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About four in five respondents reported satisfaction with their CU-Boulder education. A similar proportion would recommend CU-Boulder to a friend and nearly 98 percent of the seniors reported that their program of study met their educational goals.
The 2012 study is the latest edition of the senior survey, conducted 11 times since 1985 by CU-Boulder’s Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis, or PBA.
“The survey data clearly demonstrate that these students, from their perspective as seniors, judge the university in overwhelmingly positive terms,” said Michael Grant, CU-Boulder associate vice chancellor for undergraduate education. “CU-Boulder routinely invests a lot of time and energy in polling our senior students about their experiences, academic and otherwise, in order to continuously work toward improving those experiences.”
The online questionnaire was sent to 7,646 degree-seeking seniors and was completed by 2,890, or 38 percent, of the recipients. Comprising about 200 scaled items, plus four open-ended questions, the survey collected a massive amount of information including nearly 7,900 written comments.
The 2012 seniors’ ratings of CU-Boulder advising services were higher than those from any previous senior survey. The seniors’ satisfaction with numerous other CU-Boulder services, from libraries to information technology, was high and generally comparable to that of earlier cohorts.
“We use the survey results extensively to look at what’s popular and working well, to set goals to improve services, and even to pass along advice,” said Jim Davis Rosenthal, CU-Boulder director of orientation and director of the Office of Student Affairs Assessment. “Based on one of the survey questions, we are able to let incoming freshmen know what outgoing seniors wished they had gotten involved in. Other departments also use the results to encourage students to try opportunities they might not otherwise have considered. In a way, it’s like older siblings giving advice to their younger siblings.”
Large proportions of seniors said that if they were to start over at CU-Boulder, they would put more effort toward or spend more time on interacting with faculty (60 percent), career exploration (51 percent), and campus-related research projects, internships and applied experiences (45 percent).
Nearly two-thirds of seniors who expected to graduate by summer 2012 reported that their principal activity in fall 2012 was most likely to be paid employment, either full time (48 percent) or part time (15 percent). A combined 15 percent said they were most likely to be enrolled in graduate studies, professional school or other coursework. A combined 13 percent expected to go into military service, or pursue volunteer service, an internship, student teaching or travel.
The thousands of student comments included praise for various aspects of their major programs, suggestions for ways to enhance and improve major programs, and descriptions of ways in which their major program did or did not meet their educational goals.
One student wrote, “I feel that I am prepared to be an exceptional teacher after I graduate. The school had a lot to do with my preparedness.” Another wrote, “Excellent material, mostly great professors, and fantastic facilities all add up to a well-rounded education.”
The survey collects information on seniors’ satisfaction with their educational experiences at CU-Boulder and about their post-graduation plans. The survey’s findings are used primarily to provide systematic information for academic and service units to use in planning and improvement, and for use by prospective and current students, their advisers, and their families.
Preliminary results for the Seniors’ Future Plans Survey, which is separate from the comprehensive senior survey and which has been conducted each year since 2009, show a jump in full-time employment expectations. The initial data show that 54 percent of CU-Boulder seniors in 2013 expect full-time employment to be their principal activity after graduation, an increase from 48 percent in 2012. Expectations for part-time employment were reported by 15 percent of the 2013 seniors.
The 2012 questionnaire and comprehensive data from the senior survey, including summary reports from students in each of CU-Boulder’s schools and colleges and nearly 50 departments, are available athttp://www.colorado.edu/pba/surveys/senior/12/index.htm.
CU-Boulder to receive $36 million
The University of Colorado Boulder will receive roughly $36 million from NASA to build and operate a space instrument for a mission led by the University of Central Florida that will study Earth’s upper atmosphere to learn more about the disruptive effects of space weather.
The mission, known as the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, or GOLD, involves imaging Earth’s upper atmosphere from a geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles above the planet. The mission is expected to have a direct impact on the understanding of space weather like geomagnetic storms that alter the temperature and composition of Earth’s atmosphere, which can disrupt communication and navigation satellites, affecting everything from automobile GPS and cell phone coverage to television programming.
The GOLD mission, which is being led by research scientist Richard Eastes of the University of Central Florida, will launch aboard a commercial communications satellite as a “hosted” payload. Such payloads, which are secondary to the satellite’s main objective, represent the most cost-effective way to reach geostationary orbit, said CU-Boulder aerospace engineer Mark Lankton of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, the GOLD project manager.
“LASP is extremely pleased to be working on this mission with Richard Eastes at the University of Central Florida, who we have been collaborating with for seven years,” said Lankton. “This mission is one of the first to involve a science instrument being launched on a communication satellite, which is a terrific idea and exactly the right way to run a quality mission on a smaller budget.”
The LASP instrument, known as an imaging spectrograph, weighs roughly 60 pounds and is about 2 feet long and about 1 foot tall and 1 foot wide – roughly the size of a microwave oven. It will launch aboard a commercial satellite built by SES Government Solutions in McLean, Va. The LASP instrument will be gathering data on Earth’s upper atmosphere in the far ultraviolet portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.
“GOLD’s imaging represents a new paradigm for observing the boundary between Earth and space,” said Bill McClintock, the deputy principal investigator on the CU-Boulder spectrograph and a senior research scientist at LASP. “It will revolutionize our understanding of how the sun and the space environment affect our upper atmosphere.”
A geosynchronous orbit is an orbit that completes one revolution in the same amount of time it takes for the Earth to rotate once on its polar axis. “We will be able to view almost a complete hemisphere of the Earth, almost all the time, with this orbit,” said Lankton.
The mission scientists will be looking for the effects of space weather on the upper atmosphere — the ionosphere and thermosphere located roughly 50 miles to 350 miles above Earth – caused by the sun and Earth’s lower atmosphere, said Lankton. “The giant driver is the sun, including geomagnetic storms that can cause bright auroras and the disruption of satellite communications,” he said.
Lankton said the science team also will investigate the effects that atmospheric waves and tides from Earth’s lower atmosphere have on the thermosphere-ionosphere system. The mission will make use of other instruments gathering data on the sun, including LASP’s $42 million Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment flying on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
Roughly 40 LASP researchers will be working on the GOLD mission when it is at full strength, including five to 10 students, split about evenly between undergraduates and graduates, said Lankton. Other participants in the GOLD mission include the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, the University of California, Berkeley, Computational Physics Inc. of Springfield, Va., and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The GOLD mission is part of NASA’s new Heliospheric Explorer Program designed to provide space observations to study Earth’s ionosphere and thermosphere. The mission is slated for launch in 2017. NASA Explorer missions of opportunity, such as GOLD, are capped at $55 million each.
by CU media relations
A new look at conditions after a Manhattan-sized asteroid slammed into a region of Mexico in the dinosaur days indicates the event could have triggered a global firestorm that would have burned every twig, bush and tree on Earth and led to the extinction of 80 percent of all Earth’s species, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study.
Led by Douglas Robertson of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, the team used models that show the collision would have vaporized huge amounts of rock that were then blown high above Earth’s atmosphere. The re-entering ejected material would have heated the upper atmosphere enough to glow red for several hours at roughly 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit — about the temperature of an oven broiler element — killing every living thing not sheltered underground or underwater.
The CU-led team developed an alternate explanation for the fact that there is little charcoal found at the Cretaceous-Paleogene, or K-Pg, boundary some 66 million years ago when the asteroid struck Earth and the cataclysmic fires are believed to have occurred. The CU researchers found that similar studies had corrected their data for changing sedimentation rates. When the charcoal data were corrected for the same changing sedimentation rates they show an excess of charcoal, not a deficiency, Robertson said.
“Our data show the conditions back then are consistent with widespread fires across the planet,” said Robertson, a research scientist at CIRES, which is a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Those conditions resulted in 100 percent extinction rates for about 80 percent of all life on Earth.”
A paper on the subject was published online this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. Co-authors on the study include CIRES Interim Director William Lewis, CU Professor Brian Toon of the atmospheric and oceanic sciences department and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and Peter Sheehan of the Milwaukee Public Museum in Wisconsin.
Geological evidence indicates the asteroid collided with Earth about 66 million years ago and carved the Chicxulub crater in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that is more than 110 miles in diameter. In 2010, experts from 33 institutions worldwide issued a report that concluded the impact at Chicxulub triggered mass extinctions, including dinosaurs, at the K-Pg boundary.
The conditions leading to the global firestorm were set up by the vaporization of rock following the impact, which condensed into sand-grain-sized spheres as they rose above the atmosphere. As the ejected material re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, it dumped enough heat in the upper atmosphere to trigger an infrared “heat pulse” so hot it caused the sky to glow red for several hours, even though part of the radiation was blocked from Earth by the falling material, he said.
But there was enough infrared radiation from the upper atmosphere that reached Earth’s surface to create searing conditions that likely ignited tinder, including dead leaves and pine needles. If a person was on Earth back then, it would have been like sitting in a broiler oven for two or three hours, said Robertson.
The amount of energy created by the infrared radiation the day of the asteroid-Earth collision is mind-boggling, said Robertson. “It’s likely that the total amount of infrared heat was equal to a 1 megaton bomb exploding every four miles over the entire Earth.”
A 1-megaton hydrogen bomb has about the same explosive power as 80 Hiroshima-type nuclear bombs, he said. The asteroid-Earth collision is thought to have generated about 100 million megatons of energy, said Robertson.
Some researchers have suggested that a layer of soot found at the K-Pg boundary layer roughly 66 million years ago was created by the impact itself. But Robertson and his colleagues calculated that the amount of soot was too high to have been created during the massive impact event and was consistent with the amount that would be expected from global fires.
Astronomers targeting one of the brightest quasars glowing in the universe some 11 billion years ago say “sideline quasars” likely teamed up with it to heat abundant helium gas billions of years ago, preventing small galaxy formation.
CU-Boulder Professor Michael Shull and Research Associate David Syphers used the Hubble Space Telescope to look at the quasar — the brilliant core of an active galaxy that acted as a “lighthouse” for the observations — to better understand the conditions of the early universe. The scientists studied gaseous material between the telescope and the quasar with a $70 million ultraviolet spectrograph on Hubble designed by a team from CU-Boulder’s Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy.
During a time known as the “helium reionization era” some 11 billion years ago, blasts of ionizing radiation from black holes believed to be seated in the cores of quasars stripped electrons from primeval helium atoms, said Shull. The initial ionization that charged up the helium gas in the universe is thought to have occurred sometime shortly after the Big Bang.
“We think ‘sideline quasars’ located out of the telescope’s view reionized intergalactic helium gas from different directions, preventing it from gravitationally collapsing and forming new generations of stars,” he said. Shull likened the early universe to a hunk of Swiss cheese, where quasars cleared out zones of neutral helium gas in the intergalactic medium that were then “pierced” by UV observations from the space telescope.
The results of the new study also indicate the helium reionization era of the universe appears to have occurred later than thought, said Shull, a professor in CU-Boulder’s astrophysical and planetary sciences department. “We initially thought the helium reionization era took place about 12 billion years ago,” said Shull. “But now we think it more likely occurred in the 11 to 10 billion-year range, which was a surprise.”
A paper on the subject by Shull and Syphers was published online this week in the Astrophysical Journal.
The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph used for the quasar observations aboard Hubble was designed to probe the evolution of galaxies, stars and intergalactic matter. The COS team is led by CU Professor James Green of CASA and was installed on Hubble by astronauts during its final servicing mission in 2009. COS was built in an industrial partnership between CU and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder.
“While there are likely hundreds of millions of quasars in the universe, there are only a handful you can use for a study like this,” said Shull. Quasars are nuclei in the center of active galaxies that have “gone haywire” because of supermassive black holes that gorged themselves in the cores, he said. “For our purposes, they are just a really bright background light that allows us to see to the edge of the universe, like a headlight shining through fog.”
The universe is thought to have begun with the Big Bang that triggered a fireball of searing plasma that expanded and then become cool neutral gas at about 380,000 years, bringing on the “dark ages” when there was no light from stars or galaxies, said Shull. The dark ages were followed by a period of hydrogen reionization, then the formation of the first galaxies beginning about 13.5 billion years ago. The first galaxies era was followed by the rise of quasars some 2 billion years later, which led to the helium reionization era, he said.
The radiation from the huge quasars heated the gas to 20,000 to 40,000 degrees Fahrenheit in intergalactic realms of the early universe, said Shull. “It is important to understand that if the helium gas is heated during the epoch of galaxy formation, it makes it harder for proto-galaxies to hang on to the bulk of their gas. In a sense, it’s like intergalactic global warming.”
The team is using COS to probe the “fossil record” of gases in the universe, including a structure known as the “cosmic web” believed to be made of long, narrow filaments of galaxies and intergalactic gas separated by enormous voids. Scientists theorize that a single cosmic web filament may stretch for hundreds of millions of light years, an eye-popping number considering that a single light-year is about 5.9 trillion miles.
COS breaks light into its individual components — similar to the way raindrops break sunlight into the colors of the rainbow — and reveals information about the temperature, density, velocity, distance and chemical composition of galaxies, stars and gas clouds.
For the study, Shull and Syphers used 4.5 hours of data from Hubble observations of the quasar, which has a catalog name of HS1700+6416. While some astronomers define quasars as feeding black holes, “We don’t know if these objects feed once, or feed several times,” Shull said. They are thought to survive only a few million years or perhaps a few hundred million years, a brief blink in time compared to the age of the universe, he said.
“Our own Milky Way has a dormant black hole in its center,” said Shull. “Who knows? Maybe our Milky Way used to be a quasar.”
The first quasar, short for “quasi-stellar radio source,” was discovered 50 years ago this month by Caltech astronomer Maarten Schmidt. The quasar he observed, 3C-273, is located roughly 2 billion years from Earth and is 40 times more luminous than an entire galaxy of 100 billion stars. That quasar is receding from Earth at 15 percent of the speed of light, with related winds blowing millions of miles per hour, said Shull.
City Manager Jane S. Brautigam has approved a flexible rebate application for Boulder-based Gnip for up to $45,000 in rebates. The rebates were authorized for sales and use taxes, and permit-related fees.
“Gnip is a fast-growing company in Boulder’s thriving downtown and high-tech communities,” Brautigam said. “The city is very pleased that it can support Gnip’s expansion so it can grow as an industry leader, delivering three billion social media activities per day.”
The flexible rebate program is one of the city’s business incentives, covering a wide range of fees, equipment and construction use taxes. Under this program, the city manager may consider a specific incentive package for tax and fee rebates to meet a company’s specific needs. The company is then eligible for the rebate after it has made its investment and paid the taxes or fees to the city.
Gnip is the largest provider of social data in the world, partnering with Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and WordPress, among others, to aggregate social media data and information for their clients. Founded in 2008, the company has emerged as a leader in the social media industry. With 50 employees, Gnip recently expanded into a new space at 1050 Walnut, Suite 115, to maintain its presence in downtown Boulder. In addition, Gnip was named “best place to work” by both the Boulder Chamber and the Denver Business Journal.
“We’re excited to be a based in Boulder and we think our growth is facilitated by the many advantages offered by the City of Boulder”, said Gnip CEO Jud Valeski. “We think Boulder offers the world’s best place to work and live.”
The flexible rebate program uses social, community, and environmental sustainability guidelines. Companies choose the guidelines that best fit their circumstances, but must meet minimum requirements in order to receive the rebate. Gnip has exceeded the requirements and, of note, the company has initiated the Gnip Gives Back program. This program coordinates charitable giving and organizes group service opportunities for the company to participate in. Gnip also offers Eco Passes, Boulder B-Cycle memberships, and annual City of Boulder Recreation passes to their employees and is located in a LEED Gold certified building.
Gnip’s application is approved as part of the 2012 flexible rebate program; one application is still pending. The city’s approved 2012 budget includes $350,000 in funding for 2012 flexible tax and fee rebates for primary employers.
We have met several times over the years. I am the city’s Economic Vitality Coordinator and I oversee the city’s flexible rebate business incentive program. The program is designed for primary employers (defined as Boulder companies that bring in over 50% of their revenues from outside Boulder County); it is not available to retail stores. Two return on investment analyses (ROI) are done for each rebate application, one that considers all local employees and one that considers only those employees who live in Boulder. Economic impacts such as company spending on catering, hotels, local purchases, and restaurants are considered, as is employee spending at restaurants and retail stores. This was an important factor for Gnip, as a downtown employer.
I would be happy to speak with you by phone or meet with you to explain the program further. The flexible rebate program is in its seventh year and has had a good track record of investing in companies that are investing in Boulder. Please note that, as a rebate program, no company receives city funds unless they have made a capital and/or facility investment and have submitted receipts for the tax/fee payments.
A team led by the University of Colorado Boulder looking for clues about why Earth did not warm as much as scientists expected between 2000 and 2010 now thinks the culprits are hiding in plain sight — dozens of volcanoes spewing sulfur dioxide.
The study results essentially exonerate Asia, including India and China, two countries that are estimated to have increased their industrial sulfur dioxide emissions by about 60 percent from 2000 to 2010 through coal burning, said lead study author Ryan Neely, who led the research as part of his CU-Boulder doctoral thesis. Small amounts of sulfur dioxide emissions from Earth’s surface eventually rise 12 to 20 miles into the stratospheric aerosol layer of the atmosphere, where chemical reactions create sulfuric acid and water particles that reflect sunlight back to space, cooling the planet.
Neely said previous observations suggest that increases in stratospheric aerosols since 2000 have counterbalanced as much as 25 percent of the warming scientists blame on human greenhouse gas emissions. “This new study indicates it is emissions from small to moderate volcanoes that have been slowing the warming of the planet,” said Neely, a researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint venture of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A paper on the subject was published online in Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. Co-authors include Professors Brian Toon and Jeffrey Thayer from CU-Boulder; Susan Solomon, a former NOAA scientist now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Jean Paul Vernier from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.; Catherine Alvarez, Karen Rosenlof and John Daniel from NOAA; and Jason English, Michael Mills and Charles Bardeen from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.
The new project was undertaken in part to resolve conflicting results of two recent studies on the origins of the sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere, including a 2009 study led by the late David Hoffman of NOAA indicating aerosol increases in the stratosphere may have come from rising emissions of sulfur dioxide from India and China. In contrast, a 2011 study led by Vernier — who also provided essential observation data for the new GRL study — showed moderate volcanic eruptions play a role in increasing particulates in the stratosphere, Neely said.
The new GRL study also builds on a 2011 study led by Solomon showing stratospheric aerosols offset about a quarter of the greenhouse effect warming on Earth during the past decade, said Neely, also a postdoctoral fellow in NCAR’s Advanced Study Program.
The new study relies on long-term measurements of changes in the stratospheric aerosol layer’s “optical depth,” which is a measure of transparency, said Neely. Since 2000, the optical depth in the stratospheric aerosol layer has increased by about 4 to 7 percent, meaning it is slightly more opaque now than in previous years.
“The biggest implication here is that scientists need to pay more attention to small and moderate volcanic eruptions when trying to understand changes in Earth’s climate,” said Toon of CU-Boulder’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. “But overall these eruptions are not going to counter the greenhouse effect. Emissions of volcanic gases go up and down, helping to cool or heat the planet, while greenhouse gas emissions from human activity just continue to go up.”
The key to the new results was the combined use of two sophisticated computer models, including the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model, or WACCM, Version 3, developed by NCAR and which is widely used around the world by scientists to study the atmosphere. The team coupled WACCM with a second model, the Community Aerosol and Radiation Model for Atmosphere, or CARMA, which allows researchers to calculate properties of specific aerosols and which has been under development by a team led by Toon for the past several decades.
Neely said the team used the Janus supercomputer on campus to conduct seven computer “runs,” each simulating 10 years of atmospheric activity tied to both coal-burning activities in Asia and to emissions by volcanoes around the world. Each run took about a week of computer time using 192 processors, allowing the team to separate coal-burning pollution in Asia from aerosol contributions from moderate, global volcanic eruptions. The project would have taken a single computer processor roughly 25 years to complete, said Neely.
The scientists said 10-year climate data sets like the one gathered for the new study are not long enough to determine climate change trends. “This paper addresses a question of immediate relevance to our understanding of the human impact on climate,” said Neely. “It should interest those examining the sources of decadal climate variability, the global impact of local pollution and the role of volcanoes.”
While small and moderate volcanoes mask some of the human-caused warming of the planet, larger volcanoes can have a much bigger effect, said Toon. When Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted in 1991, it emitted millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere that cooled the Earth slightly for the next several years.
The research for the new study was funded in part through a NOAA/ ESRL-CIRES Graduate Fellowship to Neely. The National Science Foundation and NASA also provided funding for the research project. The Janus supercomputer is supported by NSF and CU-Boulder and is a joint effort of CU-Boulder, CU Denver and NCAR.
CU-Boulder amphibian study shows how
biodiversity can protect against disease
The richer the assortment of amphibian species living in a pond, the more protection that community of frogs, toads and salamanders has against a parasitic infection that can cause severe deformities, including the growth of extra legs, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder.
The findings, published Feb. 14 in the journal Nature, support the idea that greater biodiversity in larger-scale ecosystems, such as forests or grasslands, may also provide greater protection against diseases, including those that attack humans. For example, a larger number of mammal species in an area may curb cases of Lyme disease, while a larger number of bird species may slow the spread of West Nile virus.
“How biodiversity affects the risk of infectious diseases, including those of humans and wildlife, has become an increasingly important question,” said Pieter Johnson, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and lead author of the study. “But as it turns out, solidly testing these linkages with realistic experiments has proven very challenging in most systems.”
Researchers have struggled to design comprehensive studies that could illuminate the possible connection between disease transmission and the number of species living in complex ecosystems. Part of the problem is simply the enormous number of organisms that may need to be sampled and the vast areas over which those organisms may roam.
The new CU-Boulder study overcomes that problem by studying smaller, easier-to-sample ecosystems. Johnson and his team visited hundreds of ponds in California, recording the types of amphibians living there as well as the number of snails infected by the pathogen Ribeiroia ondatrae. Snails are an intermediate host used by the parasite during part of its life cycle.
“One of the great challenges in studying the diversity-disease link has been collecting data from enough replicate systems to differentiate the influence of diversity from background ‘noise,’ ” Johnson said. “By collecting data from hundreds of ponds and thousands of amphibian hosts, our group was able to provide a rigorous test of this hypothesis, which has relevance to a wide range of disease systems.”
Johnson’s team buttressed its field observations both with laboratory tests designed to measure how prone to infection each amphibian species is and by creating pond replicas outside using large plastic tubs stocked with tadpoles that were exposed to a known number of parasites. All of the experiments told the same story, Johnson said. Greater biodiversity reduced the number of successful amphibian infections and the number of deformed frogs.
In all, the CU-Boulder researchers spent three years sampling 345 wetlands and recording malformations — which include missing, misshapen or extra sets of hind legs — caused by parasitic infections in 24,215 amphibians. They also cataloged 17,516 snails. The results showed that ponds with half a dozen amphibian species had a 78 percent reduction in parasite transmission compared to ponds with just one amphibian species. The research team also set up experiments in the lab and outdoors using 40 artificial ponds, each stocked with 60 amphibians and 5,000 parasites.
The reason for the decline in parasitic infections as biodiversity increases is likely related to the fact that ponds add amphibian species in a predictable pattern, with the first species to appear being the most prone to infection and the later species to appear being the least prone. For example, the research team found that in a pond with just one type of amphibian, that amphibian was almost always the Pacific chorus frog, a creature that is able to rapidly reproduce and quickly colonize wetland habitats, but which is also especially vulnerable to infection and parasite-induced deformities.
On the other hand, the California tiger salamander was typically one of the last species to be added to a pond community and also one of the most resistant to parasitic infection. Therefore, in a pond with greater biodiversity, parasites have a higher chance of encountering an amphibian that is resistant to infection, lowering the overall success rate of transmission between infected snails and amphibians.
This same pattern — of less diverse communities being made up of species that are more susceptible to disease infection — may well play out in more complex ecosystems as well, Johnson said. That’s because species that disperse quickly across ecosystems appear to trade off the ability to quickly reproduce with the ability to develop disease resistance.
“This research reaches the surprising conclusion that the entire set of species in a community affects the susceptibility to disease,” said Doug Levey, program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology, which helped fund the research. “Biodiversity matters.”
The sheer magnitude of the recent study also reinforces the connection between deformed frogs and parasitic infection, Johnson said. Beginning in the mid-1990s reports of frogs with extra, missing or misshapen legs skyrocketed, attracting widespread attention in the media and motivating scientists to try to figure out the cause. Johnson was among the researchers who found evidence of a link between infection with Ribeiroia and frog deformities, though the apparent rise in reports of deformations, and its underlying cause, remains controversial.
While the new study has implications beyond parasitic infections in amphibians, it does not mean that an increase in biodiversity always results in a decrease in disease, Johnson cautioned. Other factors also affect rates of disease transmission. For example, a large number of mosquitoes hatching in a particular year will increase the risk of contracting West Nile virus, even if there has been an increase in the biodiversity of the bird population. Birds act as “reservoir hosts” for West Nile virus, harboring the pathogen indefinitely with no ill effects and passing the pathogen onto mosquitoes.
“Our results indicate that higher diversity reduces the success of pathogens in moving between hosts,” Johnson said. “Nonetheless, if infection pressure is high, for instance in a year with high abundance of vectors, there will still be a significant risk of disease; biodiversity will simply function to dampen transmission success.”
CU-Boulder graduate students Dan Preston and Katie Richgels co-authored the study along with Jason Hoverman, a former postdoctoral researcher in Johnson’s lab who is now an assistant professor at Purdue. The research was funded by NSF, the National Geographic Society and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
To view photos and a video about the research, visit http://freshwatersillustrated.org/link/AmphibianDeformities.
School health data system gets $3 million
Written by Ann Schimke on Feb 7th, 2013. | Copyright © EdNewsColorado.org
Kaiser Permanente and the Colorado Legacy Foundation on Thursday announced a $3 million, five-year plan to create a comprehensive data reporting system for school health and wellness indicators.
Students eating lunch at a Boulder elementary school where there has been an emphasis on healthy offerings. EdNews file photo
The new School Health Policy and Practice Data Collection Program will help demonstrate the link between health and education and provide feedback to schools to help them improve programming. The project is a collaboration between Kaiser, which will provide the funding, and the Colorado Legacy Foundation, the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Coalition for Healthy Schools.
Helayne Jones, president and CEO of Colorado Legacy Foundation, said part of the current problem is that “we don’t know what is working because we haven’t had a consistent way of measuring health and wellness practices.”
Currently, some Colorado schools report on some health indicators, but there is no uniform collection system in place. Data on nine indicators is collected through the state’s March Report Card. Other health data is collected intermittently through assessments like the Colorado Healthy School Champions Score Card, the School Wellness Policies Assessment tool, the School Environment and Policy Survey and Healthy Schools Colorado Database.
The new School Health Policy and Practice Data Collection Program is intended to simplify and streamline the collection process for schools. Once it is up and running, comprehensive health indicator data will be available through the Colorado Department of Education’s online SchoolView platform.
In hopes of better understanding nutrition and health, the University of Colorado Boulder is playing the leading science role in a “crowd funding” effort that has raised more than $340,000 for a project designed to sequence the gut bacteria of thousands of people around the world.
Known as the American Gut project, the effort raised the money through a crowdfunding effort online in which collective groups of people pool money to support various initiatives, said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Rob Knight of the BioFrontiers Institute. The $340,477 raised for the American Gut project is the largest amount of money ever raised through crowdfunding for a science project, said Knight, who is co-leading the effort with Jeff Leach, founder of the Human Food Project.
The money contributed by 2,005 funders will be used to sequence gut bacteria from about 3,500 people said Knight. Each human is believed to harbor roughly 10 trillion microorganisms — about 10 times more than the number of cells in the human body — that undertake a number of important functions ranging from digesting food to the strengthening of immune systems.
In 2009, a consortium of 200 researchers from 80 institutions organized by the National Institutes of Health, including Knight, mapped the normal microbial makeup of healthy humans as part of the $173 million Human Microbiome Project. Building on the massive NIH effort, the American Gut project will be an “open source” effort, meaning participants will have access to the data gathered to help understand how diet and lifestyle may contribute to human health through the interaction of our microbiomes, cells and genes, said Knight.
“The outpouring of public support for this research project demonstrates how public awareness of the role of our microbial systems in human health is growing,” said Knight, the project’s scientific lead who holds joint faculty appointments in CU-Boulder’s chemistry and biochemistry department and computer science department. “By looking at samples from the general public, we can get a far better sense of what a ‘normal’ microbiome is and what factors have the largest effects.”
The scientists are particularly interested in how diet and lifestyle, whether by choice or necessity, affect peoples’ microbial makeup, including those suffering from particular autoimmune diseases or who have food allergies, said Knight, also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist.
“The large number of participants in American Gut, coupled with our ongoing work in Africa and South America, will allow us to explore the impact of diet and lifestyle between western and more traditional societies,” said Leach. “We may find that our modern gut microbiome has shifted significantly away from our ancestral one, but reinstating some of that primal balance may be within our grasp.”
“I’m super excited about helping to build a system that not only integrates so much data but also presents it to the user in a useful way,” said Meg Pirrung, a graduate student in Knight’s lab. “This is an amazing opportunity for me and everyone involved.”
Daniel McDonald, a graduate student in the BioFrontiers Institute’s IQ Biology Program, said the American Gut project is allowing him to hone his interdisciplinary experience. IQ Biology students are involved in semester-long rotations that immerse them in disciplines ranging from mathematical and computational biology to biophysics and bio-imaging. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity for discovery,” he said.
The American Gut data also will also be used in the several IQ Biology Program courses taught by Knight with Manuel Lladser, an associate professor in the applied mathematics department. Last year the IQ Biology program at CU’s BioFrontiers Institute, which offers doctorates in eight disciplines, was awarded a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, or IGERT.
Second Genome, a biotech company headquartered in San Bruno, Calif., is working with the American Gut project to explore the connection between the human microbiome and type 2 diabetes, said company president and CEO Peter DiLaura.
“The American Gut project has succeeded in bringing together the largest citizen science network ever for human microbiome sample collection,” DiLaura said. “By building this extensive reference database, we now have the opportunity to explore the connections between the human microbiome and metabolic and inflammatory diseases.”
Although the first round of funding that enabled the project to commence has ended, a second phase also allows anyone in the world to join, said Leach. Once the scientific results are in from the initial group of participants, a third phase will allow new participants to obtain additional analyses crucial to understanding the microbiome.
“By integrating the tens of thousands of environmental samples that the scientific community has provided from around the world and applying powerful modeling approaches, we will be able to gain unprecedented insight into the links between our own microbes and those in our environment,” said Argonne National Laboratories microbial ecologist Jack Gilbert, a member of the Earth Microbiome Steering Committee.
“With advances in DNA sequencing, we are moving towards a world in which no infectious disease goes undiagnosed, and in which we have full knowledge of the microbes that inhabit us and our surroundings,” said Knight. “By participating in this project, thousands of people are helping us to make this future a reality.”
The wild and dramatic cascade of ice into the ocean from Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, an iconic glacier featured in the documentary “Chasing Ice” and one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world, will cease around 2020, according to a study by the University of Colorado Boulder.
A computer model predicts the retreat of the Columbia Glacier will stop when the glacier reaches a new stable position — roughly 15 miles upstream from the stable position it occupied prior to the 1980s. The team, headed by lead author William Colgan of the CU-Boulder headquartered Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, published its results today in The Cryosphere, an open access publication of the European Geophysical Union.
The Columbia Glacier is a large (425 square miles), multi-branched glacier in south-central Alaska that flows mostly south out of the Chugach Mountains to its tidewater terminus in Prince William Sound.
Warming air temperatures have triggered an increase in the Columbia Glacier’s rate of iceberg calving, whereby large pieces of ice detach from the glacier and float into the ocean, according to Colgan. “Presently, the Columbia Glacier is calving about 2 cubic miles of icebergs into the ocean each year — that is over five times more freshwater than the entire state of Alaska uses annually,” he said. “It is astounding to watch.”
The imminent finish of the retreat, or recession of the front of the glacier, has surprised scientists and highlights the difficulties of trying to estimate future rates of sea level rise, Colgan said. “Many people are comfortable thinking of the glacier contribution to sea level rise as this nice predictable curve into the future, where every year there is a little more sea level rise, and we can model it out for 100 or 200 years,” Colgan said.
The team’s findings demonstrate otherwise, however. A single glacier’s contribution to sea level rise can “turn on” and “turn off” quite rapidly, over a couple of years, with the precise timing of the life cycle being difficult to forecast, he said. Presently, the majority of sea level rise comes from the global population of glaciers. Many of these glaciers are just starting to retreat, and some will soon cease to retreat.
“The variable nature and speed of the life cycle among glaciers highlights difficulties in trying to accurately predict the amount of sea level rise that will occur in the decades to come,” Colgan said.
The Columbia Glacier was first documented in 1794 when it appeared to be stable with a length of 41 miles. During the 1980s it began a rapid retreat and by 1995 it was only about 36 miles long. By late 2000 it was about 34 miles long.
The loss of a massive area of the Columbia Glacier’s tongue has generated a tremendous number of icebergs since the 1980s. After the Exxon Valdez ran aground while avoiding a Columbia Glacier iceberg in 1989, significant resources were invested to understand its iceberg production. As a result, Columbia Glacier became one of the most well-documented tidewater glaciers in the world, providing a bank of observational data for scientists trying to understand how a tidewater glacier reacts to a warming climate.
Motivated by the compelling imagery of the Columbia Glacier’s retreat documented in the Extreme Ice Survey — James Balog’s collection of time-lapse photography of disappearing glaciers around the world — Colgan became curious as to how long the glacier would continue to retreat. To answer this question, the team of researchers created a flexible model of the Columbia Glacier to reproduce different criteria such as ice thickness and terminus extent.
The scientists then compared thousands of outputs from the computer model under different assumptions with the wealth of data that exists for the Columbia Glacier.
The batch of outputs that most accurately reproduced the well-documented history of retreat was run into the future to predict the changes the Columbia Glacier will most likely experience until the year 2100. The researchers found that around 2020 the terminus of the glacier will retreat into water that is sufficiently shallow to provide a stable position through 2100 by slowing the rate of iceberg production.
The speediness of the glacier’s retreat is due to the unique nature of tidewater glaciers, Colgan said. When warming temperatures melt the surface of a land glacier, the land glacier only loses its mass by run-off. But in tidewater glaciers, the changes in ice thickness resulting from surface melt can create striking changes in ice flow, triggering an additional dynamic process for retreat.
The dynamic response of the Columbia Glacier to the surface melt will continue until the glacier reaches its new stable position in 2020, at roughly 26 miles long. “Once the dynamic trigger had been pulled, it probably wouldn’t have mattered too much what happened to the surface melt — it was just going to continue retreating through the bedrock depression upstream of the pre-1980s terminus,” Colgan said.
Colgan next plans to attempt to use similar models to predict when the Greenland glaciers — currently the major contributors to sea level rise — will “turn off” and complete their retreats.
The future for the Columbia Glacier, however, looks bleak. “I think the hope was that once we saw climate change happening, we could act to prevent some irreversible consequences,” Colgan said, “but now we are only about eight years out from this retreat finishing — it is really sad. There is virtually no chance of the Columbia Glacier recovering its pre-retreat dimensions on human time-scales.”
The study was funded by NASA, and co-authors on the paper include W. Tad Pfeffer of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Harihar Rajaram of the CU-Boulder Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering, Waleed Abdalati of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration in Washington, D.C., and Balog of the Extreme Ice Survey in Boulder, Colo.
Ever wondered who is living in your gut, and what they’re doing? The trillions of microbial partners in and on our bodies outnumber our own cells by as many as 10 to 1 and do all sorts of important jobs, from helping digest the food we eat this Thanksgiving to building up our immune systems.
In association with the Human Food Project, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder along with researchers at other institutions around the world are launching a new open-access project known as “American Gut” in which participants can get involved in finding out what microbes are in their own guts and what they are doing in there.
The project builds on previous efforts, including the five-year, $173-million NIH-funded Human Microbiome Project, to characterize the microbes living in and on our bodies, said Associate Professor Rob Knight of CU-Boulder’s BioFrontiers Institute. But unlike other projects that have focused on carefully chosen test subjects with a few hundred people, this project allows the public to get involved and is encouraging tens of thousands of people to do so, Knight said.
“Galileo saw outer space through his telescope, and we want to see the inner space of your gut through modern genetics,” said Rob Dunn, a scientist at North Carolina State University and a collaborator on the project. The new project will be “crowd-funded” by individuals interested in learning more about their own gut bacteria and by others who simply want to contribute to the project, said Dunn.
“By combining the crowd-funding model with the open-access data analysis model that we pioneered with the Earth Microbiome Project, we can finally give anyone with an interest in his or her microbiome an opportunity to participate, whether by contributing samples or by looking at the data,” said Knight, also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist.
Public interest is immense, says the research team. 18,000 people have already signed up to receive more information by email about the project when it launches. “The American Gut project builds on the Human Microbiome Project by allowing anyone to participate, and will let the public join in the excitement of this new field,” said Lita Proctor, program director for the Human Microbiome Project. “We can expect this to lay the groundwork for all sorts of fascinating studies in the future, that others will in turn build on.”
The American Gut project is an opportunity for the “citizen scientists” working with team of leading researchers and labs throughout the United States to help shape a new way of understanding how diet and lifestyle may contribute to human health through each person’s suite of trillions of tiny microbes, say the researchers. A key aspect of the project is to understand how diet and lifestyle, whether by choice — like athletes or vegetarians — or by necessity, including those suffering from particular autoimmune diseases or who have food allergies, affect peoples’ microbial makeup, said Knight.
“This will be the first project of its kind that might be able to address this question at such a large scale,” said Jeff Leach, founder of the Human Food Project and co-founder of American Gut. The gut microbiome has been linked to many diseases, including obesity, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease — all of which are much more common in Western populations, he said.
“We should start thinking about diets not only from the perspective of what we should eat, but what we should be feeding our entire gut microbial systems,” said Leach. A key aspect of the project is to integrate studies of Americans of all shapes and sizes with studies of people living more traditional lifestyles in Africa, South America and elsewhere, he said.
The steep decline in the cost of DNA sequencing and recent advances in computational techniques allow for the analysis of microbial genomes orders of magnitude cheaper than was possible only a few years ago, said Knight. Sequencing is now getting cheap enough — participants who donate $99 or more can expect to get tens of thousands of sequences from microbes in their gut — that participants can include their families and even their pets, Knight said.
Doctoral student Daniel McDonald is one of several CU-Boulder students who will be involved in the effort. “I am excited to have the opportunity to develop new computational tools in order to further explore this frontier,” said McDonald, who is in the Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology program at the BioFrontiers Institute.
“I am pleased to participate in this pioneering effort that marries the vast interest of the public in science with questions that are worth answering about human health and nutrition,” said Martin Blaser, chair of the Department of Medicine and professor of microbiology at New York University. “Through this consortium, the technical and intellectual resources are there to lead to important new knowledge.”
The project will seek to build on a growing canine and feline database as well. “The majority of data we currently have on the dog and cat microbiomes has come from a handful of small studies in research or clinically ill animals,” said Associate Professor Kelly Swanson of the Department of Animal Sciences and Division of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “This study will apply the technology to free-living pets, where diet, genetics, and living environment are quite different from household to household.
“This research may identify important trends not possible with lab-based studies, and help guide us on how to feed our pets in the future,” said Swanson.
The backdrop to the project is the radical decline in the cost of DNA sequencing, which allows analysis of microbial genomes orders of magnitude cheaper than was possible only a few years ago, and recent advances in computational techniques. Participants in the project include many of the key players in the Human Microbiome Project and research facilities around the world.
To learn more about participating in or contributing to the project visit https://www.indiegogo.com/americangut. For a list of additional collaborators on the project visithttp://humanfoodproject.com/the-people/collaborators/.
Following the recent Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hearing on creation of statewide regulations for groundwater sampling and monitoring near new oil and gas wells, the University of Colorado Boulder will host an informational workshop on Monday, Nov. 26, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Wolf Law Building.
The workshop, titled “Monitoring and Protecting Groundwater during Oil and Gas Development,” will focus on oil and gas development procedures that can impact groundwater, the current state regulations that protect groundwater, the changes proposed by the commission, and other recommendations. The commission will hold a second hearing and plans to finalize new regulations on Dec. 10, 2012.
The workshop is free and open to the public and is co-sponsored by the CU-Boulder Natural Resources Law Center’s Intermountain Oil and Gas Best Management Practices Project and the Colorado Water and Energy Research Center.
The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission of the state of Colorado has required water well sampling and monitoring for many years through numerous state orders, rules and conditions of approval. The proposed water-sampling rule would establish sampling and monitoring requirements on a statewide basis and would eventually supersede other commission water sampling rules and orders, with the exception of rules concerning sampling in coal-bed methane areas.
The sampling rule is intended to provide the commission with a mechanism to obtain data consistently across the state. These data are intended to help verify that water wells, ground and surface waters, and residents of producing basins are adequately protected and that impacts, should they occur, are quickly identified and mitigated.
“Energy, jobs and a clean environment, including clean and sufficient groundwater, are extremely important to Colorado today and for our future,” said Kathryn Mutz, Natural Resources Law Center senior research associate and Intermountain Oil and Gas Best Management Practices Project manager. “Ensuring groundwater protection during oil and gas development is one important part of the puzzle. This workshop is providing a venue outside of the formal commission rulemaking process to discuss and educate ourselves and the stakeholders about the alternatives so that we get this rule right for Colorado.”
For more information about the Nov. 26 workshop and the proposed amendments, visit http://www.oilandgasbmps.org/workshops/COGCCgroundwater/index.php. To RSVP, email your name and contact information to email@example.com. Continuing Legal Education credits are available to attendees for a fee.
The Intermountain Oil and Gas Best Management Practices Project website and database are maintained as part of the Natural Resources Law Center within the CU-Boulder Law School. Best Management Practices are mitigation measures applied to areas being developed for oil and gas to promote energy development in an environmentally sensitive manner. The project is supported, in part, by the Environmentally Friendly Drilling Project and a CU-Boulder Outreach Award.
The Colorado Water and Energy Research Center, led by Mark Williams, CU-Boulder professor of geography, provides a neutral clearinghouse for information on the potential hydrologic impacts of natural gas development.
Analysis of 90 years of observational data has revealed that summer climates in regions across the globe are changing — mostly, but not always, warming –according to a new study led by a scientist from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences headquartered at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“It is the first time that we show on a local scale that there are significant changes in summer temperatures,” said lead author CIRES scientist Irina Mahlstein. “This result shows us that we are experiencing a new summer climate regime in some regions.”
The technique, which reveals location-by-location temperature changes rather than global averages, could yield valuable insights into changes in ecosystems on a regional scale. Because the methodology relies on detecting temperatures outside the expected norm, it is more relevant to understand changes to the animal and plant life of a particular region, which scientists would expect to show sensitivity to changes that lie outside of normal variability.
“If the summers are actually significantly different from the way that they used to be, it could affect ecosystems,” said Mahlstein, who works in the Chemical Sciences Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory.
To identify potential temperature changes, the team used climate observations recorded from 1920 to 2010 from around the globe. The scientists termed the 30-year interval from 1920 to 1949 the “base period,” and then compared the base period to other 30-year test intervals starting every 10 years since 1930.
The comparison used statistics to assess whether the test interval differed from the base period beyond what would be expected due to yearly temperature variability for that geographical area.
Their analysis found that some changes began to appear as early as the 1960s, and the observed changes were more prevalent in tropical areas. In these regions, temperatures varied little throughout the years, so the scientists could more easily detect any changes that did occur, Mahlstein said.
The scientists found significant summer temperature changes in 40 percent of tropical areas and 20 percent of higher-latitude areas. In the majority of cases, the researchers observed warming summer temperatures, but in some cases they observed cooling summer temperatures.
“This study has applied a new approach to the question, ‘Has the temperature changed in local areas?’ ” Mahlstein said. The study is in press in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.
The study’s findings are consistent with other approaches used to answer the same question, such as modeling and analysis of trends, Mahlstein said. But this technique uses only observed data to come to the same result. “Looking at the graphs of our results, you can visibly see how things are changing,” she said.
In particular the scientists were able to look at the earlier time periods, note the temperature extremes, and observe that those values became more frequent in the later time periods. “You see how the extreme events of the past have become a normal event,” Mahlstein said.
The scientists used 90 years of data for their study, a little more than the average lifespan of a human being. So if inhabitants of those areas believe that summers have changed since they were younger, they can be confident it is not a figment of their imagination.
“We can actually say that these changes have happened in the lifetime of a person,” Mahlstein said.
Co-authors on the study were Gabriele Hegerl from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Susan Solomon from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
CIRES is a joint institute of CU-Boulder and NOAA.
A new startup company that sprang from the University of Colorado Boulder this year is a Grand Challenges Exploration winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Psychology and neurosciences department Associate Professor Don Cooper, co-founder and chief science officer of Mobile Assay Inc. of Boulder who developed the technology in his laboratory at CU’s Institute for Behavioral Genetics, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project titled “A Lab on Mobile Device Platform for Seed Testing.”
Grand Challenges Explorations, or GCE, funds individuals worldwide who are taking innovative approaches to some of the world’s toughest and most persistent global health and development challenges. GCE invests in the early stages of bold ideas that have real potential to solve problems people in the developing world face every day. Cooper and Mobile Assay Inc. are one of more than 80 Grand Challenges Exploration Round 9 grants for $100,000 each announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Cooper’s Mobile Assay Inc. team has developed new technology — which includes using mobile devices, test strips (similar to pregnancy test strips), geographical tagging and “cloud computing” — to rapidly detect, quantify and track common seed-borne pathogens in real time to address the economic impact of seed-borne diseases in developing countries. “This will ultimately allow farmers in developing countries to identify and track pathogens infecting seeds and share their data, which could improve crop yields and prevent crop losses,” he said.
“Investments in innovative global health research are already paying off,” said Chris Wilson, director of the Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We continue to be impressed by the novelty and innovative spirit of Grand Challenges Explorations projects and are enthusiastic about this exciting research. These investments hold real potential to yield new solutions to improve the health of millions of people in the developing world, and ensure that everyone has the chance to live a healthy productive life.”
To receive funding, Grand Challenge Exploration Round 9 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a creative idea in one of five critical global health and development topic areas that included agricultural development, immunization and communications. Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Exploration round 10, will be accepted through Nov. 7, 2012.
Test strips are typically plastic with chemically impregnated pads designed to react with specific antibodies to produce a specific visual signal. Once the reaction takes place, the strip is developed in less than 10 minutes and the visual signal is quantified using the camera on a smartphone or mobile tablet device and proprietary software. There are now Lab on Mobile Device-compatible tests strips that are used to identify more than 1,000 different pathogens and pollutants.
A crucial part of the LMD project developed by Cooper and his team is Mobile Image Ratiometry, or MIR, which is a unique software algorithm that analyzes images and can precisely quantify the level of infection of crop pathogens, which are then mapped and shared via cloud computing that uses both software and hardware over the Internet. The LMD technology will allow for the creation of electronic “push-pin” maps where data will be made available on an openly shared website, enabling anyone to upload results and track outbreaks and infestations of seed-borne pathogens, ultimately helping people better regulate the informal exchanges of seeds, he said.
Cooper said the team will initially target the fungus Botrytis — which can devastate crops like yams, potatoes, wheat, soybeans, onions and sorghum around the world — as well as aflotoxins, which can contaminate seeds during storage and which are among the most carcinogenic substances known. Cooper said the MIR imaging technology can be used to increase the sensitivity of test strips — including those for Botrytis and for aflotoxins produced by Aspergillis fungi — by a factor of 100.
Experts estimate seed-borne diseases cause a loss of 50 million tons of food annually and that losses in developing countries are 60 to 80 percent higher than in industrialized countries. Estimates show 90 to 95 percent of seed used by small-scale and subsistence farmers is acquired through informal sources at the farm and community level.
It is estimated that by 2015 there will be more than 2 billion people in the world using smartphones, including more than 40 percent of the people in Africa. The Mobile Assay Inc. team also is developing a web application capable of performing test image analysis for those without smartphones but who have cell phones with cameras. Such an application would be extremely useful in Africa, said Cooper, where there are now an estimated 700 million cell phone subscribers — nearly 70 percent of the continent’s population. The vast majority of cell phones today are equipped with cameras.
CU owns exclusive license to the technology developed by Cooper and his team and has an equity share in Mobile Assay Inc. Cooper and Lee Burnett, the CEO of Mobile Assay Inc., worked closely with CU’s Technology Transfer Office, CU’s Entrepreneurial Law Clinic and the Innovation Center of the Rockies to develop a corporate structure and commercialization plans for the CU spinoff company.
Cooper said Mobile Assay Inc. will seek matching funds for the first phase of the project from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. In addition to the Gates Foundation grant for seed testing, Mobile Assay Inc. is in the process of applying the company’s new technology to detect water pollutants, drugs, contaminants in dairy products and other biological and chemical pathogens across the globe.
The LMD platform, which can target multiple pathogens like fungi, bacteria and parasites, also could conceivably be used to help monitor chronic diseases in humans, Cooper said. While ill people often go to doctors for diagnoses and additional tests that can take days or weeks, a number of health tests ranging from high cholesterol to abnormal thyroid-stimulating hormone levels could be conducted at home using specific test strips, with the data made available immediately to their health care providers over the Internet.
Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 700 people in 45 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.
Police officers and students exhibit an apparent “hierarchy of bias” in making a split-second decision whether to shoot suspects who appear to be wielding a gun or, alternatively, a benign object like a cell phone, research conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder and San Diego State University has found.
Both the police and student subjects were most likely to shoot at blacks, then Hispanics, then whites and finally, in a case of what might be called a positive bias, Asians, researchers found.
In the first study of its kind, Joshua Correll, Bernadette Park and Charles M. Judd of CU-Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and Melody Sadler of San Diego State University examined how police and a group of undergraduate subjects decide whether to shoot or not to shoot “suspects” in a multi-ethnic environment.
“Most studies on the subject of stereotyping and prejudice look at two (ethnic) groups, usually in isolation. It’s always one group against another group,” said Correll, a CU graduate who joined the faculty in August after a stint at the University of Chicago.
“But as the country becomes more ethnically diverse, it’s more and more important to start thinking about how we process racial and ethnic cues in a multicultural environment,” he said.
As with previous studies into the question, data were gathered from subjects playing a “first person shooter” video game, in which figures of varying ethnicity — Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic and African-American — pop up, either “armed” with a weapon or another benign object, such as a cell phone.
Participants — 69 CU-Boulder undergraduates and 254 police officers — had to make quick decisions as to which figures posed a “threat” and shoot them. The police officers were recruited from two-day training seminars in Florida, New Mexico and Washington and represented numerous jurisdictions from 11 states.
The research demonstrates how persistent cultural stereotypes are, Correll said. Even students who displayed little bias when interviewed demonstrated otherwise when faced with a split-second decision.
“I may not believe it personally, but I am exposed to stereotypes constantly through media or social networks … (such as) the idea that young black men are dangerous,” he said. “Those associations can have an influence on my behavior even if I don’t believe them.”
The study found that police were considerably more accurate than students at correctly identifying a genuinely threatening suspect, as opposed to those brandishing a cell phone or wallet, perhaps a reflection of training. But officers were still influenced by the target’s race — an influence that may derive from the officers’ “contacts, attitudes and stereotypes,” Correll said.
For example, police who endorsed more violent stereotypes about Hispanics and those who overestimated the prevalence of violent crime in their districts demonstrated more bias to shoot Hispanic targets. That raises the question of whether police are responding to real-world threats — and whether that means some ethnic groups really are more likely to be armed and dangerous than others.
“That is a very sensitive question, whether or not (police officers’) reactions are based on some kind of truth. Is this police officers responding to reality on the ground? The short answer is, we don’t know,” Correll said. “But this research almost demands that we ask that question.”
The researchers’ recent findings were published in the Journal of Social Issues. The work was funded by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation.
In 2007, Correll (then at the University of Chicago), Sadler (then at CU-Boulder), Park and Judd collaborated with the Denver Police Department on a widely cited study that found police officers were less influenced than the general public by racial bias and less likely than the general population to make a decision to shoot at African-American suspects wielding a benign object.