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Registration open for youth Patch Day Workshop at Lake Erie Center

Friday, Feb. 22, is the deadline to register for Partners for Clean Streams’ 17th annual Youth Patch Day Workshop.

The event will be held Sunday, March 3, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at The University of Toledo’s Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bayshore Road in Oregon.

The Patch Day Workshop is open to second- through fifth-grade students interested in learning about conservation, as well as Cub Scouts or Girl Scouts seeking to fulfill merit and environmental badge requirements.

“Outreach efforts such as Patch Day are meaningful because they bring many organizations together to collaborate on a program that is really meaningful for students,” said Rachel Lohner, education program manager at the Lake Erie Center. “We work hard to create a theme and content that will interest a broad range of kids. These types of programs are great to inspire students and teach them to respect the world around them.”

This year’s workshop theme is “Habitats” and will feature presenters from the city of Oregon, the city of Perrysburg, Wood Soil & Water Conservation District, Lucas Soil & Water Conservation District, the UT Lake Erie Center, and Black Swamp Bird Observatory. In addition, there will be hands-on activities.

This program is an excellent way for youth and their leaders to learn more about their roles in protecting the environment.

“We spark a love of the environment by offering youth fun and hands-on educational activities from an early age,” Lohner said. “It only takes one person to connect with a student to inspire him or her to go on and do something really great.”

Registration can be done online at the Partners for Clean Streams website. Cost is $5 per participant and must be paid prior to the event.

For more information, call the Partners for Clean Streams office at 419.874.0727.

Lake Erie Center talk to focus on saving birds in urban areas

We often hear about the psychological benefits of reconnecting with nature. Take a walk. Listen to birds chirping. Plant flowers.

Bringing people back into harmony with nature also can save wildlife.

Shumar

The University of Toledo Lake Erie Center is hosting a free, public event about community-level solutions to wildlife conservation in an increasingly urban landscape.

Matthew Shumar, program coordinator for the Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative and co-editor of “The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Ohio,” will give a talk titled “It Takes a Village” Thursday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m. at the Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bayshore Road in Oregon.

The avian ecologist plans to speak about the Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative’s Lights Out program designed to address light and glass issues that threaten birds in urban areas.

“Artificial lighting has become a major concern for migratory bird populations,” Shumar said. “Birds attracted to bright lighting often fatally collide with buildings, and it is estimated that between 365 and 988 million birds are killed by collisions each year in the United States.”

“Programs like the ones led by Matt are making a measurable difference in human impacts on migratory birds,” said Dr. Henry Streby, ornithologist and assistant professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences. “Often the hardest part is gaining the attention of the public and policymakers about small changes that can make big differences for conservation. That’s the hard work that Matt and his colleagues are taking on.”

Streby studies rare songbirds and red-headed woodpeckers. His groundbreaking migration research revealed the key to population declines in golden-winged warblers.

The Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative is a collaboration of nonprofit groups, businesses, citizens, and state and federal agencies working to advance bird conservation efforts.

Shumar’s talk is part of the Lake Erie Center’s Public Lecture Series.

A shuttle will be available to transport passengers from UT’s Main Campus to the Lake Erie Center and back. The shuttle will depart at 6:15 p.m. from the south side of Bowman-Oddy Laboratories, 3100 West Towerview Blvd. Passengers must reserve a spot. Email lakeeriecenter@utoledo.edu or call 419.530.8360 to make a reservation for the shuttle.

The Lake Erie Center is UT’s freshwater research and science education campus focused on finding solutions to water quality issues that face the Great Lakes, including harmful algal blooms, invasive species and pollutants.

Water quality is a major research focus at UT. With more than $14 million in active grants underway, researchers are looking for pathways to restore our greatest natural resource for future generations.

Saturday Morning Science returns with blue light, shipwrecks, gene-editing and glass

Saturday Morning Science is back for 2019 at The University of Toledo with five programs to give the community the opportunity to learn about hot topics in modern science.

The free, public talks, which are presented by the UT College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, kick off Saturday, Feb. 2, at 10 a.m. in Memorial Field House Room 2100 with “Regional Water Resources Management: A Great Lakes Perspective,” presented by Dr. Andrew Gronewold, associate professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan.

“We’re excited to bring in speakers who will discuss issues of great importance to the city of Toledo, such as the intersection of science and art in glassmaking and the past and future of Lake Erie,” Dr. John Bellizzi, UT associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and co-director of Saturday Morning Science, said. “We are also fortunate to have experts discuss topics that have generated a lot of media coverage, including gene-editing technology in the wake of reports that a Chinese scientist edited the genomes of two babies, and blue light research carried out here at UT showing how digital devices may be damaging to your eyes.”

Listed by date, additional programs and speakers will be:

• Feb. 16: “And There Was Light” by Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

• Feb. 23: “Archaeology and Shipwrecks” by Carrie Sowden, archaeological director of the National Museum of the Great Lakes.

• March 16: “Gene Editing with CRISPR/Cas9” by Dr. Ron Conlon, associate professor in the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences at Case Western Reserve University.

• April 27: “Glass Is a Verb, Just Like You” by Dr. Jane Cook, chief scientist at the Corning Museum of Glass.

All talks begin at 10 a.m. and include complimentary light refreshments donated by Barry’s Bagels and Costco Wholesale Corp. The program is funded by the Office of the Dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

For more information about the upcoming events, visit the Saturday Morning Science’s Facebook page.

Interim dean named for College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Dr. John Plenefisch, associate dean for the UT College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, has been named interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Plenefisch

Plenefisch will lead the college effective Tuesday, Jan. 15, while Dr. Karen Bjorkman serves in her new role as interim provost and executive vice president of academic affairs.

“The College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics is recognized for its high-quality educational programs, excellent faculty and staff, and has a growing reputation as a center of internationally recognized research,” Plenefisch said. “I look forward to working, through my new position, with faculty, staff and students in the college and stakeholders across the University on the continued academic success of students in our sciences and mathematics programs, and on the support and enhancement of our faculty’s research efforts.”

Plenefisch, who joined UT in 1996, is an associate professor of biological sciences.

Prior to joining UT, Plenefisch worked at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Connecticut.

He earned his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut.

UPDATED: UT Lake Erie Center Jan. 17 talk canceled

The UT Lake Erie Center announced Monday afternoon this talk is canceled.

The University of Toledo Lake Erie Center is hosting a free, public event about the collaborative efforts to re-establish a self-sustaining lake sturgeon population in the Maumee River.

Dr. Chris Vandergoot, research fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, will give a talk Thursday, Jan. 17, at 7 p.m. at the Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bayshore Road in Oregon.

Dr. Chris Vandergoot, research fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, held a young lake sturgeon prior to its release in the Maumee River last fall.

“We want to bring awareness to the importance of the Maumee River watershed and restore a native fish species to the Lake Erie ecosystem,” Vandergoot said.

UT is a partner in the regional, state and federal teamwork to restore giant, ancient sturgeon to Lake Erie that culminated in thousands of juvenile sturgeons being released into the Maumee River in October.

“Lake sturgeon populations were once abundant throughout Lake Erie, particularly in the western basin. Currently, only two self-sustaining populations occur lake-wide. Those are in the Detroit and Niagara rivers,” Vandergoot said. “Our reintroduction efforts seek to re-establish a spawning population in the Maumee River, which is one of the spawning aggregations extirpated due to over-fishing and habitat degradation.”

Vandergoot is an expert in using acoustic telemetry to track fish. Acoustic telemetry involves implanting fish with special tags that produce sound that can be detected by a large network of receivers installed around the Great Lakes. It is a way to determine where fish are moving within the lakes and learn about their behavior and habitat use. Some of the sturgeon released into the Maumee River last year have these tags.

Two years ago, a UT graduate student helped the Toledo Zoo secure $90,000 in federal grant money to build a sturgeon rearing facility along the Maumee River. Dr. Jessica Sherman-Collier, who has since received her doctorate in ecology from UT, assisted the project by verifying that spawning and nursery habitat still exist in the Maumee River to sustain a population of the fish that can live to be 150 years old and grow up to 300 pounds and eight feet long.

The Lake Erie Center is UT’s freshwater research and science education campus focused on finding solutions to water quality issues that face the Great Lakes, including harmful algal blooms, invasive species and pollutants.

Water quality is a major research focus at UT. With more than $14 million in active grants underway, researchers are looking for pathways to restore the greatest natural resource for future generations.

Vandergoot’s talk is part of the Lake Erie Center’s Public Lecture Series.

A shuttle will be available to transport passengers from UT’s Main Campus to the Lake Erie Center and back. The shuttle will depart at 6:15 p.m. from the south side of Bowman-Oddy Laboratories, 3100 West Towerview Blvd. Passengers must reserve a spot. Email lakeeriecenter@utoledo.edu or call 419.530.8360 to make a reservation for the shuttle.

Cancer Research Symposium highlights UT’s work in precision therapy

The University of Toledo’s research in immune therapy and precision molecular therapy for treating cancer was acknowledged in 2018 as an area of emerging research excellence with the potential to generate national attention.

At UT’s second Cancer Research Symposium held late last year, Dr. Christopher Cooper, executive vice president for clinical affairs and dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, told assembled faculty and students from across the University they must all work together to turn that potential into reality.

Dr. Christopher Cooper, executive vice president for clinical affairs and dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, delivered the opening remarks for the 2018 UT Cancer Research Symposium. The event, held last month, focused on the work of UT researchers whose findings are advancing precision cancer therapies.

“Our job is to make it an area of excellence,” he said. “We need to move from emerging to being excellent in cancer immune therapy and molecular precision therapy. To get there is going to require success both at the bench and at the bedside.”

The symposium, attended by more than 120 physicians, research scientists and students, was focused on UT’s efforts to create a precision cancer therapy program that will develop more targeted treatments thanks to the huge scientific advances in how we understand not just cancer, but the way it affects specific individuals.

It was only two decades ago that scientists decoded the human genome and just a decade ago that scientists first sequenced one individual’s DNA. At the time, those were extraordinarily lengthy and expensive projects. Today scientists can sequence an individual’s DNA for roughly $1,000, said Dr. F. Charles Brunicardi, director of the Cancer Program in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences.

“We think it will keep decreasing in cost where it will become a routine part of every one of our medical charts,” Brunicardi said. “And that’s where we’re trying to go today with a precision cancer therapy program where we’re using foundation medicine to sequence patient’s cancers and then tailor the therapy toward the targets that we find.”

The symposium featured nearly two dozen UT faculty presenters from the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics who discussed topics including genomic sequencing, immunotherapy for breast cancer, novel drug discovery, and how drugs already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration might be able to be repurposed for cancer treatment.

The event also featured a keynote address from Dr. Jian-Ting Zhang who provided perspectives on establishing a targeted drug discovery program. Zhang, formerly professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, will join UT as chair of the Department of Cancer Biology in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences in February.

“This is the best of academia, where we bring together people from different disciplines and different approaches and we tackle important problems that matter to our community, our region and our world,” Cooper said.

More information about the symposium and the presented research can be found by visiting the UT Cancer Research Symposium website.

Dean named interim provost

The University of Toledo’s most senior dean will serve as interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

Dr. Karen Bjorkman, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics since 2010, will lead academic affairs starting Tuesday, Jan. 15.

Bjorkman

“Dr. Bjorkman is a well-respected leader on our campus who is passionate about supporting student and faculty success,” UT President Sharon L. Gaber said. “We have made great progress on achieving the goals set forth in our strategic plan. With Dr. Bjorkman as our chief academic officer, I know we will continue to enhance the educational experience for our students and our faculty scholarly research and service activity.”

Bjorkman, also a Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy and the Helen Luedtke Brooks Endowed Professor of Astronomy, has been a member of the UT faculty since 1996 when she joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

“I appreciate this opportunity to continue to help move the University forward in a different role,” Bjorkman said. “It is important to me that we don’t lose momentum and that we keep moving in positive directions, increasing student retention and graduation rates, and growing the research, scholarship and creative activities of faculty across our comprehensive university.”

Dr. Andrew Hsu, who has served as UT’s provost since 2016, has been named the president of the College of Charleston in South Carolina. He will work with Bjorkman for several weeks to ensure a smooth transition and complete his tenure at UT at the end of February. The president thanked Hsu for his leadership in implementing the University’s strategic plan and initiatives to enhance student success.

Bjorkman is a leader in the research field of stellar astrophysics, applying spectropolarimetry to better understand the variable gaseous disks around massive stars. Her research has focused on studying the physical characteristics of these disks and the mechanisms behind their formation and variability.

In 2017, Bjorkman was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific and engineering society, in recognition of her important contributions to scientific discovery.

“I look forward to working with faculty across the breadth of our colleges to support their research and creative scholarship, to continue to improve and enhance our student success outcomes, and to build bridges between STEMM areas, professional schools, and the arts and humanities so that we ensure our graduates have the wide range of skills and experiences they need to be successful in today’s increasingly interdisciplinary world,” Bjorkman said.

Prior to joining UT, Bjorkman was a scientist in the University of Wisconsin’s Space Astronomy Laboratory and a systems engineer for Martin Marietta Denver Aerospace.

She earned her PhD and master’s degrees in astrophysics from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The University plans to conduct a national search for provost at the beginning of the next academic year.

UT blue light research named a Top 100 science paper of 2018

A scientific discovery at The University of Toledo was selected as one of the top 100 most talked about scholarly publications in the world this year.

Altmetric, a data company that tracks and tallies the year’s 100 most attention-grabbing studies, chose UT’s blue light research as No. 76 in its annual list that provides a picture of the influence and reach of academic work.

Dr. Ajith Karunarathne examined toxic oxygen generation by retinal during blue light exposure.

According to Altmetric’s analysis, “The blue light coming from your computers, phones and tablets is doing damage to your retinas, and this study elaborates on the mechanisms by which blue light causes retinal degradation. The study has elicited a lot of interest, concern and conflicting advice across popular media about how best to protect your eyes.”

Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, earned international attention in August for discovering how blue light triggers cell death in the presence of retinal, a light harvesting molecule in the eye.

His research about blue light-induced cell damage reached more than 400 million people around the world through hundreds of news outlets, including Popular Science, USA Today, CNN Headline News/HLN, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, Forbes and Newsweek.

Altmetric not only tracks news media mentions, but also social media shares and policy documents. Overall, the company tracked more than 25 million mentions of 2.8 million research outputs in 2018.

In its demographic breakdown of the blue light research, Altmetric shows that while scientists and physicians shared UT’s news on Twitter, most of the tweets — 84 percent — came from members of the public.

“My group is composed of extremely talented and hardworking graduate and undergraduate students, and this recognition is a tribute to their passion in advancing science,” Karunarathne said. “Our published work is an example of how multidisciplinary research can unveil hidden molecular details of crucial cellular mechanisms.”

In this case, UT chemists explored how the combination of blue light and retinal — the abundant chromophore in the eye — damages cells.

Karunarathne’s lab found that blue light exposure causes retinal to trigger reactions that generate poisonous chemical molecules in photoreceptor cells.

After his research showing retinal-generated toxicity by blue light was published in the journal Scientific Reports in July, Karunarathne said he received feedback from people who shared their experiences on how occupational blue light exposure is a major health concern for them.

“It is an honor to study a process that people care so much about,” Karunarathne said. “In this high-tech world, we are being exposed to blue light continuously. It is crucial to find how and when blue light becomes damaging.”

Karunarathne’s lab currently is measuring light coming from television, cell phone and tablet screens to get a better understanding of how the cells derived from the eye respond to everyday blue light exposure.

“We are looking into the details of the discovered mechanism and investigating if commonly used light-emitting devices have the potential to trigger toxic chemical reactions in cells,” Karunarathne said.

UT student to graduate Dec. 15, start job as mayor of Oak Harbor in 2019

Quinton Babcock, a UT student in the Jesup Scott Honor College, will graduate this weekend and become mayor of Oak Harbor, Ohio, in the new year.

On Saturday, Dec. 15, Babcock will receive two bachelor of arts degrees — one in economics and disability studies, and one in mathematics.

Babcock

And then the 22-year-old will become mayor of Oak Harbor in 2019.

How did it happen?

Babcock ran and was elected to the Oak Harbor Village Council in December 2016.

“I had always had an interest in public service, and I felt I had acquired some professional skills that I could put to good use in the community,” he said.

In August, the Oak Harbor mayor resigned. Protocol says the mayor is succeeded by the president pro tempore, who is the president of the Oak Harbor Village Council.

At the time, the president pro tempore, Don Douglas, was in the middle of a campaign for Ottawa County Commissioner. Due to the uncertainty if Douglas would be elected to this position, Oak Harbor had to elect another president to replace him.

“I was elected by the council to be the president pro tempore,” Babcock said. “Come November, Mr. Douglas won his election for county commissioner and … I will serve as mayor for the duration of 2019.”

As the new mayor, Babcock wants to create a trust with the government.

“I think people generally feel very disempowered when it comes to government; they feel the government is not responsive to their concerns,” Babcock said. “With that in my mind, I would like to use my change in position to increase transparency, accountability, accessibility and responsiveness of the village government.”

Babcock also wants to address the concern of the possible closure of the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, a major employer of area residents. “I would like to play a more active role in advocating for state solutions to this potential problem,” he said.

Researcher awarded $2.1 million NIH grant to study fungal infection common in cancer patients

A University of Toledo scientist has been awarded a $2.1 million National Institutes of Health grant to continue her research into one of the most common and debilitating conditions experienced by patients undergoing treatment for head and neck cancers.

Dr. Heather Conti, UT assistant professor of biological sciences, studies a fungal infection called oral candidiasis. The infection is more commonly known as thrush.

Conti

In otherwise healthy individuals, the condition is minor, but for those with compromised immune systems or undergoing radiation or chemotherapy, oral candidiasis can turn into a serious and potentially dangerous illness.

“Unfortunately, many patients who develop this condition choose to forego their cancer treatment,” Conti said. “It can actually have a direct link to cancer prognosis because the symptoms are too hard to deal with.”

The five-year grant, which is distributed through the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, will fund research into the role blood platelets play in the body’s natural defense against oral candidiasis.

“Platelets are commonly thought of for their role in blood clotting. But what we’re finding more and more is that platelets also play a very important role in the immune response,” Conti said. “They can protect against various bacteria — or in our case, fungi — which is a novel thought in the field. Platelets can be a much more complicated cell than just taking part in blood clotting.”

She is collaborating with Dr. Randall Worth, UT associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology, on the project.

The reason oral candidiasis can cause such serious problems in cancer patients is the fact that chemotherapy and radiation often destroy the mucous membrane in the mouth, allowing the fungi to grow unchecked. That, Conti said, can lead to sores on the gums or tongue, difficulty swallowing, bleeding and pain. If the fungal infection reaches the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body, it can become life-threatening.

Patients with HIV are also at greater risk of serious infection from oral candidiasis.

Candidiasis can be successfully treated with antifungal medications, but Conti said there is an emerging trend of strains that have developed resistance to commonly prescribed drugs. That limits clinicians’ options, particularly in individuals who are already in poor health.

The goal of this study, Conti said, is better understanding how the body fights the infection and how researchers might be able to leverage that response to formulate new treatments.

“The immune response to oral candidiasis is quite complicated. If platelets play an important role, we need to understand that response. The hope would be to develop therapeutics that not only kill the fungus directly, but can also bolster the immune response,” she said.