Renowned geologist James Quick named inaugural dean of SMU Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies

Distinguished geoscientist James Quick will open the doors to a new era of research and interdisciplinary collaboration.

DALLAS (SMU) – Distinguished geoscientist James Quick will open the doors to a new era of research and interdisciplinary collaboration as the inaugural dean of SMU’s newly created Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies.

SMU announced the creation of the Moody School in November 2019, made possible by a landmark $100 million gift from the Moody Foundation. The investment in graduate-level education is fueling SMU’s move to join the finest universities in the country in its development of research with impact, delivered by top-notch faculty and graduate students.

Quick, a volcanologist of international stature, joined SMU in 2007 as the University’s first Associate Vice President for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies, with the responsibilities of supporting increases in research activity and the number of students graduating with a Ph.D.  Since his arrival, research funding has increased from $14 million a year to $42 million a year, and annual graduation of Ph.D.s has increased from 45 to more than 70.

These increases contributed to SMU’s leap in 2011 past 55 sister institutions in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education to earn recognition for “high research activity.”  The creation of the Moody School positions SMU to compete for coveted “R1” status, which is reserved for those institutions with the highest research activity.

“The new Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies is going to expand research efforts of SMU, the impact of which will benefit the universities, laboratories and businesses that employ our doctoral graduates,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Dean Quick is a passionate advocate for research and the cultivation of scholars, and is well placed to deliver on the promise of the Moody School to deliver research with even greater impact.”

The Moody School will begin formal operations during the 2020-21 academic year. The broad endowment funding provided by the Moody Foundation will guarantee the strength of the school in perpetuity, while the operational funds included in the gift provide for immediate impact. In addition to becoming the inaugural dean of the Moody School, Quick also retains the title of associate provost for research.

“Jim Quick was the chair of the faculty task force that spelled out the need for and ultimate creation of the new Moody School,” said Peter Moore, SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs ad interim. “He’s a natural for this position.”

About 45 percent of students at SMU are graduate students pursuing a master’s degree, doctorate or Ph.D., but the creation of the Moody School will create opportunities for all SMU students by extending to undergraduates more opportunities to participate in significant research and learn from prestigious faculty.

“The gift establishing the Moody School is an unprecedented investment in SMU, providing essential tools to dramatically elevate the University’s reputation in graduate education and powering its advance among research universities,” Quick said. “The opportunity to help guide SMU on this path as the Inaugural Dean is simultaneously exciting and humbling, and I look forward to working with SMU’s faculty to elevate graduate education, scholarship and research across the University.”

Eventually, all graduate degrees through Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, Lyle School of Engineering, Meadows School of the Arts and Simmons School of Education and Human Development will be administered jointly through the Moody School.  Students will receive diplomas to both their individual schools of study and the Moody School.

The Cox School of Business, Dedman School of Law and Perkins School of Theology do not offer Ph.D. studies and will continue to manage their own terminal degrees.  But the Moody School will link interdisciplinary research and professional development from all SMU schools.

Quick joined SMU after a 25-year scientific career with the United States Geological Survey, including as program coordinator for the Volcano Hazards Program, where he supervised monitoring of the nation’s 169 volcanoes to provide critical early warning of eruptions.  He has remained an active researcher during his tenure at SMU.

In 2009 Quick led scientists from the University of Trieste to discover an enormous, 280-million-year-old  supervolcano fossil in the Sesia Valley in northern Italy, revealing the never-seen-before “plumbing” of a supervolcano all the way through the Earth’s crust. Italian geologists awarded Quick the Capellini Medal in September 2010 for the discovery, and the area encompassing the supervolcano later won UNESCO designation as the Sesia-Val Grande Geopark. Quick was named an honorary citizen of the city of Borgosesia, Italy, in recognition of the significance of the Sesia Valley discovery.

Quick became a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in November 2013.  He was honored for his distinguished contributions to geologic science and volcanic risk assessment, particularly for the study of magmatic systems and for service to governments in assessing geologic risk.


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Smithsonian has extended Sea Monsters Unearthed exhibit one more year to 2021

DALLAS (SMU) – “Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas” was given an additional year at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. It will now be on display until 2021.

The exhibit has been viewed by 6 million visitors since it opened last year, leading to Smithsonian granting a longer stay for the exhibit in the Washington, D.C. museum. It was originally supposed to leave next year. Smithsonian also asked for an additional exhibit window for “Sea Monsters Unearthed,” showcasing the international and interdisciplinary collaboration that went into discovering the fossils.

The exhibit showcases never-before-seen fossils from Angola that was made possible largely due to the work of SMU vertebrate paleontologist Louis Jacobs and his colleagues and undergraduates. SMU Emeritus Professor of Paleontology Louis Jacobs and his SMU colleague Michael Polcyn forged a partnership with collaborators in Angola, Portugal and the Netherlands to explore and excavate Angola’s rich fossil history, while laying the groundwork for returning the fossils to the West African nation. Back in Dallas, Jacobs and Polcyn, director of the University’s Digital Earth Sciences Lab, and research associate Diana Vineyard went to work over a period of 13 years with a small army of SMU students to prepare the fossils excavated by Projecto PaleoAngola. These students – including Myria Perez, a former paleontology student who is now a fossil preparator at the Perot Museum – worked in basement laboratories to painstakingly clean and preserve the fossils.

“Sea Monsters Unearthed” allows visitors to visually dive into the cool waters off the coast of West Africa as they existed millions of years ago when the continents of Africa and South America were drifting apart. It’s a unique opportunity to examine fossils of ancient marine reptiles and learn about the forces that continue to mold life both in out of the ocean.

After 2021, the exhibit will return to Angola. Learn more here.


About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.

About the National Museum of Natural History

The National Museum of Natural History is connecting people everywhere with Earth’s unfolding story. The museum is one of the most visited natural history museums in the world with approximately 7 million annual visitors from the U.S. and around the world. Opened in 1910, the museum is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit the museum on its website and on Facebook and Twitter.

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Researchers unveil new volcanic eruption forecasting technique

Volcanic eruptions and their ash clouds pose a significant hazard to population centers and air travel, especially those that show few to no signs of unrest beforehand. Geologists are now using a technique traditionally used in weather and climate forecasting to develop new eruption forecasting models. By testing if the models are able to capture the likelihood of past eruptions, the researchers are making strides in the science of volcanic forecasting.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, examined the eruption history of the Okmok volcano in Alaska. In 2008, a large eruption produced an ash plume that extended approximately 1 mile into the sky over the Aleutian Islands – posing a significant hazard to aircraft engines along a route that transports roughly 50,000 people between Asia and North America each day, the researchers said.

“The 2008 eruption of Okmok came as a bit of surprise,” said University of Illinois graduate student and lead author Jack Albright. “After an eruption that occurred in 1997, there were periods of slight unrest, but very little seismicity or other eruption precursors. In order to develop better forecasting, it is crucial to understand volcanic eruptions that deviate from the norm.”

Geologists typically forecast eruptions by looking for established patterns of preeruption unrest such as earthquake activity, groundswell and gas release, the researchers said. Volcanoes like Okmok, however, don’t seem to follow these established patterns.

To build and test new models, the team utilized a statistical data analysis technique developed after World War II called Kalman filtering.

“The version of Kalman filtering that we used for our study was updated in 1996 and has continued to be used in weather and climate forecasting, as well as physical oceanography,” said U. of I. geology professor Patricia Gregg, a co-author of the study that included collaborators from SMU (Southern Methodist University) and Michigan State University. “We are the first group to use the updated method in volcanology, however, and it turns out that this technique works well for the unique unrest that led up to Okmok’s 2008 eruption.”

One of those unique attributes is the lack of increased seismicity before the eruption, the researchers said. In a typical preeruption sequence, it is hypothesized that the reservoir under the volcano stays the same size as it fills with magma and hot gases. That filling causes pressure in the chamber to increase and the surrounding rocks fracture and move, causing earthquakes.

“In the 2008 eruption, it appears that the magma chamber grew larger to accommodate the increasing pressure, so we did not see the precursor seismic activity we would expect,” Albright said. “By looking back in time with our models, or hindcasting, we can now observe that stress had been building up in the rocks around the chamber for weeks, and the growth of the magma system ultimately led to its failure and eruption.”

This type of backward and forward modeling allows researchers to watch a volcanic system evolve over time. “While we stopped our analysis after the 2008 eruption, we are now able to propagate this new model forward in time, bring it to present day, and forecast where Okmok volcano is heading next,” Gregg said.

The researchers posit that these models will continue to find other less-recognized eruption precursors, but acknowledge that every volcano is different and that the models must be tailored to fit each unique system.

The volcano forecasting technique used in this study was based on volcano deformation data from GPS and satellite radars. Geophysicist Zhong Lu, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU and a global expert in satellite radar imagery analysis, processed the satellite radar images and provided the volcano deformation maps for this research.

The U. of I. team is working in collaboration with researchers from Alaska Volcano Observatory and SMU to help build a stronger forecasting system for the Aleutian Islands area. The researchers received $541,921 in grant money from NASA for the work in early 2019.

Popular Mechanics, Sci Tech Daily and other outlets highlighted the study. — University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign




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New map outlines seismic faults across DFW region

Study by SMU, UT Austin and Stanford scientists rates faults for potential earthquakes; Faults under DFW urban area viewed as lower quake hazard


DALLAS (SMU) – Scientists from SMU, The University of Texas at Austin and Stanford University found that the majority of faults underlying the Fort Worth Basin are as sensitive to forces that could cause them to slip as those that have hosted earthquakes in the past.


The new study, published July 23rd by the journal Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America (BSSA), provides the most comprehensive fault information for the region to date. 


Fault slip potential modeling explores two scenarios: a model based on subsurface stress on the faults prior to high-volume wastewater injection and a model of those forces reflecting increase in fluid pressure due to injection.


A simplified version of the fault map created by the team of researchers. The map includes faults that are visible at the surface (green) and faults that are underground (black). The solid line indicates underground faults that researchers were able to map at a high resolution. The dotted line indicates faults that were mapped at a medium resolution. According to the research, in the presence of wastewater injection activity, the majority of the faults in the area are as susceptible to slipping as those faults that have already produced earthquakes. The map also marks earthquake locations and waste-water injection well locations and amounts. Credit: UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology

None of the faults shown to have the highest potential for an earthquake are located in the most populous Dallas-Fort Worth urban area or in the areas where there are currently many wastewater disposal wells.


Yet, the study also found that the majority of faults underlying the Fort Worth Basin are as sensitive to forces that could cause them to slip and cause an earthquake as those that have hosted earthquakes in recent years.


Though the majority of the faults identified on this map have not produced an earthquake, understanding why some faults have slipped and others with similar fault slip potential have not continues to be researched, said SMU seismologist and study co-author Heather DeShon, who has been the lead investigator of a series of other studies exploring the cause of the North Texas earthquakes.

Earthquakes were virtually unheard of in North Texas until slightly more than a decade ago. But more than 200 earthquakes have occurred in the region since late 2008, ranging in magnitude from 1.6 to 4.0. A series of studies have linked these events to the disposal of wastewater from oil and gas operations by injecting it deep into the earth at high volumes, triggering “dead” faults nearby.

A total of 251 faults have been identified in the Fort Worth Basin, but the researchers suspect that more exist that haven’t been identified. 

The study found that the faults remained relatively stable if they were left undisturbed. However, wastewater injection sharply increased the chances of these faults slipping, if they weren’t managed properly.


“That means the whole system of faults is sensitive,” said the lead author of the study Peter L. Hennings, a research scientist from UT Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology and the principal investigator at the Center for Integrated Seismicity Research (CISR). 

DeShon said the new study provides fundamental information regarding earthquake hazard to the Dallas-Fort Worth region.


“The SMU earthquake catalog and the Texas Seismic Network catalog provide necessary earthquake data for understanding faults active in Texas right now,” she said. “This study provides key information to allow the public, cities, state and federal governments and industry to understand potential hazard and design effective public policies, regulations and mitigation strategies.”

“Industrial activities can increase the probability of triggering earthquakes before they would happen naturally, but there are steps we can take to reduce that probability,” added co-author Jens-Erik Lund Snee, a doctoral student at Stanford University.


Earthquake rates, like wastewater injection volumes, have decreased significantly since a peak in 2012.  But as long as earthquakes occur, earthquake hazard remains. Dallas-Fort Worth remains the highest risk region for earthquakes in Texas because of population density.

Even after the earthquakes died away, North Texas residents have wondered about the region’s vulnerability to future earthquakes – especially since no map was available to pinpoint the existence of all known faults in the region.  The new data, while still incomplete, benefited from information gleaned from newly released reflection seismic data held by oil and gas companies, reanalysis of publicly available well logs, and geologic outcrop information.

U of T at Austin and Stanford University provided the fault data and calculated fault slip potential. SMU, meanwhile, has been tracking seismic activity — which measures when the earth shakes —since people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area felt the first tremors near DFW International Airport in 2008. A catalog of all those tremors was recently published in June in the journal BSSA.

SMU seismologists have also been the lead or co-authors of a series of studies on the North Texas earthquakes. SMU research showed that many of the Dallas-Fort Worth earthquakes were triggered by increases in pore pressure — the pressure of groundwater trapped within tiny spaces inside rocks in the subsurface. An independent study done by SMU’s seismologist Beatrice Magnani found that wastewater injection reactivated dormant faults near Dallas that had been dormant for the last 300 million years.  

DeShon said any future plan to mine for oil or natural gas in Fort Worth basin should be done with an understanding that the basin contains several faults that are highly-sensitive to pore-pressure changes. The study noted that rates of injection dropped sharply in the Fort Worth basin, but the practice still continues. Most of the injection that has taken place has been concentrated in the Johnson, Tarrant, and Parker counties, near areas of continued seismic activity.  

“The largest earthquake the Dallas-Fort Worth region experienced was a magnitude 4 in 2015” DeShon said. “The U.S. Geological Survey and Red Cross provide practical preparedness advice for your home and work places. Just as we prepare for tornado season in north Texas, it remains important for us to have a plan for experiencing earthquake shaking.”

Many outlets covered the news:

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.

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DNA from 31,000-year-old human teeth reveals new ethnic group living in Siberia during last Ice Age

An international team of researchers, including SMU anthropologist David Meltzer, discovered a new group of ancient Siberians. The research was published June 5, 2019 as a story in Nature

Two children’s milk teeth buried deep in a remote archaeological site in north eastern Siberia have revealed a previously unknown group of people lived there during the last Ice Age.

The finding was part of a wider study, which also discovered 10,000 year-old human remains in another site in Siberia are genetically related to Native Americans – the first time such close genetic links have been discovered outside of the US.

The two 31,000-year-old milk teeth found at the Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site in Russia which led to the discovery of a new group of ancient Siberians. Photo credit: Russian Academy of Sciences.

The international team of scientists, led by Professor Eske Willerslev who holds positions at St John’s College, University of Cambridge, and is director of The Lundbeck Foundation Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, have named the new people group the ‘Ancient North Siberians’ and described their existence as ‘a significant part of human history’.

The DNA was recovered from the only human remains discovered from the era – two tiny milk teeth – that were found in a large archaeological site found in Russia near the Yana River. The site, known as Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site (RHS), was found in 2001 and features more than 2,500 artifacts of animal bones and ivory along with stone tools and evidence of human habitation.

The discovery was published on June 5 as part of a wider study in Nature and shows the Ancient North Siberians endured extreme conditions in the region 31,000 years ago and survived by hunting woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, and bison. Several publications, such as The New York Times and Science Magazine, also covered the discovery.

Professor Willerslev said: “These people were a significant part of human history, they diversified almost at the same time as the ancestors of modern day Asians and Europeans and it’s likely that at one point they occupied large regions of the northern hemisphere.”

Dr Martin Sikora, of The Lundbeck Foundation Centre for GeoGenetics and first author of the study, added: “They adapted to extreme environments very quickly, and were highly mobile. These findings have changed a lot of what we thought we knew about the population history of north eastern Siberia but also what we know about the history of human migration as a whole.”

Researchers estimate that the population numbers at the site would have been around 40 people with a wider population of around 500. Genetic analysis of the milk teeth revealed the two individuals sequenced showed no evidence of inbreeding which was occurring in the declining Neanderthal populations at the time.

The complex population dynamics during this period and genetic comparisons to other people groups, both ancient and recent, are documented as part of the wider study which analyzed 34 samples of human genomes found in ancient archaeological sites across northern Siberia and central Russia.

Professor Laurent Excoffier from the University of Bern, Switzerland, said: “Remarkably, the Ancient North Siberians people are more closely related to Europeans than Asians and seem to have migrated all the way from Western Eurasia soon after the divergence between Europeans and Asians.”

Scientists found the Ancient North Siberians generated the mosaic genetic make-up of contemporary people who inhabit a vast area across northern Eurasia and the Americas – providing the ‘missing link’ of understanding the genetics of Native American ancestry.

It is widely accepted that humans first made their way to the Americas from Siberia into Alaska via a land bridge spanning the Bering Strait which was submerged at the end of the last Ice Age. The researchers were able to pinpoint some of these ancestors as Asian people groups who mixed with the Ancient North Siberians.

One of the paper’s senior authors, Professor David Meltzer from Southern Methodist University (SMU), explained: “We gained important insight into population isolation and admixture that took place during the depths of the Last Glacial Maximum – the coldest and harshest time of the Ice Age – and ultimately the ancestry of the peoples who would emerge from that time as the ancestors of the indigenous people of the Americas.” Meltzer is an anthropologist at SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences.

This discovery was based on the DNA analysis of a 10,000 year-old male remains found at a site near the Kolyma River in Siberia. The individual derives his ancestry from a mixture of Ancient North Siberian DNA and East Asian DNA, which is very similar to that found in Native Americans. It is the first time human remains this closely related to the Native American populations have been discovered outside of the US.

Professor Willerslev added: “The remains are genetically very close to the ancestors of Paleo-Siberian speakers and close to the ancestors of Native Americans. It is an important piece in the puzzle of understanding the ancestry of Native Americans as you can see the Kolyma signature in the Native Americans and Paleo-Siberians. This individual is the missing link of Native American ancestry.” — St. John’s College, University of Cambridge

Read The New York Times article here. More publications on the discovery can be found here:

A 31,000-year-old milk tooth was discovered in this small area among ancient remnants of tools and animal bones. Photo credit: Elena Pavlova


About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.


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NPR asks Peter Weyand “how do pro sprinters run so fast?”

DALLAS (SMU) – If you’ve ever watched any races with the Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt, you may have wondered just how he was able to run so fast.

Southern Methodist University professor Peter Weyand, who leads the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory, explained the science behind high-speed running for professional sprinters in an interview with NPR’s WNPR/Connecticut Public Radio. You can listen to the podcast here.

Weyand is well-versed on the topic, having recently co-authored a study that analyzed the way Bolt and other elite athletes ran by using a new motion-based method to assess the patterns of ground-force application.

Weyand is Glenn Simmons Professor of Applied Physiology and professor of biomechanics in the Department of Applied Physiology & Wellness in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.





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SMU physicist Jodi Cooley receives the 2019 Klopsteg Memorial Lecture Award

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU physicist Jodi Cooley has been named the 2019 Klopsteg Memorial Lecture Award recipient.

The award, given by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), recognizes educators who have made notable and creative contributions to the teaching of physics. Cooley was honored in July during the AAPT Summer Meeting in Provo, Utah.

Past recipients of the award include well-known physicists such as Michio Kaku, Lisa Randall and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Cooley, who joined Southern Methodist University in 2009, is an associate professor of experimental particle physics in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences who opens her research lab to undergraduates. She has organized a campus rock hunt on Dark Matter Day, analyzed an action film or brought out a Slinky to make physics real for her students. When she delivered the featured address at SMU’s 2012 Honors Convocation, Cooley spoke about the value of failure.

Cooley’s current research interest is to improve our understanding of the universe by deciphering the nature of dark matter.

She and her colleagues operated sophisticated detectors in the Soudan Underground Laboratory in Minnesota from 2003 to 2015. The Department of Energy and National Science Foundation is now funding construction of an even deeper location, SNOLAB in Canada, to improve the search of dark matter. Cooley will be one of the researchers at SNOLAB, using detectors that can distinguish between elusive dark matter particles and background particles that mimic dark matter interactions.

Cooley is a principal investigator on the SuperCDMS dark matter experiment and was a principal investigator for the AARM collaboration, which aimed to develop integrative tools for underground science. She has won numerous awards for her research including being named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2018. She also received an Early Career Award from the National Science Foundation and the Ralph E. Powe Jr. Faculty Enhancement Award from the Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.



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New Texas dinosaur identified by SMU scientists

Discovery suggests a nesting site for dinosaurs in early Cretaceous

Convolosaurus photo courtesy of the Perot Museum of Nature & Science.

DALLAS (SMU) – There’s a new Texas dinosaur on the books.

SMU postdoctoral fellow Kate Andrzejewski, with University paleontologists Dale Winkler and Louis Jacobs, have identified Convolosaurus marri from fossils collected at Proctor Lake, southwest of Fort Worth.

Remnants of several dinosaurs were first found at the Comanche County lake site in 1985, and most of the fossils had been stored for years in the Shuler Museum of Paleontology at SMU. But it wasn’t until Andrzejewski, Winkler and Jacobs examined the fossils more recently that the new dinosaur was identified.

Convolosaurus is an amazing discovery,” said Andrzejewski, whose findings were published in March in the journal PLOS ONE. “Not only because it represents a new dinosaur, but its discovery also provides unique insight into dinosaur behavior during the early Cretaceous.”

Convolosaurus marri is on view at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in the T. Boone Pickens Life Then and Now Hall as “Proctor Lake Ornithopod.” The newly identified dinosaur was named in honor of Ray H. Marr, an SMU alumnus who is president of Marr Oil & Gas LTD and a strong supporter of SMU students.

C. marri belongs to a family of herbivorous dinosaurs called ornithopods, which are known for their bird-like stance on two legs. C. marri is believed to have been an agile and fairly small creature.

“Later members of that group became much larger and would graze on all four legs earning them the nickname ‘the cows of the Cretaceous,’” Andrzejewski said.

Andrzejewski and Dale A. Winkler, senior research fellow for ISEM at SMU, and Louis L. Jacobs, professor emeritus of Earth Sciences at SMU, were able to look at fossils from 29 different individuals that were ultimately identified as C. marri. Because of the size distribution of the fossils, it is likely the dinosaurs were a mix of recently-hatched dinosaurs and older juveniles.

“This indicates individuals grouped together after hatching and may have flocked together for protection from predators, which is where this dinosaur got its name,” Andrezejewski said. “Convolosaurus means ‘flocking lizard.’”

The collection of C. marri fossils discovered together also indicate that these dinosaurs kept occupying the same spot over time.

However, almost all of the fossils found at this site represent Convolosaurus, with only one tooth belonging to a small carnivorous dinosaur and one skeleton of a small reptile, which is part of the same family as a crocodile.” 

Furthermore, none of the bones from Convolosaurus contain any indications that they were eaten or even scavenged upon,” Andrzejewski noted. “This suggests that this dinosaur found a safe haven and perhaps used it to raise their young and thrive in a world filled with challenges – from droughts to terrifying carnivorous dinosaurs.”

It has long been suspected that there was a “nesting site” at the place where the remnants of C. marri were found, although no eggshells have yet been found.

“The discovery of Convolosaurus certainly tells an interesting and incredible story of life during the early Cretaceous of Texas,” said Andrzejewski.

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Research: Migration restrictions limit long-term economic growth

SMU economist and colleagues use model to predict East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will become global productivity leaders

 DALLAS (SMU) – Relaxing migration restrictions globally could deliver a threefold increase in global GDP, according to prize-winning research by SMU economist Klaus Desmet. In contrast, areas like the United States and Europe that restrict migration will see productivity decline over the long term, according to a new economic model developed by Desmet and research colleagues.

“What we find is that the population-dense places, by virtue of having dense and large markets, will eventually start innovating. Once their productivity takes off, they will enter in a virtuous circle of innovation and density,” says Desmet, the Ruth and Kent Altshuler Centennial Interdisciplinary Professor of Economics.

“Many of today’s population-dense places are in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. With current migration restrictions prohibiting movement elsewhere, these will remain the densest places. Hence, eventually they will take off, and in the very long run, several centuries from now, they will become the world’s productivity leaders.

“This is already happening in some areas, such as China,” Desmet says. “In contrast, the U.S. and Europe will lose out. They can stop this reversal of fortune from happening by adopting freer migration policies.”

Desmet, David Krisztian Nagy and Esteban Rossi-Hansberg received the Robert E. Lucas Jr. Prize for this research, “The Geography of Development,” published in the Journal of Political Economy. The Lucas Prize is awarded biannually for the most interesting paper published in the Journal of Political Economy.

Most existing research has focused on the short-run effects of liberalizing migration restrictions, Desmet says.

“Our research is taking into account the long-run effects,” Desmet says. “Initially, when migrants arrive, there are adjustment and integration costs, and the benefits may be elusive. In the longer run, however, migrants contribute tremendously to productivity and innovation. Unfortunately, the current debate on migration is hopelessly focused on very short-run issues, and completely fails to take into account its long-run importance.”

The costs of limiting migration will be difficult to see over the next ten to 20 years, Desmet says. “But the world is slowly moving in the direction of a productivity reversal.”

To conduct the migration research, the team developed an economic model that looks at economic growth on a global scale, but at a fine level of geographic resolution, using income, population, land-use, roads, railroads, rivers and ocean data for the entire globe, Desmet says.

“What is innovative about the model is that it gives predictions, not just for the localities directly impacted by a particular shock, but also for the rest of the world.”

The researchers tested the model by running it backwards, 150 years in the past, then compared the predictions to actual data. They found the model compared well with actual events, lending credibility to its ability to predict the future.

For the migration study, the model predicted several centuries into the future, critical for studying migration in particular, Desmet says.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.

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New psychological study: Teaching people to experience and recognize joy

DALLAS (SMU) – Researchers at SMU and UCLA are enrolling subjects for a five-year study of a treatment for a psychological condition known as anhedonia – the inability to find pleasure in any aspect of life. A grant of approximately $4 million from the National Institute of Mental Health will allow professors Alicia Meuret and Thomas Ritz at SMU and Michelle G. Craske at UCLA to study the effectiveness of their treatment in 168 people suffering from this very specific symptom.

Professor Alicia Meuret
Professor Alicia Meuret

“The goal of this novel therapeutic approach is to train people to develop psychological muscle memory – to learn again how to experience joy and identify that experience when it occurs,” said Meuret, professor of psychology and director of SMU’s Anxiety and Depression Research Center. “Anhedonia is an aspect of depression, but it also is a symptom that really reaches across psychiatric and non-psychiatric disorders. It’s the absence or the lack of experiencing rewards.”

People suffering from depression often report feeling down or blue, loss of appetite and having difficulty sleeping or concentrating, all described generally as “negative affect.” Meuret explained that there is another other side to depression – the reduction of all that is positive. This reveals itself in someone who says he or she is not especially anxious or depressed, but nothing gives them joy anymore.

“They don’t feel motivated to do anything, and when they do things that formerly gave them pleasure, they just don’t enjoy them anymore,” Meuret said. “We call that a deficit in the reward system – a reduction to reward sensitivity.”

Historically, treatments for affective disorders such as anxiety and depression have been aimed at reducing negative affect, Meuret said.  Over the next five years, Meuret, Ritz and Craske will treat 168 people using a type of cognitive behavioral therapy aimed at teaching people to seek out and recognize the positive aspects of life – increasing their sensitivity to reward. They will compare their results with a more traditional approach of treating the negative affect side of their problems.

Professor Thomas Ritz
Professor Thomas Ritz

The monitoring of treatment success will include simple biomarkers of enjoyment. “The heart beats faster in joy, something that has been shown to be absent in anhedonia,” said Ritz, an SMU professor of psychology who specializes in studying the relationship between biology and psychology in affective disorders and chronic disease. Other measures will capture immune activity, which is important as an indicator of long-term health.

Clinical psychology graduate students working on the project are Juliet Kroll, Divya Kumar, Natalie Tunnell, Anni Hasration, Andres Roques and Rebecca Kim, a recent SMU alumna, who will coordinate the day-to-day administration of the project.

Those interested in participating in the study may phone Rebecca Kim at 214-768-2188 or fill out the pre-screen form here.

The NIMH-funded study will follow the training framework of an SMU-UCLA pilot study conducted from 2014-2018:

  • The first half of the treatments are targeted at changing behavior, using strategies where the patient learns to seek out pleasant activities that they have previously enjoyed. Scheduled “homework” records that they list their mood before and after the activity, savoring the pleasurable moments in these activities. When resuming a session, the patient recalls the activity as if experiencing it in real time, such as, “I see Amy. I feel a connection with her. We walk on the street, and I can see the leaves changing.”
  • Cognitive training provides exercises that identify the positive aspects of various activities, taking responsibility for those activities and imagining what they would feel like.
  • The last module is compassion training, helping the patient to again learn to share love and kindness with another person, cultivating gratitude and generosity and learning to generate and savor positive feelings in the moment.

“Rather than saying to our patients, ‘Let me help you feel less bad,’ we are saying, ‘Let me help you re-learn how to feel good,” Meuret said.  “It’s very rewarding as a researcher psychologist that these patients can feel again – feel something positive.  I think there’s nothing worse than losing this sense of reward.”

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Alcohol use may increase among Hispanic Americans as they become more ‘Americanized’

SMU professor Priscilla Lui and co-author find that ‘Americanization’ of alcohol use affects women more than men

DALLAS (SMU) – Higher rates of alcohol use and drinking consequences are found among Hispanic American adolescents and adults who are more “Americanized,” according to a new study authored by Southern Methodist University (SMU) professor Priscilla Lui and her colleague, Byron Zamboanga, at Smith College.

Using scientific research accumulated over the past 40 years, Lui and Zamboanga analyzed data from over 68,000 Hispanic Americans – including first-generation immigrants and native-born individuals. Lui’s research has found that people in this group who are more “Americanized” are more likely to:

  • be drinkers,
  • consume alcohol at greater intensity,
  • experience more negative consequences associated with alcohol use, and
  • affect women more than men.

Hispanics are the largest ethnic group in the United States.  Similar results were found in the Asian ethnic group, which is the fastest-growing U.S. ethnic group.  Those who are considered acculturated or “Americanized” tend to have adapted to the political, cultural, or communal influences in the mainstream America, and assimilated to its customs and institutions.

“This research means that, for Asian and Hispanic men, being more ‘Americanized’ may not be associated with substantial changes in their drinking behaviors and consequences,” said Lui. “For Asian and Hispanic women, however, cumulative data show that there’s something about the American way of life that may be making them more likely to drink, and drink more intensely and hazardously.”

According to Lui, existing research has suggested two theories: “Either people are socialized to adopt more permissive and favorable drinking culture in the U.S., or their experiences with cultural stresses, such as the pressure to become ‘American’ or racial discrimination, are making people use alcohol to cope.”

Lui is currently conducting further studies to better test these two theories, and to understand risk and protective factors of alcohol use.

Associations between alcohol use and the acculturation process are a focus of Lui’s research in her Acculturation, Diversity, and Psychopathology Team (ADAPT), where she is the principal investigator.  Lui is an assistant professor in the Psychology Department in the Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences at SMU.

The study, “A Critical Review and Meta-Analysis of the Associations between Acculturation and Alcohol Use Outcomes among Hispanic Americans,” is published in the October issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The study by Lui and Zamboanga are being published just as new research from the medical journal, The BMJ, revealed that more Americans, particularly young people, are dying from liver disease and cirrhosis as a result of alcohol consumption.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty, and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities, and the world.

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NIH Funds Collaborative Study of Cognitive Impairment in Older Asthma Patients

Led by SMU psychologist and UTSW psychiatrist, Dallas Asthma Brain and Cognition Study will use brain scans to explore relationship between inflammatory lung disease and brain function in older adults

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU psychologist Thomas Ritz and UT Southwestern Medical Center psychiatrist Sherwood Brown will lead a $2.6 million study funded over four years by the National Institutes of Health to explore the apparent connection between asthma and diminished cognitive function in middle-to-late-age adults.

The World Health Organization estimates that 235 million people suffer from asthma worldwide.

The study will build on the work Brown and Ritz have accomplished with a core group of researchers over a period of eight years. Their pilot data, gleaned from brain imaging and analysis of chemical changes, indicates that neurons in the hippocampus of young-to-middle-age adults with asthma are not as healthy as those in the control group without asthma. The hippocampus is that portion of the brain that controls long-term memory and spatial navigation.

“In our early study, we found that there were differences between healthy control participants and young-to-middle-age asthma patients in that the latter showed a slightly lower performance in cognitive tasks,” Ritz said. “We wonder how that looks in older age. When you have asthma for a lifetime, the burden of the disease may accumulate.”

The early findings also led his group to wonder if the impact on cognition is related to the severity of the disease.

“This all makes sense, but no one has looked specifically at how that relates to brain structure,” Ritz said.  “With this grant we will look at structures – the neurons and axons, the white and gray matter of the brain, how thick they are in various places. We look at what kind of chemicals have been accumulating, which are the byproducts of neural activity. We want to know how various areas of the brain function during cognitive tasks.”

The four-year project will allow researchers to study a sample of up to 200 participants who are between the ages of 40-69. In addition to Ritz and Brown, the research group includes Denise C. Park, director of research for the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas; Changho Choi, professor of radiology at UTSW; David Khan, professor of internal medicine at UTSW; Alicia E. Meuret, professor of clinical psychology at SMU, and David Rosenfield, associate professor of psychology at SMU.  SMU graduate students working on the grant are Juliet Kroll and Hannah Nordberg.

“This is how neuroimaging works today – it is a team sport,” Ritz said. “You cannot do it on your own. You have to strike up collaborations with various disciplines.  It’s very exciting because it is stimulating and interesting to collaborate with colleagues in different areas.”

The study, scheduled to run through May 31, 2022, will allow the research team to examine several possible factors that may impact cognition in people with asthma.

“Is it lack of oxygen?  That’s a very good question,” Ritz said. “But it cannot be the full story.  Real lack of oxygen only happens in severe asthma attacks and in most cases, people having an asthma attack are still well saturated with oxygen.

Carbon dioxide levels are often too low in asthma patients – but it is uncertain whether that is a .”

Another possibility, he said, is that the problems with disrupted sleep experienced by many people with asthma might relate to cognitive function.

“Just imagine you how you perform after lack of sleep,” Ritz said. “In the long run, we know sleep is important to the health of our brain. If over a lifetime you’ve had interruptions in sleep, it may impact your neural health.”

This research is being supported by the National Heart, Lung, And Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health under grant number 1R01HL142775-01.

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New Smithsonian Exhibit Reflects the Passion of SMU Professor and an Army of Student Fossil Hounds

Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas opens Nov. 9 at National Museum of Natural History

DALLAS (SMU October 15, 2018) – Once the exhibit opens, “Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas” will allow visitors to visually dive into the cool waters off the coast of West Africa as they existed millions of years ago when the continents of Africa and South America were drifting apart. It’s a unique opportunity to examine fossils of ancient marine reptiles and learn about the forces that continue to mold life both in out of the ocean.

But the back story is just as fascinating: SMU Emeritus Professor of Paleontology Louis Jacobs and his SMU colleague Michael Polcyn forged a partnership with collaborators in Angola, Portugal and the Netherlands to explore and excavate Angola’s rich fossil history, while laying the groundwork for returning the fossils to the West African nation. Back in Dallas Jacobs and Polcyn, director of the University’s Digital Earth Sciences Lab, and research associate Diana Vineyard went to work over a period of 13 years with a small army of SMU students to prepare the fossils excavated by Projecto PaleoAngola.

The result is a dynamic exhibit opening Nov. 9 in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History featuring large vertebrate marine reptiles from the Cretaceous Period — mosasaurs, marine turtles and plesiosaurs. This exhibit will mark the first time Angolan fossils of colossal Cretaceous marine reptiles will be on public display.

“It turns out that Angola is the best place on the surface of the earth to see the rocks that reflect and show the opening of the South Atlantic and the split between South America and Africa,” Jacobs said. But the war of independence in Angola that began in 1961 and ended (after civil war) in 2002 effectively prevented scientists from working this rich fossil zone for nearly 40 years after continental drift and plate tectonics became accepted scientific theory.

When Jacobs and the team arrived to begin digging on the coast of Angola in 2005, they were first on the scene to record this fascinating record of sea life that existed as the South Atlantic Ocean grew between two drifting continents.

SMU students did the important, time-consuming lab work

Over the past 13 years, the fossils were shipped back to Dallas, where over 100 undergraduate students have worked in basement laboratories to painstakingly clean and preserve the fossils. Some were paleontology students, most were not – but they seem to share an appreciation for their unique role in sharing new knowledge.

“Getting fossils out of rocks is a time consuming, labor-intensive operation,” Jacobs said. “But every time a student removes a grain of sand off a fossil, they have the excitement of seeing ancient life that no one else in the world has ever seen. On top of that, these fossils are going on exhibit at the Smithsonian and then back to their own homeland. That gives our students an opportunity that they simply could not get anywhere else. And what’s not to like about that?”

The Smithsonian exhibit, made possible by the Sant Ocean Hall Endowment fund, will immerse visitors in a marine environment from the Cretaceous Period, which began about 145 million years ago and ended about 66 million years ago. It features lively animations and vivid paleoart murals of life beneath the waves courtesy of natural history artist (and longtime Jacobs collaborator) Karen Carr. The exhibit brings to life 11 authentic fossils from Angola’s ancient seas, full-size fossil reconstructions of a mosasaur and a marine turtle, as well as 3-D scanned replicas of mosasaur skulls. Photomurals and video vignettes will take visitors to field sites along Angola’s modern rugged coast, where Projecto PaleoAngola scientists unearthed the fossil remains from this lost world.

“Because of our planet’s ever-shifting geology, Angola’s coastal cliffs contain the fossil remains of marine creatures from the prehistoric South Atlantic,” said Kirk Johnson, the Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History. “We are honored by the generosity of the Angolan people for sharing a window into this part of the Earth’s unfolding story with our visitors.”

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world. For more information, visit SMU on its website and on Facebook and Twitter.

About the National Museum of Natural History

The National Museum of Natural History is connecting people everywhere with Earth’s unfolding story. The museum is one of the most visited natural history museums in the world with approximately 7 million annual visitors from the U.S. and around the world. Opened in 1910, the museum is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit the museum on its website and on Facebook and Twitter.

In the words of smu students and graduates who sorted, cleaned and preserved fossils for Projecto Paleoangola

Pictured (L to R): Yasmin Jackson, Tania Doblado Speck, Harrison Schumann and Evan Snyder

Evan Snyder (SMU 2019)

“This experience allowed me to work on a project far bigger than myself. Exhibits just like this one excited me as a young child and led to my study of science. I’d love to think that my work will have the same impact on kids today. Working on this project also taught me how to work on challenging and stressful tasks with the right balance of confidence and care to meet deadlines with quality work.”

Yasmin Jackson (SMU 2019)

“I was able to go to the Smithsonian for the first time through this project. I really liked being able to see all of the different exhibits that are currently in the museum and imagine what our exhibit will be like in the midst of all of it.”

Harrison Schuman (SMU 2019)

“Dr. Jacobs is an inspiring individual to be around. Despite being a world-class expert in paleontology, he made himself very approachable and was always personally invested in all of the students working on the project. This kind of attitude encourages students like me to pursue careers in science.”

Alexandra Lippas (SMU 2011)

“It is because of Dr. Jacobs that I was able to be a part of this project. He encouraged students from other branches of science to work on this study. I think it demonstrates that different perspectives can lead to great discovery.”

Connor Flynn (SMU 2014)

“My time in the lab will be a source of stories for years to come and a point of pride for a lifetime. Its lessons in patience, care and passion for the labor will never be forgotten. Dr. Jacobs’ words ‘There’s nothing so broken you can’t fix it,’ carried me through more lab accidents than i care to admit — both at SMU and beyond.”

Jennifer Welch (SMU 2019)

“Dr. Jacobs is so incredibly smart, I could point out any part of the vertebrae and he would tell me what it’s for, why it was there, how that impacted the life of the animal and the stories that told about the land where the animal lived.”

Stephen Tyler Armstrong (SMU 2012)

“As an engineering major, this project exposed me to areas of research and career paths I would otherwise not encountered. It was really interesting to work so closely with those conducting the research to learn about a subject outside of my realm.”

For more information about undergraduate students working in SMU’s earth sciences labs.

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SMU Engineering Profs Receive NSF Grant to Build Multi-Dimensional Drone Communication Framework

DALLAS (SMU) – Faculty and students in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering will use an $849,839 grant from the National Science Foundation to improve unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) communications, with the potential to enable the next wave of drone applications ranging from delivery of consumer goods to supporting autonomous combat and search and rescue efforts.

The award to Joseph Camp and Dinesh Rajan in the Electrical Engineering Department begins funding their work Oct. 1, 2018 and will extend through Sept. 30, 2021. The objective is to build infrastructure for Multi-Dimensional Drone Communications Infrastructure (MuDDI) to address research issues related to three-dimensional (3-D) connectivity, distributed antennas across a drone swarm and 3-D swarm formations that optimize the transmission to intended receivers.

MuDDI will allow the SMU team to rent and equip indoor space relatively close to campus for repeatable experimentation.  “This will allow us to run our experiments in a controlled environment with the ability to precisely measure the wireless transmission characteristics,” Camp said.

The project will include:

  • Building a programmable drone platform that can dynamically switch across multiple antennas with various positions and orientations on the drone that increase signal from a particular drone to direct transmissions across the extremes of physical dimensions.
  • Experimental analysis of the various channel feedback mechanisms that have been identified but have yet to be evaluated on drones with in-flight vibrations and mobility patterns and various swarm formations.
  • Constructing and incorporating large-scale antenna arrays over the surface of the ceiling and surrounding walls in the test facility to capture various multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) transmission patterns of a single drone seeking 3-D connectivity, distributed drone swarm creating various formations, and a massive-MIMO ground station.
  • Integrating a massive-MIMO control station that can direct transmissions to, and track the mobility of, in-flight systems enabling research on the various beam widths and multi-user beam patterns that may be simultaneously allocated among large antenna arrays.

“When you start to think about drones, the communication issues are not 2D anymore – they are 3D,” Camp said. “When we built a drone platform at SMU in Taos last summer, we put the antennas on top of the drone so they wouldn’t interfere with landing gear. What we then found out was when the drone got to a certain height, it could only communicate from side-to-side, not directly below it.”


“When drones are required to talk to other drones, the communication, by definition, can be in any direction at any point in time,” Camp said. “We make the assumption that radios are expensive in terms of power, weight, and cost and that a switching mechanism from these radios to a greater number of antennas could significantly lower the resource consumption of a drone communications platform. In addition, if carefully designed, multiple drones could team to form a large antenna array to improve communication range.”

The research being directed by Camp and Rajan could have far-reaching applications for the future of UAV communications, including increasing Internet connectivity during natural disasters as well as commercial and military applications, all of which require coordination of multiple entities across various altitudes, from in-flight to ground-based stations. Potential applications also include deploying WiFi in underserved, low-income neighborhoods.

A warehouse in close proximity to campus currently is being outfitted to the specific dimensions required for faculty and students to analyze data and applications for this project. In addition, interested students can join Camp each June at SMU’s campus in Taos, NM, where he teaches an “Introduction to Drone Communications” class where students learn the fundamentals of experimentation research for the purposes of
design novel measurement studies for drone communications.

Camp is an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Engineering in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering. He joined the SMU faculty in 2009 after receiving his Ph.D. in ECE from Rice University. He received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2012.

Rajan is Cecil and Ida Green Endowed Professor of Engineering. He has served as professor and chair of the Electrical Engineering Department in the Lyle School, and received an NSF CAREER Award in 2006. He joined SMU in 2002 and earned his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from Rice University.

About SMU

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls approximately 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

About the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering

SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering, founded in 1925, is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest. The school offers eight undergraduate and 29 graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees, through the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Computer Science and Engineering; Electrical Engineering; Engineering Management, Information, and Systems; and Mechanical Engineering. Lyle students participate in programs in the unique Deason Innovation Gym, providing the tools and space to work on immersion design projects and competitions to accelerate leadership development and the framework for innovation; the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, helping students develop nontechnical skills to prepare them for leadership in diverse technical fields; the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education, developing new methodologies for incorporating engineering education into K-12 schools; and the Hunter and Stephanie Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity, combining technological innovation with business expertise to address global poverty.

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SMU Physicist Explains Significance of Latest Cern Discovery Related to the Higgs Boson

Stephen Sekula says observation of the Higgs particle transforming into bottom quarks confirms the 20th-century recipe for mass

DALLAS (SMU) – Scientists conducting physics experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider have announced the discovery of the Higgs boson transforming, as it decays, into subatomic particles called bottom quarks, an observation that confirms that the “Standard Model” of the universe – the 20th century recipe for everything in the known physical world – is still valid.

This new discovery is a big step forward in the quest to understand how the Higgs enables fundamental particles to acquire mass. Many scientists suspect that the Higgs could interact with particles outside the Standard Model, such as dark matter – the unseen matter that does not emit or absorb light, but may make up more than 80 percent of the matter in the universe.

After several years of work experiments at both ATLAS and CMS – CERN detectors that use different types of technology to investigate a broad range of physics –have demonstrated that 60 percent of Higgs particles decay in the same way. By finding and mapping the Higgs boson interactions with known particles, scientists can simultaneously probe for new phenomena.

SMU played important roles in the analysis announced by CERN Aug. 28, including:

  • Development of the underlying analysis software framework (Stephen Sekula, SMU associate professor of physics was co-leader of the small group that included SMU graduate student Peilong Wang and post-doctoral researcher Francesco Lo Sterzo, that does this for the larger analysis for 2017-2018)
  • Studying background processes that mimic this Higgs boson decay, reducing measurement uncertainty in the final result.

“The Standard Model is the recipe for everything that surrounds us in the world today.  Sekula explained. “It has been tested to ridiculous precision. People have been trying for 30-40 years to figure out where or if the Standard Model described matter incorrectly. Like any recipe you inherit from a family member, you trust but verify. This might be grandma’s favorite recipe, but do you really need two sticks of butter? This finding shows that the Standard Model is still the best recipe for the Universe as we know it.”

Scientists would have been intrigued if the Standard Model had not survived this test, Sekula said, because failure would have produced new knowledge.

“When we went to the moon, we didn’t know we’d get Mylar and Tang,” Sekula said. “What we’ve achieved getting to this point is we’ve pushed the boundaries of technology in both computing and electronics just to make this observation. Technology as we know it will continue to be revolutionized by fundamental curiosity about why the universe is the way it is.

“As for what we will get from all this experimentation, the honest answer is I don’t know,” Sekula said. “But based on the history of science, it’s going to be amazing.”

About CERN

At CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. They use the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter – the fundamental particles. The particles are made to collide together at close to the speed of light. The process gives the physicists clues about how the particles interact, and provides insights into the fundamental laws of nature. Founded in 1954, the CERN laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas.  SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.

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Mild problem-solving task improves brain function after a concussion, new study suggests

A simple cognitive task as early as four days after a brain injury activates the region that improves memory function, and may guard against developing depression or anxiety

Concern is growing about the danger of sports-related concussions and their long-term impact on athletes. But physicians and healthcare providers acknowledge that the science is evolving, leaving questions about rehabilitation and treatment options.

Currently, guidelines recommend that traumatic brain injury patients get plenty of rest and avoid physical and cognitive activity until symptoms subside.

But a new pilot study looking at athletes with concussions suggests total inactivity may not be the best way to recover after all, say scientists at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, where the research was conducted.

The study found that a simple cognitive task as early as four days after a brain injury activated the region that improves memory function and can guard against two hallmarks of concussion — depression and anxiety.

“Right now, if you have a concussion the directive is to have complete physical and cognitive rest, no activities, no social interaction, to let your brain rest and recover from the energy crisis as a result of the injury,” said SMU physiologist Sushmita Purkayastha, who led the research, which was funded by the Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.

“But what we saw, the student athletes came in on approximately the third day of their concussion and the test was not stressful for them. None of the patients complained about any symptom aggravation as a result of the task. Their parasympathetic nervous system — which regulates automatic responses such as heart rate when the body is at rest — was activated, which is a good sign,” said Purkayastha, an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness.

The parasympathetic nervous system is associated with better memory function and implicated in better cardiovascular function. It also helps to regulates stress, depression and anxiety — and those are very common symptoms after a concussion.

“People in the absolute rest phase after concussion often experience depression,” Purkayastha added. “In the case of concussion, cutting people off from their social circle when we say ‘no screen time’ — particularly the young generation with their cell phones and iPads — they will just get more depressed and anxious. So maybe we need to rethink current rehabilitation strategy.”

The new study addresses the lack of research upon which to develop science- and data-based treatment for concussion. The findings emerged when the research team measured variations in heart rate variability among athletes with concussions while responding to simple problem-solving and decision-making tasks.

While we normally think of our heart rate as a steady phenomenon, in actuality the interval varies and is somewhat irregular — and that is desirable and healthy. High heart rate variability is an indicator of sound cardiovascular health. Higher levels of variability indicate that physiological processes are better controlled and functioning as they should, such as during stressful (both physical and challenging mental tasks) or emotional situations.

Concussed athletes normally have lowered heart rate variability.

For the new study, Purkayastha and her team administered a fairly simple cognitive task to athletes with concussions. During the task, the athletes recorded a significant increase in heart rate variability.

The study is the first of its kind to examine heart rate variability in college athletes with concussions during a cognitive task.

The findings suggest that a small measure of brain work could be beneficial, said co-investigator and neuro-rehabilitation specialist Kathleen R. Bell, a physician at UT Southwestern.

“This type of research will change fundamentally the way that patients with sports and other concussions are treated,” said Bell, who works with brain injury patients and is Chair of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at UT Southwestern. “Understanding the basic physiology of brain injury and repair is the key to enhancing recovery for our young people after concussion.”

The researchers reported their findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, in the article “Reduced resting and increased elevation of heart rate variability with cognitive task performance in concussed athletes.”

Co-authors from SMU Simmons School include Mu Huang and Justin Frantz; Peter F. Davis and Scott L. Davis, from SMU’s Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness; Gilbert Moralez, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, Dallas; and Tonia Sabo, UT Southwestern.

Concussion symptom improved with simple brain activity
Volunteer subjects for the study were 46 NCAA Division I and recreational athletes who participate in contact-collision sports. Of those, 23 had a physician-diagnosed sports-related concussion in accordance with NCAA diagnostic criteria. Each of them underwent the research testing within approximately three to four days after their injury.

Not surprisingly, compared to the athletes in the control group who didn’t have concussions, the athletes with concussions entered answers that were largely incorrect.

More importantly, though, the researchers observed a positive physiological response to the task in the form of increased heart rate variability, said Purkayastha.

“It’s true that the concussed group gave wrong answers for the most part. More important, however, is the fact that during the task their heart rate variability improved,” she said. “That was most likely due to the enhancement of their brain activity, which led to better regulation. It seems that engaging in a cognitive task is crucial for recovery.”

Heart rate variability is a normal physiological process of the heart. It makes possible a testing method as noninvasive as taking a patient’s blood pressure, pulse or temperature. In the clinical field, measuring heart rate variability is an increasingly common screening tool to see if involuntary responses in the body are functioning and being regulated properly by the autonomic nervous system.

The parasympathetic is blunted or dampened by concussion
Abnormal fluctuations in heart rate variability are associated with certain conditions before symptoms are otherwise noticeable.

Monitoring heart rate variability measures the normal synchronized contractions of the heart’s atriums and ventricles in response to natural electrical impulses that rhythmically move across the muscles of the heart.

After a concussion, an abnormal and unhealthy decline in heart rate variability is observed in the parasympathetic nervous system, a branch of the autonomic nervous system. The parasympathetic is in effect blunted or dampened after a concussion, said Purkayastha.

As expected, in the current study, heart rate variability was lower among the athletes with concussions than those without.

New findings add evidence suggesting experts rethink rehab
But that changed during the simple cognitive task. For the athletes with concussions, their heart rate variability increased, indicating the parasympathetic nervous system was activated by the task.

Heart rate variability between the concussed and the controls was comparable during the cognitive task, the researchers said in their study.

“This suggests that maybe we need to rethink rehabilitation after someone has a concussion,” Purkayastha said. — Margaret Allen, SMU

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People who deeply grasp the pain or happiness of others also process music differently in the brain

Higher empathy people appear to process music like a pleasurable proxy for a human encounter — in the brain regions for reward, social awareness and regulation of social emotions.

People with higher empathy differ from others in the way their brains process music, according to a study by researchers at Southern Methodist University, Dallas and UCLA.

The researchers found that compared to low empathy people, those with higher empathy process familiar music with greater involvement of the reward system of the brain, as well as in areas responsible for processing social information.

“High-empathy and low-empathy people share a lot in common when listening to music, including roughly equivalent involvement in the regions of the brain related to auditory, emotion, and sensory-motor processing,” said lead author Zachary Wallmark, an assistant professor in the SMU Meadows School of the Arts.

But there is at least one significant difference.

Highly empathic people process familiar music with greater involvement of the brain’s social circuitry, such as the areas activated when feeling empathy for others. They also seem to experience a greater degree of pleasure in listening, as indicated by increased activation of the reward system.

“This may indicate that music is being perceived weakly as a kind of social entity, as an imagined or virtual human presence,” Wallmark said.

Researchers in 2014 reported that about 20 percent of the population is highly empathic. These are people who are especially sensitive and respond strongly to social and emotional stimuli.

The SMU-UCLA study is the first to find evidence supporting a neural account of the music-empathy connection. Also, it is among the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore how empathy affects the way we perceive music.

The new study indicates that among higher-empathy people, at least, music is not solely a form of artistic expression.

“If music was not related to how we process the social world, then we likely would have seen no significant difference in the brain activation between high-empathy and low-empathy people,” said Wallmark, who is director of the MuSci Lab at SMU, an interdisciplinary research collective that studies — among other things — how music affects the brain.

“This tells us that over and above appreciating music as high art, music is about humans interacting with other humans and trying to understand and communicate with each other,” he said.

This may seem obvious.

“But in our culture we have a whole elaborate system of music education and music thinking that treats music as a sort of disembodied object of aesthetic contemplation,” Wallmark said. “In contrast, the results of our study help explain how music connects us to others. This could have implications for how we understand the function of music in our world, and possibly in our evolutionary past.”

The researchers reported their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, in the article “Neurophysiological effects of trait empathy in music listening.”

The co-authors are Choi Deblieck, with the University of Leuven, Belgium, and Marco Iacoboni, UCLA. The research was carried out at the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at UCLA.

“The study shows on one hand the power of empathy in modulating music perception, a phenomenon that reminds us of the original roots of the concept of empathy — ‘feeling into’ a piece of art,” said senior author Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

“On the other hand,” Iacoboni said, “the study shows the power of music in triggering the same complex social processes at work in the brain that are at play during human social interactions.”

Comparison of brain scans showed distinctive differences based on empathy
Participants were 20 UCLA undergraduate students. They were each scanned in an MRI machine while listening to excerpts of music that were either familiar or unfamiliar to them, and that they either liked or disliked. The familiar music was selected by participants prior to the scan.

Afterward each person completed a standard questionnaire to assess individual differences in empathy — for example, frequently feeling sympathy for others in distress, or imagining oneself in another’s shoes.

The researchers then did controlled comparisons to see which areas of the brain during music listening are correlated with empathy.

Analysis of the brain scans showed that high empathizers experienced more activity in the dorsal striatum, part of the brain’s reward system, when listening to familiar music, whether they liked the music or not.

The reward system is related to pleasure and other positive emotions. Malfunction of the area can lead to addictive behaviors.

Empathic people process music with involvement of social cognitive circuitry
In addition, the brain scans of higher empathy people in the study also recorded greater activation in medial and lateral areas of the prefrontal cortex that are responsible for processing the social world, and in the temporoparietal junction, which is critical to analyzing and understanding others’ behaviors and intentions.

Typically, those areas of the brain are activated when people are interacting with, or thinking about, other people. Observing their correlation with empathy during music listening might indicate that music to these listeners functions as a proxy for a human encounter.

Beyond analysis of the brain scans, the researchers also looked at purely behavioral data — answers to a survey asking the listeners to rate the music afterward.

Those data also indicated that higher empathy people were more passionate in their musical likes and dislikes, such as showing a stronger preference for unfamiliar music.

Precise neurophysiological relationship between empathy and music is largely unexplored
A large body of research has focused on the cognitive neuroscience of empathy — how we understand and experience the thoughts and emotions of other people. Studies point to a number of areas of the prefrontal, insular, and cingulate cortices as being relevant to what brain scientists refer to as social cognition.

Studies have shown that activation of the social circuitry in the brain varies from individual to individual. People with more empathic personalities show increased activity in those areas when performing socially relevant tasks, including watching a needle penetrating skin, listening to non-verbal vocal sounds, observing emotional facial expressions, or seeing a loved one in pain.

In the field of music psychology, a number of recent studies have suggested that empathy is related to intensity of emotional responses to music, listening style, and musical preferences — for example, empathic people are more likely to enjoy sad music.

“This study contributes to a growing body of evidence,” Wallmark said, “that music processing may piggyback upon cognitive mechanisms that originally evolved to facilitate social interaction.” — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Ancient “Sea Monsters” Reveal How the Ever-Changing Planet Shapes Life, Past and Present

Never-Before-Seen Fossils From Angola Bring a Strange Yet Familiar Ocean Into View

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History will open a new exhibition Nov. 9, 2018 revealing how millions of years ago, large-scale natural forces created the conditions for real-life sea monsters to thrive in the South Atlantic Ocean basin shortly after it formed. “Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas” will offer visitors the opportunity to dive into Cretaceous Angola’s cool coastal waters, examine the fossils of striking marine reptiles that once lived there and learn about the forces that continue to mold life in the ocean and on land.

Over 134 million years ago, the South Atlantic Ocean basin did not yet exist. Africa and South America were one contiguous landmass on the verge of separating. As the two continents drifted apart, an entirely new marine environment — the South Atlantic — emerged in the vast space created between them. This newly formed ocean basin would soon be colonized by a dizzying array of ferocious predators and an abundance of other lifeforms seizing the opportunity presented by a new ocean habitat.

“Because of our planet’s ever-shifting geology, Angola’s coastal cliffs contain the fossil remains of marine creatures from the prehistoric South Atlantic,” said Kirk Johnson, the Sant Director of the museum. “We are honored by the generosity of the Angolan people for sharing a window into this part of the Earth’s unfolding story with our visitors.”

For the first time, Angolan fossils of colossal Cretaceous marine reptiles will be on public display. Through Projecto PaleoAngola — a collaboration between Angolan, American, Portuguese and Dutch researchers focused on Angola’s rich fossil history — paleontologists excavated and studied these fossils, which were then prepared for the exhibition by a team of scientists and students at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas. The exhibition was made possible by the Sant Ocean Hall Endowment Fund.

“Fossils tell us about the life that once lived on Earth, and how the environments that came before us evolve over time,” said Louis Jacobs, professor emeritus of paleontology at SMU and collaborating curator for the exhibition. “Our planet has been running natural experiments on what shapes environments, and thereby life, for millions of years. If it weren’t for the fossil record, we wouldn’t understand what drives the story of life on our planet.”

The exhibition will immerse visitors in this Cretaceous environment with lively animations and vivid paleoart murals of life beneath the waves — courtesy of natural history artist Karen Carr — that bring to life 11 authentic fossils from Angola’s ancient seas, full-size fossil reconstructions of a mosasaur and an ancient sea turtle, as well as 3-D scanned replicas of mosasaur skulls. Photomurals and video vignettes will transport visitors to field sites along Angola’s modern rugged coast, where Projecto PaleoAngola scientists unearth the fossil remains from this lost world.

A Strange but Familiar Ocean
“Sea Monsters Unearthed” paints the picture of a flourishing ocean environment that in some ways will look strange to modern eyes, yet still bears striking similarities to today’s marine ecosystems.

Peculiar plesiosaurs — massive reptiles with long necks, stout bodies and four large flippers — swam alongside 27-foot-long toothy marine lizards called mosasaurs and more familiar creatures like sea turtles. From surprising mosasaur stomach contents to the one of the oldest known sea turtles found in Africa, fossils and reconstructions of these species will offer visitors a fuller picture of their remarkable life histories and the ecosystems they were a part of.

The exhibition will also explore deeper similarities across the ecology and anatomy of ocean animals then and now. After the marine reptiles that dominated these waters went extinct 66 million years ago, modern marine mammals would not only later replace them as top predators in the world’s ocean, but also converge on many of the same body shapes and survival strategies.

The Forces That Shape Life, Then and Now
This unique period in Earth’s history reveals how key geologic and environmental forces contributed to the early establishment and evolution of life in the South Atlantic. As Africa and South America drifted apart and a new ocean basin formed, trade winds blowing along the new Angolan coastline created the conditions for upwelling, an ocean process that drives the circulation of nutrients from the deep ocean to its surface. These nutrients in turn jump-started the food web that attracted the ferocious marine reptile predators featured throughout the exhibition.

Just as tectonic forces helped create this Cretaceous marine environment, they also shaped the arid coastal cliffs where the fossils are found today. Starting 45,000 years ago, a geologic process called uplift caused Earth’s crust to bulge along Angola’s coast, lifting part of the seafloor out of the water — and along with it, the layers upon layers of fossil-filled rocks where Projecto PaleoAngola scientists work.

Though humans do not operate on a tectonic scale, their actions also have major impacts on ocean life. Humans are now the ocean’s top predators, with one-fifth of the world’s population relying on food from upwelling-based ecosystems. Scientists caution that with such great pressure on modern upwelling-based fisheries, overfishing could change the future of life in the ocean by threatening fish populations, marine ecosystems and even human health. — National Museum of Natural History

About the National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of Natural History is connecting people everywhere with Earth’s unfolding story. The museum is one of the most visited natural history museums in the world with approximately 7 million annual visitors from the U.S. and around the world. Opened in 1910, the museum is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit the museum on its website and on Facebook and Twitter.

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SAPIENS: Why Aid Remains Out of Reach for Some Rohingya Refugees

Even with the right to health care secured, medical assistance is elusive for urban refugees in India.

The anthropology publication SAPIENS has published an article by SMU doctoral candidate Ashvina Patel.

SAPIENS is an editorially independent publication of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Inc., which is dedicated to popularizing anthropology to a broad audience.

The article, “Why Aid Remains Out of Reach for Some Rohingya Refugees,” published May 17, 2018.

The article resulted from Patel’s 11-month stay in New Delhi, India, in which she interviewed residents of three urban refugee settlements. The purpose was to understand how issues of geopolitics and domestic policy inform various types of human insecurity for refugees.

Patel is currently a visiting student fellow at Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre, where she is developing further publications on Rohingya refugee displacement.

She is a doctoral candidate in SMU’s Department of Anthropology. Patel holds an M.A. degree in Cultural Anthropology from SMU and an M.A. in Religion from University of Hawaii, Manoa. As a doctoral student, her research focuses on issues of human insecurity among Rohingya refugees in the context of American resettlement as well as within New Delhi, India as urban refugees. Her research work focuses specifically on defining the subjective experience of human insecurity and how various forms of insecurity are informed by statelessness.

Patel is a student of SMU anthropology professor Caroline Brettell, an internationally recognized immigration expert and Ruth Collins Altshuler Professor and Director of the Interdisciplinary Institute. Brettell is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

A private operating foundation, Wenner-Gren is dedicated to the advancement of anthropology throughout the world. Located in New York City, it is one of the major funding sources for international anthropological research and is actively engaged with the anthropological community through its varied grant, fellowship, networking, conference and symposia programs.

It founded and continues to publish the international journal Current Anthropology, and disseminates the results of its symposia through open-access supplementary issues of this journal. The Foundation works to support all branches of anthropology and closely related disciplines concerned with human biological and cultural origins, development, and variation.

Read the full article.


From the field notes
of SMU PhD candidate Ashvina Patel

Ameena (a pseudonym) is a 25-year-old Rohingya refugee in New Delhi, India, who is seven months pregnant with twins. Her face is gaunt. Often there isn’t enough food at home for her family of five. Nestled among other shanty houses, her home is made of bamboo with scrap boards as paneling; a tattered piece of cloth serves as the front door. Recently, the monsoon rains caused her to slip and fall. Now one of the babies in her womb is not moving. She knows she needs to see a doctor, but she cannot afford one.

When Ameena fled acts of genocide perpetrated by her own government of Myanmar in 2012, she and her husband came to New Delhi. They both suffer from debilitating deformities due to polio, and they heard that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in New Delhi was helping Rohingya refugees. The UNHCR partners with the Indian government to provide free aid to help people obtain an education, a livelihood, and health care.

But as Ameena and others would learn, being offered access to aid isn’t always enough. Barriers to procuring those free resources often leave urban refugees to fend for themselves; many find they have to negotiate a system that inadvertently creates obstacles to reaching that aid.

Having spent 11 months with the Rohingya community in India from 2015 to 2017, I repeatedly saw how aid missed its intended target. As the UNHCR creates solutions to challenges that refugees face, these solutions can also serve as a catalyst for new obstacles or deepen already existing insecurities by creating additional barriers that are financial, linguistic, cultural, or exploitative. The UNHCR does a lot of good, but the organization could do a better job addressing challenges refugees face in accessing the services to which they are permitted.

Read the full article.

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SMU physicist and her students join national laboratories, other universities in high-stakes hunt for elusive dark matter

“One of our major concerns is background particles that can mimic the dark matter signature in our detectors.” — Jodi Cooley

SMU physicist Jodi Cooley is a member of the international scientific team that will use a powerful new tool to understand one of the biggest mysteries of modern physics.

The U.S. Department of Energy has approved funding and start of construction for SuperCDMS SNOLAB, a $34 million experiment designed to detect dark matter.

SuperCDMS will begin operations in the early 2020s to hunt for hypothetical dark matter particles called weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs.

“Understanding the nature of dark matter is one of the most important scientific puzzles in particle astrophysics today,” said Cooley, an associate professor of experimental particle physics. “The experiment will have unprecedented sensitivity to dark matter particles that are hypothesized to have very low mass and interact very rarely. So they are extremely challenging to detect. This challenge has required us to develop cutting edge detectors.”

Cooley is one of 111 scientists from 26 institutions in the SuperCDMS collaboration. SMU graduate students on the experiment include Matt Stein (Ph.D. ’18) and Dan Jardin; and also previously Hang Qiu (Ph.D. ’17).

Physicists are searching for dark matter because although it makes up the bulk of the universe it remains a mystery. They theorize that dark matter could be composed of dark matter particles, with WIMPs a top contender for the title.

If dark matter WIMP particles exist, they would barely interact with their environment and fly right through regular matter. However, every so often, they could collide with an atom of our visible world, and dark matter researchers are looking for these rare interactions.

The SuperCDMS experiment will be the world’s most sensitive for detecting the relatively light WIMPs.

Cooley and her students in the SMU Department of Physics have been working with Washington-based Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on the challenge of background control and material selection for the experiment’s WIMP detectors.

Understanding background signals in the experiment is a major challenge for the detection of the faint WIMP signals.

“One of our major concerns is background particles that can mimic the dark matter signature in our detectors,” Cooley said. “As such, the experiment is constructed from radiopure materials that are carefully characterized through a screening and assay before they are selected.”

The SMU research team also has performed simulations of background particles in the detectors.

“Doing this helps inform the design of the experiment shield,” Cooley said. “We want to select the right materials to use in construction of the experiment. For example, materials that are too high in radioactivity will produce background particles that might produce fake dark matter signals in our detectors. We are extremely careful to use materials that block background particles. We also take great care that the material we use to hold the detectors in place — copper — is very radiopure.”

The experiment will be assembled and operated within the existing Canadian laboratory SNOLAB – 6,800 feet underground inside a nickel mine near the city of Sudbury. That’s the deepest underground laboratory in North America.

The experiment’s detectors will be protected from high-energy particles, called cosmic radiation, which can create the unwanted background signals that Cooley’s team wants to prevent.

SuperCDMS SNOLAB will be 50 times more sensitive than predecessor
Scientists know that visible matter in the universe accounts for only 15 percent of all matter. The rest is the mysterious substance called dark matter.

Due to its gravitational pull on regular matter, dark matter is a key driver for the evolution of the universe, affecting the formation of galaxies like our Milky Way. It therefore is fundamental to our very own existence.

The SuperCDMS SNOLAB experiment will be at least 50 times more sensitive than its predecessor, exploring WIMP properties that can’t be probed by other experiments.

The search will be done using silicon and germanium crystals, in which the collisions would trigger tiny vibrations. However, to measure the atomic jiggles, the crystals need to be cooled to less than minus 459.6 degrees Fahrenheit — a fraction of a degree above absolute zero temperature.

The ultra-cold conditions give the experiment its name: Cryogenic Dark Matter Search, or CDMS. The prefix “Super” indicates an increased sensitivity compared to previous versions of the experiment.

Experiment will measure “fingerprints” left by dark matter
The collisions would also produce pairs of electrons and electron deficiencies that move through the crystals, triggering additional atomic vibrations that amplify the signal from the dark matter collision. The experiment will be able to measure these “fingerprints” left by dark matter with sophisticated superconducting electronics.

Besides Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, two other Department of Energy national labs are involved in the project.

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California is managing the construction project. SLAC will provide the experiment’s centerpiece of initially four detector towers, each containing six crystals in the shape of oversized hockey pucks. SLAC built and tested a detector prototype. The first tower could be sent to SNOLAB by the end of 2018.

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory is working on the experiment’s intricate shielding and cryogenics infrastructure.

“Our experiment will be the world’s most sensitive for relatively light WIMPs,” said Richard Partridge, head of the SuperCDMS group at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, a joint institute of SLAC and Stanford University. “This unparalleled sensitivity will create exciting opportunities to explore new territory in dark matter research.”

Close-knit network of strong partners is crucial to success
Besides SMU, a number of U.S. and Canadian universities also play key roles in the experiment, working on tasks ranging from detector fabrication and testing to data analysis and simulation. The largest international contribution comes from Canada and includes the research infrastructure at SNOLAB.

“We’re fortunate to have a close-knit network of strong collaboration partners, which is crucial for our success,” said Project Director Blas Cabrera from KIPAC. “The same is true for the outstanding support we’re receiving from the funding agencies in the U.S. and Canada.”

Funding is from the DOE Office of Science, $19 million, the National Science Foundation, $12 million, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, $3 million.

SuperCDMS to search for dark matter in entirely new region
“Together we’re now ready to build an experiment that will search for dark matter particles that interact with normal matter in an entirely new region,” said SuperCDMS spokesperson Dan Bauer, Fermilab.

SuperCDMS SNOLAB will be the latest in a series of increasingly sensitive dark matter experiments. The most recent version, located at the Soudan Mine in Minnesota, completed operations in 2015.

”The project has incorporated lessons learned from previous CDMS experiments to significantly improve the experimental infrastructure and detector designs for the experiment,” said SLAC’s Ken Fouts, project manager for SuperCDMS SNOLAB. “The combination of design improvements, the deep location and the infrastructure support provided by SNOLAB will allow the experiment to reach its full potential in the search for low-mass dark matter.” — SLAC National Laboratory; and Margaret Allen, SMU

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SMU students share their research at SMU Research Day 2018

SMU Research Day 2018 featured posters and abstracts from 160 student entrants who have participated this academic year in faculty-led research, pursued student-led projects, or collaborated on team projects with graduate students and faculty scientists.

SMU strongly encourages undergraduate students to pursue research projects as an important component of their academic careers, while mentored or working alongside SMU graduate students and faculty.

Students attack challenging real-world problems, from understanding the world’s newest particle, the Higgs Boson, or preparing mosasaur fossil bones discovered in Angola, to hunting for new chemical compounds that can fight cancer using SMU’s high performance ManeFrame supercomputer.

A highlight for student researchers is SMU Research Day, organized and sponsored by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies and which was held this year on March 28-29 in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center.

The event gives students the opportunity to foster communication between students in different disciplines, present their work in a professional setting, and share the outstanding research conducted at SMU.

Find out the winners of the poster session from the SMU Office of Graduate Studies.

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Radar images show large swath of West Texas oil patch is heaving and sinking at alarming rates

Analysis indicates decades of oil production activity have destabilized localities in an area of about 4,000 square miles populated by small towns, roadways and a vast network of oil and gas pipelines and storage tanks

Two giant sinkholes near Wink, Texas, may just be the tip of the iceberg, according to a new study that found alarming rates of new ground movement extending far beyond the infamous sinkholes.

That’s the finding of a geophysical team from Southern Methodist University, Dallas that previously reported the rapid rate at which the sinkholes are expanding and new ones forming.

Now the team has discovered that various locations in large portions of four Texas counties are also sinking and uplifting.

Radar satellite images show significant movement of the ground across localities in a 4000-square-mile area — in one place as much as 40 inches over the past two-and-a-half years, say the geophysicists.

“The ground movement we’re seeing is not normal. The ground doesn’t typically do this without some cause,” said geophysicist Zhong Lu, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU and a global expert in satellite radar imagery analysis.

“These hazards represent a danger to residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines, as well as potential pollution of ground water,” Lu said. “Proactive, continuous detailed monitoring from space is critical to secure the safety of people and property.”

The scientists made the discovery with analysis of medium-resolution (15 feet to 65 feet) radar imagery taken between November 2014 and April 2017. The images cover portions of four oil-patch counties where there’s heavy production of hydrocarbons from the oil-rich West Texas Permian Basin.

The imagery, coupled with oil-well production data from the Railroad Commission of Texas, suggests the area’s unstable ground is associated with decades of oil activity and its effect on rocks below the surface of the earth.

The SMU researchers caution that ground movement may extend beyond what radar observed in the four-county area. The entire region is highly vulnerable to human activity due to its geology — water-soluble salt and limestone formations, and shale formations.

“Our analysis looked at just this 4000-square-mile area,” said study co-author and research scientist Jin-Woo Kim, a research scientist in the SMU Department of Earth Sciences.

“We’re fairly certain that when we look further, and we are, that we’ll find there’s ground movement even beyond that,” Kim said. “This region of Texas has been punctured like a pin cushion with oil wells and injection wells since the 1940s and our findings associate that activity with ground movement.”

Lu, Shuler-Foscue Chair at SMU, and Kim reported their findings in the Nature publication Scientific Reports, in the article “Association between localized geohazards in West Texas and human activities, recognized by Sentinel-1A/B satellite radar imagery.”

The researchers analyzed satellite radar images that were made public by the European Space Agency, and supplemented that with oil activity data from the Railroad Commission of Texas.

The study is among the first of its kind to identify small-scale deformation signals over a vast region by drawing from big data sets spanning a number of years and then adding supplementary information.

The research is supported by the NASA Earth Surface and Interior Program, and the Shuler-Foscue Endowment at SMU.

Imagery captures changes that might otherwise go undetected
The SMU geophysicists focused their analysis on small, localized, rapidly developing hazardous ground movements in portions of Winkler, Ward, Reeves and Pecos counties, an area nearly the size of Connecticut. The study area includes the towns of Pecos, Monahans, Fort Stockton, Imperial, Wink and Kermit.

The images from the European Space Agency are the result of satellite radar interferometry from recently launched open-source orbiting satellites that make radar images freely available to the public.

With interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or InSAR for short, the satellites allow scientists to detect changes that aren’t visible to the naked eye and that might otherwise go undetected.

The satellite technology can capture ground deformation with an accuracy of sub-inches or better, at a spatial resolution of a few yards or better over thousands of miles, say the researchers.

Ground movement associated with oil activity
The SMU researchers found a significant relationship between ground movement and oil activities that include pressurized fluid injection into the region’s geologically unstable rock formations.

Fluid injection includes waste saltwater injection into nearby wells, and carbon dioxide flooding of depleting reservoirs to stimulate oil recovery.

Injected fluids increase the pore pressure in the rocks, and the release of the stress is followed by ground uplift. The researchers found that ground movement coincided with nearby sequences of wastewater injection rates and volume and CO2 injection in nearby wells.

Also related to the ground’s sinking and upheaval are dissolving salt formations due to freshwater leaking into abandoned underground oil facilities, as well as the extraction of oil.

Sinking and uplift detected from Wink to Fort Stockton
As might be expected, the most significant subsidence is about a half-mile east of the huge Wink No. 2 sinkhole, where there are two subsidence bowls, one of which has sunk more than 15.5 inches a year. The rapid sinking is most likely caused by water leaking through abandoned wells into the Salado formation and dissolving salt layers, threatening possible ground collapse.

At two wastewater injection wells 9.3 miles west of Wink and Kermit, the radar detected upheaval of about 2.1 inches that coincided with increases in injection volume. The injection wells extend about 4,921 feet to 5,577 feet deep into a sandstone formation.

In the vicinity of 11 CO2 injection wells nearly seven miles southwest of Monahans, the radar analysis detected surface uplift of more than 1 inch. The wells are about 2,460 feet to 2,657 feet deep. As with wastewater injection, CO2 injection increased pore pressure in the rocks, so when stress was relieved it was followed by uplift of about 1 inch at the surface.

The researchers also looked at an area 4.3 miles southwest of Imperial, where significant subsidence from fresh water flowing through cracked well casings, corroded steel pipes and unplugged abandoned wells has been widely reported.

Water there has leaked into the easily dissolved Salado formation, created voids, and caused the ground to sink and water to rise from the subsurface, including creating Boehmer Lake, which didn’t exist before 2003.

Radar analysis by the SMU team detected rapid subsidence ranging from three-fourths of an inch to nearly 4 inches around active wells, abandoned wells and orphaned wells.

“Movements around the roads and oil facilities to the southwest of Imperial, Texas, should be thoroughly monitored to mitigate potential catastrophes,” the researchers write in the study.

About 5.5 miles south of Pecos, their radar analysis detected more than 1 inch of subsidence near new wells drilled via hydraulic fracturing and in production since early 2015. There have also been six small earthquakes recorded there in recent years, suggesting the deformation of the ground generated accumulated stress and caused existing faults to slip.

“We have seen a surge of seismic activity around Pecos in the last five to six years. Before 2012, earthquakes had not been recorded there. At the same time, our results clearly indicate that ground deformation near Pecos is occurring,” Kim said. “Although earthquakes and surface subsidence could be coincidence, we cannot exclude the possibility that these earthquakes were induced by hydrocarbon production activities.”

Scientists: Boost the network of seismic stations to better detect activity
Kim stated the need for improved earthquake location and detection threshold through an expanded network of seismic stations, along with continuous surface monitoring with the demonstrated radar remote sensing methods.

“This is necessary to learn the cause of recent increased seismic activity,” Kim said. “Our efforts to continuously monitor West Texas with this advanced satellite technique can help sustain safe, ongoing oil production.”

Near real-time monitoring of ground deformation possible in a few years
The satellite radar datasets allowed the SMU geophysicists to detect both two-dimension east-west deformation of the ground, as well as vertical deformation.

Lu, a leading scientist in InSAR applications, is a member of the Science Team for the dedicated U.S. and Indian NASA-ISRO (called NISAR) InSAR mission, set for launch in 2021 to study hazards and global environmental change.

InSAR accesses a series of images captured by a read-out radar instrument mounted on the orbiting satellite Sentinel-1A/B. The satellites orbit 435 miles above the Earth’s surface. Sentinel-1A was launched in 2014 and Sentinel-1B in 2016 as part of the European Union’s Copernicus program.

The Sentinel-1A/B constellation bounces a radar signal off the earth, then records the signal as it bounces back, delivering measurements. The measurements allow geophysicists to determine the distance from the satellite to the ground, revealing how features on the Earth’s surface change over time.

“Near real-time monitoring of ground deformation at high spatial and temporal resolutions is possible in a few years, using multiple satellites such as Sentinel-1A/B, NISAR and others,” said Lu. “This will revolutionize our capability to characterize human-induced and natural hazards, and reduce their damage to humanity, infrastructure and the energy industry.” — Margaret Allen, SMU

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SMU student to share innovative texting app at SXSW Red Bull Launch Institute

Users earn rewards with the “Just Drive” app designed to prevent distracted driving.

Neha Husein gripped her steering wheel as her car jolted forward, hit from behind on one of Dallas’ busiest and most dangerous freeways. Shaken, but not injured, the high school senior surveyed the significant damage to her car. The cause of the crash? The driver behind her was texting while driving.

The 2014 collision was the SMU junior’s inspiration to develop a solution to stop drivers from texting while driving, a practice that killed 455 Texans and played a role in 109,660 crashes in Texas in 2016. Her smart-phone app, “Just Drive,” awards points to drivers who lock their phones while driving. Those points can then be redeemed for coupons or free food, drinks or merchandise.

Husein is one of six college entrepreneurs selected to participate March 10 in the Red Bull Launch Institute at Austin’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival. She will meet with industry leaders and other entrepreneurs to further develop and amplify her project. The institute is scheduled from 3 to 6:30 p.m. at Palazzo Lavaca, 1614 Lavaca St., Austin.

She’s not being judgmental. Everyone has texted while driving, Husein says.

“We are used to multitasking, and sitting in traffic gets boring,” she says.

But the marketing and human rights major believes positive reinforcement can change behavior. Rewards are motivating to millennials like Husein. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, drivers age 16 to 34 are most likely to text while driving, but Husein is betting the app will appeal to all ages.

“Expecting incentives is a generational thing, but it’s a human thing too,” she says. “People enjoy rewards.”

Husein first presented “Just Drive” at SMU’s October 2017 Big Ideas pitch contest. She won $1,000 for her 90-second pitch and used it to create a wireframe app mock-up. The Big Ideas pitch contest is part of SMU’s Engaged Learning program, a campus wide initiative designed to enhance student learning by connecting a personal passion to academic learning and turning it into a personal project. Faculty mentorship is a key part of the Engaged Learning program.

Husein’s mentor, SMU law professor Keith Robinson, is a specialist in patent, intellectual property and technology law and co-directs the Tsai Center for Law, Science and Innovation in SMU’s Dedman School of Law. He also teaches a class to law students on designing legal apps.

“I like people who show initiative and are willing to bet on themselves,” says Robinson, who meets weekly with Husein to discuss intellectual property issues and trademark application. “Neha has developed an app for a relatable problem, one that can save lives.”

Husein is a Carrollton, Texas, native who grew up with an entrepreneur mindset. She remembers manning a toy cash register alongside her father at his convenience store. He was on hand in February 2018 to see his daughter present her business plan at the second stage of SMU’s Big Ideas competition – and win $5,000 in start-up funds.

“Just Drive is a perfect combination of my interests in human rights and marketing,” Husein says. “It combines business with a philanthropic cause.”

She plans to launch the “Just Drive” app in September, 2018. — Nancy George, SMU

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DACA led to improved educational outcomes, lower teenage birthrate for young immigrant community

SMU professor available to discuss working paper’s analysis of controversial ‘dreamer’ population.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) increased high school graduation rates by 15 percent, reduced teenage birth rates by 45 percent, and led to a 25 percent increase in college enrollment among Hispanic women, according to a working paper co-authored by SMU economist Elira Kuka for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The results have significant bearing for the direction of future immigration policy, the paper concludes.

“Our research shows that when we give undocumented youth a large incentive to invest in education, such as participation in DACA and access to the labor opportunities it opens if they stay in school, they respond to these opportunities,” says Kuka, an assistant professor in the SMU Department of Economics. “Giving immigrants a work permit and relief from deportation makes them more likely to invest in education, work more, and have less (teenage) fertility.”

The study also found that individuals who acquire more schooling work more at the same time, countering the typically held belief that work and school are mutually exclusive, and indicating DACA generated a large boost in productivity.

“You can think about our research in two ways: If you just care about immigration policy, it’s important because we show that DACA really improves these peoples’ lives and the type of immigrant workforce we have in the U.S., which is currently missing from the policy debate about the costs and benefits of the program,” Kuka says. “More generally, our research tells us something about the education choices of low-income Americans. Why don’t they invest in education despite its large wage premium? Do they not respond to incentives or do they lack the right incentives to go to school? Our results suggest the second.”

Co-authors are Na’ama Shenhav, an economics professor at Dartmouth College, and Kevin Shih, an economics professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The working paper, “Do Human Capital Decisions Respond to the Returns to Education? Evidence from DACA,” was released in February by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“To complete this research, we used data from the American Community Surveys, which is a yearly survey that collects demographic, educational, and employment information for a 1 percent representative sample of the U.S. population,” Kuka explains. “We then identified who in the survey was likely to be a DACA recipient based on nation of origin, when they arrived in the country, and other factors, identified control groups that resembled the likely DACA recipients, then charted outcomes for both groups before and after DACA went into effect. We saw a divergence in trajectories where people eligible for DACA got this big bump in educational attainment, a big drop in fertility, and so on.” — Kenny Ryan, SMU

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New study finds couples do poorly at knowing when their partner is sad or feeling down

Spouses are the primary source of social support to one another, so it’s important to their relationship they stay attuned to each other’s emotions.

How well do couples pick up on one another’s feelings? Pretty well, when the emotion is happiness, says a psychologist at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

But a new study finds that couples do poorly when it comes to knowing their partner is sad, lonely or feeling down.

“We found that when it comes to the normal ebb and flow of daily emotions, couples aren’t picking up on those occasional changes in ‘soft negative’ emotions like sadness or feeling down,” said family psychologist Chrystyna D. Kouros, lead author on the study. “They might be missing important emotional clues.”

Even when a negative mood isn’t related to the relationship, it ultimately can be harmful to a couple, said Kouros, an associate professor in the SMU Department of Psychology. A spouse is usually the primary social supporter for a person.

“Failing to pick up on negative feelings one or two days is not a big deal,” she said. “But if this accumulates, then down the road it could become a problem for the relationship. It’s these missed opportunities to be offering support or talking it out that can compound over time to negatively affect a relationship.”

The finding is consistent with other research that has shown that couples tend to assume their partner feels the same way they are feeling, or thinks the same way they do, Kouros said.

But when it comes to sadness and loneliness, couples need to be on the look-out for tell-tale signs. Some people are better at this process of “empathic accuracy” — picking up on a partner’s emotions — than others.

“With empathic accuracy you’re relying on clues from your partner to figure out their mood,” Kouros said. “Assumed similarity, on the other hand, is when you just assume your partner feels the same way you do. Sometimes you might be right, because the two of you actually do feel the same, but not because you were really in tune with your partner.”

Co-author on the study is relationship psychologist Lauren M. Papp at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Kouros and Papp reported their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Family Process, in the article “Couples’ Perceptions of Each Other’s Daily Affect: Empathic Accuracy, Assumed Similarity, and Indirect Accuracy.”

Couples should assume less about one another, observe more
The problem isn’t one for which couples need to seek therapy, Kouros said. Instead, she advises couples to stop assuming they know what their partner is feeling. Also, pay more attention to your partner, and communicate more.

“I suggest couples put a little more effort into paying attention to their partner — be more mindful and in the moment when you are with your partner,” she said.

She cautions, however, against becoming annoying by constantly asking how the other is feeling, or if something is wrong.

“Obviously you could take it too far,” Kouros said. “If you sense that your partner’s mood is a little different than usual, you can just simply ask how their day was, or maybe you don’t even bring it up, you just say instead ‘Let me pick up dinner tonight’ or ‘I’ll put the kids to bed tonight.’”

Even so, partners shouldn’t assume their spouse is a mind-reader, expecting them to pick up on their emotions. “If there’s something you want to talk about, then communicate that. It’s a two-way street,” she said. “It’s not just your partner’s responsibility.”

Participants were 51 couples who completed daily diaries about their mood and the mood of their partner for seven consecutive nights. The study veers from conventional approaches to the topic, which have relied on interviewing couples in a lab setting about feelings related to conflicts in their relationship.

Kouros and Papp will also present the research findings March 23 at the 2018 biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Human Development. — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Solving the dark energy mystery: A new sky survey assignment for a 45-year-old telescope

SMU and other members of a scientific consortium prepare for installation of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument to survey the night sky from a mile-high mountain peak in Arizona

As part of a large scientific consortium studying dark energy, SMU physicists are on course to help create the largest 3-D map of the universe ever made.

The map will emerge from data gathered by the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) being installed on the Nicholas U. Mayall Telescope atop a mountain in Arizona.

The map could help solve the mystery of dark energy, which is driving the accelerating expansion of the universe.

DESI will capture about 10 times more data than a predecessor survey of space using an array of 5,000 swiveling robots. Each robot will be carefully choreographed to point a fiber-optic cable at a preprogrammed sequence of deep-space objects, including millions of galaxies and quasars, which are galaxies that harbor massive, actively feeding black holes.

“DESI will provide the first precise measures of the expansion history of the universe covering approximately the last 10 billion years,” said SMU physicist Robert Kehoe, a professor in the SMU Department of Physics. “This is most of the 13 billion year age of the universe, and it encompasses a critical period in which the universe went from being matter-dominated to dark-energy dominated.”

The universe was expanding, but at a slowing pace, until a few billion years ago, Kehoe said.

“Then the expansion started accelerating,” he said. “The unknown ‘dark energy’ driving that acceleration is now dominating the universe. Seeing this transition clearly will provide a critical test of ideas of what this dark energy is, and how it may tie into theories of gravitation and other fundamental forces.”

The Mayall telescope was originally commissioned 45 years ago to survey the night sky and record observations on glass photographic plates. The telescope is tucked inside a 14-story, 500-ton dome atop a mile-high peak at the National Science Foundation’s Kitt Peak National Observatory – part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

SMU researchers have conducted observing with the Mayall. Decommissioning of that telescope allows for building DESI in it’s place, as well as reusing some parts of the telescope and adding major new sytems. As part of DESI, SMU is involved in development of software for operation of the experiment, as well as for data simulation to aid data anlysis.

“We are also involved in studying the ways in which observational effects impact the cosmology measurements DESI is pursuing,” Kehoe said. SMU graduate students Govinda Dhungana and Ryan Staten also work on DESI. A new addition to the SMU DESI team, post-doctoral researcher Sarah Eftekharzadeh, is working on the SMU software and has studied the same kinds of galaxies
DESI will be measuring.

Now the dome is closing on the previous science chapters of the 4-meter Mayall Telescope so that it can prepare for its new role in creating the 3-D map.

The temporary closure sets in motion the largest overhaul in the telescope’s history and sets the stage for the installation of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, which will begin a five-year observing run next year.

“This day marks an enormous milestone for us,” said DESI Director Michael Levi of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory , which leads the project’s international collaboration. “Now we remove the old equipment and start the yearlong process of putting the new stuff on.”

More than 465 researchers from about 71 institutions are participating in the DESI collaboration.

The entire top end of the telescope, which weighs as much as a school bus and houses the telescope’s secondary mirror and a large digital camera, will be removed and replaced with DESI instruments. A large crane will lift the telescope’s top end through the observing slit in its dome.

Besides providing new insights about the universe’s expansion and large-scale structure, DESI will also help to set limits on theories related to gravity and the formative stages of the universe, and could even provide new mass measurements for a variety of elusive yet abundant subatomic particles called neutrinos.

“One of the primary ways that we learn about the unseen universe is by its subtle effects on the clustering of galaxies,” said DESI collaboration co-spokesperson Daniel Eisenstein of Harvard University. “The new maps from DESI will provide an exquisite new level of sensitivity in our study of cosmology.”

Mayall’s sturdy construction is perfect platform for new 9-ton instrument
The Mayall Telescope has played an important role in many astronomical discoveries, including measurements supporting the discovery of dark energy and establishing the role of dark matter in the universe from measurements of galaxy rotation. Its observations have also been used in determining the scale and structure of the universe. Dark matter and dark energy together are believed to make up about 95 percent of all of the universe’s mass and energy.

It was one of the world’s largest optical telescopes at the time it was built, and because of its sturdy construction it is perfectly suited to carry the new 9-ton instrument.

“We started this project by surveying large telescopes to find one that had a suitable mirror and wouldn’t collapse under the weight of such a massive instrument,” said Berkeley Lab’s David Schlegel, a DESI project scientist.

Arjun Dey, the NOAO project scientist for DESI, explained, “The Mayall was precociously engineered like a battleship and designed with a wide field of view.”

The expansion of the telescope’s field-of-view will allow DESI to map out about one-third of the sky.

DESI will transform the speed of science with automated preprogrammed robots
Brenna Flaugher, a DESI project scientist who leads the astrophysics department at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, said DESI will transform the speed of science at the Mayall Telescope.

“The telescope was designed to carry a person at the top who aimed and steered it, but with DESI it’s all automated,” she said. “Instead of one at a time we can measure the velocities of 5,000 galaxies at a time – we will measure more than 30 million of them in our five-year survey.”

DESI will use an array of 5,000 swiveling robots, each carefully choreographed to point a fiber-optic cable at a preprogrammed sequence of deep-space objects, including millions of galaxies and quasars, which are galaxies that harbor massive, actively feeding black holes.

The fiber-optic cables will carry the light from these objects to 10 spectrographs, which are tools that will measure the properties of this light and help to pinpoint the objects’ distance and the rate at which they are moving away from us. DESI’s observations will provide a deep look into the early universe, up to about 11 billion years ago.

DESI will capture about 10 times more data than a predecessor survey
The cylindrical, fiber-toting robots, which will be embedded in a rounded metal unit called a focal plate, will reposition to capture a new exposure of the sky roughly every 20 minutes. The focal plane assembly, which is now being assembled at Berkeley Lab, is expected to be completed and delivered to Kitt Peak this year.

DESI will scan one-third of the sky and will capture about 10 times more data than a predecessor survey, the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS). That project relied on a manually rotated sequence of metal plates – with fibers plugged by hand into pre-drilled holes – to target objects.

All of DESI’s six lenses, each about a meter in diameter, are complete. They will be carefully stacked and aligned in a steel support structure and will ultimately ride with the focal plane atop the telescope.

Each of these lenses took shape from large blocks of glass. They have criss-crossed the globe to receive various treatments, including grinding, polishing, and coatings. It took about 3.5 years to produce each of the lenses, which now reside at University College London in the U.K. and will be shipped to the DESI site this spring.

Precise measurements of millions of galaxies will reveal effects of dark energy
The Mayall Telescope has most recently been enlisted in a DESI-supporting sky survey known as the Mayall z-Band Legacy Survey, which is one of four sky surveys that DESI will use to preselect its targeted sky objects. SMU astrophysicists carried out observing duties on that survey, which wrapped up just days ago on Feb. 11, to support the coming DESI scientific results.

Data from these surveys are analyzed at Berkeley Lab’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, a DOE Office of Science User Facility. Data from these surveys have been released to the public at

“We can see about a billion galaxies in the survey images, which is quite a bit of fun to explore,” Schlegel said. “The DESI instrument will precisely measure millions of those galaxies to see the effects of dark energy.”

Levi noted that there is already a lot of computing work underway at the Berkeley computing center to prepare for the stream of data that will pour out of DESI once it starts up.

“This project is all about generating huge quantities of data,” Levi said. “The data will go directly from the telescope to the Berkeley computing center for processing. We will create hundreds of universes in these computers and see which universe best fits our data.”

Installation of DESI’s components is expected to begin soon and to wrap up in April 2019, with first science observations planned in September 2019.

“Installing DESI on the Mayall will put the telescope at the heart of the next decade of discoveries in cosmology,” said Risa Wechsler, DESI collaboration co-spokesperson and associate professor of physics and astrophysics at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University. “The amazing 3-D map it will measure may solve some of the biggest outstanding questions in cosmology, or surprise us and bring up new ones.” — Berkeley Lab and SMU

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SMU study finds earthquakes continue for years after gas field wastewater injection stops

High rates of injection and large volumes can perturb critically stressed faults, triggering earthquakes years after wastewater wells are shut in.

Efforts to stop human-caused earthquakes by shutting down wastewater injection wells that serve adjacent oil and gas fields may oversimplify the challenge, according to a new study from seismologists at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

The seismologists analyzed a sequence of earthquakes at DFW Airport and found that even though wastewater injection was halted after a year, the earthquakes continued.

The sequence of quakes began in 2008, and wastewater injection was halted in 2009. But earthquakes continued for at least seven more years.

“This tells us that high-volume injection, even if it’s just for a short time, when it’s near a critically stressed fault, can induce long-lasting seismicity,” said SMU seismologist Paul O. Ogwari, who developed a unique method of data analysis that yielded the study results.

The earthquakes may be continuing even now, said Ogwari, whose analysis extended through 2015.

The study’s findings indicate that shutting down injection wells in reaction to earthquakes, as some states such as Oklahoma and Arkansas are doing, may not have the desired effect of immediately stopping further earthquakes, said seismologist Heather DeShon, a co-author on the study and an associate professor in the SMU Earth Sciences Department.

“The DFW earthquake sequence began on Halloween in 2008 — before Oklahoma seismicity rates had notably increased,” said DeShon. “This study revisits what was technically the very first modern induced earthquake sequence in this region and shows that even though the wastewater injector in this case had been shut off very quickly, the injection activity still perturbed the fault, so that generated earthquakes even seven years later.”

That phenomenon is not unheard of. Seismologists saw that type of earthquake response from a rash of human-induced earthquakes in Colorado after wastewater injection during the 1960s at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver. Similarly in that case, injection was started and stopped, but earthquakes continued.

Such a possibility has not been well understood outside scientific circles, said DeShon. She is a member of the SMU seismology team that has studied and published extensively on their scientific findings related to the unusual spate of human-induced earthquakes in North Texas.

“The perception is that if the oil and gas wastewater injectors are leading to this, then you should just shut the injection wells down,” DeShon said. “But Paul’s study shows that there’s a lot to be learned about the physics of the process, and by monitoring continuously for years.”

Ogwari, DeShon and fellow SMU seismologist Matthew J. Hornbach reported the findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Geophysical Research in the article “The Dallas-Fort Worth Airport Earthquake Sequence: Seismicity Beyond Injection Period.”

Known DFW Airport quakes number more than 400
The DFW Airport’s unprecedented earthquake clusters were the first ever documented in the history of the North Texas region’s oil-rich geological system known as the Fort Worth Basin. The quakes are also the first of multiple sequences in the basin tied to large-scale subsurface disposal of waste fluids from oil and gas operations.

The DFW Airport earthquakes began in 2008, as did high-volume wastewater injection of brine. Most of the seismic activity occurred in the first two months after injection began, primarily within .62 miles, or 1 kilometer, from the well. Other clusters then migrated further to the northeast of the well over the next seven years. The quakes were triggered on a pre-existing regional fault that trends 3.7 miles, or 6 kilometers, northeast to southwest.

Ogwari, a post-doctoral researcher in the SMU Roy M. Huffington Earth Sciences Department in Dedman College, analyzed years of existing seismic data from the region to take a deeper look at the DFW Airport sequence, which totaled 412 earthquakes through 2015.

Looking at the data for those quakes, Ogwari discovered that they had continued for at least seven years into 2015 along 80% of the fault, even though injection was stopped after only 11 months in August of 2009.

Rate of quakes declined, but magnitude has never lessened
In another important finding from the study, Ogwari found that the magnitude of the DFW Airport earthquakes didn’t lessen over time, but instead held steady. Magnitude ranged from 0.5 to 3.4, with the largest one occurring three years after injection at the well was stopped.

“What we’ve seen here is that the magnitude is consistent over time within the fault,” Ogwari said. “We expect to see the bigger events during injection or immediately after injection, followed by abrupt decay. But instead we’re seeing the fault continue to produce earthquakes with similar magnitudes that we saw during injection.”

While the rate of earthquakes declined — there were 23 events a month from 2008 to 2009, but only 1 event a month after May 2010 — the magnitude stayed the same. That indicates the fault doesn’t heal completely.

“We don’t know why that is,” Ogwari said. “I think that’s a question that is out there and may need more research.”

More monitoring needed for human-induced quakes
Answering that question, and others, about the complex characteristics and behavior of faults and earthquakes, requires more extensive monitoring than is currently possible given the funding allotted to monitor quakes.

Monitoring the faults involves strategically placed stations that “listen” and record waves of intense energy echoing through the ground, DeShon said.

The Fort Worth Basin includes the Barnett shale, a major gas producing geological formation, atop the deep Ellenberger formation used for wastewater storage, which overlays a granite basement layer. The ancient Airport fault system extends through all units.

Friction prevented the fault from slipping for millions of years, but in 2008 high volumes of injected wastewater disturbed the Airport fault. That caused the fault to slip, releasing stored-up energy in waves. The most powerful waves were “felt” as the earth shaking.

“The detailed physical equations relating wastewater processes to fault processes is still a bit of a question,” DeShon said. “But generally the favored hypothesis is that the injected fluid changes the pressure enough to change the ratio of the downward stress to the horizontal stresses, which allows the fault to slip.”

Earthquakes in North Texas were unheard of until 2008, so when they began to be felt, seismologists scrambled to install monitors. When the quakes died down, the monitoring stations were removed.

“As it stands now, we miss the beginning of the quakes. The monitors are removed when the earthquakes stop being felt,” DeShon said. “But this study tells us that there’s more to it than the ‘felt’ earthquakes. We need to know how the sequences start, and also how they end. If we’re ever going to understand what’s happening, we need the beginning, the middle — and the end. Not just the middle, after they are felt.”

Innovative method tapped for studying earthquake activity
Monitors the SMU team installed at the DFW Airport were removed when seismic activity appeared to have died down in 2009.

Ogwari hypothesized he could look at historical data from distant monitoring stations still in place to extract information and document the history of the DFW Airport earthquakes.

The distant stations are a part of the U.S. permanent network monitored and maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey. The nearest one is 152 miles, 245 kilometers, away.

Earthquake waveforms, like human fingerprints, are unique. Ogwari used the local station monitoring data to train software to identify DFW earthquakes on the distant stations. Ogwari took each earthquake’s digital fingerprint and searched through years of data, cross-correlating waveforms from both the near and regional stations and identified the 412 DFW Airport events.

“The earthquakes are small, less than magnitude three,” DeShon said. “So on the really distant stations it’s like searching for a needle in a haystack, sifting them from all the other tiny earthquakes happening all across the United States.”

Each path is unique for every earthquake, and seismologists record each wave’s movement up and down, north to south, and east to west. From that Ogwari analyzed the evolution of seismicity on the DFW airport fault over space and time. He was able to look at data from the distant monitors and find seismic activity at the airport as recent as 2015.

“Earthquakes occurring close in space usually have a higher degree of similarity,” Ogwari said. “As the separation distance increases the similarity decreases.”

To understand the stress on the fault, the researchers also modeled the location and timing of the pressure in the pores of the rock as the injected water infiltrated.

For the various earthquake clusters, the researchers found that pore pressure increased along the fault at varying rates, depending on how far the clusters were from the injection well, the rate and timing of injection, and hydraulic permeability of the fault.

The analysis showed pore-pressure changes to the fault from the injection well where the earthquakes started in 2008; at the location of the May 2010 quakes along the fault; and at the northern edge of the seismicity.

Will the DFW Airport fault continue to slip and trigger earthquakes?

“We don’t know,” Ogwari said. “We can’t tell how long it will continue. SMU and TexNet, the Texas Seismic Network, continue to monitor both the DFW Airport faults and other faults in the Basin.” — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Study: Cells of three aggressive cancers annihilated by drug-like compounds that reverse chemo failure

Wet-lab experiments confirm the accuracy of an earlier computational discovery that three drug-like compounds successfully penetrate micro-tumors of advanced cancers to aid chemo in destroying the cancer.

Researchers at Southern Methodist University have discovered three drug-like compounds that successfully reverse chemotherapy failure in three of the most commonly aggressive cancers — ovarian, prostate and breast.

The molecules were first discovered computationally via high-performance supercomputing. Now their effectiveness against specific cancers has been confirmed via wet-lab experiments, said biochemistry professors Pia Vogel and John G. Wise, who led the study.

Wise and Vogel report the advancement in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

The computational discovery was confirmed in the Wise-Vogel labs at SMU after aggressive micro-tumors cultured in the labs were treated with a solution carrying the molecules in combination with a classic chemotherapy drug. The chemotherapy drug by itself was not effective in treating the drug-resistant cancer.

“Nature designs all cells with survival mechanisms, and cancer cells are no exception,” said Vogel, a professor in the SMU Department of Biological Sciences and director of SMU’s Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery. “So it was incredibly gratifying that we were able to identify molecules that can inhibit that mechanism in the cancer cells, thereby bolstering the effectiveness of chemotherapeutic drugs. We saw the drugs penetrate these resistant cancer cells and allow chemotherapy to destroy them. While this is far from being a developed drug that will be available on the market anytime soon, this success in the lab gives us hope for developing new drugs to fight cancer.”

The current battle to defeat cancer is thwarted by chemotherapy failure in advanced cancers. Cancer cells initially treated with chemotherapy drugs ultimately evolve to resist the drugs. That renders chemotherapy ineffective, allowing cancers to grow and spread.

Key to cancer cell resistance are often certain proteins typically found in all cells — cancerous or otherwise — that are outfitted with beneficial mechanisms that pump away toxins to ensure a cell’s continued survival. Nature has set it up that these pumps are prevalent throughout the body, with some areas naturally having more of the pumps than others.

“The cancer cell itself can use all these built-in defenses to protect it from the kinds of things we’re using to try to kill it with,” Wise said.

The most common of these beneficial defense mechanisms is a pump protein, P-glycoprotein or P-gp, as it’s called. Another is one seen in breast and many other cancers, called breast cancer resistance protein, BCRP. In the case of cancer cells on the first round of treatment, these pumps are typically not produced in high levels in the cells, which allows chemotherapy to enter most of the cells in the tumor. This often gives what looks like a good result.

Unfortunately, in the cancer cells that don’t die, the chemotherapeutic often changes the cell, which then adapts to protect itself by aggressively multiplying the production of its defensive pumps.

Upon subsequent rounds of chemo, the P-gp and BCRP pumping mechanisms have proliferated. They effectively resist the chemotherapy, which now is much less successful, or not successful at all.

“if enough of the pumps are present, the cancer isn’t treatable anymore,” said Wise, associate professor in the SMU Department of Biological Sciences. Researchers in the field have searched unsuccessfully for compounds to inhibit the pumps that could be used in the clinic as well.

The molecules that Wise and Vogel discovered stopped the pumps.

“They effectively bring the cancer cells back to a sensitivity as if they’d never seen chemotherapy before,” said Vogel. “And our data indicated the molecules aren’t cancer specific. They can be used to treat all kinds of cancers because they inhibit not just the P-gp pump, but also the breast cancer protein pump.”

To test the compounds, the researchers used amounts of chemotherapeutic that would not kill these multi-drug resistant cancers if the pumps were not blocked.

“We wanted to make sure when using these really aggressive cancers that if we do knock out the pump, that the chemotherapy goes in there and causes the cell to die, so it doesn’t just stop it temporarily,” Wise said. “We spent a fair amount of time proving that point. It turns out that when a cell dies it goes through very predictable morphological changes. The DNA gets chopped up into small pieces, and we can see that, and so the nucleus becomes fragmented, and we can see that. Under the microscope, with proper staining, you can actually see that these highly drug-resistant prostate cancer cells, for example, are dead.”

The Scientific Reports article, “Targeted inhibitors of P-glycoprotein increase chemotherapeutic-induced mortality of multidrug resistant tumor cells,” is available open access at this link.

Other co-authors are SMU Ph.D. doctoral candidate Amila K. Nanayakkara, and Courtney A. Follit and Gang Chen, all in the SMU Department of Biological Sciences; and Noelle S. Williams, Department of Biochemistry, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.

Getting at the heart of the problem
Unique to the experiment is that the molecules were also tested on three-dimensional micro-tumors. That is a departure from the usual cell-culture experiments, which are a two-dimensional film.

In two-dimensional experiments, every cell is exposed to the chemotherapeutic because the film is just one layer of cells thick. That method ignores one of the key challenges to reversing tumors — how to get drugs into the middle of a tumor, not just on its surface.

“We show that with the help of our inhibitor compounds, we actually make the tumor penetrable to chemotherapeutic,” Vogel said. “We can kill the cells in the middle of the tumor.”

A pathway to personalized medical treatments
Chemotherapy’s harmful side effects on non-cancerous organs is well-known. The discovery of molecules that target a specific pump may mitigate that problem.

A patient’s tumor can be sampled to see which pump is causing the drug resistance. Then the molecule that knocks out that specific pump can be added to the chemotherapy.

“That means you don’t open the door wide to toxins in the central nervous system,” Wise said. “That has some real implications for the future and for personalized medicine. In most of the previous clinical trials, inhibitors have opened the brain up to toxins. From what we can tell so far, our inhibitors do not increase the toxicity of chemotherapeutics in normal cells.”

An audacious discovery
P-gp is present in one form or another in everything that lives.

“It’s in your dog, it’s in your cat, it’s in yeast cells, it’s in bacteria, it’s everywhere,” Wise said. “Why is it everywhere? Because it’s a really wonderful solution to the problem of getting toxins out of a cell. P-gp is a tremendously sophisticated evolutionary solution to that problem. And as with most things in biology that work well, everybody gets it, because if you don’t have it, you didn’t survive.”

Biologists say that P-gp can pump out 95 of 100 chemotherapeutics, indicating it can grab almost any drug and throw it out of a cell.

“So there’s a certain audacity to say that we can use a computer and target one part of this protein — the motor — and totally avoid the part of the protein that has evolved to pump almost anything that looks like a drug out of the cell,” Wise said. “That’s an audacious claim and the findings surprised us.”

In their computational and wet-lab experiments, Wise and Vogel searched for molecules that inhibit ATP hydrolysis — the chemical energy reaction that powers the P-gp pump.

“We targeted the motor of the pump instead of the pump part of the pump because almost all the clinical trial failures in other studies were actually compounds that targeted the pump part of the pump — and they would just slow down the pumping of the chemotherapeutic,” Vogel said. “The time was ripe to do these structural models. We hypothesized that we could completely avoid the pumping mechanism and just target the motor.”

Computational method highly predictive
The wet-lab experiments confirmed the accuracy of the computational findings, Vogel said.

“The predictiveness of the computational methods was really high,” she said. “It completely exceeded my expectations. We had selected certain molecules that were predicted in those computational experiments to interact with the pump in certain ways and not in others, and we could show in our wet-lab experiments that the predictions were spot on.”

Fascinated by the novel approach to the research, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences funded much of the research.

Wise and Vogel tapped the high-performance computing power of SMU’s Maneframe, one of the most powerful academic supercomputers in the nation. Wise sorted through 15 million commercially available drug-like compounds made publically available in digital form from the pharmacology database Zinc at the University of California, San Francisco.

Then, again using ManeFrame, Wise ran the compounds through a computer-generated model of P-gp. The virtual model, designed and built by Wise, is the first computational microscope of its kind to simulate the actual behavior of P-gp in the human body, including interactions with drug-like compounds while taking on different shapes. He reported the dynamic functioning of the model in 2015 in the journal Biochemistry in “Multiple drug transport pathways through human P-glycoprotein.”

Process of elimination finds needle in the haystack
Out of 15 million drug-like compounds that were virtually screened, the researchers found 180,000 that in the computer were predicted to interact strongly with the ATP harvesting power plant part of the pump motor. From those, Wise and Vogel eliminated the ones that interact well with the pump part. Roughly 0.15 percent survived — several hundred.

“So that tells you how promiscuous that binding site is for compounds,” Wise said.

From there, they bought and tested in the lab a number of the remaining molecules.

“It was a process of elimination,” Vogel said. “Of the first 38 we tested, we found four. And because of the computational approach we took, it made failure relatively cheap. This is proof of principle that at least in those cases the compounds behave exactly in the lab as predicted in the computer. Which thrills the heck out of me — I never, ever would have thought that.”

The Vogel and Wise research labs are part of the Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery in SMU’s Dedman College. The center’s mission is a novel multi-disciplinary focus for scientific research targeting medically important problems in human health. — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Female students exposed briefly to charismatic career women are inspired to pursue male-dominated field

Easy, inexpensive experiment briefly sent inspiring female role models into intro to econ classes and sharply increased college female interest in the male-dominated, well-paying field of economics.

A low-budget field experiment to tackle the lack of women in the male-dominated field of economics has been surprisingly effective, says the study’s author, an economist at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

Top female college students were inspired to pursue a major in economics when exposed very briefly to charismatic, successful women in the field, according to SMU economist Danila Serra.

The results suggest that exposing young women to an inspiring female role model succeeds due to the mix of both information and pure inspiration, Serra said.

“The specific women who came and talked to the students were key to the success of the intervention,” she said. “It was a factor of how charismatic and enthusiastic they were about their careers and of how interesting their jobs looked to young women.”

Given the simplicity and low-cost of the intervention, similar experiments could be easily conducted in other male-dominated or female-dominated fields of study to enhance gender diversity.

Serra’s results showed that among female students exposed to the enthusiastic mentors there was a 12-percentage point increase in the percentage of female students enrolling in the upper-level Intermediate Microeconomics course the following year — a 100% increase, or doubling, for that demographic.

Not surprisingly, given that the intervention was targeted to female students, Serra found that the role model visits had no impact on male students.

But astonishingly it had the greatest impact on high-achieving female students.

“If we restrict the analysis to the top female students, the students with a GPA of 3.7 or higher, the impact is remarkable — it is a 26 percentage points increase,” Serra said. “So this intervention was especially impactful on the top female students who perhaps were not thinking about majoring in economics.”

The results were very surprising to Serra, an assistant professor in the SMU Department of Economics in Dedman College who teaches the upper-level class Behavioral and Experimental Economics. Serra’s research relies on laboratory and field experiments, a relatively new methodology in the field of economics. She launched and is co-leader of the Laboratory for Research in Experimental Economics at SMU.

“I didn’t think such limited exposure would have such a large impact,” Serra said. “So this is telling me that one of the reasons we see so few women in certain fields is that these fields have been male-dominated for so long. This implies that it is very difficult for a young woman to come into contact with a woman in the field who has an interesting job in the eyes of young women and is enthusiastic about her major and her work. Young men, on the other hand, have these interactions all the time because there are so many male economics majors out there.”

Co-author on the research is Catherine Porter, associate professor of economics at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland, and Serra’s former Ph.D. classmate at the University of Oxford.

“The gender imbalance in economics has been in the news a lot lately, and much of the discussion has been very negative,” said Porter. “This study offers something positive: a cheap way of improving the gender balance. The results can hopefully be used by other schools in order to redress the low numbers of women that major in economics – women have a lot to offer and should consider economics as a subject that is interesting and varied for a career.”

Serra reported the findings, “Gender differences in the choice of major: The importance of female role models,” on Jan. 6 in Philadelphia at the 2018 annual meeting of the Allied Social Sciences Association. Hers is one of many findings on gender and gender differences in economics presented at a session organized by the Committee for the Status of Women in the Economics Profession.

Inspiring the individual is the best tool to recruit and retain
Serra launched the study after SMU was one of 20 U.S. universities randomly chosen by Harvard economics professor Claudia Goldin for the Undergraduate Women in Economics Challenge. The project awarded each university a $12,500 grant to develop a program freely chosen by the universities to test the effectiveness of a deliberate intervention strategy to recruit and retain female majors.

Nationally, there’s only about one woman for every three men majoring in economics. SMU has a large number of economics majors for a school of its size, with 160 a year. The gender imbalance, however, is greater at SMU than the national average, with only one woman to every four men.

Serra developed her intervention based on her own experience as a Ph.D. student at the University of Oxford several years ago.

“I started thinking about role models from my personal experience,” Serra said. “As a student, I had met many female professors in the past, but my own experience taught me that inspiration is not about meeting any female professor — it’s about meeting that one person that has a huge charisma and who is highly inspiring and speaks to you specifically.”

Serra said that’s what she experienced as a graduate researcher when she first met Professor Abigail Barr, who later became her Ph.D. advisor.

“I know for a fact that that is why I decided to do a Ph.D. in economics, because I was greatly inspired by this person, her experiences and her research,” she said. “So I thought it would be interesting to see whether the same could work for a general student population.”

Two inspiring women role models, 15 minutes, four classrooms
Serra asked two of her department’s top undergraduate female economics students to take the lead in choosing the role models.

The students, Tracy Nelson and Emily Towler, sorted through rosters of SMU economics alums and shortlisted 18 men and women that they thought were working in interesting fields – which purposely excluded stereotypical jobs in banking and finance – and then carried out scripted interviews with a subset of who agreed to be interviewed via Skype to get additional information about their career path and to assess their charisma.

The students ultimately found two alumnae, Julie Lutz and Courtney Thompson, to be the most inspiring. Lutz, a 2008 graduate, started her career in management consulting but, shortly after, decided to completely change her career path by going to work for an international NGO in Nicaragua, and then as a director of operations at a toy company based in Honduras. Lutz now works in Operations at a fast-growing candy retail company. Courtney Thompson, class of 1991, has had a stellar career in marketing, becoming the senior director of North American Marketing and Information Technology at a large international communications company, with the unique claim of being not only a female econ major at a time when that was exceedingly rare, but also African American in a white dominated field.

Serra invited each woman to speak during the Spring 2016 semester for 10 to 15 minutes to four Principals of Economics classes that she had randomly selected from a set of 10. The Principles classes are very popular, with about 700 students total from a variety of desired majors, and are typically gender balanced. The imbalance, said Serra, starts the following year with Intermediate Microeconomics, which is a requirement for upper-level economics courses and so is a good indicator of a desire to major in economics.

Serra offered each role model an honorarium for speaking, but each woman declined and indicated they were happy to be back on campus sharing with students. Serra told the speakers nothing of the purpose of the research project, but encouraged each one to explain to the class why they majored in economics and to be very engaging. She directed them to approach the students with the following question in mind: “If you had to convince a student to major in economics, what would you say?”

Thompson, Serra said, during her college days played SMU’s costumed Peruna mascot, and today retains a “bubbly, big personality, that makes her extremely engaging.” In her classroom visits, Thompson described her experience working and being extremely successful in marketing with an economics degree, while being surrounded by business majors. Lutz, being still in her 20s, was very easy for the young women in the classrooms to identify with, and her experience working in the non-profit and in developing countries may have been especially appealing to them.

Young women judge best who will inspire them
Serra believes that a key to the success of the intervention was the fact her two female economics students actively participated in the selection of the role models.

“The most important thing about the project was that I realized I needed current female students to choose the role models,” Serra said. “I’m not that young anymore, so I’m probably not the best person to recognize what is inspiring to young women. I think young female students are in the best position to tell us what is most inspiring to them.”

In November the directors and officers of the International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics honored Serra as the inaugural recipient of the $50,000 Vernon L. Smith Ascending Scholar Prize. The Smith Prize is described by the foundation as a “budding genius” award.

For her highly cited corruption research, Serra uses lab experiments to study bribery, governance and accountability, questioning long-standing assumptions. Some of her findings are that corruption declines as perpetrators take into account social costs of their illegal activities, and as victims share information about specific bribery exchanges through online reporting. Serra’s current research agenda also includes experimental work on gender differences in preferences, behaviors and outcomes. — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Exploring the mysteries of the universe: Reality in the Shadows

New knowledge has caused us to reconsider many previous conclusions about what the universe is and how it works.

Despite centuries of scientific advancements, there is much about the universe that remains unknown. New knowledge and discoveries in the last 20 years have challenged previously accepted ideas and theories that were once regarded as scientific truth and have subjected them to increasing scrutiny.

These additions to our knowledge have caused scientists to reconsider many previous conclusions about what the universe is and how it works.

“Reality in the Shadows”” or “What the Heck’s the Higgs?” is a new book that explores the concepts that shape our current understanding of the universe and the frontiers of our knowledge of the cosmos.

The authors — two physicists and an engineer — tell us in a manner that non-scientists can readily follow, why studies have moved to superstring theory/M-theory, ideas about extra dimensions of space, and ideas about new particles in nature to find answers. It also explores why these ideas are far from established as accurate descriptions of reality.

“Our book explains how we know what we know about the universe, what we don’t know, and what we wish we did know,” said co-author Stephen Sekula, an associate professor of Physics at SMU. A physicist, Sekula conducts research into the Higgs Boson at the energy frontier on CERN’s ATLAS Experiment.

The book was initiated by Frank Blitzer, an engineer who participated on national space programs like Apollo and Patriot, several years ago, Sekula said. He was joined by co-author S. James Gates Jr., well known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity and superstring theory, a few years ago.

“Frank and Jim sought additional input to help complete the book, and serendipitously Frank’s grandson, Ryan, was an SMU undergraduate and Hunt Scholar who helped connect them to me,” Sekula said. “After over an additional year of work, the book was completed.”

The foundations of modern physics rest on ideas that are over 100 years old and battle-tested, Sekula said.

“But nature has offered us new puzzles that have not yet been successfully explained by those ideas,” he added. “Perhaps we don’t yet have the right idea, or perhaps we haven’t searched deep enough into the cosmos. These are exciting times, with opportunities for a new generation of physicists who might crack these puzzles. Our book will help a curious reader to see the way in which knowledge was established, and encourage them to be engaged in solving the new mysteries.”

“Reality in the Shadows,” available through YBK Publishers, describes how humanity came to learn the workings of the universe as groundwork for the science that found the Higgs particle. Now scientists are hunting for the explanations for dark matter and the accelerated expansion of the cosmos, as well as for the many new questions the Higgs Boson itself has raised.

Scientists have recently discovered colliding black holes and neutron stars, that there is more non-luminous matter (dark matter) in the universe than the ordinary stuff of everyday life, and that the universe seems to grow larger each second at a faster and faster rate. Readers will learn how scientists discern such features of the universe and begin to see how to think beyond what is known to what is not yet known.

Throughout the book are descriptions of important developments in theoretical physics that lead the reader to a step-by-step understanding.

Sekula teaches physics and conducts research at ATLAS. He contributed to the measurement of decay modes of the Higgs boson and to the measurement of its spin-parity quantum numbers. Complementary to these efforts, he has worked with colleagues on the ATLAS Experiment to search for additional Higgs bosons in nature, providing intellectual leadership and direct involvement in several searches.

Gates was named 2014 “Scientist of the Year” by the Harvard Foundation. He was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and received the 2013 National Medal of Science, the highest recognition given to scientists by the United States.

Gates has been featured on many TV documentary programs on physics, including “The Elegant Universe,” “Einstein’s Big Idea,” “Fabric of the Cosmos” and “The Hunt for the Higgs.” His DVD series, “Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality,” makes the complexities of unification theory comprehensible.

Blitzer has more than 50 years of experience in engineering, program management, and business development and participated on national space programs, and The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), holding several patents in guidance and control. He has spent more than 20 years in independent research of the subject of the book.

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Cyber grad and U.S. Marine Corps vet Michael Taylor proved his mettle as an outstanding student researcher

‘Outstanding student in computer science & engineering’ graduates Dec. 16 with master’s degree and Raytheon ticket to a Ph.D.

Michael Taylor will be the first to tell you that he was not ready for college when he graduated from Plano East High School in 2006. And he’ll also tell you that nobody was more surprised than he was when SMU admitted him in 2014, a little later than the average undergrad.

But Taylor’s disciplined approach to life, honed through five years in the Marine Corps, combined with the intelligence he learned to tap, has earned him a master’s degree from SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering that will be awarded Dec. 16. And after proving his mettle as a student researcher in Lyle’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security, Taylor has been awarded the first Raytheon IIS Cyber Elite Graduate Fellowship, which will fund his Ph.D. in quantum computing at SMU and then put him to work as an employee at Raytheon.

“Michael Taylor stood out to me when I first had him in an undergraduate class,” said Mitch Thornton, research director for the Deason Institute and Cecil H. Green Chair of Engineering at SMU. “I could sense there was something special about him and that he had a lot of talent. I actively encouraged Michael to do research with me and he has excelled in everything I have asked him to work on. He is a credit to the student body of SMU’s Lyle School, and a credit to the nation.”

Taylor learned to focus on the details in the Marine Corps. He had sampled community college very briefly after high school, but it didn’t stick. He knew he didn’t have skills to trade for a decent job, so joining the Marine Corps made sense to him.

“Honestly? In retrospect, I wasn’t ready for school,” Taylor acknowledged.

After the Marines, finally ready for college
Taylor’s dad was an SMU engineering alumnus, and this was not the career path he’d envisioned for his son. But it’s funny how things work themselves out. Taylor completed Marine basic training, and took an aptitude test to determine where his skills might fit the Marine Corp mission. He did very, very well.

“My score on that test – I qualified for every enlisted job in the Marine Corps,” Taylor said. “I got to pick what job I wanted.” Working as a calibration technician sounded interesting – a job that would require him to conduct testing for proper operation of a wide range of mechanical and electronic devices and tools. But before working in calibration, he’d have to go school for a year.

“Ironic, I know,” Taylor said, smiling. “I had to sign up for an extra year, so I ended up doing a five-year tour in the Marines.”

He spent most of that time working out of Camp Pendleton in California, but was deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from March through September 2010, at the height of the surge of U.S. troops. “I wasn’t a combat guy,” Taylor said. “But even on base, sometimes, the rockets would come in the middle of the night.”

Nearing the end of his enlistment in 2012, Taylor was getting the hard sell to stay in and make the Marines a career. By now, he had decided he was ready for college, but the career planner he met with tried hard to talk him out of it, predicting that Taylor would “fail again.”

“He actually told me if I got out of the Marine Corps and went back to college, I’d end up living under a bridge,” Taylor said, shaking his head. It just made him more determined to succeed.

He started back at community college, and this experience was very different. “It seemed like it was so hard the first time,” Taylor said. “What then seemed like a monumental task, now seemed like nothing. I started thinking, I might be able to do school, now.”

And he started thinking about SMU. Taylor’s grades at Collin County Community College were good – good enough to get him into his father’s alma mater.

SMU Prof’s mentoring made all the difference
Taylor never dared to think he could live up to what his Dad had accomplished, starting with the scholarship to attend SMU that Jim Taylor ’89 had received from Texas Instruments. “He was a technician there,” Taylor recalled, “and they paid for him to come here. As a kid, if you’d told me I could do something like that, too, I’d never have believed you. For me there was Albert Einstein, and Jim Taylor.”

Michael Taylor came to the Hilltop on the GI Bill, and SMU’s Yellow Ribbon program for military veterans covered what the GI Bill didn’t. Then, the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security picked up the cost of his master’s degree.

Taylor’s first semester at SMU’s Lyle School was a tough adjustment after his relatively easy path at community college, but that class with professor Thornton his second semester changed everything. “Dr. Thornton offered me a position working in the Deason Institute for Cyber Security,” Taylor said. “It’s been going great since then.”

Thornton’s influence and mentoring made all the difference for Taylor.

“If I had not met Dr. Thornton, there were times I wondered if I would have gotten my bachelor’s degree. I definitely wouldn’t be getting the master’s degree. And a Ph.D. wouldn’t have been something I ever considered.”

Compelled to dive into quantum computing and cyber security
Taylor was interested in computer hardware when he arrived at SMU, but the Deason Institute opened the door to the contributions he could make in cyber security. He received the Lyle School’s 2017 Rick A. Barrett Memorial Award for outstanding work in computer science and engineering. And as he neared the completion of his master’s degree, he was tapped for the Raytheon Cyber Elite Graduate Fellowship and is looking forward to pursuing his Ph.D. in quantum computing.

“Quantum computers solve problems that are too difficult for classical computers to solve,” Taylor said. “Certain problems in classical computation are intractable, there’s no way you can solve them in this lifetime. It’s only a matter of time before quantum computers render all encryption obsolete.”

For Fred Chang, executive director of SMU’s Deason Institute and former research director for the National Security Agency (NSA), finding talented students like Taylor to fill the gaps in the cyber security workforce is “job one.” Chang testified before a congressional subcommittee in September that we are likely facing a worldwide shortage of cyber security workers five years from now.

“Today’s students will be responsible for designing, creating, operating, maintaining and defending tomorrow’s cyber infrastructure,” Chang explained. “We need a large and capable pool of folks to staff these positions for the future.”

For Taylor, cyber security is just plain compelling.

“I just like the challenge. There’s somebody out there that’s trying to crack what you have, to break you down. You have to be smarter than them. It’s a game!” — Kim Cobb, SMU

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SMU economist wins $50,000 “budding genius” prize with highly cited corruption research

Serra questioned long-standing assumptions; found corruption declines as perpetrators take into account social costs of their illegal activities, and as victims share information about specific bribery exchanges through online reporting systems.

Guilt and shame play a role in reducing bribery, according to research by economist Danila Serra, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

As an economist who has studied bribery behavior extensively, Serra has discovered that bribery declines if potentially corrupt agents are made aware of the negative effects of corruption, and when victims can share specific information about bribe demands through online reporting systems.

An assistant professor in the SMU Department of Economics, Serra’s research methodology is unique — relying on lab experiments in which players gain and lose real money. Her work is frequently cited by other researchers studying the field of bribery.

In November the directors and officers of the International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics honored Serra as the inaugural recipient of the $50,000 Vernon L. Smith Ascending Scholar Prize. The Smith Prize is described by the foundation as a “budding genius” award.

“Dr. Serra’s accomplishments have marked her as an ascending scholar, teacher, mentor and colleague of exceptional promise,” said a statement from the foundation.

The prize is named for Nobel Laureate Vernon L. Smith, considered the father of experimental economics. It aims to build on his legacy and inspire recipients, early on in their careers, to set the loftiest possible goals for themselves as social-science theorists, practitioners, colleagues, mentors and truth seekers, the foundation said.

Serra’s interest in understanding bribery transformed in 2005 when she became frustrated by measurement problems and the difficulty of finding good data. Her goal was to identify and understand the causes of corruption, and in particular whether non-monetary motivations, social norms and culture play any role in corruption decision-making. During her Ph.D. work at the University of Oxford, economist Abigail Barr exposed Serra to lab experiments, a relatively new methodology for the field of economics.

“I was always interested in corruption. As soon as I discovered the field of experimental economics I decided to design and implement bribery experiments,” Serra said. “I recreate the situation I want to study in a laboratory setting, employing real monetary incentives, which we provide, and with scenarios where the subjects can make corruption decisions that increase their money at the expense of other players. The play is anonymous and they get to bring home the money they earn in the experimental setting.”

Corruption isn’t purely about money
The focus of Serra’s research sharpened further when she began to question the root assumption that guilt and shame don’t play a role in bribery. She found in laboratory experiments that the intrinsic costs of guilt and shame do matter, and that corruption isn’t purely a matter of money.

She found that corruption declines when potentially corrupt agents are made aware of the negative impact of their actions, and when bottom-up anti-corruption mechanisms are in place, such as victims sharing specific information about bribe demands. Serra also found evidence of a significant relationship between corruption and culture.

“In one of my early studies, I employed a sample of international students at the University of Oxford and found among undergraduate students that the level of corruption in their home country predicts their propensity to engage in corruption in my bribery experiment,” she said.

“This is what we’d expect, they have internalized corrupt norms,” Serra said. “But the surprising result is that this wasn’t true for graduate students. We concluded that graduate students do not conform to the prevailing social norms of their home countries and, possibly, they want to distance themselves from such norms.”

Serra’s research has produced 12 papers on bribery and she has edited a book about experimental research on corruption. Her work on corruption has been cited hundreds of times by other researchers in the field. She has also investigated issues related to governance, public service provision and bottom-up accountability in developing countries. More recently, she has embarked on new research exploring gender differences in behaviors and outcomes in a variety of contexts, including students’ choices of major.

Serra launched and is co-leader of the Laboratory for Research in Experimental Economics at SMU’s Economics Department in the Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences.

The Vernon L. Smith Ascending Prize for Serra is a major professional recognition of the profound impact of her pioneering research in the area of experimental public economics and in particular on the understanding of corruption and other forms of rule breaking, said SMU economist Santanu Roy, chair of the SMU Department of Economics and University Distinguished Professor.

“She is one of the most cited economists of her generation,” Roy said. “The prize comes with a $50,000 award which, as far as I know, is the largest amount awarded as a prize for young economists. The fact that Dr. Serra was chosen to receive the inaugural prize named for the father of experimental economics tells us about the high expectations that her peers have about her future research productivity.”

Economics as an empirical discipline
The Smith Prize seeks to inspire early-career scholars to emulate Smith’s joyous zeal for scientific discovery. It may be used flexibly to advance social science in whatever manner a recipient chooses, the foundation said.

The prize is made possible through the Rasmuson Foundation and other contributors.

As a social scientist, Smith was committed to exploring theoretical foundations in economics, social science, and science generally; achievement in the form of quantifiable impacts in transforming economics into an experimental and more empirical discipline; collegiality in funding, mentoring, and collaborating with fellow scholars; and curiosity in looking beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries in search of truth.

“The International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics heartily congratulates Dr. Serra and looks forward to following her career in the years to come,” the statement said. — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Student-led protests seeking inclusive campuses are more likely to occur at selective universities

A new study found that racial or gender diversity alone doesn’t make a college campus feel inclusive. Students are more likely to initiate social justice campaigns at large, selective, public universities.

Some universities are more likely than others to experience student activism like the “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign in 2014, a new study finds.

That student-led campaign at Harvard publicized the hurtful experiences routinely faced on campus by students from marginalized populations, meaning gender and ethnic minorities.

A new study led by a researcher from Southern Methodist University, Dallas, found that students are more likely to initiate social justice campaigns like the one at Harvard at large, selective, public universities where there are fewer students receiving financial aid.

The study is one of the first to take an empirical look at the institutional characteristics of universities in an effort to understand the current spike in student-led activism.

“Interestingly, our quantitative analysis found that numerical student diversity — in terms of gender and race — was not sufficient to make students feel they attend school on an inclusive campus,” said Dominique Baker, lead author on the research and assistant professor of higher education at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

“Our study found that more selective institutions, larger institutions, and institutions with fewer students receiving the Federal Pell Grant had greater odds of students adopting social justice campaigns to heighten awareness of their plight,” Baker said.

The federal government awards Pell grants to undergraduate students who need financial assistance for college.

Eradicating student protests isn’t the goal of the new research study, Baker said. Universities are seeing one of the largest jumps in student activism since the 1960s, so the goal is to provide data-based empirical research to help universities improve the campus environment for minority students.

“We are more concerned with what leads to protest and collective action — and which environments are conducive to it,” Baker said. “This research project helps us understand the kinds of contexts in which students may feel compelled and able to act. That may help us think about the ways in which we can best support our students and create more inclusive spaces.”

Co-author of the study is Richard Blissett, an assistant professor in Seton Hall University’s department of education. The researchers reported their findings in The Journal of Higher Education in the article “Beyond the Incident: Institutional Predictors of Student Collective Action.

Students across the country are fighting for inclusion and justice
The issue is a growing one. Recently, more than 70 U.S. universities have faced questions about how to address student protest demands regarding a variety of social injustices, such as police brutality, racism, and gender disparity, among others, the authors say.

At least 40 U.S. universities have had some sort of “I, Too, Am” campaign.

Studies from decades past that looked at student activism found that social movements and student protests during the 1960s and 1970s took place at more cosmopolitan and prestigious universities on both coasts, as well as some major public universities in between and some progressive liberal arts colleges.

With their new study, Baker and Blissett wanted to see if that holds true now. They looked at whether certain types of U.S. institutions were more likely to see student activism than others.

Numerical diversity is not enough for students to feel a campus is inclusive
The “I, Too, Am Harvard” movement began as a student play and evolved into a photo campaign. For the play and photos, 63 Harvard students held up dry-erase boards on which they wrote examples of racist things that had been said to them, as well as things they would like to say to their peers in response. The photos were published on Tumblr, then went viral on the social news website BuzzFeed. Ultimately that sparked many similarly named movements on other U.S. campuses.

For their study, Baker and Blissett analyzed 1,845 institutions, including those with publicized “I, Too, Am” campaigns. They linked the information with five-years of institution-level data from the U.S. Department of Education on all four-year public and not-for-profit universities.

The researchers also collected various measures of student diversity at each university, including gender and undergraduate racial identity, as well as Pell Grant recipients to capture low-income backgrounds.

They investigated whether the current state of diversity, or recent changes to it, could predict where an “I, Too, Am” campaign would appear. They found no consistent evidence that racial diversity was predictive of a campaign, suggesting diversity alone may not be enough to address student dissatisfaction, the authors said.

“Colleges focusing solely on the number of marginalized students may miss other characteristics of the institutions that could be associated with student mobilization or discontent,” Baker said.

Institutions without campaigns may also have inclusion issues
The researchers found that the 40 institutions with social movements were generally more selective in their admission policies, more socially prestigious, and primarily in the Mideast.

This prompted the researchers to pose the question, “What social resources are required for people to be able to protest in the first place?” Baker said. “This could explain why some institutions have campaigns and some do not. We are continuing in our work to investigate some of these types of questions.”

The results have important implications, said co-author Blissett, suggesting that student expressions of dissatisfaction with institutional racism may not be, as some theories describe, “idiosyncratic overflows of emotion,” but instead a function of the institutional environment.

“We are adding to a growing base of literature that suggests that thinking beyond diversity as reflected in enrollment numbers may be important for institutions that want to ensure that their minority students can thrive, and feel safe and at home on campus,” he said.

That said, just because an institution hasn’t had a student-led campaign does not necessarily mean that the institution doesn’t have social justice problems related to gender and race.

The research findings can help campus leadership see student protests as a key source of political information. The findings suggest that the higher education community can seek ways to create supportive spaces that make campuses feel more inclusive so students are less likely to feel compelled to protest the environment, Baker said.

“We’re not saying that the presence of racial and ethnic minorities or women is not important,” she said. “Our main conclusion from this research is that a focus on forms of diversity and inclusion beyond only enrollment numbers may also be important. Institutions may want to think more holistically about the challenges that these students are facing on their campuses.” — Margaret Allen

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SMU seismology research shows North Texas earthquakes occurring on “dead” faults

Study by Beatrice Magnani, USGS and other SMU scientists shows recent seismicity in Fort Worth Basin occurred on faults not active for 300 million years

Recent earthquakes in the Fort Worth Basin — in the rural community of Venus and the Dallas suburb of Irving – occurred on faults that had not been active for at least 300 million years, according to research led by SMU seismologist Beatrice Magnani.

The research supports the assertion that recent North Texas earthquakes were induced, rather than natural – a conclusion entirely independent of previous analyses correlating seismicity to the timing of wastewater injection practices, but that corroborates those earlier findings.

The full study, “Discriminating between natural vs induced seismicity from long-term deformation history of intraplate faults,” was published online Nov. 24, 2017 by the journal Science Advances.

“To our knowledge this is the first study to discriminate natural and induced seismicity using classical structural geology analysis techniques,” said Magnani, associate professor of geophysics in SMU’s Huffington Department of Earth Sciences. Co-authors for the study include Michael L. Blanpied, associate coordinator of the USGS Earthquake Hazard program, and SMU seismologists Heather DeShon and Matthew Hornbach.

The results were drawn from analyzing the history of fault slip (displacement) over the lifetime of the faults. The authors analyzed seismic reflection data, which allow “mapping” of the Earth’s subsurface from reflected, artificially generated seismic waves. Magnani’s team compared data from the North Texas area, where several swarms of felt earthquakes have been occurring since 2008, to data from the Midwestern U.S. region that experienced major earthquakes in 1811 and 1812 in the New Madrid seismic zone.

Frequent small earthquakes are still recorded in the New Madrid seismic zone, which is believed to hold the potential for larger earthquakes in the future.

“These North Texas faults are nothing like the ones in the New Madrid Zone – the faults in the Fort Worth Basin are dead,” Magnani said. “The most likely explanation for them to be active today is because they are being anthropogenically induced to move.”

In the New Madrid seismic zone, the team found that motion along the faults that are currently active has been occurring over many millions of years. This has resulted in fault displacements that grow with increasing age of sedimentary formations.

In the Fort Worth Basin, along faults that are currently seismically active, there is no evidence of prior motion over the past 300 million years.

“The study’s findings suggest that the recent Fort Worth Basin earthquakes, which involve swarms of activity on several faults in the region, have been induced by human activity,” said USGS scientist Blanpied.

The findings further suggest that these North Texas earthquakes are not simply happening somewhat sooner than they would have otherwise on faults continually active over long time periods. Instead, Blanpied said, the study indicates reactivation of long-dormant faults as a consequence of waste fluid injection.

Seismic reflection profiles in the Venus region used for this study were provided by the U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Hazards Program.

Seismic reflection profiles for the Irving area are proprietary. Magnani and another team of scientists collected seismic reflection data used for this research during a 2008-2011 project in the northern Mississippi embayment, home to the New Madrid seismic zone. — Kim Cobb, SMU

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Commerce Department selects scientific team to conduct independent abundance estimate of red snapper in Gulf of Mexico

The initiative addresses one of the most pressing issues currently facing U.S. Gulf of Mexico fisheries management, as the iconic red snapper supports one of the most economically valuable finfish fisheries in the Gulf.

An expert team of university and government scientists will determine the abundance of red snapper in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico, as availability of the fish is vital to the region’s economy.

“Red snapper have great economic value to all the gulf states,” said SMU statistician Lynne Stokes, a member of the team. “Maintaining the health of the species is vitally important, so it’s necessary to ensure species are fished at the right level.”

As an expert in surveys, polls and sampling, Stokes’ role in the project is to help design ways to sample the vast expanse of the gulf efficiently so that good estimates of abundance can be produced.

“The gulf is very diverse, and different sampling methods are needed for different habitats, which makes the sample design problem interesting,” said Stokes, a professor in the SMU Department of Statistical Science. “The cheapest way to collect data about the health of a marine fish species is by asking a sample of anglers about their catch. However, if fish are present in places where anglers are not, other methods are needed. There is some uncertainty about all the places red snapper exist in the gulf, so it is not known if catch-based methods provide accurate estimates of abundance.”

The project will obtain angler-independent data about red snapper abundance by sampling their potential habitat, Stokes said. The team will collect data on red snapper numbers by direct observation of a sample of transects on the sea bottom and structures on the sea floor, using remotely controlled video cameras. Stokes will help determine how extensive the observation must be.

The team of scientists was selected by an expert review panel convened by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium to conduct the independent study.

“American communities across the Gulf of Mexico depend on their access to, as well as the long term sustainability of, red snapper,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “I look forward to the insights this project will provide as we study and manage this valuable resource.”

Recreational anglers and commercial fishers will play a key role
The research team, made up of 21 scientists from 12 institutions of higher learning, a state agency and a federal agency, was awarded $9.5 million in federal funds for the project through a competitive research grant process. With matching funds from the universities, the project will total $12 million.

“We’ve assembled some of the best red snapper scientists around for this study,” said Greg Stunz, the project leader and a professor at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. “The team members assembled through this process are ready to address this challenging research question. There are lots of constituents who want an independent abundance estimate that will be anxiously awaiting our findings.”

Recreational anglers and commercial fishers will be invited to play a key role in collecting data by tagging fish, reporting tags and working directly with scientists onboard their vessels.

“The local knowledge fishermen bring to this process is very valuable and meaningfully informs our study,” Stunz said.

Some stakeholder groups have expressed concerns that there are more red snapper in the Gulf than currently accounted for in the stock assessment. The team of scientists on this project will spend two years studying the issue.

In 2016, Congress directed the National Sea Grant College Program and NOAA Fisheries to fund independent red snapper data collections, surveys and assessments, including the use of tagging and advanced sampling technologies. Sea Grant and NOAA Fisheries worked collaboratively to transfer federal funds to Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant to administer the competitive research grant process and manage this independent abundance estimate.

“Today’s announcement is welcome news for all red snapper anglers in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama. “As Chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, I was proud to author and secure federal funding to address the need for better data, which is a fundamental issue plaguing the fishery. The management of red snapper must be grounded in sound science if we want to provide fair access and more days on the water for our anglers. It is my hope that these independent scientists will be able to accurately determine the abundance of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico once and for all.”

Project team will determine abundance and distribution of red snapper
The research will be driven largely by university-based scientists with partners from state and federal agencies, Stunz said.

The funding will allow the scientists to carry out an abundance estimate using multiple sampling methods with a focus on advanced technologies and tagging for various habitat types, he said.

“I’m pleased to see that the independent estimate is moving forward and including the expertise of recreational fishermen,” said Rep. John Culberson of Texas. “I will continue to work with Texas fishermen and NOAA to address the inadequate access to red snapper.”

The project team will determine abundance and distribution of red snapper on artificial, natural and unknown bottom habitat across the northern Gulf of Mexico.

As a statistician chosen for the team, SMU’s Stokes is also an expert in non-sampling survey errors, such as errors by interviewers and respondents. She recently conducted research on evaluating the accuracy of contest judges and on improving estimates of marine fishery yields by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Stokes also contributes to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or “Nation’s Report Card,” examining the way schools and students are selected for the large study.

Besides SMU, others on the team include Texas A&M University, University of Florida, University of South Alabama, Louisiana State University, Florida International University, NOAA Fisheries, Auburn University, Mississippi State University, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, College of William and Mary, University of Southern Mississippi, and the University of South Florida. — Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant and Southern Methodist University

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Study: New simple method determines rate at which we burn calories walking uphill, downhill, and on level ground

New method uses three variables of speed, load carried and slope to improve on the accuracy of existing standards for predicting how much energy people require for walking — a method beneficial to many, including military strategists to model mission success

When military strategists plan a mission, one of many factors is the toll it takes on the Army’s foot soldiers.

A long march and heavy load drains energy. So military strategists are often concerned with the calories a soldier will burn, and the effect of metabolic stress on their overall physiological status, including body temperature, fuel needs and fatigue.

Now scientists at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, have discovered a new more accurate way to predict how much energy a soldier uses walking.

The method was developed with funding from the U.S. military. It significantly improves on two existing standards currently in use, and relies on just three readily available variables.

An accurate quantitative assessment tool is important because the rate at which people burn calories while walking can vary tenfold depending on how fast they walk, if they carry a load, and whether the walk is uphill, downhill or level.

“Our new method improves on the accuracy of the two leading standards that have been in use for nearly 50 years,” said exercise physiologist Lindsay W. Ludlow, an SMU post-doctoral fellow and lead author on the study. “Our model is fairly simple and improves predictions.”

The research is part of a larger load carriage initiative undertaken by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. The average load carried by light infantry foot soldiers in Afghanistan in April and May 2003 was 132 pounds, according to a U.S. Army Borden Institute report.

“Soldiers carry heavy loads, so quantitative information on the consequences of load is critical for many reasons, from planning a route to evaluating the likelihood of mission success,” said SMU biomechanist and physiologist Peter Weyand, @Dr_Weyand.

“The military uses a variety of approaches to model, predict and monitor foot-soldier status and performance, including having soldiers outfitted with wearable devices,” Weyand said. “There is a critical need with modern foot soldiers to understand performance from the perspective of how big a load they are carrying.”

Weyand is senior author on the research and directs the Locomotor Performance Laboratory in the SMU Simmons School of Education, where subjects for the study were tested.

The researchers call their new method the “Minimum Mechanics Model” to reflect that it requires only three basic and readily available inputs to deliver broad accurate predictions. They report their findings in “Walking economy is predictably determined by speed, grade and gravitational load” in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

The necessary variables are the walker’s speed, the grade or slope of the walking surface, and the total weight of the body plus any load the walker is carrying.

“That’s all it takes to accurately predict how much energy a walker burns,” Ludlow said.

While the measurement is a critical one for foot soldiers, it’s also useful for hikers, backpackers, mall-walkers and others who are calorie conscious and may rely on wearable electronic gadgets to track the calories they burn, she said.

Muscle and gait mechanics tightly coupled across speed, grade, load
Existing standards now in use rely on the same three variables, but differently, and with less accuracy and breadth.

The new theory is a departure from the prevailing view that the mechanics of walking are too complex to be both simple and accurate.

“Ultimately, we found that three remarkably simple mechanical variables can provide predictive accuracy across a broad range of conditions,” Ludlow said. “The accuracy achieved provides strong indirect evidence that the muscular activity determining calorie-burn rates during walking is tightly coupled to the speed, surface inclination and total weight terms in our model.”

By using two different sets of research subjects, the researchers independently evaluated their model’s ability to accurately predict the amount of energy burned.

“If muscle and gait mechanics were not tightly coupled across speed, grade and load, the level of predictive accuracy we achieved is unlikely,” Weyand said.

First generalized equation developed directly from a single, large database
The two existing equations that have been the working standards for nearly 50 years were necessarily based on just a few subjects and a limited number of data points.

One standard from the American College of Sports Medicine tested only speed and uphill grades, with its first formulation being based on data from only three individuals.

The other standard, commonly referred to as the Pandolf equation is used more frequently by the military and relies heavily on data from six soldiers combined with earlier experimental results.

In contrast, the generalized equation from SMU was derived from what is believed to be the largest database available for human walking metabolism.

The SMU study tested 32 adult subjects individually under 90 different speed-grade and load conditions on treadmills at the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory, @LocomotorLabSMU.

“The leading standardized equations included only level and uphill inclinations,” Weyand said. “We felt it was important to also provide downhill capabilities since soldiers in the field will encounter negative inclines as frequently as positive ones.”

Subjects fast prior to measuring their resting metabolic rates
Another key element of the SMU lab’s Minimum Mechanics Model is the quantitative treatment of resting metabolic rate.

“To obtain true resting metabolic rate, we had subjects fast for 8 to 12 hours prior to measuring their resting metabolic rates in the early morning,” Ludlow said. “Once at the lab, they laid down for an hour while the researchers measured their resting metabolic rate.”

In separate test sessions, the subjects walked on the treadmill for dozens of trials lasting five minutes each, wearing a mouthpiece and nose clip. In the last two minutes of each trial, the researchers measured steady-state rates of oxygen uptake to determine the rate at which each subject was burning energy.

Adults in one group of 20 subjects were each measured walking without a load at speeds of 0.4 meters per second, 0.7 meters per second, 1 meter per second, 1.3 meters per second and 1.6 meters per second on six different gradients: downhill grades of minus six degrees and minus three degrees; level ground; and uphill at inclines of three degrees, six degrees and nine degrees.

Adults in a second group of 20 were each tested at speeds of 0.6 meters per second, 1 meter per second and 1.4 meters per second on the same six gradients, but they carried loads that were 18 percent of body weight, and 31 percent of body weight.

Walking metabolic rates increased in proportion to increased load
As expected, walking metabolic rates increased in direct proportion to the increase in load, and largely in accordance with support force requirements across both speed and grade, said Weyand and Ludlow.

Weyand is Glenn Simmons Professor of Applied Physiology and professor of biomechanics in the Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. He also is lead scientist for the biomechanics and modeling portion of the Sub-2-Hour marathon project, an international research consortium based in the United Kingdom. — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Sapiens: Why the Famous Folsom Point Isn’t a Smoking Gun

A Folsom spear point was discovered between the ribs of an extinct species of bison — but was it really proof that humans had killed the animal?

The research into the arrival of how and when people first arrived in North America by noted SMU archaeologist David J. Meltzer was covered in the online anthropology magazine Sapiens in a column by Stephen E. Nash, science historian and archaeologist at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

The article, Why the Famous Folsom Point Isn’t a Smoking Gun, published Aug. 29, 2017.

Meltzer, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, conducts original research into the origins, antiquity and adaptations of the first Americans.

Paleoindians colonized the North American continent at the end of the Ice Age. Meltzer focuses on how those hunter-gatherers met the challenges of moving across and adapting to the vast, ecologically diverse landscape of Late Glacial North America during a time of significant climate change.

Meltzer’s archaeology and history research has been supported by grants from the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, The Potts and Sibley Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution. In 1996, he received a research endowment from Joseph and Ruth Cramer to establish the Quest Archaeological Research Program at SMU, which will support in perpetuity research on the earliest occupants of North America.

Read the full story.


By Stephen E. Nash

Remember the iconic Folsom point? The one that I said, in my last post, changed the future of archaeology?

To recap: On August 29, 1927, paleontologists from the Colorado Museum of Natural History (renamed the Denver Museum of Nature & Science in 2000) discovered a stone projectile point embedded in the ribs of an extinct form of bison.

After making that discovery in the field, the researchers left the point sitting where it was and immediately sent out a call to their colleagues to come to northeastern New Mexico to see it for themselves. Within two weeks a number of well-known scientists had visited the site, seen the point in position, and established a scientific consensus: Native Americans lived and hunted in North America during the end of the last Ice Age, about 12,000 years ago, far earlier than they were previously thought to be here.

It turns out, though, that the story at the Folsom Site was more complicated than researchers initially believed. So what has changed since 1927? The latest part of the story began 20 years ago.

In 1997, David Meltzer, an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University who studies “Paleoindians,” the earliest inhabitants of North America, began a three-year project at the Folsom Site to reassess and re-excavate the site using modern tools and techniques—which were not available in the 1920s. His goal was to better understand how, and under what conditions, the Folsom Site formed. Meltzer and his team used now-standard excavation-control techniques to record their findings in three-dimensional space and to determine if any unexcavated areas of the site could be found. In so doing, they hoped to find evidence of the Paleoindian campsite that might have been associated with the main bison-kill and butchering site.

As a result of Meltzer’s research, we now know that the bison-kill event occurred in the fall. How do we know? Bison reproduce, give birth, and grow up on a reasonably predictable annual cycle. Meltzer and his colleagues analyzed dental eruption patterns on excavated bison teeth to determine the season of the kill.

The archaeologists also determined that Folsom hunters were experts at their job, having systematically killed and butchered at least 32 bison at the site.

Read the full story.

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The mystery of leaf size solved by global team of scientists

A global team of researchers, including SMU paleobotanist Bonnie Jacobs, have cracked the mystery of leaf size. The research was published Sept. 1, 2017 as a cover story in Science.

SMU paleobotanist Bonnie F. Jacobs has contributed research to a major new study that provides scientists with a new tool for understanding both ancient and future climate by looking at the size of plant leaves.

Why is a banana leaf a million times bigger than a common heather leaf? Why are leaves generally much larger in tropical jungles than in temperate forests and deserts? The textbooks say it’s a balance between water availability and overheating.

But it’s not that simple, the researchers found.

The study, published in the Sept. 1, 2017 issue of Science, was led by Associate Professor Ian Wright from Macquarie University, Australia. The study’s findings reveal that in much of the world the key factor limiting the size of a plant’s leaves is the temperature at night and the risk of frost damage to leaves.

Jacobs said the implications of the study are significant for enabling scientists to either predict modern leaf size in the distant future, or to understand the climate for a locality as it may have been in the past.

“This research provides scientists with another tool for predicting future changes in vegetation, given climate change, and for describing ancient climate given fossil leaves,” said Jacobs, a professor in SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

“Now we can reliably use this as another way to look at future climate models for a specific location and predict the size of plant leaves,” she said. “Or, if we’re trying to understand what the climate was for a prehistoric site tens of millions of years ago, we can look at the plant fossils discovered in that location and describe what the climate most likely was at that time.”

Wright, Jacobs and 15 colleagues from Australia, the U.K., Canada, Argentina, the United States, Estonia, Spain and China analyzed leaves from more than 7,600 species, then pooled and analyzed the data with new theory to create a series of equations that can predict the maximum viable leaf size anywhere in the world based on the risk of daytime overheating and night-time freezing.

The researchers will use these findings to create more accurate vegetation models. This will be used by governments to predict how vegetation will change locally and globally under climate change, and to plan for adaptation.

Big data solves century-old conundrum
The iconic paintings of Henri Rousseau illustrate that when we think of steamy tropics we expect large leaves. But for scientists it’s been a century-old conundrum: why does leaf size vary with latitude – from very small near the poles to massive leaves in the tropics?

“The conventional explanation was that water availability and overheating were the two major limits to leaf size. But the data didn’t fit,” says Wright. “For example the tropics are both wet and hot, and leaves in cooler parts of the world are unlikely to overheat.”

“Our team worked both ends of the problem – observation and theory,” he says. “We used big data – measurements made on tens of thousands of leaves. By sampling across all continents, climate zones and plant types we were able to show that simple ‘rules’ seemingly operate across the world’s plant species, rules that were not apparent from previous, more limited analyses.”

Jacobs contributed an extensive leaf database she compiled about 20 years ago, funded by a National Science Foundation grant. She analyzed the leaf characteristics of 880 species of modern tropical African plants, which occurred in various combinations among 30 plant communities. Jacobs measured leaves of the plant specimens at the Missouri Botanical Garden Herbarium, one of the largest archives of pressed dried plant specimens from around the world.

She looked at all aspects of leaf shape and climate, ranging from seasonal and annual rainfall and temperature for each locale, as well as leaf shape, size, tip, base, among others. Using statistical analyses to plot the variables, she found the most prominent relationship between leaf shape and climate was that size increases with rainfall amount. Wet sites had species with larger leaves than dry sites.

Her Africa database was added to those of many other scientists who have compiled similar data for other localities around the world.

Threat of night time frost damage determines the size of a leaf
“Using our knowledge of plant function and biophysics we developed a fresh take on ‘leaf energy balance’ theory, and compared our predictions to observed leaf sizes,” Wright says.

“The most surprising result was that over much of the world the maximum size of leaves is set not by the risk of overheating, but rather by the risk of damaging frost at night. Larger leaves have thicker, insulating ‘boundary layers’ of still air that slows their ability to draw heat from their surroundings – heat that is needed to compensate for longwave energy lost to the night-time sky,” says co-author Colin Prentice from Imperial College London, who co-ordinated the mathematical modelling effort.

“International collaborations are making ecology into a predictive science at global scale,” says Emeritus Professor Mark Westoby. “At Macquarie University we’re proud to have led this networking over the past 20 years.” — Margaret Allen, SMU, and Macquarie University

By Ian Wright
Macquarie University

As a plant ecologist, I try to understand variation in plant traits (the physical, chemical and physiological properties of their tissues) and how this variation affects plant function in different ecosystems.

For this study I worked with 16 colleagues from Australia, the UK, Canada, Argentina, the US, Estonia, Spain and China to analyse leaves from more than 7,600 species. We then teamed the data with new theory to create a model that can predict the maximum viable leaf size anywhere in the world, based on the dual risks of daytime overheating and night-time freezing.

These findings will be used to improve global vegetation models, which are used to predict how vegetation will change under climate change, and also to better understand past climates from leaf fossils.

From giants to dwarfs
The world’s plant species vary enormously in the typical size of their leaves; from 1 square millimetre in desert species such as common eutaxia (Eutaxia microphylla), or in common heather (Calluna vulgaris) in Europe, to as much as 1 square metre in tropical species like Musa textilis, the Filipino banana tree.

But what is the physiological or ecological significance of all this variation in leaf size? How does it affect the way that plants “do business”, using leaves as protein-rich factories that trade water (transpiration) for carbon (photosynthesis), powered by energy from the sun?

More than a century ago, early plant ecologists such as Eugenius Warming argued that it was the high rainfall in the tropics that allowed large-leaved species to flourish there.

In the 1960s and ‘70s physicists and physiologists tackled the problem, showing that in mid-summer large leaves are more prone to overheating, requiring higher rates of “transpirational cooling” (a process akin to sweating) to avoid damage. This explained why many desert species have small leaves, and why species growing in cool, shaded understoreys (below the tree canopy) can have large leaves.

But still there were missing pieces to this puzzle. For example, the tropics are both wet and hot, and these theories predicted disadvantages for large-leafed species in hot regions. And, in any case, overheating must surely be unlikely for leaves in many cooler parts of the world.

Our research aimed to find these missing pieces. By collecting samples from all continents, climate zones and plant types, our team found simple “rules” that appear to apply to all of the world’s plant species – rules that were not apparent from previous, more limited analyses.

We found the key factors are day and night temperatures, rainfall and solar radiation (largely determined by distance from the Equator and the amount of cloud cover). The interaction of these factors means that in hot and sunny regions that are also very dry, most species have small leaves, but in hot or sunny regions that receive high rainfall, many species have large leaves. Finally, in very cold regions (e.g. at high elevation, or at high northern latitudes), most species have small leaves.

But the most surprising results emerged from teaming the new theory for leaf size, leaf temperature and water use with the global data analyses, to investigate what sets the maximum size of leaves possible at any point on the globe.

Read the author’s full essay

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Sapiens: Can Medical Anthropology Solve the Diabetes Dilemma?

As the number of sufferers continues to rise, some researchers are moving in new directions to figure out how culture and lifestyle shape disease outcomes.

Sapiens reporter Kate Ruder covered the research of SMU anthropologist Carolyn Smith-Morris, who has studied diabetes among Arizona’s Pima Indians for more than 15 years.

Smith-Morris wrote about what she learned from her research in her 2006 book, “Diabetes Among the Pima: Stories of Survival.”

The Pima have the highest prevalence of diabetes ever recorded, although the disease is alarmingly on the increase throughout the United States. In an effort to understand the rise of the disease, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) from 1965 to 2007 focused on the Pima to carry out the largest continuous study of diabetes in Native Americans. Researchers examined the environmental and genetic triggers of the disorder, management of the disease, and the treatment of thousands of Pimas.

Smith-Morris is a medical anthropologist and associate professor in the SMU Anthropology Department in Dedman College. Her research addresses chronic disease, particularly diabetes, through ethnographic and mixed methodologies. She has conducted ethnographic research among the Gila River (Akimel O’odham) Indian Community of Southern Arizona, Mexicans and Mexican immigrants to the U.S. and veterans with spinal cord injuries.

The Sapiens article, “Can Medical Anthropology Solve the Diabetes Dilemma?” published Aug. 22, 2017.

Read the full story.


By Kate Ruder

Mary (a pseudonym) was 18 years old and halfway through her second pregnancy when anthropologist Carolyn Smith-Morris met her 10 years ago. Mary, a Pima Indian, was living with her boyfriend, brother, parents, and 9-month-old baby in southern Arizona. She had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes during both of her pregnancies, but she didn’t consider herself diabetic because her diabetes had gone away after her first birth. Perhaps her diagnosis was even a mistake, she felt. Mary often missed her prenatal appointments, because she didn’t have a ride to the hospital from her remote home on the reservation. She considered diabetes testing a “personal thing,” so she didn’t discuss it with her family.

As Smith-Morris’ research revealed, Mary’s story was not unique among Pima women. Many had diabetes, but they didn’t understand the risks. These women’s narratives have helped to explain, in part, why diabetes has been so prevalent in this corner of the world. An astonishing half of all adult Pimas have diabetes.

Medical anthropologists like Smith-Morris are helping the biomedical community untangle the social roots of diabetes and understand how and why the disease is exploding in the United States. Smith-Morris, based out of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, has been working on this cause for over 15 years—from a decade spent among the Pimas, to a new study sponsored by Google aiming to prevent diabetes-related blindness. Anthropology, she says, provides the most holistic perspective of this complex problem: “Anthropology seems to me the only discipline that allows you to look both closely at disease … and from the bird’s eye perspective.”

More than 30 million people in the United States are estimated to have diabetes, and it’s on the rise. If trends continue, 1 out of every 3 American adults could have diabetes by 2050, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The condition involves insulin, a hormone that regulates the way the body uses food for energy. In type 1 diabetes, the body stops making insulin entirely; those affected need daily insulin injections to survive. In type 2 diabetes, which accounts for the vast majority of cases, change is more gradual.The body slowly makes less insulin and becomes less sensitive to it over the years. Gestational diabetes, which strikes during pregnancy, can give mothers a dangerous condition called preeclampsia, which is related to high blood pressure and can harm both mothers and babies. Women with gestational diabetes are more than seven times likelier to later develop type 2 diabetes than women who do not have the condition in pregnancy, and their children are at higher risk of obesity and diabetes. If left untreated, diabetes can cause heart disease, kidney failure, foot problems that can lead to amputation, and blindness.

The preventative measures for type 2 and gestational diabetes are seemingly straightforward: eat healthy foods, lose weight, and exercise. Treatment for both can include taking medications. Yet prevention, lifestyle, and treatment cannot entirely solve the problem; family history, ethnicity, and other factors play a critical role in a person’s susceptibility to type 2 and gestational diabetes. Both forms of diabetes continue to plague Americans, particularly certain groups, including Native Americans. “My interest in diabetes grew out of an interest in Indigenous groups,” says Smith-Morris. “I took on diabetes because it was important to them.”

From 1965 to 2007, the Pimas of Arizona were the focus of the largest continuous study of diabetes in Native Americans. Conducted by researchers from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), it examined the environmental and genetic triggers of the disorder, management of the disease, and the treatment of thousands of Pimas. It also documented that they had the highest prevalence of diabetes ever recorded. The pivotal work told researchers much of what they know about diabetes today, including that obesity is a significant risk factor, and that a mother’s diabetes during pregnancy can pass risk along to her children.

The political and economic contributors to the Pima people’s health problems have long been well-known: Their traditional farming practices collapsed during the late 1800s and early 1900s when non-Native settlers upstream diverted essential water resources, contributing to poverty, sedentariness, and a lack of fresh food. Yet Smith-Morris felt something integral was missing from this picture: the Pimas’ stories.

Read the full story.

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A Total Eclipse of the First Day of School

Dedman College, SMU Physics Department host Great American Solar Eclipse 2017 viewing

Thousands of students, faculty and townspeople showed up to campus Monday, Aug. 21 to observe the Great American Solar Eclipse at a viewing hosted by Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and the SMU Department of Physics.

The festive event coincided with the kick-off of SMU’s Fall Semester and included Solar Eclipse Cookies served while viewing the rare astronomical phenomenon.

The eclipse reached its peak at 1:09 p.m. in Dallas at more than 75% of totality.

“What a great first day of the semester and terrific event to bring everyone together with the help of Dedman College scientists,” said Dedman Dean Thomas DiPiero. “And the eclipse cookies weren’t bad, either.”

Physics faculty provided indirect methods for observing the eclipse, including a telescope with a viewing cone on the steps of historic Dallas Hall, a projection of the eclipse onto a screen into Dallas Hall, and a variety of homemade hand-held devices.

Outside on the steps of Dallas Hall, Associate Professor Stephen Sekula manned his home-built viewing tunnel attached to a telescope for people to indirectly view the eclipse.

“I was overwhelmed by the incredible response of the students, faculty and community,” Sekula said. “The people who flocked to Dallas Hall were energized and engaged. It moved me that they were so interested in — and, in some cases, had their perspective on the universe altered by — a partial eclipse of the sun by the moon.”

A team of Physics Department faculty assembled components to use a mirror to project the eclipse from a telescope on the steps of Dallas Hall into the rotunda onto a screen hanging from the second-floor balcony.

Adjunct Professor John Cotton built the mount for the mirror — with a spare, just in case — and Professor and Department Chairman Ryszard Stroynowski and Sekula arranged the tripod setup and tested the equipment.

Stroynowski also projected an illustration of the Earth, the moon and the sun onto the wall of the rotunda to help people visualize movement and location of those cosmic bodies during the solar eclipse.

Professor Fred Olness handed out cardboard projectors and showed people how to use them to indirectly view the eclipse.

“The turn-out was fantastic,” Olness said. “Many families with children participated, and we distributed cardboard with pinholes so they could project the eclipse onto the sidewalk. It was rewarding that they were enthused by the science.”

Stroynowski, Sekula and others at the viewing event were interviewed by CBS 11 TV journalist Robert Flagg.

Physics Professor Thomas Coan and Guillermo Vasquez, SMU Linux and research computing support specialist, put together a sequence of photos they took during the day from Fondren Science Building.

“The experience of bringing faculty, students and even some out-of-campus community members together by sharing goggles, cameras, and now pictures of one of the great natural events, was extremely gratifying,” Vasquez said.

Sekula said the enthusiastic response from the public is driving plans to prepare for the next event of this kind.

“I’m really excited to share with SMU and Dallas in a total eclipse of the sun on April 8, 2024,” he said.

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LiveScience: Newfound dino looks like creepy love child of a turkey and ostrich

A new giant bird-like dinosaur discovered in China has been named for SMU paleontologist Louis L. Jacobs, Corythoraptor jacobsi, by the scientists who identified the new oviraptorid.

Live Science Senior Writer Laura Geggel covered the discovery of a new Cretaceous Period dinosaur from China that is named for paleontologist Louis L. Jacobs, an SMU professor in SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences.

Jacobs mentored three of the authors on the article. First author on the paper was Junchang Lü, an SMU Ph.D. alum, with co-authors Yuong–Nam Lee and Yoshitsugu Kobayashi, both SMU Ph.D. alums.

The Live Science article, Newfound dino looks like creepy love child of a turkey and ostrich, published July 27, 2017. The dinosaur’s name, Corythoraptor jacobsi, translates to Jacobs’ helmeted thief.

The scientific article “High diversity of the Ganzhou Oviraptorid Fauna increased by a new “cassowary-like” crested species” was published July 27, 2017 in Nature’s online open access mega-journal of primary research Scientific Reports.

Jacobs in 2016 co-authored an analysis of the Cretaceous Period dinosaur Pawpawsaurus based on the first CT scans ever taken of the dinosaur’s skull.

He is president of SMU’s Institute for the Study of Earth and Man.

A world-renowned vertebrate paleontologist, Jacobs in 2012 was honored by the 7,200-member Science Teachers Association of Texas with their prestigious Skoog Cup for his significant contributions to advance quality science education. He joined SMU’s faculty in 1983.

Jacobs is the author of “Quest for the African Dinosaurs: Ancient Roots of the Modern World” (Villard Books and Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2000); “Lone Star Dinosaurs” (Texas A&M U. Press, 1999), which is the basis of a Texas dinosaur exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History; “Cretaceous Airport” (ISEM, 1993); and more than 100 scientific papers and edited volumes.

Read the full story.


By Laura Geggel
Live Science

The newly identified oviraptorid dinosaur Corythoraptor jacobsi has a cassowary-like head crest, known as a casque.

A Chinese farmer has discovered the remains of a dinosaur that could have passed for the ostrich-like cassowary in its day, sporting the flightless bird’s head crest and long thunder thighs, indicating it could run quickly, just like its modern-day lookalike, a new study finds.

The newfound dinosaur’s 6-inch-tall (15 centimeters) head crest is uncannily similar to the cassowary’s headpiece, known as a casque, the researchers said. In fact, the crests have such similar shapes, the cassowary’s may provide clues about how the dinosaur used its crest more than 66 million years ago, they said.

The findings suggest that the dinosaur, which would have towered at 5.5 feet (1.6 meters), may have had a similar lifestyle to the modern cassowary bird (Casuarius unappendiculatus), which is native to Australia and New Guinea, the study’s lead researcher, Junchang Lü, a professor at the Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, told Live Science in an email.

Researchers found the oviraptorid — a type of giant, bird-like dinosaur — in Ganzhou, a city in southern China, in 2013. The specimen was in remarkable shape: The paleontologists found an almost complete skeleton, including the skull and lower jaw, which helped them estimate that the creature was likely a young adult, or at least 8 years of age, when it died.

The long-necked and crested dinosaur lived from about 100 million to 66 million years ago during the late Cretaceous period, and likely used its clawed hands to hunt lizards and other small dinosaurs, Lü added.

The research team named the unique beast Corythoraptor jacobsi. Its genus name refers to the raptor’s cassowary-like crest, and the species name honors Louis Jacobs, a vertebrate paleontologist at Southern Methodist University who mentored three of the study’s researchers.

The researchers think the crest likely served the dinosaur in different ways, they said, including in display, communication and perhaps even as an indication of the dinosaur’s fitness during the mating season.

Read the full story.

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Construction begins on international mega-science neutrino experiment

Groundbreaking held today in South Dakota marks the start of excavation for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility, future home to the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment.

SMU is one of more than 100 institutions from around the world building hardware for a massive international experiment — a particle detector — that could change our understanding of the universe.

Construction will take years and scientists expect to begin taking data in the middle of the next decade, said SMU physicist Thomas E. Coan, a professor in the SMU Department of Physics and a researcher on the experiment.

The turning of a shovelful of earth a mile underground marks a new era in particle physics research. The groundbreaking ceremony was held Friday, July 21, 2017 at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota.

Dignitaries, scientists and engineers from around the world marked the start of construction of the experiment that could change our understanding of the universe.

The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) will house the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. Called DUNE for short, it will be built and operated by a group of roughly 1,000 scientists and engineers from 30 countries, including Coan.

When complete, LBNF/DUNE will be the largest experiment ever built in the United States to study the properties of mysterious particles called neutrinos. Unlocking the mysteries of these particles could help explain more about how the universe works and why matter exists at all.

“DUNE is designed to investigate a broad swath of the properties of neutrinos, one of the universe’s most abundant but still mysterious electrically neutral particles,” Coan said.

The experiment seeks to understand strange phenomena like neutrinos changing identities — called “oscillation” — in mid-flight and the behavioral differences between a neutrino an its anti-neutrino sibling, Coan said.

“A crisp understanding of neutrinos holds promise for understanding why any matter survived annihilation with antimatter from the Big Bang to form the people, planets and stars we see today,” Coan said. “DUNE is also able to probe whether or not the humble proton, found in all atoms of the universe, is actually unstable and ultimately destined to eventually decay away. It even has sensitivity to undertanding how stars explode into supernovae by studying the neutrinos that stream out from them during the explosion.”

Coan also is a principal investigator on NOvA, another neutrino experiment collaboration of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Laboratory. NOvA, in northern Minnesota, is another massive particle detector designed to observe and measure the behavior of neutrinos.

Similar to NOvA, DUNE will be a neutrino beam from Fermilab that runs to Homestake Gold Mine in South Dakota. DUNE’s beam will be more powerful and will take the measurements NOvA is taking to an unprecedented precision, scientists on both experiments have said. Any questions NOvA fails to answer will most certainly be answered by DUNE.

At its peak, construction of LBNF is expected to create almost 2,000 jobs throughout South Dakota and a similar number of jobs in Illinois.

Institutions in dozens of countries will contribute to the construction of DUNE components. The DUNE experiment will attract students and young scientists from around the world, helping to foster the next generation of leaders in the field and to maintain the highly skilled scientific workforce in the United States and worldwide.

Beam of neutrinos will travel 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) through the Earth
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, located outside Chicago, will generate a beam of neutrinos and send them 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) through the Earth to Sanford Lab, where a four-story-high, 70,000-ton detector will be built beneath the surface to catch those neutrinos.

Scientists will study the interactions of neutrinos in the detector, looking to better understand the changes these particles undergo as they travel across the country in less than the blink of an eye.

Ever since their discovery 61 years ago, neutrinos have proven to be one of the most surprising subatomic particles, and the fact that they oscillate between three different states is one of their biggest surprises. That discovery began with a solar neutrino experiment led by physicist Ray Davis in the 1960s, performed in the same underground mine that now will house LBNF/DUNE. Davis shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 2002 for his experiment.

DUNE scientists will also look for the differences in behavior between neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts, antineutrinos, which could give us clues as to why the visible universe is dominated by matter.

DUNE will also watch for neutrinos produced when a star explodes, which could reveal the formation of neutron stars and black holes, and will investigate whether protons live forever or eventually decay, bringing us closer to fulfilling Einstein’s dream of a grand unified theory.

Construction over the next 10 years is funded by DOE with 30 countries
But first, the facility must be built, and that will happen over the next 10 years. Now that the first shovel of earth has been moved, crews will begin to excavate more than 870,000 tons of rock to create the huge underground caverns for the DUNE detector.

Large DUNE prototype detectors are under construction at European research center CERN, a major partner in the project, and the technology refined for those smaller versions will be tested and scaled up when the massive DUNE detectors are built.

This research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science in conjunction with CERN and international partners from 30 countries.

DUNE collaborators come from institutions in Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Madagascar, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States. — Fermilab, SMU

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The New York Times: Something Strange in Usain Bolt’s Stride

Bolt is the fastest sprinter ever in spite of — or because of? — an uneven stride that upends conventional wisdom.

The New York Times reporter Jeré Longman covered the research of SMU biomechanics expert Peter Weyand and his colleagues Andrew Udofa and Laurence Ryan for a story about Usain Bolt’s apparent asymmetrical running stride.

The article, “Something Strange in Usain Bolt’s Stride,” published July 20, 2017.

The researchers in the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory reported in June that world champion sprinter Usain Bolt may have an asymmetrical running gait. While not noticeable to the naked eye, Bolt’s potential asymmetry emerged after the researchers dissected race video to assess his pattern of ground-force application — literally how hard and fast each foot hits the ground. To do so they measured the “impulse” for each foot.

Biomechanics researcher Udofa presented the findings at the 35th International Conference on Biomechanics in Sport in Cologne, Germany. His presentation, “Ground Reaction Forces During Competitive Track Events: A Motion Based Assessment Method,” was delivered June 18.

The analysis thus far suggests that Bolt’s mechanics may vary between his left leg to his right. The existence of an unexpected and potentially significant asymmetry in the fastest human runner ever would help scientists better understand the basis of maximal running speeds. Running experts generally assume asymmetry impairs performance and slows runners down.

Udofa has said the observations raise the immediate scientific question of whether a lack of symmetry represents a personal mechanical optimization that makes Bolt the fastest sprinter ever or exists for reasons yet to be identified.

Weyand, who is Glenn Simmons Professor of Applied Physiology and professor of biomechanics in the Department of Applied Physiology & Wellness in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development, is director of the Locomotor Lab.

An expert on human locomotion and the mechanics of running, Weyand has been widely interviewed about the running controversy surrounding double-amputee South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius. Weyand co-led a team of scientists who are experts in biomechanics and physiology in conducting experiments on Pistorius and the mechanics of his racing ability.

For his most recently published research, Weyand was part of a team that developed a concise approach to understanding the mechanics of human running. The research has immediate application for running performance, injury prevention, rehab and the individualized design of running shoes, orthotics and prostheses. The work integrates classic physics and human anatomy to link the motion of individual runners to their patterns of force application on the ground — during jogging, sprinting and at all speeds in between.

They described the two-mass model earlier this year in the Journal of Experimental Biology in their article, “A general relationship links gait mechanics and running ground reaction forces.” It’s available at bitly,

The New York Times subscribers or readers with remaining limited free access can read the full story.


By Jeré Longman
The New York Times

DALLAS — Usain Bolt of Jamaica appeared on a video screen in a white singlet and black tights, sprinting in slow motion through the final half of a 100-meter race. Each stride covered nine feet, his upper body moving up and down almost imperceptibly, his feet striking the track and rising so rapidly that his heels did not touch the ground.

Bolt is the fastest sprinter in history, the world-record holder at 100 and 200 meters and the only person to win both events at three Olympics. Yet as he approaches his 31st birthday and retirement this summer, scientists are still trying to fully understand how Bolt achieved his unprecedented speed.

Last month, researchers here at Southern Methodist University, among the leading experts on the biomechanics of sprinting, said they found something unexpected during video examination of Bolt’s stride: His right leg appears to strike the track with about 13 percent more peak force than his left leg. And with each stride, his left leg remains on the ground about 14 percent longer than his right leg.

This runs counter to conventional wisdom, based on limited science, that an uneven stride tends to slow a runner down.

So the research team at S.M.U.’s Locomotor Performance Laboratory is considering a number of questions as Bolt prepares for what he said would be his final performances at a major international competition — the 100 meters and 4×100-meter relay next month at the world track and field championships in London.

Among those questions: Does evenness of stride matter for speed? Did Bolt optimize this irregularity to become the fastest human? Or, with a more balanced stride during his prime, could he have run even faster than 9.58 seconds at 100 meters and 19.19 seconds at 200 meters?

“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Peter Weyand, director of the S.M.U. lab.

The S.M.U. study of Bolt, led by Andrew Udofa, a doctoral researcher, is not yet complete. And the effect of asymmetrical strides on speed is still not well understood. But rather than being detrimental for Bolt, the consequences of an uneven stride may actually be beneficial, Weyand said.

It could be that Bolt has naturally settled into his stride to accommodate the effects of scoliosis. The condition curved his spine to the right and made his right leg half an inch shorter than his left, according to his autobiography.

Initial findings from the study were presented last month at an international conference on biomechanics in Cologne, Germany. Most elite sprinters have relatively even strides, but not all. The extent of Bolt’s variability appears to be unusual, Weyand said.

“Our working idea is that he’s probably optimized his speed, and that asymmetry reflects that,” Weyand said. “In other words, correcting his asymmetry would not speed him up and might even slow him down. If he were to run symmetrically, it could be an unnatural gait for him.”

Antti Mero, an exercise physiologist at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland, who has researched Bolt’s fastest races, said he was intrigued by the S.M.U. findings.

The New York Times subscribers or readers with remaining limited free access can read the full story.

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SMU and LIFT team named one of eight semifinalists for $7M Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPrize

SMU’s “Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis” adult literacy video game is puzzle-solving smartphone game app to help adults develop literacy skills

The SMU and Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) team was named today one of eight semifinalists in the $7 million Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE presented by Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

The XPRIZE is a global competition that challenges teams to develop mobile applications designed to increase literacy skills in adult learners.

SMU participants include education experts from SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, along with video game developers from SMU Guildhall — a graduate school video game development program. They are working with literacy experts from LIFT to design an engaging, puzzle-solving smartphone app to help adults develop literacy skills. Students from LIFT help test the game.

The SMU and LIFT team, People ForWords, is one of 109 teams who entered the competition in 2016. The team developed “Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis.”

In the game, players become archeologists hunting for relics from the imagined once-great civilization of Atlantis. By deciphering the forgotten language of Atlantis, players develop and strengthen their own reading skills. The game targets English- and Spanish-speaking adults.

Students at LIFT, a North Texas nonprofit adult literacy provider, have tested and provided key insights for the game during its development. According to LIFT, one in five adults in North Texas cannot read, a key factor in poverty. Dallas has the fourth highest concentration of poverty in the nation, with a 41 percent increase from 2000 to 2014. LIFT is one of the largest and most widely respected adult basic education programs in Texas and offers adult basic literacy, GED preparation and English as a Second Language programs with the goal of workforce empowerment.

Testing of the eight semi-finalists’ literacy software begins in mid-July with 12,000 adults who read English at a third grade level or lower. Selection of up to five finalists will depend on results of post-game testing to evaluate literacy gains among test subjects. Finalists will be named in May of 2018 and the winner will be named in 2019. — Nancy George, SMU

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Better than Star Wars: Chemistry discovery yields 3-D table-top objects crafted from light

Photoswitch chemistry allows construction of light shapes into structures that have volume and are viewable from 360 degrees, making them useful for biomedical imaging, teaching, engineering, TV, movies, video games and more

A scientist’s dream of 3-D projections like those he saw years ago in a Star Wars movie has led to new technology for making animated 3-D table-top objects by structuring light.

The new technology uses photoswitch molecules to bring to life 3-D light structures that are viewable from 360 degrees, says chemist Alexander Lippert, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, who led the research.

The economical method for shaping light into an infinite number of volumetric objects would be useful in a variety of fields, from biomedical imaging, education and engineering, to TV, movies, video games and more.

“Our idea was to use chemistry and special photoswitch molecules to make a 3-D display that delivers a 360-degree view,” said Lippert, an assistant professor in the SMU Department of Chemistry. “It’s not a hologram, it’s really three-dimensionally structured light.”

Key to the technology is a molecule that switches between non-fluorescent and fluorescent in reaction to the presence or absence of ultraviolet light.

The new technology is not a hologram, and differs from 3-D movies or 3-D computer design. Those are flat displays that use binocular disparity or linear perspective to make objects appear three-dimensional when in fact they only have height and width and lack a true volume profile.

“When you see a 3-D movie, for example, it’s tricking your brain to see 3-D by presenting two different images to each eye,” Lippert said. “Our display is not tricking your brain — we’ve used chemistry to structure light in three actual dimensions, so no tricks, just a real three-dimensional light structure. We call it a 3-D digital light photoactivatable dye display, or 3-D Light Pad for short, and it’s much more like what we see in real life.”

At the heart of the SMU 3-D Light Pad technology is a “photoswitch” molecule, which can switch from colorless to fluorescent when shined with a beam of ultraviolet light.

The researchers discovered a chemical innovation for tuning the photoswitch molecule’s rate of thermal fading — its on-off switch — by adding to it the chemical amine base triethylamine.

Now the sky is the limit for the new SMU 3-D Light Pad technology, given the many possible uses, said Lippert, an expert in fluorescence and chemiluminescence — using chemistry to explore the interaction between light and matter.

For example, conference calls could feel more like face-to-face meetings with volumetric 3-D images projected onto chairs. Construction and manufacturing projects could benefit from rendering them first in 3-D to observe and discuss real-time spatial information. For the military, uses could include tactical 3-D replications of battlefields on land, in the air, under water or even in space.

Volumetric 3-D could also benefit the medical field.

“With real 3-D results of an MRI, radiologists could more readily recognize abnormalities such as cancer,” Lippert said. “I think it would have a significant impact on human health because an actual 3-D image can deliver more information.”

Unlike 3-D printing, volumetric 3-D structured light is easily animated and altered to accommodate a change in design. Also, multiple people can simultaneously view various sides of volumetric display, conceivably making amusement parks, advertising, 3-D movies and 3-D games more lifelike, visually compelling and entertaining.

Lippert and his team in The Lippert Research Group report on the new technology and the discovery that made it possible in the article “A volumetric three-dimensional digital light photoactivatable dye display,” published in the journal Nature Communications.

Some of the 3-D images generated with the new technology are viewable in this video.

Co-authors are Shreya K. Patel, lead author, and Jian Cao, both students in the SMU Department of Chemistry.

Genesis of an idea — cinematic inspiration
The idea to shape light into volumetric animated 3-D objects came from Lippert’s childhood fascination with the movie “Star Wars.” Specifically he was inspired when R2-D2 projects a hologram of Princess Leia. Lippert’s interest continued with the holodeck in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

“As a kid I kept trying to think of a way to invent this,” Lippert said. “Then once I got a background in chemistry molecules that interact with light, and an understanding of photoswitches, it finally dawned on me that I could take two beams of light and use chemistry to manipulate the emission of light.”

Key to the new technology was discovering how to turn the chemical photoswitch off and on instantly, and generating light emissions from the intersection of two different light beams in a solution of the photoactivatable dye, he said.

SMU graduate student in chemistry Jian Cao hypothesized the activated photoswitch would turn off quickly by adding the base. He was right.

“The chemical innovation was our discovery that by adding one drop of triethylamine, we could tune the rate of thermal fading so that it instantly goes from a pink solution to a clear solution,” Lippert said. “Without a base, the activation with UV light takes minutes to hours to fade back and turn off, which is a problem if you’re trying to make an image. We wanted the rate of reaction with UV light to be very fast, making it switch on. We also wanted the off-rate to be very fast so the image doesn’t bleed.”

SMU 3-D Light Pad
In choosing among various photoswitch dyes, the researchers settled on N-phenyl spirolactam rhodamines. That particular class of rhodamine dyes was first described in the late 1970s and made use of by Stanford University’s Nobel prize-winning W.E. Moerner.

The dye absorbs light within the visible region, making it appropriate to fluoresce light. Shining it with UV radiation, specifically, triggers a photochemical reaction and forces it to open up and become fluorescent.

Turning off the UV light beam shuts down fluorescence, diminishes light scattering, and makes the reaction reversible — ideal for creating an animated 3-D image that turns on and off.

“Adding triethylamine to switch it off and on quickly was a key chemical discovery that we made,” Lippert said.

To produce a viewable image they still needed a setup to structure the light.

Structuring light in a table-top display
The researchers started with a custom-built, table-top, quartz glass imaging chamber 50 millimeters by 50 millimeters by 50 millimeters to house the photoswitch and to capture light.

Inside they deployed a liquid solvent, dichloromethane, as the matrix in which to dissolve the N-phenyl spirolactam rhodamine, the solid, white crystalline photoswitch dye.

Next they projected patterns into the chamber to structure light in two dimensions. They used an off-the-shelf Digital Light Processing (DLP) projector purchased at Best Buy for beaming visible light.

The DLP projector, which reflects visible light via an array of microscopically tiny mirrors on a semiconductor chip, projected a beam of green light in the shape of a square. For UV light, the researchers shined a series of UV light bars from a specially made 385-nanometer Light-Emitting Diode projector from the opposite side.

Where the light intersected and mixed in the chamber, there was displayed a pattern of two-dimensional squares stacked across the chamber. Optimized filter sets eliminated blue background light and allowed only red light to pass.

To get a static 3-D image, they patterned the light in both directions, with a triangle from the UV and a green triangle from the visible, yielding a pyramid at the intersection, Lippert said.

From there, one of the first animated 3-D images the researchers created was the SMU mascot, Peruna, a racing mustang.

“For Peruna — real-time 3-D animation — SMU undergraduate student Shreya Patel found a way to beam a UV light bar and keep it steady, then project with the green light a movie of the mustang running,” Lippert said.

So long Renaissance
Today’s 3-D images date to the Italian Renaissance and its leading architect and engineer.

“Brunelleschi during his work on the Baptistery of St. John was the first to use the mathematical representation of linear perspective that we now call 3-D. This is how artists used visual tricks to make a 2-D picture look 3-D,” Lippert said. “Parallel lines converge at a vanishing point and give a strong sense of 3-D. It’s a useful trick but it’s striking we’re still using a 500-year-old technique to display 3-D information.”

The SMU 3-D Light Pad technology, patented in 2016, has a number of advantages over contemporary attempts by others to create a volumetric display but that haven’t emerged as commercially viable.

Some of those have been bulky or difficult to align, while others use expensive rare earth metals, or rely on high-powered lasers that are both expensive and somewhat dangerous.

The SMU 3-D Light Pad uses lower light powers, which are not only cheaper but safer. The matrix for the display is also economical, and there are no moving parts to fabricate, maintain or break down.

Lippert and his team fabricated the SMU 3-D Light Pad for under $5,000 through a grant from the SMU University Research Council.

“For a really modest investment we’ve done something that can compete with more expensive $100,000 systems,” Lippert said. “We think we can optimize this and get it down to a couple thousand dollars or even lower.”

Next Gen: SMU 3-D Light Pad 2.0
The resolution quality of a 2-D digital photograph is stated in pixels. The more pixels, the sharper and higher-quality the image. Similarly, 3-D objects are measured in voxels — a pixel but with volume. The current 3-D Light Pad can generate more than 183,000 voxels, and simply scaling the volume size should increase the number of voxels into the millions – equal to the number of mirrors in the DLP micromirror arrays.

For their display, the SMU researchers wanted the highest resolution possible, measured in terms of the minimum spacing between any two of the bars. They achieved 200 microns, which compares favorably to 100 microns for a standard TV display or 200 microns for a projector.

The goal now is to move away from a liquid vat of solvent for the display to a solid cube table display. Optical polymer, for example, would weigh about the same as a TV set. Lippert also toys with the idea of an aerosol display.

The researchers hope to expand from a monochrome red image to true color, based on mixing red, green and blue light. They are working to optimize the optics, graphics engine, lenses, projector technology and photoswitch molecules.

“I think it’s a very fascinating area. Everything we see — all the color we see — arises from the interaction of light with matter,” Lippert said. “The molecules in an object are absorbing a wavelength of light and we see all the rest that’s reflected. So when we see blue, it’s because the object is absorbing all the red light. What’s more, it is actually photoswitch molecules in our eyes that start the process of translating different wavelengths of light into the conscious experience of color. That’s the fundamental chemistry and it builds our entire visual world. Being immersed in chemistry every day — that’s the filter I’m seeing everything through.”

The SMU discovery and new technology, Lippert said, speak to the power of encouraging young children.

“They’re not going to solve all the world’s problems when they’re seven years old,” he said. “But ideas get seeded and if they get nurtured as children grow up they can achieve things we never thought possible.” — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Does symmetry matter for speed? Study finds Usain Bolt may have asymmetrical running gait

A new method for assessing patterns of ground-force application suggests the right and left legs of the world’s fastest man may perform differently, defying current scientific assumptions about running speed.

World champion sprinter Usain Bolt may have an asymmetrical running gait, according to data recently presented by researchers from Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

While not noticeable to the naked eye, Bolt’s potential asymmetry emerged after SMU researchers assessed the running mechanics of the world’s fastest man.

The analysis thus far suggests that Bolt’s mechanics may vary between his left leg and his right, said Andrew Udofa, a biomechanics researcher in the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory.

The existence of an unexpected and potentially significant asymmetry in the fastest human runner ever would help scientists better understand the basis of maximal running speeds. Running experts generally assume asymmetry impairs performance and slows runners down.

“Our observations raise the immediate scientific question of whether a lack of symmetry represents a personal mechanical optimization that makes Bolt the fastest sprinter ever or exists for reasons yet to be identified,” said Udofa, a member of the research team.

The SMU Locomotor Lab, led by Peter Weyand, focuses on the mechanical basis of human performance. The group includes physicist and engineer Laurence Ryan, an expert in force and motion analysis, and doctoral researcher Udofa.

The intriguing possibility of Bolt’s asymmetry emerged after the SMU researchers decided to assess his pattern of ground-force application — literally how hard and fast each foot hits the ground. To do so they measured the “impulse” for each foot.

Impulse is a combination of the amount of force applied to the ground multiplied by the time of foot-ground contact.

“The manner in which Bolt achieves his impulses seems to vary from leg to leg,” Udofa said. “Both the timing and magnitude of force application differed between legs in the steps we have analyzed so far.”

Impulse matters because that’s what determines a runner’s time in the air between steps.

“If a runner has a smaller impulse, they don’t get as much aerial time,” Weyand said. “Our previous published research has shown greater ground forces delivered in shorter periods of foot-ground contact are necessary to achieve faster speeds. This is true in part because aerial times do not differ between fast and slow runners at their top speeds. Consequently, the combination of greater ground forces and shorter contact times is characteristic of the world’s fastest sprinters.”

The researchers didn’t test Bolt in the SMU lab. Instead, they used a new motion-based method to assess the patterns of ground-force application. They analyzed Bolt and other elite runners using existing high-speed race footage available from NBC Universal Sports. The runners were competing in the 2011 Diamond League race at the World Athletics Championships in Monaco.

Udofa analyzed 20 of Bolt’s steps from the Monaco race, averaging data from 10 left and 10 right.

The researchers relied upon foot-ground contact time, aerial time, running velocity and body mass to determine the ground reaction forces using the new method, made possible by the “two-mass model” of running mechanics.

Runners typically run on a force-instrumented treadmill or force plates for research examining running ground-reaction forces. However, the two-mass model method provides a tool that enables motion-based assessments of ground reaction forces without direct force measurements.

“There are new avenues of research the model may make possible because direct-force measurements are not required,” Weyand said. “These include investigations of the importance of symmetry for sprinting performance. The two-mass model may facilitate the acquisition of data from outside the lab to help us better address these kinds of questions.”

Udofa presented the findings at the 35th International Conference on Biomechanics in Sport in Cologne, Germany. His presentation, “Ground Reaction Forces During Competitive Track Events: A Motion Based Assessment Method,” was delivered June 18.

Two-mass model relies on basic motion data
SMU researchers developed the concise two-mass model as a simplified way to predict the entire pattern of force on the ground — from impact to toe-off — with very basic motion data.

The model integrates classic physics and human anatomy to link the motion of individual runners to their patterns of force on the ground.

It provides accurate predictions of the ground force vs. time patterns throughout each instant of the contact period, regardless of limb mechanics, foot-strike type or running speed.

The two-mass model is substantially less complex than other scientific models that explain patterns of ground force application during running. Most existing models are more elaborate in relying on 14 or more variables, many of which are less clearly linked to the human body.

“The two-mass model provides us with a new tool for assessing the crucial early portion of foot-ground contact that is so important for sprinting performance,” said Udofa. “The model advances our ability to assess the impact-phase force and time relationships from motion data only.”

The two-mass model was developed in SMU’s Locomotor Performance Laboratory by Kenneth P. Clark, now an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at West Chester University, West Chester, Pa.; Ryan, a physicist and research engineer at SMU’s Locomotor Performance Laboratory; and Weyand.

The researchers described the two-mass model earlier this year in the Journal of Experimental Biology in their article, “A general relationship links gait mechanics and running ground reaction forces.” It’s available at bitly,

Support for the research came from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.

Weyand is Glenn Simmons Professor of Applied Physiology and professor of biomechanics in the Department of Applied Physiology & Wellness in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development. — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Dallas Innovates: SMU Researchers, Gamers Partner on Cancer Research

Adding the processor power of the network of “Minecraft” gamers could double the amount of computer power devoted to the SMU research project.

Reporter Lance Murray with Dallas Innovates reported on the research of biochemistry professors Pia Vogel and John Wise in the SMU Department of Biological Sciences, and Corey Clark, deputy director of research at SMU Guildhall.

The researchers are leading an SMU assault on cancer in partnership with fans of the popular best-selling video game “Minecraft.”

They are partnering with the world’s vast network of gamers in hopes of discovering a new cancer-fighting drug. Vogel and Wise expect deep inroads in their quest to narrow the search for chemical compounds that improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs.

A boost in computational power by adding crowdsourcing may help the researchers narrow their search.

The Dallas Innovates article, “SMU Researchers, Gamers Partner on Cancer Research,” published June 5, 2017.

Read the full story.


By Lance Murray
Dallas Innovates

Game developers and researchers at SMU are partnering with a worldwide network of gamers who play the popular game in a crowdsourcing effort to beat the disease.

The project is being led by biochemistry professors Pia Vogel and John Wise of the SMU Department of Biological Sciences, and Corey Clark, deputy director of research at SMU Guildhall, the university’s graduate video game development program.

“Crowdsourcing as well as computational power may help us narrow down our search and give us better chances at selecting a drug that will be successful,” Vogel said in a release. “And gamers can take pride in knowing they’ve helped find answers to an important medical problem.”

Vogel and Wise have been utilizing the university’s ManeFrame supercomputer, one of the most powerful academic supercomputers in the country, to sort through millions of compounds that potentially could work in the fight against cancer.

Now, they’re going to try crowdsourced computing.

The researchers believe that the network of gamers will be able to crunch massive amounts of data during routine game play by pooling two weapons — human intuition and the massive computing power of the networked gaming machine processors.

Adding gamers could double processing power
That should more than double the amount of processing power aimed at their research problem.

“If we take a small percentage of the computing power from 25,000 gamers playing our mod we can match ManeFrame’s 120 teraflops of processing power,” said Clark, who is also an adjunct research associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.

“Integrating with the ‘Minecraft’ community should allow us to double the computing power of [SMU’s] supercomputer.”

The research labs of Vogel and Wise are part of the Center for Drug Discovery, Design, and Delivery in SMU’s Dedman College, whose mission is a multidisciplinary focus for scientific research that targets medically important problems in human health, the release said.

According to SMU, the research is partly funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers narrowed a group of compounds that show potential for alleviating the issue of chemotherapy failure after repeated use.

Using gamers in research has happened before
Using human gamers to enhance data-driven research has been done before with success and is a growing practice.

Vogel cited the video game “Foldit.”

Read the full story.

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Study solves mystery of how plants use sunlight to tell time via cell protein signaling

Discovery may someday allow farmers to grow crops in climates where they currently won’t grow and allows scientists to make a subtle, targeted mutation to a specific native plant protein

Findings of a new study solve a key mystery about the chemistry of how plants tell time so they can flower and metabolize nutrients.

The process — a subtle chemical event — takes place in the cells of every plant every second of every day.

The new understanding means farmers may someday grow crops under conditions or in climates where they currently can’t grow, said chemist Brian D. Zoltowski, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, who led the study.

“We now understand the chemistry allowing plants to maintain a natural 24-hour rhythm in sync with their environment. This allows us to tune the chemistry, like turning a dimmer switch up or down, to alter the organism’s ability to keep time,” Zoltowski said. “So we can either make the plant’s clock run faster, or make it run slower. By altering these subtle chemical events we might be able to rationally redesign a plant’s photochemistry to allow it to adapt to a new climate.”

Specifically, the researchers figured out the chemical nuts and bolts of how a chemical bond in the protein Zeitlupe forms and breaks in reaction to sunlight, and the rate at which it does so, to understand how proteins in a plant’s cells signal the plant when to bloom, metabolize, store energy and perform other functions.

Zoltowski’s team, with collaborators at the University of Washington and Ohio State University, have made plant strains with specific changes to the way they are able to respond to blue-light.

“With these plants we demonstrate that indeed we can tune how the organisms respond to their environment in an intelligible manner,” Zoltowski said.

Zoltowski and his colleagues made the discovery by mapping the crystal structure of a plant protein whose function is to measure the intensity of sunlight. The protein is able to translate light intensity to a bond formation event that allows the plant to track the time of day and tell the plant when to bloom or metabolize nutrients.

A plant uses visual cues to constantly read every aspect of its environment and retune its physiological functions to adapt accordingly. Some of these cues are monitored by plant proteins that absorb and transmit light signals — called photoreceptors. The research team specifically studied two key photoreceptors, Zeitlupe (Zite-LOO-puh) and FKF-1.

“Plants have a very complex array of photoreceptors absorbing all different wavelengths of light to recognize every aspect of their environment and adapt accordingly,” said Zoltowski, an assistant professor in the SMU Department of Chemistry. “All their cells and tissue types are working in concert with each other.”

The finding was reported in the article “Kinetics of the LOV domain of Zeitlupe determine its circadian function in Arabidopsis” in the journal eLIFE online in advance of print publication.

Co-author and lead author is Ashutosh Pudasaini, a doctoral graduate from the SMU Department of Chemistry who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas. Other co-authors are Jae Sung Shim, Young Hun Song and Takato Imaizumi, University of Washington, Seattle; Hua Shi and David E. Somers, Ohio State University; and Takatoshi Kiba, RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science, Japan.

The research is funded through a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health awarded to Zoltowski’s lab.

Nighttime is the right time for plants to grow
“If you live in the Midwest, people say you hear the corn growing at night,” said Zoltowski, who grew up in rural Wisconsin.

“During the day, a plant is storing as much energy as it can by absorbing photons of sunlight, so that during the evening it can do all its metabolism and growth and development. So there’s this separation between day and night.”

Plants measure these day and night oscillations as well as seasonal changes. Knowledge already existed of the initial chemistry, biology and physiology of that process.

In addition, Zoltowski and colleagues published in 2013 the discovery that the amino acids in Zeitlupe — working like a dimmer switch — gradually get more active as daytime turns to evening, thereby managing the 24-hour Circadian rhythm. Additionally, they found that FKF-1 is very different from Zeitlupe. FKF-1 switches on with morning light and measures seasonal changes, otherwise called photoperiodism.

But a knowledge gap remained. It was a mystery how the information is integrated by the organism.

“Ultimately that has to be related to some kind of chemical event occurring, some kind of chemical timekeeper,” Zoltowski said. “So by following that trail we figured out how the chemistry works.”

Dark state and light state snapshots
The problem required a two-pronged approach: Solving the structure of the protein to understand how forming and breaking bonds changes how the organism perceives its environment; and solving the chemistry, specifically the crystal structures of the protein’s dark and light states.

That process yielded a snapshot of the protein in the dark state and a snapshot of the protein in the light state, so the researchers could watch changes in protein structure in response to the bond-forming event.

From there, the researchers made mathematical models 1) that explain how the chemistry of the bond breaking and bond forming event, and the rate at which it occurs, should affect the organism; and 2) that design mutations to the protein that affect how it goes from the dark state to the light state to block that process.

Standard techniques yielded the discovery
The team used a few standard techniques. To get at the chemistry, they deployed ultra-violet visible spectroscopy to measure how efficiently proteins absorb light. They followed differences in the absorption spectrum, seeing what wavelengths are absorbed, to track chemical changes between the dark and the light states.

On the structure side, they crystallized the proteins and collected data at synchrotron sources at Cornell University, then mapped out like a puzzle where all the electrons are located in the crystal. From there they could fit and build — amino acid by amino acid — the protein, yielding a three-dimensional image of where every atom in the protein is located.

“This gives us pictures and snapshots of all those discrete events, where then we can look at how the atoms are moving and changing from one to the other,” Zoltowski said. “That allows us to see the bonds forming, the bonds breaking, and how the rest of the protein changes in response to that.”

Why didn’t we think of that?
The question has been an important one in the field, but challenging technical hurdles thwarted solutions, said Zoltowski. The key for his team was persistence and years of experience.

“This is not an easy protein to work with — it’s difficult to get crystals of these proteins. It requires a protein that is stable enough and will interact in a way that it yields a perfectly ordered crystal. So it’s difficult to do the chemistry and the structures. Researchers have struggled with getting adequate amounts of protein to be able to do these types of characterizations,” he said.

Think of it like a diamond, Zoltowski said, which is a perfectly ordered crystal that is just carbon atoms arranged in a specific way.

“Zeitlupe and FKF-1 have thousands of atoms in each protein, and in order to get a crystal, each molecule of the protein needs to arrange itself with the same type of accuracy and precision as carbon atoms in a diamond. Getting that to occur, where they pack nicely together, is non trivial. And some proteins just are really challenging to work with.”

Zoltowski and his colleagues have been fortunate in having years of experience working with these families of proteins, called the Light-oxygen-voltage-sensing domains, or LOV domains, for short.

“So we’ve developed a lot of skills and techniques over the years that can get over some of the technical hurdles,” he said. “So just from gaining experience over time, we’ve gotten better with working with some very difficult proteins. It makes something that is challenging, much more tractable for our lab.”

Does this apply to all LOV proteins in every plant?
Zeitlupe is a German word that means slow motion. The protein was dubbed Zeitlupe because scientists discovered when they found mutations of this protein previously that it made the Circadian clock run slower. It naturally altered the way the organism perceived time.

“We wanted to understand the proteins well enough that we could selectively alter the chemistry, or selectively alter the structure, to create mutations that would be testable in the organism,” Zoltowski said. “We wanted a predictive model that would tell us that these mutations that affect the kinetics — the rate at which this bond breaks — should do ‘X’ in the organism.”

The team’s new discovery results in hybrid plants — something nature already does and has done for millions of years through the process of evolution so that plants adapt to survive.

“We’re not putting anything into the plant or changing its genetics,” Zoltowski said. “We’re making a very subtle, targeted mutation to a specific protein that already is a native plant protein — and one that we’ve shown in this paper has evolved considerably throughout various different agricultural crops to already do this.”

The discovery gives scientists the ability to rationally interpret environmental information affecting a plant in order to introduce mutations, instead of relying on selective breeding to achieve a targeted mutation to generate phenotypes that potentially allow the plant to grow in a different environment.

What’s next?
The research opens a lot of new doors, including new questions about how these proteins are changing their configuration and how other variables, like oxidative stress, couple with the plant’s global sensory networks to also alter proteins and send multiple signals from the environment.

“What we’ve learned is that you need to pay careful attention to specific parts of the protein because they’re modulating activity selectively in different categories of this family,” Zoltowski said. “If we look at the whole family of these proteins, there are key amino acids that are evolutionarily selected, so they evolve specific modulations of this activity for their own independent niche in the environment. One of the take-homes is there are areas in the protein we need to look at to see how the amino acids are now different.”

Besides the NIH grant, the lab operates with $250,000 from the American Chemical Society’s Herman Frasch Foundation for Chemical Research Grants in Agricultural Chemistry. — Margaret Allen

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SMU Guildhall and cancer researchers level up to tap human intuition of video gamers in quest to beat cancer

Massive computational power of online “Minecraft” gaming community bests supercomputers

Video gamers have the power to beat cancer, according to cancer researchers and video game developers at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

SMU researchers and game developers are partnering with the world’s vast network of gamers in hopes of discovering a new cancer-fighting drug.

Biochemistry professors Pia Vogel and John Wise in the SMU Department of Biological Sciences, and Corey Clark, deputy director of research at SMU Guildhall, are leading the SMU assault on cancer in partnership with fans of the popular best-selling video game “Minecraft.”

Vogel and Wise expect deep inroads in their quest to narrow the search for chemical compounds that improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs.

“Crowdsourcing as well as computational power may help us narrow down our search and give us better chances at selecting a drug that will be successful,” said Vogel. “And gamers can take pride in knowing they’ve helped find answers to an important medical problem.”

Up to now, Wise and Vogel have tapped the high performance computing power of SMU’s Maneframe, one of the most powerful academic supercomputers in the nation. With ManeFrame, Wise and Vogel have sorted through millions of compounds that have the potential to work. Now, the biochemists say, it’s time to take that research to the next level — crowdsourced computing.

A network of gamers can crunch massive amounts of data during routine gameplay by pairing two powerful weapons: the best of human intuition combined with the massive computing power of networked gaming machine processors.

Taking their research to the gaming community will more than double the amount of machine processing power attacking their research problem.

“With the distributed computing of the actual game clients, we can theoretically have much more computing power than even the supercomputer here at SMU,” said Clark, also adjunct research associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. SMU Guildhall in March was named No. 1 among the Top 25 Top Graduate Schools for Video Game Design by The Princeton Review.

“If we take a small percentage of the computing power from 25,000 gamers playing our mod we can match ManeFrame’s 120 teraflops of processing power,” Clark said. “Integrating with the ‘Minecraft’ community should allow us to double the computing power of that supercomputer.”

Even more importantly, the gaming community adds another important component — human intuition.

Wise believes there’s a lot of brainpower eager to be tapped in the gaming community. And human brains, when tackling a problem or faced with a challenge, can make creative and intuitive leaps that machines can’t.

“What if we learn things that we never would have learned any other way? And even if it doesn’t work it’s still a good idea and the kids will still get their endorphin kicks playing the game,” Wise said. “It also raises awareness of the research. Gamers will be saying ‘Mom don’t tell me to go to bed, I’m doing scientific research.”

The Vogel and Wise research labs are part of the Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery (CD4) in SMU’s Dedman College. The center’s mission is a novel multi-disciplinary focus for scientific research targeting medically important problems in human health. Their research is funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

The research question in play
Vogel and Wise have narrowed a group of compounds that show promise for alleviating the problem of chemotherapy failure after repeated use. Each one of those compounds has 50 to 100 — or even more — characteristics that contribute to their efficacy.

“Corey’s contribution will hopefully tell us which dozen perhaps of these 100 characteristics are the important ones,” Vogel said. “Right now of those 100 characteristics, we don’t know which ones are good ones. We want to see if there’s a way with what we learn from Corey’s gaming system to then apply what we learn to millions of other compounds to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

James McCormick — a fifth year Ph.D. student in cellular molecular biology who earned his doctoral degree this spring and is a researcher with the Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery — produced the data set for Clark and Guildhall.

Lauren Ammerman, a first-year Ph.D. student in cellular and molecular biology and also working in the Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery, is taking up the computational part of the project.

Machines can learn from human problem solving
Crowdsourcing video gamers to solve real scientific problems is a growing practice.

Machine learning and algorithms by themselves don’t always find the best solution, Clark said. There are already examples of researchers who for years sought answers with machine learning, then switched to actual human gamers.

Gamers take unstructured data and attack it with human problem-solving skills to quickly find an answer.

“So we’re combining both,” Clark said. “We’re going to have both computers and humans trying to find relationships and clustering the data. Each of those human decisions will also be supplied as training input into a deep neural network that is learning the ‘human heuristic’ — the technique and processes humans are using to make their decisions.”

Gamers already have proven they can solve research problems that have stymied scientists, says Vogel. She cites the video game “Foldit” created by the University of Washington specifically to unlock the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme.

Some other Games With A Purpose, as they’re called, have produced similar results. Humans outperform computers when it comes to tasks in the computational process that are particularly suited to the human intellect.

“With ‘Foldit,’ researchers worked on a problem for 15 years using machine learning techniques and were unable to find a solution,” Clark said. “Once they created the game, 57,000 players found a solution in three weeks.”

Modifying the “Minecraft” game and embedding research data inside
Gamers will access the research problem using the version of “Minecraft” they purchased, then install a “mod” or “plugin” — gamer jargon for modifying game code to expand a game’s possibilities — that incorporates SMUs research problem and was developed in accordance with “Minecraft” terms of service. Players will be fully aware of their role in the research, including ultimately leaderboards that show where players rank toward analyzing the data set in the research problem.

SMU is partnering with leaders in the large “Minecraft” modding community to develop a functioning mod by the end of 2017. The game will be heavily tested before release to the public the second quarter of 2018, Clark said.

The SMU “Minecraft” mod will incorporate a data processing and distributed computing platform from game technology company Balanced Media Technology (BMT), McKinney, Texas. BMT’s HEWMEN software platform executes machine-learning algorithms coupled with human guided interactions. It will integrate Wise and Vogel’s research directly into the SMU “Minecraft” mod.

SMU Guildhall will provide the interface enabling modders to develop their own custom game mechanic that visualizes and interacts with the research problem data within the “Minecraft” game environment. Guildhall research is funded in part by Balanced Media Technology.

“We expect to have over 25,000 people continuously online during our testing period,” Clark said. “That should probably double the computing power of the supercomputer here.”

That many players and that much computing power is a massive resource attacking the research problem, Wise said.

“The SMU computational system has 8,000 computer cores. Even if I had all of ManeFrame to myself, that’s still less computing and brainpower than the gaming community,” he said. “Here we’ve got more than 25,000 different brains at once. So even if 24,000 don’t find an answer, there are maybe 1,000 geniuses playing ‘Minecraft’ that may find a solution. This is the most creative thing I’ve heard in a long time.” — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Texas Tribune: The Q&A — Candace Walkington

In Texas middle schools, only around 70 percent of students actually pass our state standardized tests in math. — Candace Walkington, SMU

Texas Tribune reporter Sanya Monsoor interviewed SMU education expert Candace Walkington, an assistant professor of Teaching and Learning in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, for a Q&A about teaching math to middle school and high school students.

Walkington specializes in mathematics education. She holds a B.S. and M.S. in Mathematics from Texas A&M University, and she is a former NSF-GK12 Fellow and college mathematics professor. She received her Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from the University of Texas at Austin. She was also an IES Postdoctoral Fellow in Mathematical Thinking, Learning, and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was a recipient of the prestigious Spencer Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Grant.

Walkington’s research examines how abstract mathematical ideas can become connected to students’ concrete, everyday experiences such that they become more understandable. She conducts research on “personalizing” mathematics instruction to students’ out of-school interests in areas like sports, music, shopping, and video games. She also examines ways to connect mathematical practices with physical motions including gestures. Her work draws upon theories of situated and embodied cognition, and she is an active member of the learning sciences community. Her research uses both qualitative methods like discourse and gesture analysis, and quantitative methods like hierarchical linear modeling and educational data mining.

The Texas Tribune article, “The Q&A: Candace Walkington,” published April 12, 2017.

Read the full story.


By Sanya Monsoor
Texas Tribune

With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week’s subject:

Candace Walkington is an assistant professor in teaching and learning at Southern Methodist University. Her research focuses on innovative ways to teach math to middle school and high school students.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Trib+Edu: Tell me about your research as it relates to teaching math differently.

Candace Walkington: My research mainly focuses on ways to make mathematics instruction more engaging for students in grades six through 10. Research suggests that’s a particularly problematic time for students when it comes to motivation and interest in math.

I look at interventions where mathematics is connected to things that students are interested in, like popular culture interests. This could include their experiences playing sports, playing video games, engaging with social media and how they’re using numerical and algebraic reasoning in all of these contexts.

Trib+Edu: Why is mathematics intervention important for this age group?

Walkington: In Texas middle schools, only around 70 percent of students actually pass our state standardized tests in math. If you look at the passing rate for students who are economically disadvantaged, it’s around 60 percent. These numbers have been on a pattern of decline.

According to ACT scores, only 42 percent of test takers in Texas are deemed college ready in mathematics, meaning they have a reasonable chance of being successful in an introductory college algebra course.

So things are happening around this middle school transition and the end of high school transition, which is causing a lot of students to turn away from mathematics, disengage and run into trouble in these classes.

Read the full story.

Culture, Society & Family Feature Learning & Education Researcher news

More than half of the racial college completion gap explained by pre-college factors

The two key factors driving the achievement gap between Hispanic and White students were poverty and attending a high-minority high school.

In an analysis of Texas students, more than 60 percent of the racial gap in college completion rates can be attributed to factors that occur before college — factors that are beyond the control of many colleges and universities, finds a new study led by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and with a co-author from Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

The study found that the two key factors driving the achievement gap between Hispanic and White students were poverty and attending a high-minority high school.

“Our findings demonstrate that these disparities can often be traced back to high school, suggesting that colleges and universities are not solely responsible for the racial gap in graduation rates,” said Stella M. Flores, associate professor of higher education at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author.

Co-authors are Dominique J. Baker, an assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Education Policy & Leadership in the Simmons School of Education & Human Development, and Toby J. Park, Florida State University.

Research shows that some student populations are less likely than others to complete college, with a significant gap in completion rates between Black and Hispanic students and their White counterparts. But less information is available on what part of the educational pipeline is most likely to contribute to the gaps between these student groups.

The study, “The racial college completion gap: Evidence from Texas,” published in The Journal of Higher Education. The researchers focused on the college completion gap by race and sought to determine not only the factors associated with college completion, but also how these factors may be contributing to racial disparities.

They analyzed data from kindergarten through college completion for all public school students in Texas, one of the nation’s largest and most diverse states. They focused on one cohort of students who graduated from high school in 2002, entered a four-year institution that fall, and graduated college within six years by 2008. The sample consisted of 25,875 White, 9,837 Hispanic and 5,139 Black students.

As expected, six-year college completion rates varied by race: 65.5 percent for White students, 51.4 percent for Hispanic students, and 43.6 percent for Black students. The college completion gap in Texas aligns with national figures, where Hispanics experience at least a 12 percentage-point gap in college completion compared with their White counterparts, while Black students experience a 22 percentage-point gap.

Combination of factors contribute to disparities
Confirming the racial college completion gap, however, was only the first step in the analysis. The researchers then dug into what factors contribute to these disparities.

They found that pre-college characteristics — a combination of individual, academic, and high school context factors — contributed upward of 61 percent of the total variance for both Hispanic and Black students as compared with their White counterparts.

These pre-college influences shared similarities but also differed by race. The two key factors driving the achievement gap between Hispanic and White students were poverty and attending a high-minority high school.

While attending a high-minority high school also explained a large portion of the college completion gap between Black and White students, the next most critical group of factors that explained this gap were related to academic preparation such as access to rigorous coursework that included high-level math courses and AP courses.

“These results unsurprisingly suggest that college completion is both a financial issue and one of academic preparation, but also that one factor may be more critical to one population than another, at least in Texas,” said Flores. “This has important implications for how and where we should invest public funds.”

Post-secondary factors accounted for a much smaller proportion of completion gap
The researchers also looked at factors connected to the college experience, such as the percentage of tenured faculty members, faculty-to-student ratio, per-student expenditures, and whether the school was designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution or a Historically Black College or University. These post-secondary factors accounted for a much smaller proportion — 35 percent — of the completion gap than did individual factors and schooling outcomes initiated prior to enrolling in college.

“This finding is notable because a number of states have engaged in performance-based funding for higher education. However, our research suggests that it would be unfair to rank or award funding to institutions based on factors over which they have lower levels of control,” Flores said. “Accountability is very important, but knowing the sources of inequality along the educational pipeline should be acknowledged and attended to in such formulas.”

The research was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Civil Rights Project/Projecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA. — New York University

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SMU Research Day 2017 visitors query SMU students on the details of their research

The best in SMU undergraduate and graduate research work was on full display at Research Day in the Hughes Trigg Student Center.

More than 150 graduate and undergraduate students at SMU presented posters at SMU Research Day 2017 in the Promenade Ballroom of Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballroom on March 28.

Student researchers discussed their ongoing and completed SMU research and their results with faculty, staff and students who attended the one-day event.

Explaining their research to others is a learning experience for students, said Peter Weyand, Glenn Simmons Professor of Applied Physiology and professor of biomechanics in the Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

“Research Day is an opportunity for SMU students to show off what they’ve been doing at the grad level and at the undergrad level,” Weyand said, “and that’s really an invaluable experience for them.”

Posters and presentations spanned more than 20 different fields from the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development, the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and SMU Guildhall.

“It’s a huge motivation to present your work before people,” said Aparna Viswanath, a graduate student in engineering. Viswanath presented research on “Looking Around Corners,” research into an instrument that converts a scattering surface into computational holographic sensors.

The goal of Research Day is to foster communication about research between students in different disciplines, give students the opportunity to present their work in a professional setting, and to share the outstanding research being conducted at SMU.

The annual event is sponsored by the SMU Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

View highlights of the presentations on Facebook.

Some highlights of the research:

  • Adel Alharbi, a student of Dr. Mitchell Thornton in Lyle School’s Computer Science and Engineering presented research on a novel demographic group prediction mechanism for smart device users based upon the recognition of user gestures.
  • Ashwini Subramanian and Prasanna Rangarajan, students of Dr. Dinesh Rajan, in Lyle School’s Electrical Engineering Department, presented research about accurately measuring the physical dimensions of an object for manufacturing and logistics with an inexpensive software-based Volume Measurement System using the Texas Instruments OPT8241 3D Time-of-Flight camera, which illuminates the scene with a modulated light source, observing the reflected light and translating it to distance.
  • Gang Chen, a student of Dr. Pia Vogel in the Department of Chemistry of Dedman College, presented research on multidrug resistance in cancers associated with proteins including P-glycoprotein and looking for inhibitors of P-gp.
  • Tetiana Hutchison, a student of Dr. Rob Harrod in the Chemistry Department of Dedman College, presented research on inhibitors of mitochondrial damage and oxidative stress related to human T-cell leukemia virus type-1, an aggressive hematological cancer for which there are no effective treatments.
  • Margarita Sala, a student of Dr. David Rosenfield and Dr. Austin Baldwin in the Psychology Department of Dedman College, presented research on how specific post-exercise affective states differ between regular and infrequent exercisers, thereby elucidating the “feeling better” phenomenon.
  • Bernard Kauffman, a Level Design student of Dr. Corey Clark in SMU Guildhall, presented research on building a user interface that allows video game players to analyze vast swaths of scientific data to help researchers find potentially useful compounds for treating cancer.

Browse the Research Day 2017 directory of presentations by department.

See the SMU Graduate Studies Facebook page for images of 2017 Research Day.

See the SMU Anthropology Department photo album of Research Day 2017 poster presentations.

According to the Fall 2016 report on Undergraduate Research, SMU provides opportunities for student research in a full variety of disciplines from the natural sciences and engineering, to social sciences, humanities and the arts. These opportunities permit students to bring their classroom knowledge to practical problems or a professional level in their chosen field of study.
Opportunities offered include both funded and curricular programs
that can be tailored according to student needs:

  • Students may pursue funded research with the assistance of a
    variety of campus research programs. Projects can be supported
    during the academic year or in the summer break, when students
    have the opportunity to focus full-time on research.
  • Students may also enroll in research courses that are offered in
    many departments that permit them to design a unique project,
    or participate in a broader project.
  • Students can take advantage of research opportunities outside
    of their major, or design interdisciplinary projects with their faculty
    mentors. The Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute supports
    such research via the Mayer Scholars.
  • View videos of previous SMU Research Day events:

    See Research Day winners from 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014.

    Culture, Society & Family Feature Researcher news

    Joint Study on Gender Disparity in Art Museum Directorships Shows Gap Persists Despite Gains

    While incremental gains were observed, a new study shows that women still hold fewer than 50% of directorships, earn less than male counterparts, and typically lead institutions with smaller budgets

    The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) at Southern Methodist University in Dallas today released findings from the second iteration of their gender gap study, which was designed to deepen understanding of the gender disparity in art museum directorships to help AAMD member institutions advance towards greater gender equity.

    Through a combination of quantitative analysis of 2016 data collected from AAMD member institutions and interviews with female museum directors and executive search consultants who specialize in recruitment for art museums, NCAR and AAMD researchers – led by Zannie Voss, director, NCAR, and Christine Anagnos, executive director, AAMD – examined the ongoing and historical factors of the gender gap in art museum directorships, and compared their findings to those of the previous study, conducted in 2013.

    While incremental gains have been observed in the last three years, the study found that the gender gap persists: women still hold fewer than 50% of directorships and, on average, earn less than their male counterparts. The study also found that museum type and budget size were influential factors on representation and salary differentials.

    In 2016, AAMD conducted a survey of its members, collecting data from 210 respondents that included each institution’s operating budget, endowment, the salary of the director (or top leader), the director’s gender, and the self-reported museum type (e.g. encyclopedic, contemporary, etc.). Of these 210 museums, 181 also participated in the 2013 survey, allowing for examination of trends. The study sought to answer three main questions: What is the current state of women in art museum directorships? How has the gender gap in art museum directorships shifted in the past three years? What are some factors that may drive the gender gap? The NCAR and AAMD study had several key findings:

    • While men continue to outnumber women in director roles, there has been a 5% increase in female directorships from 2013: women represented 48% of art museum directorships in 2016 (compared to 43% in 2013).
    • There are clear disparities in gender representation depending on operating budget size: the majority of museums with budgets of less than $15 million are run by a female, rather than a male, director. The reverse is true for museums with budgets of over $15 million, where female representation decreases as budget size increases.
    • Women are at a salary disadvantage: on average, female directors earned 73 cents for every dollar that male directors earned.
    • When segmented by operating budget, the gender disparities are more nuanced:

      For museums with a budget of over $15 million—roughly the top quarter of museums—female directors earned 75 cents for every dollar a male earned, an improvement from 2013, when women earned only 70 cents per dollar earned by a man.
      For the other three-quarters of member museums (those with budgets of less than $15 million), female directors on average earned 98 cents to every dollar earned by a man. This represents a reversal from three years ago, when female directors at these same museums earned an average of $1.01 for each dollar earned by their male counterparts.

    • Women hold the majority of directorships in College/University museums (60%) and Culturally Specific museums (57%). Men hold the majority of directorships at Single Artist (67%), Encyclopedic (59%) and Contemporary (54%) museums.
    • Museum types, which are also tied to budget size, also help reveal salary dynamics at play: some museum types with higher average budgets have less of a salary gap as compared to some museums with lower average budget size. The biggest pay disparity is at Encyclopedic museums, where female directors average only 69 cents for every $1 of their male counterparts, while the smallest gap is at Culturally Specific institutions, where women earn 91 cents for every dollar a male director earns.

    Drawing from interviews with executive search consultants and female museum directors, the report also includes a qualitative analysis that examines the personal as well as the institutional barriers in achieving gender equality in the field. Overall, interviewees observed that while progress is incremental, the needle is moving, with changes accomplished through cultural shifts within the field and in broader society, and with the emergence of a new generation of leaders.

    In addition to Voss and Anagnos, co-authors of the study are Veronica Treviño, SMU MA/MBA Class of 2017, and Alison D. Wade, Chief Administrator, Association of Art Museum Directors. The authors gratefully acknowledge and thank the members of the Association of Art Museum Directors and, specifically, the following art museum directors and executive search consultants for their perspective: Gretchen Dietrich (Utah Museum of Fine Arts), Madeleine Grynsztejn (Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago), Sarah James (Phillips Oppenheim), Laurie Nash (Russell Reynold Associates), Lisa Phillips (New Museum), Kimerly Rorschach (Seattle Art Museum), Sally M. Sterling (Spencer Stuart), and Belinda Tate (Kalamazoo Institute of Arts).

    About AAMD
    The Association of Art Museum Directors advances the profession by cultivating leadership capabilities of directors, advocating for the field, and fostering excellence in art museums. An agile, issues-driven organization, AAMD has three desired outcomes: engagement, leadership, and shared learning. Further information about AAMD’s professional practice guidelines and position papers is available at

    About NCAR
    In 2012, the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business at SMU launched the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR). The vision of NCAR is to act as a catalyst for the transformation and sustainability of the national arts and cultural community. The goals of the Center are to unlock insights on: 1) arts attendance and patronage; 2) understanding how managerial decisions, arts attendance, and patronage affect one another; and 3) fiscal trends and fiscal stability of the arts in the U.S., and to create an in-depth assessment of the industry that allows arts and cultural leaders to make more informed decisions and improve the health of their organizations. More information about NCAR and its reports, white papers, and tools can be found at

    Economics & Statistics Feature Researcher news SMU In The News Technology

    Nation’s electric grid — a complex mathematical system — is dramatically changing

    Deregulation of the U.S. electric markets, the emergence of renewable sources of energy and new technologies means there are large risks to the grid.

    Our nation’s electric grid is changing dramatically due to deregulation of electric markets, the introduction of renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power, and the emergence of new technologies such as the smart grid and electric cars, according to Barry Lee, an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

    “Such changes can lead to large risks in the grid, which are not very well understood,” said Lee, whose research addresses the issue.

    The electric power grid is a complex mathematical system. In fact, some components of the emergent grid (for example, faster than real-time analysis of enormous amounts of collected data) have yet to be mathematically formulated, according to Lee in a report to the National Science Foundation. Collaboration between power grid engineers and mathematicians/statisticians will be beneficial for the design of low-risk, highly resilient systems.

    Lee’s research goal is to mathematically analyze the stability and the effects of stochasticity — randomness created by renewable energy and new technologies — in the emerging power grid.

    “I’m analyzing the mathematical equations governing the power grid, and modifications to them to handle the emerging grid, and developing computational algorithms to permit fast and accurate numerical simulations,” he said.

    Lee collaborates on a grant project at the non-profit Argonne National Laboratory, Multifaceted Mathematics for Complex Energy Systems, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research. Argonne is operated by the University of Chicago for the DOE.

    He and other mathematics researchers presented in February at the University of Wisconsin about the progress they’ve made over the past four years to address the power grid challenge.

    “One of the problems in modeling power grids is the large number of equations that must be solved, and solved almost at real time, to react quickly enough to ameliorate instabilities of the power flow,” said Lee, who co-authored a 2014 DOE IEEE paper On the Configuration of the US Western Interconnection Voltage Stability Boundary.

    To tackle that job, the Department of Energy is drawing on a broad range of research scientists from three Department of Energy labs and numerous universities, including SMU’s Lee.

    His DOE presentation in February focused on model-reduction.

    “The goal is to mathematically analyze and develop mathematical algorithms for solving power grid problems,” Lee said. “The idea is to take these large systems of equations, which model the physics, and reduce them to a much smaller size, for example from 10,000 equations to 500, but to do this in a systematic way in order to retain the physics in the smaller system. I presented a mathematical way to systematically derive these reduced models, based on stability conditions that must be preserved.”

    Collaboration will be beneficial
    Changes in the grid will affect the quality of delivered electric power to the consumer and will pose new risks and alter the resiliency of the power grid system. To understand and mitigate these risks and to strengthen the resiliency, mathematical and statistical techniques will be invaluable, according to National Science Foundation officials. The NSF brought together mathematicians and statisticians in 2015 for a workshop on the challenges to the electric grid.

    Lee co-organized a 2015 NSF workshop and accompanying report on the issue: Risk and Resiliency of the Electric Power Grid: Mathematical and Statistical Challenges.

    “Collaboration between power grid engineers and mathematicians/statisticians will be beneficial for the design of low-risk, highly resilient systems,” Lee and his co-author concluded.

    Lee collaborates with mathematicians, engineers and physicists at the Lawrence Livermore, Pacific Northwest, and Argonne National Laboratories. For the past 15 years he has been affiliated with several Department of Energy national laboratories.

    His research focuses on the mathematical modeling, numerical algorithmic development and scientific computing of large-scale industrial and laboratory applications. The NSF has featured Lee in an article about NSF-funded research on the grid:

    Lee realizes that the power grid of today and the emerging grid of the future will be far different from those in 1965, and with those changes come new vulnerabilities. “One of the biggest vulnerabilities arises from instability of the grid. Moreover, a more recent vulnerability is cybersecurity because the power grid is online,” he said. […]

    […] Lee’s NSF-funded mathematical research develops models that include large systems of equations describing the angles and voltage magnitudes in the flow of electricity. By introducing cutting-edge mathematics and new algorithms to collaborating power engineers, he’s able to help them better prepare for potential surges and system ruptures and maintain a stable power grid.
    Click to read the full NSF article.

    Central to Lee’s research is development of schemes that deliver optimal computational efficiency on serial and large-scale parallel computer platforms. Thus, an essential component of his research is computational linear algebra, particularly scalable multigrid and multilevel methods.

    His current research interests include efficient methods for the Boltzmann transport equation (neutron/photon transport), Maxwell equations (fusion), equations of elasticity (structural designs), general coupled systems of elliptic partial differential equations (multi-physics and uncertainty quantification), and large systems of algebraic-differential equations (electric power grid networks).

    Culture, Society & Family Feature Health & Medicine Researcher news

    Male versus female college students react differently to helicopter parenting, study finds

    Helicopter parenting reduces the well-being of young women, while the failure to foster independence harms the well-being of young men but not young women.

    Male and female college students react differently to misguided parenting, according to a new study that looked at the impact of helicopter parenting and fostering independence.

    Measuring both helicopter parenting as well as autonomy support — fostering independence — was important for the researchers to study, said family dynamics expert Chrystyna Kouros, an assistant professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, and an author on the study.

    “Just because mom and dad aren’t helicopter parents, doesn’t necessarily mean they are supporting their young adult in making his or her own choices,” Kouros said. “The parent may be uninvolved, so we also wanted to know if parents are actually encouraging their student to be independent and make their own choices.”

    The researchers found that young women are negatively affected by helicopter parenting, while young men suffer when parents don’t encourage independence.

    “The sex difference was surprising,” said Kouros, an expert in adolescent depression. “In Western culture in particular, boys are socialized more to be independent, assertive and take charge, while girls are more socialized toward relationships, caring for others, and being expressive and compliant. Our findings showed that a lack of autonomy support — failure to encourage independence — was more problematic for males, but didn’t affect the well-being of females. Conversely, helicopter parenting — parents who are overinvolved — proved problematic for girls, but not boys.”

    The study is unique in measuring the well-being of college students, said Kouros, director of the Family Health and Development Lab at SMU. The tendency in research on parenting has been to focus on the mental health of younger children.

    “When researchers do focus on college students they tend to ask about academic performance, and whether students are engaged in school. But there haven’t been as many studies that look at mental health or well-being in relation to helicopter parenting,” she said.

    Unlike children subjected to psychological control, in which parents try to instill guilt in their child, children of helicopter parents report a very close bond with their parents. Helicopter parents “hover” out of concern for their child, not from malicious intent, she said.

    What helicopter parents don’t realize is that despite their good intentions to help their child, it actually does harm, said Naomi Ekas, a co-author on the study and assistant professor of psychology at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth.

    “They’re not allowing their child to become independent or learn problem-solving on their own, nor to test out and develop effective coping strategies,” Ekas said.

    Young men that reported more autonomy support, measured stronger well-being in the form of less social anxiety and fewer depressive symptoms.

    For young women, helicopter parenting predicted lower psychological well-being. They were less optimistic, felt less satisfaction with accomplishments, and were not looking forward to things with enjoyment, nor feeling hopeful. In contrast, lacking autonomy support wasn’t related to negative outcomes in females.

    “The take-away is we have to adjust our parenting as our kids get older,” said Kouros. “Being involved with our child is really important. But we have to adapt how we are involved as they are growing up, particularly going off to college.”

    The findings were reported in the article “Helicopter Parenting, Autonomy Support, and College Students’ Mental Health and Well-being: The Moderating Role of Sex and Ethnicity,” in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.

    Other co-authors were: Romilyn Kiriaki and Megan Sunderland, SMU Department of Psychology, and Megan M. Pruitt, Texas Christian University. The study was funded by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas at Austin.

    Parental involvement can go too far
    Research on child development has consistently found that children are more successful when they have parental involvement and support.

    Now, however, research is finding that parental involvement can go too far. Call it over-parenting, over-controlling parenting or helicopter parenting, but the characteristics are the same: parents offer their child a lot of warmth and support, but in combination with high levels of control and low levels of autonomy and independence.

    For example a parent may dispute their college student’s low grade with a professor or negotiate their young adult’s job offer and salary.

    Previous research in the field has linked helicopter parenting to a student’s poor academic achievement, lower self-esteem and life satisfaction, poor peer relationships, and greater interpersonal dependency.

    “With helicopter parenting you’re impeding children from meeting the developmental goals of being independent and autonomous,” Kouros said. “That lowers their confidence in being able to solve problems on their own. They lose the opportunity to learn how to deal with stressors. Someone who’s used to figuring out daily hassles, however, learns strategies, gets practice and knows problems aren’t the end of the world.”

    In contrast, research in the field links positive outcomes when parents support autonomy and independence by encouraging their young adults to make decisions and solve problems. Autonomy support is related to higher self-esteem and less depression.

    Minimal research into sex differences of young adults
    For the current study, the researchers wanted to see if helicopter parenting and low autonomy support equally affected male and female students.

    Researching potential differences was especially important, the researchers concluded, since studies have found that females are twice as prone as males to develop depression and anxiety.

    Very little research of sex differences has been conducted in emerging adulthood in relation to parenting. What limited research there is suggests that over-controlling or lax parenting increases the risk for maladjustment, particularly for young women.

    The researchers surveyed 118 undergraduate students recruited from two mid-sized private universities in the southwest United States. The majority of students were female, between 18 and 25 years old, primarily white and Hispanic and living on campus.

    Students completed widely accepted measures of helicopter parenting and autonomy support. The questionnaires asked students to rank their agreements or disagreement on a scale for items such as “If I were to receive a low grade that I felt was unfair, my parents would call the professor,” or “My parents encourage me to make my own decisions and take responsibility for the choices I make.”

    To assess mental health and well-being, the students completed an accepted inventory for depression and anxiety symptoms that asked questions about their feelings the past two weeks. Examples include, “I felt depressed,” “I felt self-conscious knowing that others were watching me,” and “I felt hopeful about the future.”

    The study complements a growing body of research about the harmful effects of helicopter parenting for adult children. It also adds to research indicating females are more vulnerable to the negative effects than males.

    “You should love and care for your child, but the way you show it and manifest it has to be developmentally appropriate. Your parenting has to follow where your child is developmentally,” Kouros said. “Being over-involved while your child is in college, that may not be appropriate anymore. That doesn’t mean you disengage. So if a college student wants to call their parent and talk through an issue and problem solve, I think that’s appropriate. But it’s their problem and they should be able to confidently handle it on their own.” — Margaret Allen

    Culture, Society & Family Feature Health & Medicine Learning & Education Researcher news Student researchers

    Self-persuasion iPad app spurs low-income parents to protect teens against cancer-causing hpv

    In the first study of its kind, self-persuasion software on an iPad motivated low-income parents to want to protect their teens against the cancer-causing human papillomavirus

    As health officials struggle to boost the number of teens vaccinated against the deadly human papillomavirus, a new study from Southern Methodist University, Dallas, found that self-persuasion works to bring parents on board.

    Currently public health efforts rely on educational messages and doctor recommendations to persuade parents to vaccinate their adolescents. Self-persuasion as a tool for HPV vaccinations has never been researched until now.

    The SMU study found that low-income parents will decide to have their teens vaccinated against the sexually transmitted cancer-causing virus if the parents persuade themselves of the protective benefits.

    The study’s subjects — almost all moms — were taking their teens and pre-teens to a safety-net pediatric clinic for medical care. It’s the first to look at changing parents’ behavior through self-persuasion using English- and Spanish-language materials.

    “This approach is based on the premise that completing the vaccination series is less likely unless parents internalize the beliefs for themselves, as in ‘I see the value, I see the importance, and because I want to help my child,’” said psychology professor Austin S. Baldwin, a principal investigator on the research.

    Depending on age, the HPV vaccine requires a series of two or three shots over eight months. External pressure might initially spark parents to action. But vaccinations decline sharply after the first dose.

    The new study follows an earlier SMU study that found guilt, social pressure or acting solely upon a doctor’s recommendation was not related to parents’ motivation to vaccinate their kids.

    The new finding is reported in the article “Translating self-persuasion into an adolescent HPV vaccine promotion intervention for parents attending safety-net clinics” in the journal Patient Education and Counseling.

    Both studies are part of a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. Baldwin, associate professor in the SMU Department of Psychology, is co-principal investigator with Jasmin A. Tiro, associate professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.

    Addressing the HPV problem
    A very common virus, HPV infects nearly one in four people in the United States, including teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control. HPV infection can cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers in females; penile cancer in males; and anal cancer, back of the throat cancer and genital warts in both genders, the CDC says.

    The CDC recommends a series of two shots of the vaccine for 11- to 14-year-olds to build effectiveness in advance of sexual activity. For 15- to 26-year-olds, they are advised to get three doses over the course of eight months, says the CDC.

    Currently, about 60% of adolescent girls and 40% of adolescent boys get the first dose of the HPV vaccine. After that, about 20% of each group fail to follow through with the second dose, Baldwin said.

    The goal set by health authorities is to vaccinate 80% of adolescents to achieve the herd immunity effect of indirect protection when a large portion of the population is protected.

    NCI grant aimed at developing a software app
    The purpose of the National Cancer Institute grant is to develop patient education software for the HPV vaccine that is easily used by low-income parents who may struggle to read and write, and speak only Spanish.

    A body of research in the psychology field has shown that the technique of self-persuasion among well-educated people is successful using written English-language materials. Self-persuasion hasn’t previously been tested among underserved populations in safety-net clinics.

    The premise is that individuals will be more likely to take action because the choice they are making is important to them and they value it.

    In contrast, where motivation is extrinsic, an individual acts out of a sense of others’ expectations or outside pressure.

    Research has found that people are much more likely to maintain a behavior over time — such as quitting smoking, exercising or losing weight — when it’s autonomously motivated. Under those circumstances, they value the choice and consider it important.

    “A provider making a clear recommendation is clearly important,’” said Deanna C. Denman, a co-author on the study and a graduate researcher in SMU’s Psychology Department. “Autonomy over the decision can be facilitated by the doctor, who can confirm to parents that “The decision is yours, and here are the reasons I recommend it.’”

    Doctor’s recommendation matters, but may not be sufficient
    For the SMU study, the researchers educated parents in a waiting room by providing a custom-designed software application running on an iPad tablet.

    The program guided the parents in English or Spanish to scroll through audio prompts that help them think through why HPV vaccination is important. The parents verbalized in their own words why it would be important to them to get their child vaccinated. Inability to read or write wasn’t a barrier.

    Parents in the SMU study were recruited through the Parkland Memorial Hospital’s out-patient pediatric clinics throughout Dallas County. Most of the parents were Hispanic and had a high school education or less. Among 33 parents with unvaccinated adolescents, 27 — 81% — decided they would vaccinate their child after completing the self-persuasion tasks.

    New study builds on prior study results
    In the earlier SMU study, researchers surveyed 223 parents from the safety-net clinics. They completed questionnaires relevant to motivation, intentions and barriers to vaccination.

    The researchers found that autonomous motivation was strongly correlated with intentions, Denman said. As autonomous motivation increased, the greater parents’ intentions to vaccinate. The lower the autonomous motivation, the lower the parents’ intentions to vaccinate, she explained.

    “So they may get the first dose because the doctor says it’s important,” Baldwin said. “But the second and third doses require they come back in a couple months and again in six months. It requires the parent to feel it’s important to their child, and that’s perhaps what’s going to push or motivate them to complete the series. So that’s where, downstream, there’s an important implication.”

    Other co-authors on the study are Margarita Sala, graduate student in the SMU Psychology Department; Emily G. Marks, Simon C. Lee and Celette Skinner, who along with Tiro are at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center in Dallas; L. Aubree Shay, U.T. School of Public Health, San Antonio; Donna Persaud and Sobha Fuller, Parkland Health & Hospital System, Dallas; and Deborah J. Wiebe, University of California-Merced, Merced, Calif.

    Economics & Statistics Energy & Matter Feature Health & Medicine Researcher news SMU In The News

    Huffington Post: A New Physics Discovery Could Make You A Faster Runner

    It’s all about the force

    Reporter Sarah DiGiullo with the online news magazine The Huffington Post covered the research of Peter Weyand and the SMU Locomotor Laboratory. Weyand, who is Glenn Simmons Professor of Applied Physiology and professor of biomechanics in the Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, is the director of the Locomotor Lab.

    Other authors on the study were Laurence Ryan, a physicist and research engineer in the lab, and
    Kenneth Clark , previously with the lab and now an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at West Chester University in West Chester, Penn.

    The three have developed a concise approach to understanding the mechanics of human running. The research has immediate application for running performance, injury prevention, rehab and the individualized design of running shoes, orthotics and prostheses. The work integrates classic physics and human anatomy to link the motion of individual runners to their patterns of force application on the ground — during jogging, sprinting and at all speeds in between.

    The Huffington Post article, “Researchers reveal the mechanics of running is simpler than thought – and it could revolutionize shoe design,” published Feb. 13, 2017.

    Read the full story.


    By Sarah DiGiullo
    The Huffington Post

    When it comes to race day, runners may have favorite moisture-wicking gear, a stopwatch and tunes to help get that coveted personal record.

    But physicists say running at your top speed may actually be a lot simpler. It all comes down to the force of your foot striking the ground ― and that’s about it.

    After studying the physics behind some of the world’s fastest runners, researchers came up with a new model they say could make anyone faster. It may help injured runners recover faster, too.

    The researchers developed an equation that calculates two forces: The total force of the shin, ankle and foot striking the ground, and the total force of the rest of the body striking the ground. The method, which they detailed in an article published recently in the Journal of Experimental Biology, can predict how fast an athlete will run.

    “We’ve known for quite some time that fast people are fast because they’re able to hit the ground harder in relation to how much they weigh,” explained the study’s co-author, Peter Weyand, director of the Locomotor Performance Laboratory at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

    But Weyand and his team were looking to better understand why it was that some people are able to hit the ground harder than others. The new equation makes the answer a lot clearer, with fewer measurements than previous models.

    Read the full story.

    Earth & Climate Energy & Matter Feature Researcher news

    New delta Scuti: Rare pulsating star 7,000 light years away is 1 of only 7 in Milky Way

    A star — as big as or bigger than our sun — in the Pegasus constellation is expanding and contracting in three different directions simultaneously on a scale of once every 2.5 hours, the result of heating and cooling of hydrogen fuel burning 28 million degrees Fahrenheit at its core

    The newest delta Scuti (SKOO-tee) star in our night sky is so rare it’s only one of seven identified by astronomers in the Milky Way. Discovered at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, the star — like our sun — is in the throes of stellar evolution, to conclude as a dying ember in millions of years. Until then, the exceptional star pulsates brightly, expanding and contracting from heating and cooling of hydrogen burning at its core.

    Astronomers are reporting a rare star as big — or bigger — than the Earth’s sun that is expanding and contracting in a unique pattern in three different directions.

    The star is one that pulsates and so is characterized by varying brightness over time. It’s situated 7,000 light years away from the Earth in the constellation Pegasus, said astronomer Farley Ferrante, a member of the team that made the discovery at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

    Called a variable star, this particular star is one of only seven known stars of its kind in our Milky Way galaxy.

    “It was challenging to identify it,” Ferrante said. “This is the first time we’d encountered this rare type.”

    The Milky Way has more than 100 billion stars. But just over 400,900 are catalogued as variable stars. Of those, a mere seven — including the one identified at SMU — are the rare intrinsic variable star called a Triple Mode ‘high amplitude delta Scuti’ (pronounced SKOO-tee) or Triple Mode HADS(B), for short.

    “The discovery of this object helps to flesh out the characteristics of this unique type of variable star. These and further measurements can be used to probe the way the pulsations happen,” said SMU’s Robert Kehoe, a professor in the Department of Physics who leads the SMU astronomy team. “Pulsating stars have also been important to improving our understanding of the expansion of the universe and its origins, which is another exciting piece of this puzzle.”

    The star doesn’t yet have a common name, only an official designation based on the telescope that recorded it and its celestial coordinates. The star can be observed through a telescope, but identifying it was much more complicated.

    A high school student in an SMU summer astronomy program made the initial discovery upon culling through archived star observation data recorded by the small but powerful ROTSE-I telescope formerly at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

    Upon verification, the star was logged into the International Variable Star Index as ROTSE1 J232056.45+345150.9 by the American Association of Variable Star Observers at this link.

    How in the universe was it discovered?
    SMU’s astrophysicists discovered the variable star by analyzing light curve shape, a key identifier of star type. Light curves were created from archived data procured by ROTSE-I during multiple nights in September 2000. The telescope generates images of optical light from electrical signals based on the intensity of the source. Data representing light intensity versus time is plotted on a scale to create the light curves.

    Plano Senior High School student Derek Hornung first discovered the object in the ROTSE-I data and prepared the initial light curves. From the light curves, the astronomers knew they had something special.

    It became even more challenging to determine the specific kind of variable star. Then Eric Guzman, a physics graduate from the University of Texas at Dallas, who is entering SMU’s graduate program, solved the puzzle, identifying the star as pulsating.

    “Light curve patterns are well established, and these standard shapes correspond to different types of stars,” Ferrante said. “In a particular field of the night sky under observation there may have been hundreds or even thousands of stars. So the software we use generates a light curve for each one, for one night. Then — and here’s the human part — we use our brain’s capacity for pattern recognition to find something that looks interesting and that has a variation. This allows the initial variable star candidate to be identified. From there, you look at data from several other nights. We combine all of those into one plot, as well as add data sets from other telescopes, and that’s the evidence for discerning what kind of variable star it is.”

    That was accomplished conclusively during the referee process with the Variable Star Index moderator.

    The work to discover and analyze this rare variable star was carried out in conjunction with analyses by eight other high school students and two other undergraduates working on other variable candidates. The high school students were supported by SMU’s chapter of the Department of Energy/National Science Foundation QuarkNet program.

    Heating and cooling, expanding and contracting
    Of the stars that vary in brightness intrinsically, a large number exhibit amazingly regular oscillations in their brightness which is a sign of some pulsation phenomenon in the star, Ferrante said.

    Pulsation results from expanding and contracting as the star ages and exhausts the hydrogen fuel at its core. As the hydrogen fuel burns hotter, the star expands, then cools, then gravity shrinks it back, and contraction heats it back up.

    “I’m speaking very generally, because there’s a lot of nuance, but there’s this continual struggle between thermal expansion and gravitational contraction,” Ferrante said. “The star oscillates like a spring, but it always overshoots its equilibrium, doing that for many millions of years until it evolves into the next phase, where it burns helium in its core. And if it’s about the size and mass of the sun — then helium fusion and carbon is the end stage. And when helium is used up, we’re left with a dying ember called a white dwarf.”

    Within the pulsating category is a class of stars called delta Scuti, of which there are thousands. They are named for a prototype star whose characteristic features — including short periods of pulsating on the scale of a few hours — are typical of the entire class.

    Within delta Scuti is a subtype of which hundreds have been identified, called high amplitude delta Scuti, or HADS. Their brightness varies to a particularly large degree, registering more than 10 percent difference between their minimum and maximum brightness, indicating larger pulsations.

    Common delta Scuti pulsate along the radius in a uniform contraction like blowing up a balloon. A smaller sub-category are the HADS, which show asymmetrical-like pulsating curves.

    Within HADS, there’s the relatively rare subtype called HADS(B) , of which there are only 114 identified.

    Star evolution — just a matter of time
    A HADS(B) is distinguished by its two modes of oscillation — different parts of the star expanding at different rates in different directions but the ratio of those two periods is always the same.

    For the SMU star, two modes of oscillation weren’t immediately obvious in its light curve.

    “But we knew there was something going on because the light curve didn’t quite match known light curves of other delta Scuti’s and HADS’ objects we had studied. The light curves — when laid on top of each other — presented an asymmetry,” Ferrante said. “Ultimately the HADS(B) we discovered is even more unique than that though — it’s a Triple Mode HADS(B) and there were previously only six identified in the Milky Way. So it has three modes of oscillation, all three with a distinct period, overlapping, and happening simultaneously.”

    So rare, in fact, there’s no name yet for this new category nor a separate registry designation for it. Guzman, the student researcher who analyzed and categorized the object, recalled how the mystery unfolded.

    “When I began the analysis of the object, we had an initial idea of what type it could be,” Guzman said. “My task was to take the data and try to confirm the type by finding a second period that matched a known constant period ratio. After successfully finding the second mode, I noticed a third signal. After checking the results, I discovered the third signal coincided with what is predicted of a third pulsation mode.”

    The SMU Triple Mode HADS(B) oscillates on a scale of 2.5 hours, so it will expand and contract 10 times in one Earth day. It and the other known six HADS(B)’s are in the same general region of the Milky Way galaxy, within a few thousand light years of one another.

    “I’m sure there are more out there,” Ferrante said, “but they’re still rare, a small fraction.”

    Red giant the final phase of star’s evolution
    SMU’s Triple Mode HADS(B) is unstable and further along in its stellar evolution than our sun, which is about middle-aged and whose pulsating variations occur over a much longer period of time. SMU’s Triple Mode HADS(B) core temperature, heated from the burning of hydrogen fuel, is about 15 million Kelvin or 28 million degrees Fahrenheit.

    Someday, millions of years from now, SMU’s Triple Mode HADS(B) will deplete the hydrogen fuel at its core, and expand into a red giant.

    “Our sun might eventually experience this as well,” Ferrante said. “But Earth will be inhospitable long before then. We won’t be here to see it.”

    Funding was through the Texas Space Grant Consortium, an affiliate of NASA; SMU Dedman College. Department of Energy/National Science Foundation QuarkNet program.

    ROTSE-I began operating in late 1997, surveying the sky all night, every clear night of the year for three years. It was decommissioned in 2001 and replaced by ROTSE-III. SMU owns the ROTSE-IIIb telescope at McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis, Texas.

    Culture, Society & Family Energy & Matter Feature Researcher news SMU In The News

    APS Physics: Viewpoint — Dark Matter Still at Large

    “No dark matter particles have been observed by two of the world’s most sensitive direct-detection experiments, casting doubt on a favored dark matter model.” — Jodi Cooley

    SMU physicist Jodi Cooley, an associate professor in the Department of Physics, writes in the latest issue of Physical Review Letters about the hunt by physicists worldwide for dark matter — the most elusive and abundant matter in our Universe.

    Cooley is an expert in dark matter and a lead researcher on one of the key dark matter experiments in the world.

    Cooley’s APS Physics article, “Viewpoint: Dark Matter Still at Large,” published Jan. 11, 2017.

    The journal is that of the American Physical Society, a non-profit membership organization advancing knowledge of physics through its research journals, scientific meetings, education, outreach, advocacy and international activities. APS represents more than 53,000 members, including physicists in academia, national laboratories and industry in the United States and throughout the world.

    Cooley’s current research interest is to improve our understanding of the universe by deciphering the nature of dark matter. The existence of dark matter was first postulated nearly 80 years ago. However, it wasn’t until the last decade that the revolution in precision cosmology revealed conclusively that about a quarter of our universe consisted of dark matter. Cooley and her colleagues operate sophisticated detectors in the Soudan Underground Laboratory in Minnesota. These detectors can distinguish between elusive dark matter particles and background particles that mimic dark matter interactions.

    She received a B.S. degree in Applied Mathematics and Physics from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in 1997. She earned her Masters in 2000 and her Ph.D. in 2003 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for her research searching for neutrinos from diffuse astronomical sources with the AMANDA-II detector. Upon graduation she did postdoctoral studies at both MIT and Stanford University.

    Cooley is a Principal Investigator on the SuperCDMS dark matter experiment and a Principal Investigator for the AARM collaboration, which aims to develop integrative tools for underground science. She has won numerous awards for her research including an Early Career Award from the National Science Foundation and the Ralph E. Powe Jr. Faculty Enhancement Award from the Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

    She was named December 2012 Woman Physicist of the Month by the American Physical Societies Committee on the Status of Women and earned a 2012 HOPE (Honoring our Professor’s Excellence) by SMU. In 2015 she received the Rotunda Outstanding Professor Award.

    Read the full article.


    By Jodi Cooley
    Southern Methodist University

    Over 80 years ago astronomers and astrophysicists began to inventory the amount of matter in the Universe. In doing so, they stumbled into an incredible discovery: the motion of stars within galaxies, and of galaxies within galaxy clusters, could not be explained by the gravitational tug of visible matter alone [1]. So to rectify the situation, they suggested the presence of a large amount of invisible, or “dark,” matter. We now know that dark matter makes up 84% of the matter in the Universe [2], but its composition—the type of particle or particles it’s made from—remains a mystery. Researchers have pursued a myriad of theoretical candidates, but none of these “suspects” have been apprehended. The lack of detection has helped better define the parameters, such as masses and interaction strengths, that could characterize the particles. For the most compelling dark matter candidate, WIMPs, the viable parameter space has recently become smaller with the announcement in September 2016 by the PandaX-II Collaboration [3] and now by the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) Collaboration [4] that a search for the particles has come up empty.

    Since physicists don’t know what dark matter is, they need a diverse portfolio of instruments and approaches to detect it. One technique is to try to make dark matter in an accelerator, such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and then to look for its decay products with a particle detector. A second technique is to use instruments such as the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope to observe dark matter interactions in and beyond our Galaxy. This approach is called “indirect detection” because what the telescope actually observes is the particles produced by a collision between dark matter particles. In the same way that forensic scientists rely on physical evidence to reverse-engineer a crime with no witnesses, scientists use the aftermath of these collisions to reconstruct the identities of the initial dark matter particles.

    The third technique, and the one used in both the LUX and PandaX-II experiments, is known as “direct detection.” Here, a detector is constructed on Earth with a massive target to increase the odds of an interaction with the dark matter that exists in our Galaxy. In the case of LUX and PandaX-II, the dark matter particles leave behind traces of light that can be detected with sophisticated sensors. This is akin to having placed cameras at the scene of a crime, capturing the culprit in the act.

    Read the full article.

    Earth & Climate Energy & Matter Feature Researcher news

    Green chemistry: Au naturel catalyst mimics nature to break tenacious carbon-hydrogen bond

    Chemists discover new way to crack the stubborn carbon-hydrogen bond that could allow industry to make petroleum-derived commercial products easier, cheaper and cleaner

    A new catalyst for breaking the tough molecular bond between carbon and hydrogen holds the promise of a cleaner, easier and cheaper way to derive products from petroleum, says a researcher at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

    “Some of the most useful building blocks we have in the world are simple, plentiful hydrocarbons like methane, which we extract from the ground. They can be used as starting materials for complex chemical products such as plastics and pharmaceuticals,” said Isaac Garcia-Bosch, Harold A. Jeskey Endowed Chair assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at SMU. “But the first step of the process is very, very difficult — breaking that carbon-hydrogen bond. The stronger the bond, the more difficult it is to oxidize.”

    The chemical industry must break the tenacious bond between carbon and hydrogen molecules to synthesize oxidative products such as methanol and phenols. It’s called oxidizing because it causes the molecule to undergo a reaction in which it combines with oxygen, breaking C-H bonds and forming new carbon-oxygen bonds.

    The conventional chemical recipe calls for inefficient and expensive oxidants to break the C-H bond. That process is costly, difficult and leaves behind dirty waste products.

    Chemists at SMU, in collaboration with The Johns Hopkins University, have found a cheaper, cleaner way to crack the stubborn C-H bond.

    Garcia-Bosch and chemist Maxime A. Siegler, director of the X-ray Crystallography Facility at The Johns Hopkins University, used copper catalysts that in combination with hydrogen peroxide (oxygen source) can convert C-H bonds to C-O bonds.

    “This is a very important discovery because it’s the first time it’s been proven that copper can carry out this kind of oxidation outside of nature in an efficient way,” Garcia-Bosch said. “The prep is very simple, so labs anywhere can do it. Copper is relatively cheap compared to other metals such as palladium, gold or silver, and hydrogen peroxide is readily available, relatively cheap and very clean. One of the byproducts of oxidations with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is water (H2O), which is the cleanest waste product you could have.”

    Additionally, the researchers found the right ligand — a nitrogen-based material that binds to the copper so that the oxidation process can occur with close to perfect efficiency.

    It’s important to have the right ligand, the right amount of hydrogen peroxide, and the right metal in order to oxidize these challenging C-H bonds.

    “We found that combination,” Garcia-Bosch said.

    Chemistry is like a puzzle, where you build new molecules out of other molecules, he said.

    In any one molecule there are many C-H bonds. For example in octanes, such as the ones found in gasoline, there’s a carbon chain of eight carbons with multiple C-H bonds with different chemical properties, Garcia-Bosch said, and from the oxidation of each of the C-H bonds, a different product results.

    Chemists design catalysts that are capable of breaking and forming bonds in order to build complex chemical structures.

    “Catalysts have to be able to select between different C-H bonds and form new carbon-oxygen, carbon-nitrogen or carbon-fluoride bonds, for example,” Garcia-Bosch said. “Biological processes use metals to do this all the time, for example in our bodies when our liver processes a pharmaceutical that we ingest using iron. Minerals such as iron, copper, manganese, calcium and potassium are critical for the natural catalytic process. For example, trees use manganese (photosynthesis) to transform water into the oxygen that we breathe”

    Garcia-Bosch and Siegler reported their findings in the article “Copper-Catalyzed Oxidation of Alkanes with H2O2 under a Fenton-like Regime,” published in the international edition of the journal Angewandte Chemie.

    First time for using copper for C-H oxidation
    In organic chemistry, there aren’t many examples of copper as a catalyst for carbon-hydrogen oxidation. Most examples are based on iron.

    “This is the first time in our field that we’ve used copper to do this C-H oxidation in a very efficient way,” Garcia-Bosch said.

    “Copper is very versatile in nature,” he said. “With small changes in the environment of copper, you can do very diverse chemistry. That’s why we picked it.”

    That environment is the ligand, which gives properties to the copper to spark the chemical reaction when the chemical ingredients are combined in a vial or round bottom flask.

    The researchers discovered that these catalysts — copper in the form of a white salt and the ligand as an oil — can oxidize C-H bonds in a very efficient way in combination with hydrogen peroxide, a reduced form of oxygen that nature uses.

    “You can find hydrogen peroxide anywhere, even at home in your medicine cabinet. So it’s a mild oxidant,” Garcia-Bosch said. “It’s convenient also, because it’s a liquid, rather than, say, a gas, which might require special storage. You mix everything together in a solvent and it reacts. It’s like making a soup, a recipe, then you analyze the result to see what you get.”

    Using a gas chromatography instrument, the Garcia-Bosch and Siegler analyzed the final solution to observe the results of the reaction. That allowed them to quantify the amount of oxidation product that was formed during the reaction.

    Next step — targeting a specific C-H bond
    “We tested this catalytic system for different substrates and we saw that it’s not very selective,” Garcia-Bosch said. “That’s a problem. So if we have molecules that have many different C-H bonds, then it’s going to oxidize all of them in a non-selective manner. In our lab, we would like to find selective catalysts. That’s the next project.”

    Garcia-Bosch holds the Harold A. Jeskey Endowed Chair in Chemistry. The research was funded through The Robert A. Welch Foundation (Grant N-1900).

    Feature Health & Medicine Researcher news Slideshows Student researchers

    NCI grant funds SMU research into cancer-causing viruses that hide from the immune system

    Genes common to both the human T-cell leukemia virus and high-risk human papillomaviruses activate survival mechanisms in cancer cells. An SMU lab, with National Cancer Institute funding, is hunting ways to inhibit those genes to halt the development of cancer.

    SMU virologist and cancer researcher Robert L. Harrod has been awarded a $436,500 grant from the National Cancer Institute to further his lab’s research into how certain viruses cause cancers in humans.

    Under two previous NCI grants, Harrod’s lab discovered that the human T-cell leukemia virus type-1, HTLV-1, and high-risk subtype human papillomaviruses, HPVs, share a common mechanism that plays a key role in allowing cancers to develop.

    Now the lab will search for the biological mechanism — a molecular target — to intervene to block establishment and progression of virus-induced cancers. The hope is to ultimately develop a chemotherapy drug to block the growth of those tumor cells in patients.

    “The general theme of our lab is understanding the key molecular events involved in how the viruses allow cancer to develop,” said Harrod, an associate professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences whose research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of viral initiation of cancer formation.

    While HTLV-1 and HPV are unrelated transforming viruses and lead to very different types of cancers, they’ve evolved a similar mechanism to cooperate with genes that cause cancer in different cell types. The lab discovered that the two viruses tap a common protein that cooperates with cellular genes to help the viruses hide from the immune system.

    That common protein, the p30 protein of HTLV-1, binds to a different protein in the cell, p53, which normally has the job of suppressing cancerous growth or tumor development. Instead, however, p30 manages to subvert p53’s tumor suppressor functions, which in turn activates pro-survival pathways for the virus.

    From there, the virus can hide inside the infected cell for two to three decades while evading host immune-surveillance pathways. As the cell divides, the virus divides and replicates. Then ultimately the deregulation of gene expression by viral encoded products causes cancer to develop.

    “They are essentially using a similar mechanism, p30, to deregulate those pathways from their normal tumor-suppressing function,” Harrod said.

    Tumor suppression, DNA damage-repair pathways, begin to fail with age
    About 15 percent to 20 percent of all cancers are virus related. Worldwide, about 10 million people are infected with HTLV-1 and, as with other viral-induced cancers, about 3 percent to 5 percent of those infected go on to develop malignant disease.

    Cancer is often associated with the process of normal aging, because our tumor suppression and DNA damage-repair pathways begin to break down and fail, explained Harrod. Our pathways don’t as easily repair genetic mutations, which makes us more susceptible to cancers like adult T-cell leukemia and HPV-associated cervical cancers or head-and-neck carcinomas, he said.

    The human T-cell leukemia virus is transmitted through blood and body fluid contact, usually infecting infants and children via breastfeeding from their mother. A tropical infectious disease, it’s endemic to Southeast Asia, primarily Japan, Taiwan, China and Malaysia, as well as certain regions in the Middle East, Northern Africa and islands of the Caribbean. In the United States, Hawaii and Florida have the highest incidence of adult T-cell leukemia. HTLV-1 is highly resistant to most modern anticancer therapies, including radiotherapy and bone marrow or matching donor stem cell transplants. The life expectancy of patients with acute or lymphoma-stage disease is about six months to two years after diagnosis.

    In the case of HPV, certain high-risk sub-types aren’t inhibited by today’s available HPV vaccines. It’s considered the high-risk HPVs are sexually transmitted through direct contact with the tissues of the virus-producing papillomas or warts. High-risk HPVs can also cause cervical cancers and head and neck carcinomas, many of which are associated with poor clinical outcomes and have high mortality rates.

    How do viruses cause cancer?
    For both HTLV-1 and HPV, the virus itself does not cause cancer to develop.

    “It’s cooperating with oncogenes — cellular genes that become deregulated and have the potential to cause cancer,” Harrod said. “The role of these viruses, it seems, is to induce the proliferation of the cell affected with cancer. We’re trying to understand some of the molecular events that are associated with these cancers. ”

    The lab’s three-year NCI grant runs through 2019. Harrod’s two previous grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health were also three-year-grants, for $435,000 and $162,000. Each one has targeted HTLV-1 and the p30 protein.

    The lab’s first NCI grant came after the researchers provided the first demonstration that p30 could cooperate with cellular oncogenes, which have the potential to cause cancer, to cause deregulated cell growth leading to normal cells transforming into cancer cells. That original discovery was reported in 2005 in the article “A human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 enhancer of Myc transforming potential stabilizes Myc-TIP60 transcriptional interactions,” in the high-profile journal Molecular and Cellular Biology.

    “We find that the p30 protein is involved in maintaining the latency of these viruses. These viruses have to persist in the body for 20 to 40 years before a person develops disease. To do that they have to hide from the immune response,” Harrod explained. “So p30 plays a role in silencing the viral genome so that the affected cells can hide, but at the same time it induces replication of the affected cells. So when the cell divides, the virus divides. We call that pro-viral replication.”

    The term “latency maintenance factor” in reference to p30 originated with Harrod’s lab and has gained traction in the HTLV-1 field.

    Under the lab’s second NCI grant, the researchers figured out how to block pro-survival pathways to kill tumor cells.

    In the current grant proposal, Harrod’s lab demonstrated that by inhibiting specific downstream targets of p53 — essentially blocking pathways regulated by the p53 protein — they could cause infected tumor cells to collapse on themselves and undergo cell death.

    “We do that independent of chemotherapy,” Harrod said. “So that was a big find for us.”

    Goal is to eliminate cancer cells by inhibiting pathway
    Each grant project builds upon the one before it, and the third grant extends the work, to now include high-risk HPVs.

    “Now that we’ve shown we can block one or two of these factors to cause cell death, we’re starting to get an eye really on how we can inhibit these cancer cells and what potentially down the road may lead to a therapeutic,” Harrod said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

    One of the biggest challenges will be to inhibit the pathways in the tumor cells without targeting normal cells, he said. The lab’s recent findings indicate the researchers may soon be within reach of identifying a new strategy to eliminate cancer cells by inhibiting pathways key to their survival.

    Harrod’s lab collaborates on the research with: Lawrence Banks, Tumor Virology Group Leader, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Trieste, Italy; Brenda Hernandez, Associate Director, Hawaii Tumor Registry, University of Hawaii Cancer Center, Honolulu; and Patrick Green, Director, Center for Retrovirus Research, The Ohio State University. — Margaret Allen, SMU

    Culture, Society & Family Feature Fossils & Ruins Researcher news Technology

    Evidence of first chief indicates Pacific islanders invented a new society on city they built of coral and basalt

    New analysis of chief’s tomb suggests island’s monumental structures are earliest evidence of chiefdom in Pacific — yielding new keys to how societies emerge and evolve

    New dating on the stone buildings of Nan Madol suggests the ancient coral reef capital in the Pacific Ocean was the earliest among the islands to be ruled by a single chief.

    The discovery makes Nan Madol a key locale for studying how ancient human societies evolved from simple societies to more complex societies, said archaeologist Mark D. McCoy, Southern Methodist University, Dallas. McCoy led the discovery team.

    The finding was uncovered as part of a National Geographic expedition to study the monumental tomb said to belong to the first chief of the island of Pohnpei.

    McCoy deployed uranium series dating to determine that when the tomb was built it was one-of-a-kind, making it the first monumental scaled burial site on the remote islands of the Pacific.

    The discovery enables archaeologists to study more precisely how societies transform to more and more complex and hierarchical systems, said McCoy, an expert in landscape archaeology and monumental architecture and ideology in the Pacific Islands.

    “The kind of society that we live in today, it wasn’t born last year, or even 100 years ago,” McCoy said. “It has its roots in a pre-modern era like Nan Madol where you have a king or chief. These islanders invented a new kind of society — that is a socially creative achievement. The idea of chiefs, someone in charge, is not a new thing, but it’s an extremely important precursor. We know tribes and bands predate chiefdoms and states. But it’s not a straight line. By looking at these intermediate stages we get insight into that social phenomenon.”

    The analysis is the first time uranium-thorium series dating, which is significantly more precise than previously used radiocarbon dating, was deployed to calculate the age of the stone buildings that make up the famous site of Nan Madol (pronounced Nehn Muh-DOLL) – the former capital of the island of Pohnpei.

    “The thing that makes this case special is Nan Madol happened in isolation, it happened very recently, and we have multiple lines of evidence, including oral histories to support the analysis,” McCoy said. ”And because it’s an island we can be much more specific about the natural resources, the population, all the things that are more difficult when people are on a continent and all connected. So we can understand it with a lot more precision.”

    Nan Madol, which UNESCO this year named a World Heritage Site, was previously dated as being established in A.D. 1300. McCoy’s team narrowed that to just a 20-year window more than 100 years earlier, from 1180 to 1200.

    The finding pushes back even earlier the establishment of the powerful dynasty of Saudeleur chiefs who asserted authority over the island society for more than 1,000 years.

    First chief was buried in Pohnpei tomb by A.D. 1200
    An ancient city built atop a coral reef, Nan Madol has been uninhabited for centuries now. Located in the northwestern Pacific on the remote island of Pohnpei, it’s accessible via a 10-hour flight from Hawaii interspersed with short hops from atoll to atoll, including a stop at a U.S. military installation. Nan Madol is the largest archaeological site in Micronesia, a group of islands in the Caroline Archipelago of Oceania.

    Uranium dating indicates that by 1180, massive stones were being transported from a volcanic plug on the opposite side of the island for construction of the tomb. And by 1200, the burial vault had its first internment, the island’s chief.

    Construction of monumental buildings followed over the next several centuries on other islands not in the Saudeleur Dynasty across Oceania.

    McCoy, an associate professor in the SMU Department of Anthropology, and his team reported their discovery in the journal Quaternary Research in “Earliest direct evidence of monument building at the archaeological site of Nan Madol identified using 230Th/U coral dating and geochemical sourcing of megalithic architectural stone.”

    Co-authors include Helen A. Alderson, University of Cambridge, U.K., Richard Hemi, University of Otago, New Zealand, Hai Cheng, Xi’an Jiaotong University, China, and R. Lawrence Edwards, University of Minnesota.

    An inactive volcano that hasn’t erupted in at least one million years, Pohnpei Island is much larger than its neighboring atolls at 128 square miles (334 square kilometers), making it about the physical size of Columbia, S.C.

    Now part of the 607-island nation of the Federated States of Micronesia, Pohnpei Island and its nearby atolls have a population of 34,000.

    Pohnpei monument indicates invention of a new kind of society
    How Nan Madol was built remains an engineering mystery, much like Egypt’s Pyramids.

    “It’s a fair comparison to the Pyramids, because the construction, like the Pyramids, didn’t help anyone — it didn’t help society be fairer, or to grow crops or to provide any social good. It’s just a really big place to put a dead person,” McCoy said.

    It’s important to document such things, he said, because this architectural wonder indicates that independently of Egypt, another group of people put effort into building a monument.

    “And we think that’s associated with the invention of a new kind of society, a new kind of chiefdom that ruled the entire island,” McCoy said.

    Unlike Egypt and the Pyramids however, Nan Madol was invented much more recently in the big story of human prehistory, he said.

    “At A.D. 1200 there are universities in Europe. The Romans had come and gone. The Egyptians had come and gone,” he said. “But when you’re looking at Pohnpei, it’s very recent, so we still have the oral histories of the descendants of the people who built Nan Madol. There’s evidence that you just don’t have elsewhere.”

    Monumental city built of coral and stone
    Pohnpei was originally settled in A.D. 1 by islanders from the Solomon or Vanuatu island groups. According to local oral history, the Saudeleur Dynasty is estimated to have begun its rule around 1160 by counting back generations from the modern day.

    To build the tomb and other structures, naturally formed boulders of basalt, each weighing tons, were somehow transported far from existing quarries on the other side of the island to a lagoon overgrown with mangrove and stretching across 205 acres (83 hectares).

    The basalt blocks formed when hot lava cooled and adopted the shape of long, column-shaped boulders and cobbles. Formed from 1 million to 8 million years ago, they came from a number of possible quarry locations on the island.

    The city’s stone structures were built atop 98 shallow artificial coral reef islets, each one built by the Saudeleur people. The structures were constructed about three feet above waterline by laying down framing stones, filling the void between them with crushed coral, then laying up double parallel walls and again filling the gap between with crushed coral. The islets are separated by tidal canals and protected from the ocean by 12 sea walls, making Nan Madol what many consider the Venice of the Pacific.

    “The structures are very cleverly built,” said McCoy. “We think of coral as precious, but for the architects of Nan Madol it was a building material. They were on a little island surrounded by huge amounts of coral reef that grows really quickly in this environment, so they could paddle out at low tide and mine the coral by smashing some off and breaking it up into rubble.”

    The largest and most elaborate architecture in the city is the tomb of the first Saudeleur, measuring 262 feet by 196 feet (80 meters by 60 meters), basically the size of a football field. It is more than 26 feet (8 meters) tall, with exterior walls about six feet to 10 feet (1.8 to 3 meters) thick. A maze of walls and interior walkways, it includes an underground crypt capped with basalt.

    “The architecture is meant to be extremely impressive, and it is,” McCoy said. “The structures were built to last — this is one of the rainiest places on earth, so it can be muddy and slippery and wet, but these islets on the coral reef are very stable.”

    Portable X-ray technology provides clue to source of megalithic stones
    McCoy and his team used portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to geochemically match the columnar-shaped basalt stones to natural sources on the island. The uranium-thorium technique calculates a date based on characteristics of the radioactive isotope thorium-230 and its radioactive parent uranium-234.

    That enabled them to determine the construction chronology of a tomb that oral histories identify as the resting place of the first chief to rule the entire island.

    “We used an X-ray gun, which looks like a 1950s-styled ray gun,” McCoy said. “It allows you — at a distance and without destroying the thing you’re interested in — to bounce X-rays off it and work out what the chemistry is. The mobile technology has gotten much more affordable, making this kind of study feasible.”

    Using uranium series dating on coral emerged in the last decade. Accuracy — superior to radiocarbon — is plus or minus a few years of when the coral died. A very good radiocarbon date only will get within 100 years.

    “That’s a monumental shift in terms of the precision with which we talk about things,” McCoy said. “If Nan Madol had not been made of the kind of stone we could source, if the architects hadn’t chosen to use coral, we wouldn’t have been able to get this date. So it’s a happy coincidence that the evidence at the site came together.”

    McCoy suggests that future research look at finding the cause for this major turning point on Pohnpei, and what sparked this new hierarchy of rule and monumental building in this society. — Margaret Allen, SMU

    Feature Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Researcher news Videos

    Researchers test blood flow in athletes’ brains to find markers that diagnose concussions

    Diagnosing concussions is difficult because it typically rests on subjective symptoms such as forgetfulness, wobbly gait and disorientation or loss of consciousness. A new study of college athletes investigates objective indicators using Doppler ultrasound to measure brain blood flow and blood vessel function.

    A hard hit to the head typically prompts physicians to look for signs of a concussion based on symptoms such as forgetfulness, wobbly gait and disorientation.

    But symptoms such as those are subjective. And youth who are anxious to get back to their sport can sometimes hide the signs in order to brush off adult concerns, says physiologist Sushmita Purkayastha, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

    Now a new study funded by the Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair at U.T. Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas aims to find noninvasive objective indicators to diagnose whether an athlete has suffered a concussion. Using transcranial Doppler ultrasound, the study will probe the brains of college athletes to measure blood vessel function in the brain, looking for tell-tale signs related to blood flow that help diagnose concussion, said Purkayastha, a researcher on the new study.

    “We know this is an understudied area. With other health problems, when the doctor suspects diabetes or hypertension, they don’t guess, they run objective tests to confirm the diagnosis. But that’s not the case with concussion — yet,” said Purkayastha, whose research expertise is blood flow regulation in the human brain. “That’s why my research focus is to find markers that are objective and not subjective. And this method of monitoring blood flow in the brain with ultrasound is noninvasive, inexpensive and there’s no radiation.”

    Purkayastha and others on the research team are working under a one-year, $150,000 pilot research grant from the Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair, a UT Southwestern initiative funded by the Texas Legislature to enhance the diagnosis and treatment of brain injuries.

    The team will observe 200 male and female college athletes over the next two years. Half the athletes will be students playing a contact-collision sport who have recently suffered a sports-related concussion. The other half, a control group, will be students playing a contact-collision sport who don’t have a concussion. The study draws on athletes from football, soccer, equestrian sports, cheerleading and recreational sports.

    The researchers began testing subjects in August. They expect to have results by the Fall of 2017.

    “We are very excited at establishing this collaboration between SMU and the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department at UTSW. Our work with Dr. Purkayastha promises to give meaningful insight into the role of cerebral blood flow mechanisms after concussion and will point us in the right direction for improved neurorecovery,” said physician Kathleen Bell, a leading investigator at U.T. Southwestern’s Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair and principal investigator on the study. Bell is a nationally recognized leader in rehabilitation medicine and a specialist in neurorehabilitation.

    Diagnosing concussions by using objective, non-invasive and inexpensive markers will result in accurate diagnosis and better return-to-play decisions following a concussion, thereby preventing the long-term risk of second-impact syndrome, said Purkayastha, an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness of SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

    “Although sports-related concussions are common, the physiology of the injury is poorly understood, and hence there are limited treatments currently available,” she said.

    Hemorrhage or blackouts result, for example, if autoregulation malfunctions
    While the brain is the most important organ in the body, it has been very understudied, said Purkayastha, a professor in the Simmons School of Education & Human Development. But since blood vessels in the brain behave similarly to those in the rest of the body, it’s possible to measure blood vessel function in the brain by monitoring blood pressure and brain blood flow. Observing those functions could reveal a marker, she said.

    In Purkayastha’s lab on the SMU campus, student athletes are being outfitted with two small ultrasound probes, one on each side of their forehead in the temple area, to test blood vessel function. Specifically, the two probes monitor the blood flow through middle cerebral artery, which supplies blood to 75 percent of the brain. The artery traverses the brain, circulating blood to the brain tissues responsible for movement, cognition and decision-making.

    Branching from the middle cerebral artery is a network of blood vessels that get smaller and smaller as they get further from the artery, spreading like tree branches through the brain. The smallest vessels — via a different local regulatory mechanism — maintain constant blood flow to the brain, making microadjustments, such as constricting and dilating in the face of constant changes in blood pressure. Adjustments occur as a person’s muscles move, whether standing, sitting, exercising, or even just laughing and experiencing emotion. These continual adjustments in the vessels — called cerebral autoregulation — keep blood flow constant and regular. That prevents problems such as hemorrhaging or passing out from large fluctuations in blood pressure that is either too high or too low.

    Researchers suspect concussion diminishes a vessels ability to properly regulate blood flow
    In the current study, ultrasound probes on the temples record the vessels’ microadjustments as digital data. That information is processed through a WinDaq data acquisition software and analyzed to examine cerebral autoregulation with spontaneous changes in blood pressure during that period of time.

    Unlike at the doctor’s office, when a cuff is used to measure blood pressure at a rate of single measurements during 30 seconds, Purkayastha’s ultrasound monitoring of blood pressure provides continuous blood pressure recording throughout each heartbeat. As sound waves bounce into the artery and send back an echo, they measure the speed of red blood cells and other blood components moving through the artery.

    “We collect 10 minutes of very high frequency data points collecting information on beat-to-beat changes in blood pressure and blood flow to the brain for every single heartbeat,” said Purkayastha. “Then we analyze and post-process and examine how well the blood vessels were able to maintain constant blood flow to the brain. We suspect in people with concussion that the autoregulation function isn’t operating properly which leads to impairments in function such as wobbly gait, disorientation or forgetfulness. This is a noninvasive way to see if there’s a flaw in the autoregulation.”

    Athletes with confirmed diagnosis of concussions will be tested three times during the course of the study. The first test is three days after a suspected concussion, the second is 21 days afterward, and the third is three months afterward.

    “The pilot studies so far look promising and our goal is to better understand the mechanism behind injury and design objective markers detecting concussion,” said Purkayastha.

    The Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair at U.T. Southwestern Medical Center, a component of the Harold and Annette Simmons Comprehensive Center for Research and Treatment in Brain and Neurological Disorders, is a collaborative initiative involving local and national organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, University of Texas Dallas and its Center for BrainHealth, Children’s Medical Center, Dallas VA Medical Center, and Parkland Health and Hospital System, as well as Texas Health Resources and Texas Health Ben Hogan Sports Medicine. — Margaret Allen, SMU