  It has long been recognized that highly dense repetitive antigens such as virus particles induce strong immune responses.  Chackerian’s laboratory has exploited these structural features to develop vaccines in which virus-like particles (VLPs) are used as platforms to display practically any epitope in this highly immunogenic, multivalent format. 

Together, the two inventors have developed a wide range of tools that allow them to use the versatile bacteriophage VLP technology to rationally engineer novel vaccines and also discover vaccines through an empirical affinity selection-based technology that target not only infectious diseases but the self-antigens that are involved in chronic diseases as well.

]]>Latest NewsHealth Sciences CenterResearchThu, 23 Mar 2017 18:14:06 GMTDr. David Peabody and Dr. Bryce Chackerian, professors in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology have been chosen to receive the 2017 STC.UNM Innovation Fellow Award in recognition of their achievements as leading innovators at The...Denise Bissellhttp://news.unm.edu/news/peabody-chackerian-to-receive-the-2017-stc-unm-innovation-fellow-awardThu, 23 Mar 2017 16:10:00 GMT

Physics & Astronomy hosts UNM Physics Day 2017

The University of New Mexico Department of Physics & Astronomy hosts UNM Physics Day 2017 on Saturday, April 8 at the department facilities at 1919 Lomas Blvd. NE.

The conference will feature a variety of events including oral and poster presentations by undergraduate students from UNM, NM Tech, the University of Arizona and a slew of other colleges and universities. There will also be tours of UNM’s Observatory and several research labs to show attendees just some of the cutting-edge work being done throughout the department.

Faculty organizers say they want to introduce a variety of students to physics and astronomy and hope to get them thinking about pursuing the field at the university level.

Arash Mafi, interim director of UNM’s Center for High Technology Materials and professor of Physics & Astronomy, will present the plenary talk. Awards will also be given out for the best presentations and lunch and dinner will be provided for all attendees.

UNM Physics Day 2017 is sponsored by The University of New Mexico, the Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers, the Society of Physics Students and the Rayburn Reaching Up Fund.

Anyone interested in attending can register through the event’s website

]]>CHTMInside UNMCollege of Arts & SciencesPhysics & AstronomyResearchWed, 22 Mar 2017 14:00:07 GMTThe University of New Mexico Department of Physics & Astronomy is hosting UNM Physics Day 2017 on Saturday, April 8 at the department facilities at 1919 Lomas Blvd. NE.http://news.unm.edu/news/physics-astronomy-hosts-unm-physics-day-2017Wed, 22 Mar 2017 14:00:00 GMT

UNM Biology Department hosts 26th annual Research Days and Open House

The Biology Department at The University of New Mexico hosts its 26th annual Research Days and Open House Thursday and Friday, March 30-31.

This annual event showcases student research, and celebrates discovery and education in the biological sciences.

Students have created posters to showcase their discoveries. The posters will be on display for judges’ preview on Thursday, and will be presented by the students with an oral presentation on Friday.

Dr. Jonathan Overpeck

This year's keynote speaker is Dr. Jonathan Overpeck, director, Institute of the Environment, University of Arizona, and University Director, Southwest Climate Science Center; Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Professor; and Regents Professor of Geosciences, Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences. He will speak on “New Perspectives on Future Climate Change Risk and Ecosystem Change.”

Thursday’s schedule:

  • 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. - Student poster presentations and judging (odd-numbered), first floor & basement hallways of Casetter Hall
     
  • 1 – 3:20 p.m. - Student poster presentations and judging (even-numbered), first floor & basement hallways of Casetter Hall
     
  • 3:30 p.m. - Departmental research presentation, “The Avian Tree of Life in the Phylogenomics Era” by Assistant Professor Michael Andersen, UNM Biology, 100 Castetter Hall
     
  • 4:30 – 6 p.m. - Open houses in Castetter Hall & in the Museum of Southwestern Biology (CERIA, Bldg. 83)

Friday's schedule:

  • 9 – 11:30 a.m. - Student oral presentations, Session 1, 55 Castetter Hall
     
  • 12 noon –1 p.m. - Lunch, basement & courtyard of Castetter Hall, BGSA Lunch with Keynote Speaker, 107 Castetter Hall
     
  • 1 – 3:15 p.m. - Student oral presentations, Session 2, 51 Castetter Hall
     
  • 1 – 3:15 p.m. - Student oral presentations, Session 3, 55 Castetter Hall
     
  • 3:30–5:15 p.m. - Remarks by acting Provost & Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Craig White; introduction of the keynote speaker by William T. Pockman, UNM professor &  Biology chair; Keynote lecture, Dr. Jonathan Overpeck, “New Perspectives on Future Climate Change Risk and Ecosystem Change,” Room 102 (auditorium) of the Science & Math Learning Center (SMLC, Bldg. 14)
     
  • 4:30 – 8 p.m. - Reception for keynote speaker, silent auction and awards ceremony, foyer, Room 102 (auditorium) and Room 120 of the Science & Math Learning Center (SMLC, Bldg. 14)

For more information, visit 26th annual Research Days or email Donna George, dgeorge@unm.edu.

]]>Inside UNMBiologyLatest NewsResearchMon, 20 Mar 2017 11:00:08 GMTThe Biology Department at The University of New Mexico hosts its 26th annual Research Days and Open House Thursday and Friday, March 30-31. This annual event showcases student research, and celebrates discovery and education in the biological...http://news.unm.edu/news/unm-biology-department-hosts-26th-annual-research-days-and-open-houseMon, 20 Mar 2017 11:00:00 GMT

LANL donation adding to UNM supercomputing power

A new computing system to be donated to The University of New Mexico Center for Advanced Research Computing (CARC) by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) will put the “super” in supercomputing.

The system is nine times more powerful than the combined computing power of the four machines it is replacing, according to CARC interim director Patrick Bridges.

The machine was acquired from LANL through the National Science Foundation-sponsored PR0bE project, which is run by the New Mexico Consortium (NMC). The NMC, comprising UNM, New Mexico State, and New Mexico Tech universities, engages universities and industry in scientific research in the nation's interest and to increase the role of LANL in science, education and economic development.

The new system given to UNM from LANL

The system includes:

  • More than 500 nodes, each featuring two quad-core 2.66 GHz Intel Xeon 5550 CPUs and 24 GB of memory
  • More than 4,000 cores and 12 terabytes of RAM
  • 45-50 trillion floating-point operations per second (45-50 teraflops)

Additional memory, storage and specialized compute facilities to augment this system are also being planned.

“This is roughly 20 percent more powerful than any other remaining system at UNM,” Bridges said. “Not only will the new machine be easier to administer and maintain, but also easier for students, faculty and staff to use. The machine will provide cutting-edge computation for users and will be the fastest of all the machines.”

Andree Jacobson, chief information officer of the NMC, says that he is pleased the donation will benefit educational efforts.

 “Through a very successful collaboration between the National Science Foundation, New Mexico Consortium, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory called PRObE, we’ve been able to repurpose this retired machine to significantly improve the research computing environment in New Mexico,” he said. “It is truly wonderful to see old computers get a new life, and also an outstanding opportunity to assist the New Mexico universities.”

To make space for the new machine, the Metropolis, Pequeña, and Ulam systems at UNM will be phased out over the next couple of months. As they are taken offline, the new machine will be installed and brought online. Users of existing systems and their research will be transitioned to the new machine as part of this process.

]]>Latest NewsSchool of EngineeringResearchThu, 16 Mar 2017 20:44:48 GMTA new computing system to be donated to The University of New Mexico Center for Advanced Research Computing (CARC) by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) will put the “super” in supercomputing. The system is nine times more powerful than the combined...http://news.unm.edu/news/lanl-donation-adding-to-unm-supercomputing-powerThu, 16 Mar 2017 18:45:00 GMT

Shedding light on mental illness brain patterns

Vince Calhoun’s warm smile deeply contrasts with cold plastic of the machine at the center of his distinguished career. During the last quarter century, his research has focused on creating algorithms used in the fMRI scanner to map electrical currents via blood moving through the human brain.

"We need to maximize our ability to see what’s impacted in the brain so we can understand how mental ilnesses work” - Vince Calhoun, executive director, Mind Research Network

Much like his lab’s fMRI uses disruptions in the magnetic field to create images of the brain, Calhoun is making big ripples in the international pool of biomedical research. His analysis, along with his mission to create mentorships and interdisciplinary partnerships for students and researchers at the Mind Research Network (MRN), are why he was chosen as the honored speaker at 62nd Annual Research Lecture.

The University of New Mexico Annual Research Lecture, presented by the Office of the Vice President for Research, was established in 1954 and is one of the highest honors the University bestows on its faculty member in recognition of research and creative activity. This year it is being held on Apr. 19 in the auditorium of Centennial Engineering Library, from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. The focus of the lecture has not yet been announced.

Calhoun was chosen based on his success creating flexible ways to analyze functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). He is currently Executive Science Officer at the MRN and a Distinguished Professor in the UNM Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He is the author of more than 500 full journal articles and over 550 technical reports, abstracts and conference proceedings. During his nearly 11 years working at UNM, Calhoun extended his research to methodically assess the structure and function of the brain, with a particular focus on the study of psychiatric illnesses.

“It’s kind of like trying to find this hidden link,” he said. “And once we find the hidden link, we can start to see if that link changes in patients with mental illness. But if we don’t know where to look, we don’t know how to study it.”

Calhoun didn’t begin his academic career wanting to work with fMRI, in fact his undergraduate degree is in Electrical Engineering. While studying at the University of Kansas, he was introduced to the idea of Biomedical Engineering; and recognized parallels between the two fields – like how blood flow and electrical current in the human body can be modelled in similar ways to electrons moving through a circuit. He became fascinated with the concept of MRI and its ability to map portions of the body simply by disrupting the magnetic field around them.

He followed that newborn curiosity to Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, where he earned a Masters in Biomedical Engineering and another in Information Systems. Around that time, fMRI was invented and researchers discovered brain activity could be seen using the new technology, without injecting any type of dye or chemical into the body – a turning point in non-invasive neuro research.

“You can see inside a living human person without poking them with anything, and that really piqued my interest during the first few years of graduate school,” Calhoun said. “I began focusing on fMRI and even conducted a few early experiments.”

From the classroom to the lab

During graduate school at Johns Hopkins University in the early 90s, Calhoun began working as a research engineer in the psychiatric neuroimaging lab. The job extended beyond graduation, and he spent a total of ten years working alongside psychologists – hearing them discuss all the things they wished they could see in the brain.

“I got very interested in studying mental illness using fMRI,” Calhoun said. “And developing techniques that could help us unravel these very complex mental diseases.”

While continuing to conduct research at Johns Hopkins from 1993-2002, Calhoun simultaneously worked towards his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Maryland. The pairing of biomedical and electrical engineering image processing schooling enabled him to continue moving towards his goal of developing techniques to examine images of the brain.  

“My main interest is how you analyze the date,” said Calhoun. “In particular, not making too many assumptions about how we think the brain is working.”

His drive to analyze data laid the foundation for another major theme in Calhoun’s work: neuroinformatics. Neuroinformatics is the official name for research that focuses on organizing neuroscience data using computer models and analytical applications. On its most basic level, neuroinformatics allows Calhoun and others to manage mass amounts of data, right as it comes out of the fMRI scanner. The researchers can also manually enter information, allowing them to build up a large repository of data and get very precise information on small changes in the brain.

Calhoun began developing his neuroinformatics program after leaving Johns Hopkins, while working as an assistant professor and the director of the Medical Image Analysis Lab at Yale University’s Hartford Hospital in New Haven, Conn. While continuing to work on the project there, he also helped build an imaging system at the Institute of Living, one of the first mental health centers founded in the Unites States. The imaging center provided the Institute of Living with a foundation for studying the brain function of their considerable psychiatric patient base.  

Expanding knowledge of mental illness

Calhoun’s research looks closely at people with a wide range of mental illnesses, from schizophrenia and bipolar, to Alzheimer’s and autism. In particular, it targets ways to make an impact on people who are very early in their treatment; and he hopes by mapping brain function and volume, he will be able to help at-risk patients before they are even diagnosed.

“We’re also looking at water diffusion,” Calhoun said. “If you can get a map of water diffusion across white matter in the brain, you can start to see these brain tracks.”

By mapping the brain tracks, researchers can see how different sections of the brain are interacting – which could lead to learning about more effective treatment and preventative measures.

“Mental illness is really a difficult and complex thing to study,” said Calhoun. “And we need to maximize our ability to see what’s impacted in the brain so we can understand how the disease is working.”

Calhoun says this type of research can help physicians, psychiatrists and others respond to mental illnesses in a more effective way, because they will know more about what they are combating. His work creating algorithms to analyze mental illnesses caught the attention of recruiters at the Mind Research Network and at UNM, and Calhoun relocated to Albuquerque in 2006.

“They were already building tools similar to what I was building, in regard to neuroinformatics,” Calhoun said. “I wouldn’t have picked Albuquerque out of a hat because I didn’t know anything about it, but it’s been a good move.”

Not only was the move to New Mexico profitable for his career, Calhoun says it has also been beneficial for his family. Together, he, his wife and three kids enjoy the New Mexico sunshine, its sprawling mountains and plethora of outdoor activities.

The Annual Research Lecture will be held Wednesday, Apr. 19 in the Centennial Library Auditorium from 6:15 – 7:45 p.m. There will be a reception beforehand in the Stamm Common Room from 5 – 6 p.m.

]]>Latest NewsFaculty NewsSchool of EngineeringElectrical & Computer EngineeringMind Research NetworkStaff NewsResearchMon, 13 Mar 2017 18:29:54 GMTVince Calhoun hopes to combat mental illnesses using research from algorithms that allow fMRI scanners to map electrical currents via blood moving through the human brain. Rachel Whitthttp://news.unm.edu/news/shedding-light-on-mental-illness-brain-patternsMon, 13 Mar 2017 16:13:00 GMT

Program aimed at diversifying biomedical field receives continued funding

The University of New Mexico Department of Biology is continuing its Post-baccalaureate Research and Education Program (PREP), thanks to a five-year, $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

PREP helps support traditionally under-represented students gain valuable research experience after completion of their Bachelor’s degrees, in order to prepare them for successful entry into a graduate program. The initiative is particularly focused on those students that did not gain much research experience as undergraduates, and provides full-time experience in research laboratories in order to enhance research credentials.

“The PREP program was critical to help me develop the skills I needed before entering a Ph.D. graduate program." – Damian Trujillo, PREP participant, 2005

Richard Cripps, a professor in Biology and director of PREP for the last seven years, says the successful program is critical for many trainees.

“Our program focuses upon individuals who are interested in pursuing a Ph.D., but who, for a variety of reasons, did not receive extensive research training as an undergraduate,” said Cripps. “Many talented students fall out of the system at this point, and PREP is intended to address this training gap. We provide the scholars with a parent mentor and research laboratory, and we work with them to enhance their potential to succeed in Ph.D. programs.”

Damian Trujillo, who graduated from UNM in 2005 with degrees in Biology and Philosophy, participated in PREP before entering a graduate program and says the experience has greatly benefited him.

“The PREP program was critical to help me develop the skills I needed before entering a Ph.D. graduate program,” said Trujillo. “Within the PREP program, I got experience performing, presenting and developing a research project. These skills were absolutely necessary for acquiring my Ph.D.”

Trujillo recently finished a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Stanford University School of Medicine and is now working in the biotech field. He says the program not only offered him valuable research experience but also connected him with a UNM faculty mentor – a relationship that continues to positively impact his career.

The goals for the PREP program include identifying a cadre of qualified post-baccalaureate scholars, specifically under-represented BS/BA graduates who chose to postpone graduate studies, and to recruit them into the PREP program before they give up the idea of pursuing a graduate level career; providing these scholars with research and training opportunities that will give them the skills to carry out research in their chosen area; generating the confidence and time needed to prepare for graduate studies; and facilitating application and acceptance into a biomedical related graduate program.

To learn more about the PREP program and how to apply, click here.  

]]>Latest NewsBiologyResearchThu, 09 Mar 2017 20:26:58 GMTThe University of New Mexico Department of Biology is continuing its Post-baccalaureate Research and Education Program (PREP), thanks to a five-year, $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). PREP helps support traditionally...http://news.unm.edu/news/program-aimed-at-diversifying-biomedical-field-receives-continued-fundingThu, 09 Mar 2017 19:33:00 GMT

Pushing the boundaries of DNA sequencing

A young company developing technology created at the University of New Mexico (UNM) is on a mission to disrupt the landscape of DNA sequencing.

Armonica Technologies, LLC, is developing a DNA sequencing platform that will sequence a complete human genome in minutes. The company’s goal is to make the technology the gold standard for DNA sequencing for precision medicine research applications. Armonica has optioned a portfolio of patented and patent pending technologies from STC.UNM. The technology is called “optical nanopore sequencing” and uses nanochannels to deliver single DNA molecules through nanopores. Nanopores are very small holes with an internal diameter of 1 nanometer (one billionth of a meter). The nanopores slow down DNA translocation enough to produce massively parallel, single-base resolution using optical techniques.

Here’s how nanopore sequencing works: when a nanopore is immersed in conducting fluid, voltage can be applied to produce an electric current. The current is sensitive to the size and shape of the nanopore so that if a DNA strand passes through or near the nanopore, the amount of current changes. The change in the current as the DNA molecule passes through the nanopore represents a reading of the DNA sequence.

“There is an unmet need in the fast-growing DNA sequencing market,” said Armonica President & CEO Scott Goldman. “Today’s standard genome sequencing approach requires extensive library preparation and creates a massive computational and bioinformatics problem related to reassembling the data set. Armonica will resolve these problems by introducing a sequencing instrument that will not require library preparation and will generate reads of up to 50,000 bases, combined with a parallelism of 1 million. This approach will net 50 billion bases—more than sufficient to sequence the entire human genome in minutes.”

The innovative nanopore technology was developed by Distinguished Professor Emeritus Steve Brueck, Research Assistant Professor Yuliya Kuznetsova, and Postdoctoral Fellow Alexander Neumann from UNM’s Center for High Technology Materials (CHTM) and Professor Jeremy Edwards from UNM's Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology, in collaboration with Redondo Optics CEO Edgar Mendoza.
 


 

“Nanopore sequencing analyzes long DNA strings, with long reads that provide more accurate identification of genome variations,” said Brueck. “It is an approach, therefore, that leads to a more thorough, faster, and accurate genomic analysis, allowing researchers to substantially improve the ability to make new discoveries. One of the challenges of nanopore sequencing is to improve the resolution to be able to detect single nucleotides (bases).”

“We believe our nanochannel technology will disrupt the industry because it produces very long reads for higher accuracy, very high parallelism using optical techniques, and high throughput rates for greater processing speed. It will be an affordable tool for researchers,” said

STC CEO Lisa Kuuttila. “This technology portfolio represents a leap in genomic sequencing technology that could be a huge benefit for the DNA sequencing industry, which is experiencing explosive growth. The company’s research and development are currently being done at UNM’s CHTM, a research center with a global reputation for inventing disruptive nanoscale technologies and providing outstanding scientific expertise and technical support. We are very excited about the technology’s potential and believe in the company’s vision.”

The inventors have successfully demonstrated the viability of the technology and have received a National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to advance development of sequencing instruments for genomic, research and medical facilities.

]]>BiologyChemistryLatest NewsSTC.UNMCHTMResearchFri, 03 Mar 2017 22:01:22 GMTA young company developing technology created at the University of New Mexico (UNM) is on a mission to disrupt the landscape of DNA sequencing.http://news.unm.edu/news/pushing-the-boundaries-of-dna-sequencingFri, 03 Mar 2017 21:27:00 GMT

Super plants need super ROOTS

Agriculture consumes about 80 percent of all U.S. water. Making fertilizers uses 1 to 2 percent of all the world’s energy each year. A new program hopes to develop better crops — super plants that are drought-resistant, use less fertilizer and remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The program, ROOTS, or Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration, is sponsored by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Sandia National Laboratories has received $2.4 million to adapt previously developed sensors to monitor root function and plant health in new, noninvasive ways through one ROOTS project.

The insights gained from these sensors, with plant experts from The University of New Mexico and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, will guide breeding of better varieties of sorghum. Sorghum is a drought-tolerant grain mostly grown for animal fodder and biofuels in the U.S. but relied upon as an important food crop in Africa and parts of Asia.

“If successful, these technologies will usher in a new era for research on plant function." –David Hanson, UNM Professor of Biology

The sensors will be easy to adapt to other crops too, said Eric Ackerman, manager of Sandia’s Nanobiology department and principal investigator for the ROOTS project.

Though roots are hard to access and study, thoroughly understanding how they work and how to improve them is essential for drought-resistant crops that need less fertilizer. Deep roots can tap additional water sources and extensive root systems can gather more nutrients, Ackerman said. Roots also are critical for depositing carbon into the soil, instead of the air.

“It is really exciting to see how Eric Ackerman and his team are repurposing miniaturized sensing technologies originally developed for national security applications, such as warfighter health monitoring or detection of chemical agents for real-time monitoring of hard-to-access root systems,” said Anup Singh, director of Sandia’s Biological and Engineering Sciences Center.

Minimally invasive microneedles to monitor plant productivity
One technology researchers will adapt is a microneedle-based fluidic sensor. This matchbox-size device was originally developed for biomedical applications, such as the painless detection of electrolyte levels of warfighters on arduous missions. However, due to its size, minimally invasive set-up and ability to constantly measure the levels of important chemicals, Sandia researchers believe it’s valuable for other research, such as plant monitoring.

For the ROOTS project, researchers are interested in monitoring the products of photosynthesis, such as simple sugars, important root excretions, such as oxalic acid, and water pressure. Water pressure, or turgor pressure, is an important measure of plant health, even before they wilt. Current methods for measuring these critical indicators are costly, too invasive or don’t provide continual data.

“The microneedles will help us measure sugars transported by the plant to and from the roots before soil microbes can use them, and will give us a better understanding of how plants add to soil carbon,” said Ben Duval, a plant and soil expert at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.

Ronen Polsky, who leads the microneedles research, doesn’t think the detection chemistry or the needles themselves will need much tweaking to work with plants, but one challenge will be determining the best way to attach the sensors to the plants. “The cool thing with our task on ROOTS,” he said, “is that nobody has done this in plants before. It’s such an intriguing project to take these sensors and apply them to plants.”

Initial support for developing the microneedle sensors came from Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development program with additional funding by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). The sensor was also the subject of doctoral work by Philip Miller, currently a postdoctoral researcher at Sandia working on the ROOTS project.

Mini gas detectors to monitor plant health above and below ground
The other Sandia technology used in the ROOTS project is a micro gas chromatography system, or micro-GC. Sandia has been working on hand-held systems that detect and analyze gases indicative of chemical, biological and other threats for almost 20 years.

For ROOTS, researchers will use the micro-GC systems to measure volatile organic compounds (VOC) above and in the ground. Ethylene, a common VOC that triggers fruit ripening, also can signal drought stress. Plants also use chemicals related to menthol and a component of eucalyptus smell as distress signals, for instance, if they are plagued by pests.

UNM plant biologist Dave Hanson, co-principal investigator, said the “micro-GCs will be used to detect signals from environmental stress, such as drought, heat and nutrients, and biological stress, such as insect and pathogen attacks, as well as assess root growth.”

By placing very thin sample collection spikes in the ground and using cutting-edge detectors, Ron Manginell, who leads the micro-GC research, plans to monitor normal plant VOCs and these stress signals in almost real-time.

“First, we have to figure out what the important VOCs actually are, which is always a challenging problem,” Manginell said. “Once we figure out what those are, the challenge is putting together the miniaturized system to go after those.” Then Manginell’s team will take their prototype hand-held system and test it in the field.

Initial support for developing the micro-GC system came from Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development program with additional funding from the DOE, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and DTRA. Systems based on the same body of research are being used to analyze water quality and could be used to monitor diseases by just “smelling” a patient’s breath, said Manginell.

‘Usher in a new era’
Sandia’s project is one of 10 ROOTS projects funded by ARPA-E. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a number of universities will use other approaches and technologies to tackle the challenge of breeding better crops to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

“The microneedles and micro-GC developed by Sandia are extremely exciting because of their potential to provide critical data on plant function that have been unattainable in any setting,” said Hanson. “If successful, these technologies will usher in a new era for research on plant function. They would also contribute to economic growth.”

Since both technologies are small, less expensive than alternatives and offer critical insights, the team hopes they could directly aid agricultural research and even commercial farming quickly and easily.

Ackerman said, “The overall hope for Sandia is that this could open an important new national security area for the biology program to study beyond our current focus on bio-threats and biofuels. It brings us into the energy, water, climate, agriculture nexus, and we are hoping that there will be more opportunities in the future to use even more Sandia technologies.”

]]>ResearchCollege of Arts & SciencesBiologyLatest NewsFri, 03 Mar 2017 18:18:04 GMTAgriculture consumes about 80 percent of all U.S. water. Making fertilizers uses 1 to 2 percent of all the world’s energy each year. A new program hopes to develop better crops — super plants that are drought-resistant, use less fertilizer and remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.Mollie Rappe, Sandia National Labshttp://news.unm.edu/news/super-plants-need-super-rootsThu, 02 Mar 2017 21:17:00 GMT

How Native languages lead to better outcomes

The University of New Mexico is part of a $1 million, multi-university study designed to examine the effect Indigenous-language immersion schools have on Native American student success, both in the classroom and beyond.

Tiffany Lee, associate director of UNM’s Native American Studies program, is a co-principal investigator on the project and one of four researchers from universities across the western part of the U.S., including UCLA and the University of Arizona.

“The project is really trying to document the impact these schools have on Native American student’s achievement,” said Lee, who is also an associate professor of Native American Studies. “And we’re looking not just at academic achievement, although that’s a big component, but also their sense of cultural knowledge, identity and impact to their Native and larger communities.”

Lee received her Ph.D. in Sociology of Education from Stanford University with a research focus on Indigenous education and language socialization experiences. For nearly 20 years, she has continued to study Indigenous learning communities and the impact they have on students. While she has personally seen the positive effects through the years, she says there’s no national database and limited research evidence that communities can look to when trying to implement these types of immersion programs.

“The knowledge that’s embedded in languages can truly enhance our world." –Tiffany Lee, associate director of Native American Studies

Indigenous-language immersion (ILI) schools act similarly to the traditional education system. Students learn math, science, social studies, art and even English through their Native languages, while also being exposed to their cultural traditions and practices.

According to Lee, their four-year, mixed-methods study will include a national survey of ILI programs, in-depth case studies of eight ILI schools to examine the processes and practices that create particular program effects and a comparison study of carefully matched non-immersion sites to see how ILI students compare to their peers. Lee says several of the ILI schools they will be studying are here in the Southwest.

“I’ve seen the benefits in my own family or with students who I’ve taught. When they are able to simply introduce themselves in their Native language and recognize who their family is, it’s really powerful for them,” she said.

While the goal of the study is to better understand how and why these programs may be beneficial, Lee says the hope is that it will help provide support for Native communities in strengthening their language education efforts and reveal to non-Native communities and policymakers the benefits of supporting these types of programs.

“There is an immense value in maintaining and revitalizing Native languages,” she said. “I think a study like this can really help reinforce, not just for Native communities but for the general public, that learning a heritage language or even a second language has tremendous positive impacts.”

Lee says the benefits extend far beyond Native communities as well. She says in many cases, ILI participants go on to do just as well, if not better, than students in traditional classrooms, which ends up having a domino effect on the Native student and the work they choose to pursue throughout their lives.

In New Mexico, a study of this size and scope could potentially have a huge impact on many Native communities. According to Lee, while the state does have a large Native American population, there aren’t many ILI schools due to a lack of funding and resources. She says ILI programs take a tremendous amount support and commitment since offering them requires specialized training for teachers and often times a need to develop and create unique textbooks and other resources. But, it’s an investment that could have a huge impact for people around the world.

“The knowledge that’s embedded in languages can truly enhance our world,” said Lee. “There’s ways of expressing ideas and knowledge through the language that can’t be easily translated, so it’s really important that we support and maintain the diversity of the world languages that we have.”

Support for this project is being provided by The Spencer Foundation.

]]>Latest NewsNative American StudiesResearchThu, 02 Mar 2017 16:51:08 GMTThe University of New Mexico is part of a $1 million, multi-university study designed to examine the effect Indigenous-language immersion schools have on Native American student success, both in the classroom and beyond.Aaron Hilfhttp://news.unm.edu/news/how-native-languages-lead-to-better-outcomesThu, 02 Mar 2017 16:20:00 GMT

UNM computer science professor co-authors timely article on dealing with cyber conflict

A University of New Mexico computer science professor is co-author of an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that explores how cyber attack victims should best respond.

The article presents a game-theoretic model called the Blame Game, which shows when a victim should tolerate an attack and when it should respond publicly.  The best strategic choice depends on the vulnerability of the attacker, the victim’s knowledge level, the potential payoff for various outcomes and the beliefs each player has about its attacker

The model applies to a wide range of conflicts and provides guidance to policymakers about which parameters must be estimated to make a sound decision about attribution and blame.  Analysis of the model suggests that in many cases it may be rational for nations to tolerate cyberattacks, even in the face of strong public criticism.  It also shows how imbalances between adversaries’ abilities to trace attacks back to their origin can be destabilizing.

The model applies to a wide range of conflicts and provides guidance to policymakers about which parameters must be estimated to make a sound decision about attribution and blame.  Analysis of the model suggests that in many cases it may be rational for nations to tolerate cyberattacks, even in the face of strong public criticism.  It also shows how imbalances between adversaries’ abilities to trace attacks back to their origin can be destabilizing.

The article, published in the Feb. 27 online edition of PNAS, comes as the United States faces increasing threats in cyberspace, including the recent widely publicized attacks against the Democratic National Committee and the Chinese theft of databases containing the personal information of 21.5 federal employees. Read the abstract here.

“Conflict is increasingly common and severe on the Internet today, as governments and corporations have recognized its potential as an instrument of power and control” said Dr. Forrest, a distinguished professor at the University of New Mexico and an external faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute.

“Unlike nuclear technology, it can be extremely challenging to identify the party responsible for a cyber attack, and this complicates the strategic decision of when to assign blame.  Our model elucidates these issues and identifies key parameters that must be considered in formulating a response” Dr. Forrest said.

At UNM, Dr. Forrest directs the Adaptive Computation Laboratory, where she leads interdisciplinary research and education programs, including work on computer security, software engineering, and biological modeling. She is also a member of the Center for Evolutionary and Theoretical Immunology (CETI) and a co-principal investigator of the Advance at UNM project, which is dedicated to  recruiting, retaining and advancing women and minority STEM faculty.

Other authors of the PNAS article include Benjamin Edwards, a recent Ph.D. in Computer Science from UNM, now a postdoctoral researcher at IBM Research; Alexander Furnas, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan’s Department of Political Science and Robert Axelrod, Walgreen Professor for the Study of Human Understanding at the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

]]>Latest NewsFaculty NewsComputer ScienceResearchWed, 01 Mar 2017 16:42:10 GMTA University of New Mexico computer science professor is co-author of an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that explores how cyber attack victims should best respond. The article presents a game-theoretic model called the...http://news.unm.edu/news/unm-computer-science-professor-co-authors-timely-article-on-dealing-with-cyber-conflictWed, 01 Mar 2017 13:00:00 GMT

UNM's COSMIAC receives $7 million Air Force contract to fund next-generation satellite electronics

The University of New Mexico has been awarded a $7 million grant from the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop and build new materials and devices for electronics in space.

The five-year contract was awarded this month to COSMIAC, a research center in UNM’s School of Engineering.

The grant is part of an AFRL project that will build faster electrical devices that are better-suited for space satellites. Researchers on the project will focus on developing alternative semiconductor materials for electronics that perform better than current materials in the harsh conditions of a space environment.

“This is one of the largest awards the School of Engineering has ever received, and this is an incredible opportunity to not just make an impact in the area of space materials but to showcase our capabilities in the School of Engineering,” said Christos Christodoulou, principal investigator on the project. “This is an important project that will strive to produce more robust space electronics, which will vastly improve the capabilities of satellites.”

Christodoulou, also a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and associate dean for research in the School of Engineering, will work with co-principal investigators Ganesh Balakrishnan and Payman Zarkesh-Ha, both professors of electrical and computer engineering, on the project.

A large portion of the work on the grant awarded to UNM will be performed at the Center for High Technology Materials. Here, a student works on the molecular beam epitaxy machine that UNM acquired in 2010.
 

UNM was chosen after a national competition for the contract. A major factor that contributed to AFRL giving the University the project was the capabilities offered at the Center for High Technology Materials, a university-wide research center. UNM is one of the few universities in the United States with the nanoscale design and fabrication capabilities needed for the project. In 2010, UNM acquired a $1.5 million molecular beam epitaxy machine that can build up semiconductor nanocrystals one atom at a time to develop new materials.

For the project, the UNM team will study advanced semiconductor elements, such as antimonide or gallium arsenide and nitride, as possible alternatives to silicon to create new foundations for electronic devices. Those materials could conduct electricity faster than silicon and offer better protection against radiation and other adverse conditions in space.

Outside of the research mission, Christodoulou said a possible future outcome of this project would be to develop a specialized online master’s program in space electronics, as well as to boost economic development in New Mexico.

]]>Latest NewsSchool of EngineeringCHTMResearchThu, 23 Feb 2017 21:31:18 GMTThe University of New Mexico has been awarded a $7 million grant from the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop and build new materials and devices for electronics in space. The five-year contract was awarded this month to COSMIAC, a research center...Kim Delkerhttp://news.unm.edu/news/unm-s-cosmiac-receives-7-million-air-force-contract-to-fund-next-generation-satellite-electronicsThu, 23 Feb 2017 20:00:00 GMT

Extreme temperatures threaten desert songbirds with death by dehydration

According to NASA, 2016 was the hottest year on historical record. Globally, the increase amounted to nearly 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. And while that might not sound like much of an increase, it could mean the difference between life and death for some bird populations.

Heat waves due to climate change pose an increasing threat to wildlife in many regions of the world. During heat waves, birds are especially at risk of lethal dehydration due to scarce water resources and high rates of evaporative water loss needed for cooling their bodies. High environmental temperatures were attributed to recent mass die-offs of wild birds and poultry in Australia, South Africa, India and North America suggest that birds are sensitive to extreme heat events.

With climate projections forecasting a large increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves, researchers including Tom Albright, associate professor from the Geography Department at the University of Nevada-Reno, Professor Blair Wolf from The University of New Mexico Department of Biology, and Alexander Gerson, assistant professor, Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and others mapped the potential effects of current and future heat waves on the risk of lethal dehydration for songbirds in the southwestern United States.

The research, “Mapping evaporative water loss in desert passerines reveals an expanding threat of lethal hydration,” was published today in PNAS. The research was funded through a three-year, $650,000 National Science Foundation grant. NASA also funded aspects of this research, and its data and products played a role in enabling the research.

“Birds are susceptible to heat stress in two ways. When it’s really hot, they simply can’t evaporate enough water to stay cool, overheat and die of heat stroke. In other cases the high rates of evaporative water loss needed to stay cool deplete their body water pools to lethal levels and birds die of dehydration; this is the stressor we focused on in this study."  – UNM Professor Blair Wolf

“Birds are susceptible to heat stress in two ways,” explained Wolf. “When it’s really hot, they simply can’t evaporate enough water to stay cool, overheat and die of heat stroke. In other cases the high rates of evaporative water loss needed to stay cool deplete their body water pools to lethal levels and birds die of dehydration; this is the stressor we focused on in this study."

“This is a neat example of the kind of science enabled by two of our great U.S. science agencies: NSF (Blair’s team) and NASA (Albright’s team): basically mapping what you might call physiological performance and ultimately mapping the dynamics of risk,” said Albright.

Using hourly temperature data and a physiological model incorporating measurements of evaporative water loss, the researchers evaluated the death by dehydration risk for five songbird species. They found that small species lose water faster than their larger counterparts, thus rendering them particularly susceptible to lethal dehydration.

“During heat waves, birds that are day active suspend almost all activity and seek cool shaded microsites,” said Wolf. “At high air temperatures, the rates of evaporation needed to cool the bird increase rapidly. A 2-3°C increase in air temperature can result in a doubling or tripling of rates of evaporative water loss where birds can lose 2-5 percent of body mass per hour.”

“By focusing on heat waves and dehydration in birds, it allows us to focus more carefully on one piece of the puzzle,” said Albright. “It allowed us to use mechanistic understanding supported by actual physical measurements of evaporation from bird’s bodies.

In addition, given climate warming scenario of 4°C, the risk of lethal dehydration could increase four-fold in smaller species encompassing very large parts of the specie’s southwest ranges by the end of this century. The increasing extent, frequency, and intensity of dehydrating conditions under a warming climate may alter daily activity patterns, geographic range limits and the conservation status of affected birds.

 “These estimates suggest that some regions of the desert will be uninhabitable for many species in the future and that future high temperature events could depopulate whole regions,” Wolf said. "When combined with increasing drought projected for many of these regions, we could see precipitous declines in bird communities and increasingly severe stress on poultry as well."

The findings illustrate that conservation strategies are needed to conserve diverse plant and animal communities that supply shelter and water to desert birds amid future climate warming.

“What we were able to do here is to use individual level physiology data to inform biogeographic models so we can better understand the impact of high temperatures on these avian communities,” said Gerson. “This is a big step forward to understanding local extirpation. It will raise a lot of other questions, but our contribution will help others look at how community structure might change in the future.”             

]]>Latest NewsBiologyResearchMon, 13 Feb 2017 20:37:13 GMTAccording to NASA, 2016 was the hottest year on historical record. Globally, the increase amounted to nearly 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. And while that might not sound like much of an increase, it could mean the difference between life and death for some...Steve Carrhttp://news.unm.edu/news/extreme-temperatures-threaten-desert-songbirds-with-death-by-dehydrationMon, 13 Feb 2017 20:00:00 GMT

Panel discussion: How to work with the National Science Foundation

Planning to write an National Science Foundation (NSF) proposal during the next year? On Thursday, Feb. 16 from 3 to 4 p.m., come learn from current and former NSF staff and a recent awardee about working with NSF.

Speakers include Jessie DeAro, program director with NSF Advance and a program officer with the EHR Core Research program; Amy P. Chen, the associate director of UNM’s Center for Teaching and Learning and a former Presidential Management STEM Fellow in the NSF Division of Earth Sciences; and Lydia Tapia, at UNM computer science professor and NSF CAREER award winner.

There will be plenty of time for questions. No tickets or reservations are required, but please register here or email advance@unm.edu to reserve a spot.

Sponsored by Advance at UNM, the UNM Center for Teaching and Learning and the UNM Office of the Vice President for Research.

]]>Inside UNMFaculty NewsResearchMon, 06 Feb 2017 22:22:12 GMTPlanning to write an NSF proposal during the next year? Come learn from current and former NSF staff and a recent awardee about working with NSF! There will be lots of time for questions. Speakers include Jessie DeAro, program director with NSF Advance...http://news.unm.edu/news/panel-discussion:-how-to-work-with-the-national-science-foundationMon, 06 Feb 2017 21:11:00 GMT

First Staff Research Expo a big success

 

Staff from across The University of New Mexico campus shared their research, innovations and discoveries at the first Staff Research Expo held in the lobby of the Domenici Center for Health Sciences Education on Jan. 27.

The event was co-sponsored by the Staff Council Health Sciences Center Staff and Student Success Committees. Staff Council President Danelle Callan opened the event by introducing Dr. Richard Larson, HSC Vice Chancellor of Research, who spoke about the broadening of roles at the University, including a research role for staff and the importance of research in general in creating a greater impact by the University in the community.

Staff researchers were solicited to participate in the event through the weekly Staff Council email to all UNM staff and a HSC Office of Research and the Clinical Translation Science Center email to their researchers.

18 staff researchers and their co-authors presented posters at the Expo on a wide variety of topics, many also indicating that they would like to participate in future events. Presenters came from departments across campus including College of Nursing, Earth Data Analysis Center, Maxwell Museum and Internal Medicine.

Staff’s significant contribution to research is often overlooked. This event showcased how important and dedicated staff are to the research mission of UNM. 

]]>Inside UNMStaff NewsResearchMon, 06 Feb 2017 19:07:57 GMTStaff from across The University of New Mexico campus shared their research, innovations and discoveries at the first Staff Research Expo held in the lobby of the Domenici Center for Health Sciences Education on Jan. 27.Mary Clarkhttp://news.unm.edu/news/first-staff-research-expo-a-big-successMon, 06 Feb 2017 17:02:00 GMT

NSF award winner collaborating with Native communities

José M. Cerrato, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at The University of New Mexico, just received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award for his collaborative work with Native communities. The focus of his project is to measure the environmental impact that abandoned uranium mines have had in these communities and develop methods to lessen the effects.

Cerrato was awarded a five year, $500,000 grant to study “Understanding Reactivity in American Native Impacted Uranium Mines: Research, Education and Outreach.”

His project integrates research, education, and outreach activities to identify the main biogeochemical mechanisms affecting the contamination and remediation of metals in organic-rich sediments in abandoned uranium mine wastes in northwest and central New Mexico -- an issue that goes back a century.

“The way mining was done in the early 1900s was very rudimentary,” he said. “When miners were finished, they left everything behind, including uranium, with no way to measure the amount left.”

He said the effects of the mining legacy are especially apparent after heavy snowfalls and during the monsoon season, when he and his team have observed heavy concentrations of uranium in soil and vegetation in the path of the drainage. He would like to better understand the reactivity of mine wastes and how the wastes react with water, organic matter or plants in the area.

“The whole intent from a science perspective is that if we can understand these reactions, we think we can have a better understanding of knowing where the uranium is and understanding how to mitigate it,” Cerrato said. “We know very little about interactions of uranium with organic matter. The use of advanced microscopy and spectroscopy to better understand these interactions is a central part of this project.”

Cerrato became familiar with the issue of uranium in abandoned mines while he was a postdoctoral researcher at Washington University in St. Louis working in Rifle, Colo., on a project sponsored by the Department of Energy. He has also worked in native communities of his home country, Honduras.

He said this NSF project combines both science with social and cultural aspects.

“The beauty of it, and what really inspires me, is the opportunity to work with Native American communities. It requires a lot of social components to work collaboratively with the tribes to do the research,” he said.

Cerrato said he has worked closely with the tribes since they know the land and where the mining operations once were located. The education and outreach work will be done in collaboration with the Southwest Research and Information Center and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

The project also includes a significant outreach component, where Cerrato and his team will work with the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in creating an environmental science program at the school.

“This project naturally merges research, education, and outreach, and I can immediately see the impact of the science on a problem that is extremely important not only to New Mexico but to the world,” Cerrato said.

Cerrato credits a culture of collaboration at UNM for the success of his work. He has worked closely with the UNM Health Sciences Center, the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and the Center for Water and the Environment, in addition to other universities, including Stanford University and the University of Iowa.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate that I have all these resources at the university as a junior faculty member,” said Cerrato, who came to UNM in the fall of 2013. “In a relatively short time, we’ve been able to publish a lot of work in top journals. I think the University of New Mexico is well-positioned to be a world leader in this area.”

Cerrato is looking forward to what this project will mean both for his area of research and to him personally.

“It’s been great that the university has not only allowed me to set my roots here, but also to expand those roots to other places. I feel very happy about that,” he said. “I’m very excited about the future.”

The NSF CAREER program helps early-career faculty get strong starts on their academic careers. The award is NSF’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the community.

]]>Latest NewsSchool of EngineeringResearchThu, 02 Feb 2017 19:18:17 GMTJosé M. Cerrato, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at The University of New Mexico, just received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award for his collaborative work with Native...Kim Delkerhttp://news.unm.edu/news/nsf-award-winner-collaborating-with-native-communitiesThu, 02 Feb 2017 18:35:00 GMT

Assistant professor receives prestigious National Science Foundation award

Growing up in rural Ethiopia, in a village with no running water or electricity, University of New Mexico Assistant Professor Terefe Habteyes says he was always fascinated by light. Now, as a faculty member in UNM’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, his research into the interaction between light and material has earned him one of the most celebrated science awards for junior faculty in the nation.

Habteyes is the recipient of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. The accolade is considered to be one of the most competitive and prominent programs in the country and is designed to help early-career faculty get strong starts in their academic careers.

“I was very excited to hear that we were receiving this award,” said Habteyes, who conducts his research at UNM’s Center for High Technology Materials. “This is an extremely important award for me and my research group. Without this support, our work wouldn’t be able to progress and we wouldn’t have the resources to develop these new techniques.”

Habteyes’ proposal, Near-Field Imaging for Nanoscale Visualization of Exciton-Plasmon Energy Transfer” was awarded $600,000 over five years. The money will help him and his team of graduate and undergraduate researchers continue to develop a new microscopy technique with the potential to revolutionize basic understanding of nanoscale interaction that is relevant for a variety of applications including solar cells, sensing, catalysis, spectroscopy and microscopic imaging.

The CAREER award will also allow Habteyes to reach out into the community and work with local high school students and teachers.

“As part of the NSF proposal, we are going to train one teacher in the first two summers and one student every summer from Highland High School during the duration of the award, teaching them integration and characterization of nanomaterials,” he said. “Then, hopefully, they can take what they learn back to the high school and teach other students.”

Habteyes says the hope is to create a sort of cascading effect, where they can pass knowledge to key people who will then spread that knowledge to more and more people – increasing the number of students interested in science.

Habteyes began as an assistant professor at UNM in 2012 after completing a Ph.D. at the University of Arizona and postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia.

Near-Field Imaging for Nanoscale Visualization of Exciton-Plasmon Energy Transfer
The project being funded by the NSF CAREER award is aimed at developing a new type of super-resolution microscope capable of imaging nanoscale materials and the energy transfers between different nanomaterials.

For scale, a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers wide, while the materials that Habteyes and his group are working to image can be as small as 5 nanometers – about 20,000 times smaller than a strand of human hair.

The microscope utilizes an extremely sharp probe that serves as an optical antenna to receive and transmit light energy. It is ideally suited for imaging optical effect called localized surface plasmon resonance – where laser light is introduced to metal nanostructures smaller than the wavelength of the light, causing a concentrated electrical field.

“These plasmonic nanoparticles allow us to squeeze light to a very, very small dimension, one or two nanometers,” explained Habteyes. “When other organic and inorganic semiconductor materials are combined with these plasmonic nanoparticles, their interaction with light increases dramatically. The microscope allows us to investigate the interaction between the plasmonic and semiconductor materials by imaging the plasmonic nanostructures and their surface optical properties with spatial resolution on the order of 10 nm or better.”

Having the ability to visualize those nanostructures as well as the interactions happening between the complementary materials will give scientists all over the world a greater understanding of how to improve the interaction of semiconductor materials with light, which is critically important for solar cells, catalysis and spectroscopy applications.

“Our primary goal is to gain a basic understanding of the interaction between plasmonic and semiconductor materials,” he said. “Once we understand that interaction, we can apply that knowledge to different applications. In the case of photovoltaic cells, this basic understanding could lead to dramatic improvement of efficiency.” 

]]>Latest NewsChemistryCHTMResearchMon, 30 Jan 2017 20:04:19 GMTGrowing up in rural Ethiopia, in a village with no running water or electricity, University of New Mexico Assistant Professor Terefe Habteyes says he was always fascinated by light. Now, as a faculty member in UNM’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, his research into the interaction between light and material has earned him one of the most celebrated science awards for junior faculty in the nation.Aaron Hilfhttp://news.unm.edu/news/assistant-professor-receives-prestigious-national-science-foundation-awardMon, 30 Jan 2017 18:12:00 GMT

Engineered intrinsically disordered proteins provide biomedical insights

Biomedical researchers have engineered the first examples of biomimetic structures composed from a mysterious class of proteins that lack any sort of internal structure.

In a paper published on Jan. 30 in the journal Nature Chemistry, researchers from Duke University, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and The University of New Mexico reveal the ability to control the self-assembly and disassembly of these structures in an organized manner.

The advance will allow more thorough studies of these interesting proteins and their cellular function, while also providing new opportunities for biomedical applications including drug delivery and regenerative medicine.

The hallmark of a protein’s function is its ability to fold into intricate pieces of origami to interact with specific biomolecular structures. While researchers work to identify hundreds of thousands of unknown protein structures to better understand them, a different class of proteins has flown somewhat under the radar.

Originally reported as little dots within cells, these proteins form fluid, gel-like assemblies or particles that have no set or identifiable internal structure. They are “intrinsically disordered,” much like a clump of spaghetti that, while completely random, still stays resolutely together while being served to a hungry family.

Reports show, however, that these proteins are instrumental to cellular function, performing actions like bringing molecules together in specific special locations and controlling where reactions happen. But due to their disordered nature, engineering them in the laboratory remained a challenge.

“One of our group’s major efforts has been to understand the self-assembly of these types of proteins and use them as nanoscopic building materials,” said UNM Vice President for Research Gabriel Lopez, who began the work as director of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) at Duke University, and who is a co-corresponding author on the paper. “Usually you don’t think of proteins in material science, but our focus was to use intrinsically disordered proteins as materials to make larger structures.”

“It’s been a long journey,” echoed Ashutosh Chilkoti, chair of the Biomedical Engineering Department at Duke who helped lead the effort. “There’s been a lot of work done on understanding their cellular functions, but not very much on engineering them. This work will help us better understand these complex particles and find new uses for them.”

In the paper, the researchers describe a process resembling the oil and water droplets that form in salad dressing. Except here, the “oil” is drop of a concentrated protein solution whose size and formation is triggered by environmental stimuli. This allows the creation of droplets that will coat one another, like assembling an onion of different proteins that form concentric layers.

The researchers show they can genetically program when the various stages of ‘onion formation’ happen. As the temperature is raised, for example, the proteins go from being soluble to insoluble so that they form a protein-rich droplet. With several such proteins in a solution, further increases in temperature causes a second protein to form a layer around the first. Other environmental factors, such as pH levels, can also trigger such formations.

“It was important to verify that we have two separate ‘knobs’ to turn to adjust the sequence and the type of layers in this ‘onion,’” said Michael Rubinstein, a John P. Barker Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We can either change the sequence of amino acids in the proteins or vary the number of these amino acids per molecule. We can also add proteins containing hydrophobic and hydrophilic blocks that act like soap breaking some layers of our ‘onions’ into tiny droplets that look like raisins in a muffin.” 

“I hope the platform we have developed will help us understand how different genetic sequences in disordered proteins influence their behavior and function,” said Joseph Simon, a graduate student in Chilkoti’s group at Duke, who is the co-first author on the paper. “The ability to make onion-like particles of these proteins and control their size will allow for their use in a multitude of exciting applications.”

One application disordered proteins could be used for is drug delivery. The researchers already are making small particles that can be loaded with drugs and target particular tumor or disease sites for delivery.

Another area involves tissue engineering, where each droplet might carry a cell for tissue assembly that could repair a portion of a damaged organ. For example, these little droplets could carry the building blocks of functional cardiac muscle that could replace damaged tissue after heart attack. They could even form the basis for a biological “toner” for use in a bio-printer.

“We want to better understand the rules governing their assembly not only to leverage the functionality of these proteins for medical applications, but also to investigate deregulated protein phase transitions in cells thought to contribute to various diseases,” said UNM Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Nick Carroll, who is also a co-corresponding author. “We’re just beginning to understand these structures and their applications, so it’s a very exciting discovery.”

This work was funded through a six-year, $13.2 million National Science Foundation grant that established the Research Triangle MRSEC and was a collaboration between Duke University, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and The University of New Mexico.

Media contacts: Steve Carr, UNM - 505-277-1821; email: scarr@unm.edu or Ken Kingery, Duke - 910-660-8414; email: ken.kingery@duke.edu

]]>Latest NewsSchool of EngineeringChemical & Biological EngineeringResearchMon, 30 Jan 2017 16:56:32 GMTBiomedical researchers have engineered the first examples of biomimetic structures composed from a mysterious class of proteins that lack any sort of internal structure. In a paper published on Jan. 30 in the journal Nature Chemistry, researchers from...http://news.unm.edu/news/engineered-intrinsically-disordered-proteins-provide-biomedical-insightsMon, 30 Jan 2017 16:00:00 GMT

UNM students uncovering mysteries of the past

The University of New Mexico Department of Anthropology is offering an exclusive opportunity to students from around the world. Through a partnership with Chaco Canyon National Historic park, students can get hands-on experience excavating, researching and exploring the past through one of the great historical mysteries of the American Southwest.

“Chaco is a massive complex of stone buildings, architectural innovation, social complexity like we’d never seen in the southwest up to that point a thousand years ago,” said Professor W. H. Wills, who leads the UNM Chaco Canyon Field School.

The Great Houses of Chaco Canyon are part of about 4,000 prehistoric and historic archeological sites in the park, which span more than 10,000 years of human cultural history. Through excavation, researchers can prove there was a boom between A.D. 900 and 1100, resulting in increased agriculture methods, social complexity, engineering, astronomy and economic organization. The indigenous people also accomplished great feats of architecture, like the massive stone walls of the Great Houses that draw thousands of visitors to Northern New Mexico every year.

“We may never know the underlining, unusual kickers that turned this place from something that was not very complex into something that was complex,” Professor Wills said. “But we will try. Archeologists will always want to have those answers.”

Professor Wills and Professor Patricia Crown lead a team of archeologists, including UNM students, searching for answers on what lead to the social dynamism in Chaco Canyon. The cooperative partnership between UNM and the National Park Service dates back to the designation of Chaco Canyon as a national monument in 1906. Although the National Park Service is responsible for managing Chaco Culture National Historical Park, much of the early archaeological research in Chaco Canyon was done under the auspices of University of New Mexico Department of Anthropology.

“UNM provides an exclusive opportunity for students to gain experience in the Chaco Semester,” said graduate student Jacqueline Kocer. “They gain lab experience, a classroom portion, a service learning component and actual hands-on field work where they get experience excavating. No other university offers this type of learning.”

UNM ran advanced archaeological field schools from 1929 to 1942, with one final post-war session in 1947. Several UNM students went on to careers in the National Park Service, continuing to work in Chaco Canyon and resulting in the joint 1970-1985 Chaco Project.

In 2005, UNM Professors Wills and Crown began a new phase in the evolving UNM-Chaco relationship. Over a series of summer and fall field seasons, they re-excavated trenches dug in the 1920s during the National Geographic Society's Pueblo Bonito Expedition.

“It gives us a very unique and gratifying opportunity to work intensely with the students,” Professor Wills said. “To spend a lot of time with graduate students and training them to run field schools.”

During the first four weeks of the integrated course, students attend classes at UNM’s Main Campus. Using the laboratories and collections of the Department of Anthropology and the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology as they are introduced to the fundamentals of archaeological data analysis, field research, and Chaco prehistory. For the following five weeks, students spend four days a week living at Chaco Canyon, helping to excavate during the day while attending labs or lectures in the evenings. They then return to the main campus for the remainder of the semester to analyze material and delve deeper into issues facing Chaco.

“It’s an on-the-ground research project where we’re getting real results, but it’s also our legacy,” Professor Wills said. “It’s UNM’s legacy to the field of research. We’re training students who 10 or 20 years from now will come back and do their own research.”

Click here to read more about the Field School and Chaco Canyon. 

]]>Latest NewsAnthropologyResearchMon, 23 Jan 2017 17:27:29 GMTThe University of New Mexico Department of Anthropology is offering an exclusive opportunity to students from around the world. Through a partnership with Chaco Canyon National Historic park, students can get hands-on experience excavating, researching...Rachel Whitthttp://news.unm.edu/news/unm-students-uncovering-mysteries-of-the-pastMon, 23 Jan 2017 15:00:00 GMT

VEX robots will compete Feb. 4 at UNM

Area students compete in the 2016 VEX Robotics Competition at UNM.

Teams of middle and high school students from across the state will gather at The University of New Mexico on Feb. 4 for the VEX Robotics Competition, sponsored by the UNM School of Engineering.

The competition will be held at the Centennial Engineering Center at UNM. Qualifying rounds will take place from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and elimination rounds and finals will be from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.

About 20 teams will come together, where they will battle against each other using robots created from the VEX EDR design curriculum.

Participants will square off in the game “Nothing But Net,” which is played by scoring colored balls in high and low goals and by elevating robots in a designated climbing zone.

Participating teams will come from Albuquerque, Farmington, Gallup, Mescalero Apache, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe public, private, charter schools, along with home-school groups and STEM societies.

The UNM student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers will provide snacks and lunch as part of their fundraising efforts.

The UNM School of Engineering’s VEX Robotics Competition is one in a series of tournaments supported by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation and various national, regional and local sponsors. 

The competition season culminates each spring, with the top-performing teams from local and state VEX Robotics contests competing against each other at VEX Worlds, where teams have the opportunity to challenge their top-ranked peers from around the country and over 30 countries around the world, including Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain and United Kingdom.

The VEX Robotics Competition is managed by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation and serves as a vehicle for students to develop critical life skills such as teamwork, leadership and project management, honed through building robots and competing with students from the community in an exciting, non-traditional environment. The VEX Robotics Design System was built from the ground up and designed to be an affordable, accessible and scalable platform used to teach science, technology, engineering and math education worldwide. 

]]>Latest NewsSchool of EngineeringResearchWed, 18 Jan 2017 23:10:47 GMTTeams of middle and high school students from across the state will gather at The University of New Mexico on Feb. 4 for the VEX Robotics Competition, sponsored by the UNM School of Engineering.Kim Delkerhttp://news.unm.edu/news/vex-robots-will-compete-feb-4-at-unmWed, 18 Jan 2017 21:32:00 GMT

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