UNM Research News

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

Call opens for 2017 Women In STEM awards at UNM

The awards are supported by an anonymous gift made to UNM to support research by, and professorships for, women faculty in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Income from investment from this gift will be used to help UNM women tenure-track and tenured assistant and associate STEM professors to establish new lines of research and to develop research collaborations. Awards range from $3,000 to $15,000.

“Small awards can make a big difference when faculty have new ideas or want to start a new collaboration. We look forward to helping another group of outstanding women STEM faculty make research progress,” said Julia Fulghum, director of Advance at UNM, a National Science Foundation-funded project that aims to boost the number of women and minorities in STEM fields at the university.

Eligible applicants include tenure-track and tenured women faculty members at UNM who hold the rank of assistant or associate professor and who are pursuing research in areas supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health (non-clinical) or the Department Of Energy.

Three types of grants will be awarded: 1) travel awards to foster collaborations, 2) seed awards to stimulate research projects that will lead to additional external funding, and 3) workshop awards, which are designed to generate innovative research ideas and collaborations.

Proposals are due Feb. 15. Decisions will announced by March 15.

Earlier this year, seven women were awarded the 2016 Women In STEM awards. They were: Christina Salas of the Mechanical Engineering and Orthopaedics Departments; Katie Witkiewitz of the Department of Psychology; Lindsay Worthington of Earth and Planetary Sciences; Mousumi Roy of Physics and Astronomy; Jingjing Wang in UNM’s Department of Economics; Jessica Feezell in the Political Science Department and  Siobhan Mattison of the Anthropology Department. 

Read more about the winners here.

]]>Inside UNMFaculty NewsBiologyChemistryGeographyPhysics & AstronomySchool of EngineeringResearchWed, 11 Jan 2017 19:51:16 GMTThe awards are supported by an anonymous gift made to UNM to support research by, and professorships for, women faculty in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Income from investment from this gift will be used to help UNM women...Kate Cunninghamhttp://news.unm.edu/news/call-opens-for-2017-women-in-stem-awards-at-unmWed, 11 Jan 2017 19:34:00 GMT

AFRL, UNM collaborate to mentor undergrads

The Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base and The University of New Mexico have established a successful UNM+AFRL Mentoring program that promises benefits to the community and the nation.

The program matches UNM undergraduate students with AFRL scientists and engineers (S&E), military or civilian, to provide personal and professional mentorship. The program began in the fall of 2015 with eight mentors. It now has 20 AFRL researchers and three UNM students as mentors, with an equal number of mentees.

Capt. Timothy Wolfe, an AFRL electrical engineer working on his doctorate at UNM, has been a mentor since the program’s beginning.

“I believe that stronger community building through mentorship and outreach programs like this are crucial to solving many of the current problems identified in maintaining a strong and healthy STEM culture and knowledge base,” Wolfe said.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Wolfe has mentored two students.
 

Air Force Research Laboratory mentors (l. to r.) Capt. Timothy Wolfe, Imelda Atencio and Lt. Evan Threlkeld hold posters announcing The UNM STEM Collaborative Center during a visit to that center. 
 

“What we talk about varies according to student needs,” he said.

His discussions with students usually focus on coping with stressors in their field, study techniques, professional development, course planning and opportunities such as internships and special scholarships.

Wolfe’s first student, Benjamin Zamora Urioste, joined the program in its first semester and still participates. Urioste recently received one of four “I Am STEM” awards UNM presented to undergraduates for commitment to STEM success for themselves and their communities through exceptional campus and community engagement. He now mentors a student.

Wolfe is mentoring Maria Oroyan, a junior in chemical engineering and an “I Am STEM” award winner.

“One of the greatest benefits of the mentoring program is developing lifelong mentoring relationships,” Oroyan said.

She is also working with Wolfe to mentor another UNM student.

“Both of my mentees have embraced the concept of cultivating the next ‘wave’ of students behind them, so that those students can then become strong leaders of their peers as well,” Wolfe said. “Both saw palpable gains in their confidence and comfort level as leaders, and see taking care of their mentees as major components of their leadership.”

Wolfe and AFRL mentor and scientist Imelda Atencio believe such programs are a terrific way for lab researchers to promote leadership and teamwork, and have the potential to increase the Air Force’s cadre of scientists and engineers.

“I think mentoring is an essential part of being a professional S&E,” Atencio said.

UNM is recruiting mentors and students for the spring. AFRL researchers can contact program coordinator Tara Hackel at tshackel@unm.edu before Jan. 30 for more information or to join.

]]>Latest NewsResearchWed, 11 Jan 2017 19:33:18 GMTThe Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base and The University of New Mexico have established a successful UNM+AFRL Mentoring program that promises benefits to the community and the nation. The program matches UNM undergraduate students...Jeanne Dailey, AFRLhttp://news.unm.edu/news/afrl-unm-collaborate-to-mentor-undergradsWed, 11 Jan 2017 19:10:00 GMT

Werner-Washburne receives AAAS Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement

Margaret Werner-Washburne, Regents Professor Emerita of Biology at The University of New Mexico and principal investigator of the UNM-IMSD program, will receive the Lifetime Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The distinction honors her work in mentoring and research that led to a significant increase in Hispanic and Native American doctorates in the biological sciences.

In almost 30 years of scientific research, Werner-Washburne has mentored more than 118 underrepresented students who have Ph.D.s or are working toward Ph.D. degrees, AAAS noted. Of those who have earned Ph.D.s, 41 were Hispanic/Latino, nine Native American and three African-American.

Werner-Washburne mentored undergraduate students in her laboratory through programs that encouraged underrepresented racial and/or ethnic minority students to pursue doctorates and through the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science SACNAS. Her mentees have gone on to work in academia and industry, in fields from computer science to genomics and biochemistry to chemical engineering, and are becoming leaders in STEM research, education, and diversity, according to AAAS.

“Imagine, if the first 300 mentees all mentor 100 students, in 3 generations, we’ll have touched the lives of 300 million people.” – Margaret Werner-Washburne, Regents Professor Emerita of Biology

In 2004, Werner-Washburne became principal investigator of UNM’s NIH-funded Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD), an undergraduate mentoring program that prepares students for graduate school. Over 300 students have participated in the initiative since 2004. In recent years, well over 70 percent of the students have entered Ph.D. programs. Werner-Washburne attributes the success of her program to the lessons she learned from her family.  One of the most important steps in the program is for each student to “know their heart” or find out what they love. Once students know that, they have self-motivation and the rest is fun, said Werner-Washburne.

Several years ago, Werner-Washburne added a mentoring program for freshmen, sophomores and transfer students, targeting Native American students. The program, Pathways Scholars, has increased the retention/graduation rate significantly for all students, but, most importantly, by almost 70 percent for Native American students. In the future, Werner-Washburne hopes to find ways to replicate the Pathways Scholars Program in other schools, including tribal colleges.

Werner-Washburne was nominated by Juan C. Meza, dean of the School of Natural Sciences at the University of California, Merced. Meza has worked with Werner-Washburne on the board of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), where she was president in 2013 and 2014.

In a nomination letter sent to AAAS, Meza wrote that Werner-Washburne has been a “selfless and dedicated mentor to many hundreds of students” throughout her career. Meza said, “I was especially honored to work with Maggie during her time as president of SACNAS. She worked tirelessly initiating new activities and served as an incredible role model to students in all areas.”

One former IMSD student, Erik Arellano, arrived at the University of New Mexico in 2008 after eight years of military service. Arellano, a Hispanic first-generation college student, was in IMSD as an undergraduate and wrote in his letter of support that he felt severe anxiety and insecurity upon entering his first lab. He wrote that Werner-Washburne helped him realize that he was “not only good enough to be in a high-end research lab, but that [he] could excel in that environment.”

Because of Werner-Washburne, Arellano wrote that he found the boldness to dream bigger than the life of poverty in which he was raised. “Having spent eight years leading men into conflict, I can honestly say that Dr. Werner-Washburne’s ability to recognize and repair deep-seeded and complicated issues in her mentees is of the highest order,” Arellano wrote.

Werner-Washburne stays in touch with many of her mentees and is happy to see so many are successful mentors themselves. “Imagine,” she said, “if the first 300 mentees all mentor 100 students, in 3 generations, we’ll have touched the lives of 300 million people.”

In 1999, Werner-Washburne received the National Science Foundation Director’s Special Service Award. Werner-Washburne was also honored by Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. She received the Presidential Young Investigator Award from the first President Bush in 1990 and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math, and Engineering Mentoring from his son in 2004.

She was elected a Fellow of AAAS in 2006 and served on the AAAS Biological Sciences Steering committee from 2008 to 2012. In addition, she has served on the National Institute of General Medical Sciences Advisory Council and as a board member and president of SACNAS. She has also been affiliated with the American Society for Cell Biology and the Genetics Society of America.

She received her bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford University in Stanford, California in 1971 and her Master’s degree in Botany from the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, Hawaii. Werner-Washburne earned her Ph.D. degree in Botany from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1984, where she also did her post-doctoral research.

Her research career focused on HSP70s and stationary phase in yeast. She has been a co-principal investigator for the model organism database FlyBase at Harvard. Werner-Washburne’s scholarly work and service were recognized in 2011 with the Harvard Foundation’s Scientist of the Year Award.

“One can think of few people who have done more to advance the goal of increasing underrepresented minorities and women in the biological sciences than Dr. Werner-Washburne,” said Meza. “She has provided mentorship and guidance to countless students, who will doubtless go on to have their own successes in science. Her impact will be felt for many years to come.”

The AAAS Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement honors AAAS members who have mentored significant numbers of underrepresented students working toward completion of a Ph.D. in STEM and/or are significantly affecting the climate of a department, college or institution, or field in such a manner as to significantly increase the diversity of students pursuing and completing Ph.D.s in STEM fields.

To be considered for the Lifetime Mentor category, candidates must demonstrate scholarship, activism and community building. Nominees must have more than 25 years of mentoring experience. The award includes a $5,000 prize, a commemorative plaque and complimentary registration to the AAAS Annual Meeting, as well as reimbursement for reasonable travel and hotel expenses to attend the meeting.

The award will be bestowed upon Werner-Washburne during the 183rd AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, Feb. 16-20, 2017. The AAAS Awards Ceremony and Reception will be held Friday, Feb. 17, at 6:30 p.m. in the Republic Ballroom of the Sheraton Boston Hotel.

]]>Latest NewsBiologyResearchWed, 11 Jan 2017 19:06:05 GMTMargaret Werner-Washburne, Regents Professor Emerita of Biology at The University of New Mexico and principal investigator of the UNM-IMSD program, will receive the Lifetime Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science...http://news.unm.edu/news/werner-washburne-receives-aaas-mentor-award-for-lifetime-achievementWed, 11 Jan 2017 16:00:00 GMT

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