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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to deliver UT commencement address Dec. 17

Toledo native and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael D. Sallah will return to his alma mater Sunday, Dec. 17, to deliver the keynote address during The University of Toledo’s fall commencement ceremony.

The event will begin at 10 a.m. in Savage Arena.

Sallah

Sallah will address 2,067 candidates for degrees, including 118 doctoral, 523 master’s, 1,370 bachelor’s and 56 associate’s.

The ceremony is open to the public and can be viewed live at video.utoledo.edu.

Sallah’s investigative work as a reporter and editor with award-winning newspapers across the country has revealed public corruption, police abuses and government blunders, resulting in grand jury investigations, legislative reform, and the recovery of millions of taxpayer dollars.

He is a reporter on the national investigations team at USA Today/Gannett Network in Washington, D.C.

“This is where it all began for me,” Sallah said. “From the time I took my first journalism class in the fall of my freshman year, I fell in love with journalism, and UT is a big part of that. It’s part of my foundation — the professors, the values they conveyed to me about journalism, and why it’s so critical to our society, especially investigative work. I’m honored to be coming home to be the commencement speaker.”

“Journalists have an important role to inform the public about the issues that affect our lives, and Michael Sallah has embraced that responsibility uncovering many misdeeds through investigative reporting that resulted in positive change,” UT President Sharon L. Gaber said. “I look forward to him sharing with our graduates how he got his start here in Toledo and inspiring them to stay curious and serve their communities.”

Born in Toledo, Sallah is a 1977 alumnus of The University of Toledo, graduating cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism. He was named UT’s Outstanding Alumnus in the Social Sciences in 2004. Sallah also is a 1973 graduate of St. John’s Jesuit High School.

He was a reporter and national affairs writer at The Blade for more than a decade, and was the lead reporter on the 2003 project “Buried Secrets, Brutal Truths” that exposed the U.S. Army’s longest war crimes case of the Vietnam War. The series won numerous national awards, including the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.

While investigations editor and reporter at the Miami Herald, Sallah led an inquiry into local corruption. His team’s 2006 “House of Lies” series exposed widespread fraud in Miami-Dade County public housing and earned the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting. He was named a 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his series “Neglected to Death,” which uncovered deadly conditions in Florida assisted-living facilities, led to the closing of 13 facilities, and was the impetus for a gubernatorial task force to overhaul state law.

During his two years at The Washington Post, Sallah received a Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism for an investigation that exposed a predatory system of tax collection in the District of Columbia. 

He returned to the Miami Herald in 2014 and was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2016 for uncovering one of the nation’s most corrupt sting operations in a police unit that laundered $71.5 million for drug cartels, kept millions for brokering the deals, and failed to make a single significant arrest. 

Sallah is the author of the books “Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War” and “Yankee Comandante: The Untold Story of Courage, Passion and One American’s Fight to Liberate Cuba.” He also was a consultant for the Public Broadcasting Service documentary “American Experience.”

UT’s fall commencement ceremony will recognize graduates from the colleges of Arts and Letters; Business and Innovation; Judith Herb College of Education; Engineering; Graduate Studies; Health and Human Services; Honors College; Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Nursing; and Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; and University College.

For more information, visit utoledo.edu/commencement.

UT publishes first research paper making substantial use of Discovery Channel Telescope partnership

The University of Toledo’s partnership with the Discovery Channel Telescope in Arizona has helped launch the UT astronomy program onto a new level. For the first time, a UT graduate student published a significant paper made possible by data collected from observations with the telescope.

The paper on the properties of interstellar dust appears as a cover feature article in the September issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics. The UT research team studied the dust properties present in the Vulture Head nebula, a collection of dust and gas 420 light years from Earth. The team observed the nebula with the Discovery Channel Telescope, a 4.3-meter telescope located south of Flagstaff, overlooking the Verde Valley. It is the fifth largest telescope in the continental United States and one of the most technologically advanced.

In one of the first detailed images of the Vulture Head nebula, the cloud is illuminated by the faint starlight of the Milky Way and couldn’t have been captured in this detail without the power of the Discovery Channel Telescope. Dr. Aditya G. Togi took this photo.

“To understand the evolution of the universe, it’s important to understand the galaxy evolution and how stars are formed,” said lead researcher Dr. Aditya Togi, a former UT doctoral student who is now a research assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “If you know dust properties of the cloud, you can better understand star formation.”

The research team also included Dr. Adolf N. Witt, UT professor emeritus of astronomy, and Demi St. John, an undergraduate student from Murray State University. St. John, selected by the UT Physics and Astronomy Department to join the team, was part of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program and funded through a National Science Foundation grant. She is in her first year of graduate school at Montana State University.

The team chose to observe the nebula with the Discovery Channel Telescope to test a model developed by French astronomers about the types and properties of dust particles. No one had ever tested those models through observation.

The French model posited that certain dust grains have specific properties. But the astronomers didn’t know for sure what types of dust grains were in the nebula or what size, temperature or density they were, Togi said.

The UT team measured the temperature and mass of the nebula’s dust and found that the dust grains in the cloud closely matched the properties predicted by three dust grain models in the French astronomer’s work. The research confirmed most of the model’s predictions and led the astronomers to new understandings about the dust particles that form stars.

They also learned that the cloud had something called “core shine.” The team knew that in order to scatter the light that creates core shine, some of the dust grains had to be larger than normally encountered in interstellar space. They found that the grains were more complex or “evolved.” They were coated with ice and frozen gases and had grown to about 100 times the volume of a typical interstellar dust grain.

“In order to reach this grain growth, the cloud must be at least a million years old,” Witt said.

Access to the Discovery Channel Telescope was crucial to this research. It’s also a powerful tool when attracting graduate students and young faculty.

“To be truly competitive, to have a first-rate program, you’ve got to have this kind of access to a first-class instrument,” Witt said.

UT is scheduled to host the annual Discovery Channel Telescope partner board meeting Friday and Saturday, Dec. 8 and 9, at the Driscoll Alumni Center. About a dozen representatives from UT, the Lowell Observatory, Boston University, Yale University, the University of Maryland, Northern Arizona University and the University of Texas at Austin will meet to discuss shared governance of the telescope and the best scientific uses of the instrument.

The Discovery Channel Telescope partnership has been a boon to UT astronomers and helped put the astronomy department on the map.

“Our astronomy program at Toledo is on an accelerating path,” said Dr. J.D. Smith, UT professor of astronomy, who is planning the board meeting. “We’re being recognized nationally and internationally, and this partnership is a big part of the reason why.”

Researcher’s study of how cells move could lead to enhanced medical therapies

A University of Toledo chemistry and biochemistry faculty member and his research team of graduate students have answered a fundamental biological question about cell migration that could have implications for enhanced medical treatments.

Results from the two-year study have been published in the Oct. 20 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Dr. Ajith Karunarathne look at optically controlled cell migration using a next generation confocal imager.

“If we better understand how cells migrate, we can target some of these molecules for therapeutic purposes,” said Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who led the research team.

Scientists have long been trying to better understand exactly how cells move throughout the body. If you can control a cell’s movement, you might be able to prevent cancer cell movement and secondary tumor formation in vital body organs such as the lungs or pancreas. Or you could help immune cells move to the site of an infection and accelerate healing.

In their research, the UT team targeted the cell’s G protein-coupled receptors, or GPCRs. These receptors are known as the “sniffers,” Karunarathne said, because they sense the environment and steer the cell where it’s needed in the body. They also regulate everything from heart rate to how much insulin the pancreas kicks out.

One-third of marketed drugs are used to control the GPCR pathways, according to Karunarathne. That includes everything from beta blockers to cancer and diabetes medicines.

When a cell moves, the front of the cell scoots forward, while the back of the cell retracts. You need both things to happen for the cell to move. It’s called “treadmilling.” Until now, scientists haven’t had much information on the how the retraction piece of the puzzle works, Karunarathne said.

In its study, the research team inserted GPCR receptors from the eye, which are sensitive to light, into cells from other parts of the body. They then used light to activate the receptors and target a specific area in the front of the cell. In this way, they could take a look at how the back of the cell reacted — the piece of the puzzle that’s been missing.

The use of light receptors was an important innovation in the team’s research. It is part of a fairly new field called subcellular optogenetics, Karunarathne said.

Normally, chemicals are used to activate receptors. But chemicals, which dissipate throughout the cell, are hard to control. By using light instead to stimulate the receptors, researchers could target specific, small regions on a single cell. They also could turn the light on and off, stopping and starting the activation.

As the researchers activated the GPCR in the front of the cell, the cell generated proteins. Through trial and error, and by targeting combinations of those proteins, the UT team found two pathways that affect how the back of the cell retracts and that are essential to cell migration. Stop either of those pathways and the cells can’t move.

With this discovery, scientists can now begin thinking about how to create therapies that either slow, stop or accelerate a cell’s movement. Karunarathne said one possibility is gene therapy whereby patients are injected with genes that make cells to produce light-sensitive GPCRs. Tumor cells could be “told” not to migrate, and immune cells could be “told” to attack nasty infections.

Three researchers elected Fellows of American Association for the Advancement of Science

Three University of Toledo researchers have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in recognition of their important contributions to scientific discovery.

The UT faculty members who are among the 396 AAAS Fellows elected in 2017 are Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College and professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences; Dr. Karen Bjorkman, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy, and Helen Luedtke Brooks Endowed Professor of Astronomy; and Dr. Steven Federman, professor of astronomy.

AAAS is the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific and engineering society. Since 1874, it has elected Fellows to recognize members for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

“I am proud three UT faculty members earned this prestigious national honor in one year,” UT President Sharon L. Gaber said. “This recognition by AAAS is an external validation of the talented experts on our campus. UT faculty make important contributions to their fields of study and actively engage our students in research projects in the process.”

Appel

Appel, who joined UT in 2016, is being elected to the biological sciences section of the AAAS for her contributions to the field of chemical ecology. Her research on how plants can “hear” by detecting feeding vibrations from insects and responding with an enhanced chemical defense has been widely cited.

Her other research project explores how galling insects trick plants into making novel structures that they then use as protected places to feed and reproduce. Some of these insects are major agricultural pests worldwide on grapes, wheat and rice.

“Plant defenses against insects are mostly invisible to us because they are chemical. Just think about all of the herbs and spices we use — plants evolved that chemistry to defend themselves against their own diseases and insect pests,” Appel said. “I’ve been fortunate to spend my career working with great collaborators to advance our understanding of how plants detect and respond to insect pests, including a sensory modality we didn’t realize plants had.”

Bjorkman

Bjorkman, who has been a member of UT’s faculty since 1996, is being elected into the association’s astronomy section for her leadership in the field of stellar astrophysics and spectropolarimetry to better understand the disks around massive stars.

The massive stars she studies, which are 10 to 20 times the mass of the sun, can have unpredictable gaseous disks around them that change over time for reasons as yet unknown. Bjorkman studies these disks both in individual stars and in larger samples within star clusters to better understand their physical characteristics and the mechanisms behind their formation and variability.

“Most of the atoms that make up everything around us originated in the center of stars, so it is important to advance our understanding of stars and their evolution, while at the same time applying the laws of physics. That is how we learn things, by continuously testing our understanding,” Bjorkman said. “It is an honor to have one of the largest science associations in the world acknowledge our contributions to science. When two of the seven astronomers in this year’s class of Fellows are from UT, that is nice recognition from our colleagues about the strength of our program here.”

Federman

Federman also is being elected into the astronomy section of the AAAS for his contributions in the research of interstellar matter and for advancing the field of laboratory astrophysics.

He has been a UT astronomer since 1988 and for much of his career has studied interstellar gas clouds to better understand the elements and isotopes within these clouds that form stars. He also is a leader in establishing the field of laboratory astrophysics that brings together theoretical and experimental astronomy research to combine observational and lab data to better test theories. He was the first chair of the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Laboratory Astrophysics.

“Studying the abundances of elements and isotopes in the material between stars informs about the reactions and processes that happened in the past that led to the outcome we see today,” Federman said. “I’m proud to have been able to contribute over the years as we’ve moved from modeling to observations to lab studies as we continue to learn more and more about the chemical makeup in material that will become the next generation of stars and planets.”

Appel, Bjorkman and Federman will be recognized at the AAAS Fellows Forum at the association’s annual meeting Feb. 17 in Austin, Texas.

The 2017 AAAS Fellows join UT’s Dr. Carol Stepien, Distinguished University Professor of Ecology, who was elected last year, and Dr. Jack Schultz, who joined UT in September as senior executive director of research development and has been an AAAS Fellow since 2011 when he was elected while at the University of Missouri.

Preparing medical labs to assess bioterrorism agents topic of Nov. 17 workshop

The University of Toledo Department of Biological Sciences will host a workshop titled “Agents of Bioterrorism: Sentinel Training for Clinical Laboratories” Friday, Nov. 17, in Bowman-Oddy Laboratories.

The workshop will provide an overview of the sentinel clinical laboratory’s role in the identification of primary agents of bioterrorism and will emphasize how to safely handle suspect organisms in clinical specimens and cultures.

Participants will include microbiologists in the northwest Ohio region, including practitioners at UT Medical Center, Mercy Health System and ProMedica Health Systems.

“Currently, very few labs in northwest Ohio are qualified to handle samples contaminated with bioterrorism agents,” said Dr. Bruce Bamber, associate professor and chair of the UT Department of Biological Sciences. “Protocols must be in place for the rapid and safe collection, handling, analysis, transport and storage of samples. Increasing the number of qualified medical testing laboratories increases the speed and effectiveness of our response to potential bioterrorism attacks in the northwest Ohio region.”

The Ohio Department of Health is hosting this workshop at various locations throughout the state to train practitioners of medical laboratory testing to respond safely and effectively to potential bioterrorism attacks.

“There is a clear need for expertise in the area of how to handle requests, handle specimens, identify potential bioterrorism agents, and report back to response agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Homeland Security, the Ohio Department of Health, and the patient’s physician,” Bamber said. “This expertise is needed to maintain a high state of general preparedness in case a bioterrorism attack takes place.”

The event is co-sponsored by the National Laboratory Training Network and the Ohio Department of Health Laboratory.

Alumnus to return to campus Nov. 16 to discuss breakthrough physics research

Dr. Robert Cooper will visit his alma mater Thursday, Nov. 16, and talk about the cutting-edge physics research he and graduate students at New Mexico State University are conducting.

He will discuss “Observation of Coherent Elastic Neutrino-Nucleus Scattering” at the UT Physics and Astronomy Colloquium at 4 p.m. in McMaster Hall Room 1005.

Cooper

The assistant professor of physics at New Mexico State University is among 80 researchers from 19 institutions and four nations working on the COHERENT experiment, which investigated a 43-year-old mystery.

Since 2015, Cooper and company have been attempting to measure coherent elastic neutrino-nucleus scattering at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This process has eluded detection despite a standard model prediction for the low-energy particles that only interact via weak subatomic force and gravity.

“This situation is akin to measuring the momentum transferred by a pingpong ball colliding with a bowling ball,” Cooper explained.

Using the smallest neutrino detector on the planet, researchers recorded the first measurement of coherent scattering of neutrinos off nuclei. They published their results in the August issue of Science.

“This measurement capability has applications to help understand supernovae, nuclear structure, neutrino oscillations and nuclear reactor monitoring,” Cooper said.

“We are proud to welcome back Robert Cooper to campus to hear more about his role in the exciting frontier of particle physics,” said Dr. Karen Bjorkman, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy; and Helen Luedtke Brooks Endowed Professor of Astronomy. 

Cooper received a bachelor of science degree in physics and mathematics from The University of Toledo in 2002. He studied particle physics at the University of Michigan, where he received a doctorate in 2008.

For more information on the free, public colloquium, contact Dr. Scott Lee, UT professor of physics, at scott.lee@utoledo.edu or 419.530.4779.

Photographers encouraged to submit photos for Lake Erie Center contest

The Lake Erie Center is looking for submissions for its eighth annual photo contest with the theme, “The Nature of Our Region, From Oak Openings to Maumee Bay.” The deadline to submit photos is Friday, Nov. 17.

Submissions are limited to three photos per person, and shots must be taken at either Maumee Bay, Lake Erie or the Maumee River watershed to qualify.

Quentin Francis-Emonds took the top prize in the teen category in 2016 with this shot of a chestnut-sided warbler at Magee Marsh.

“We feel it is important to mesh art and science when possible,” said Rachel Lohner, education program manager for the Lake Erie Center. “The Maumee River watershed is a complex and dynamic system that is the focus of most research at the center. This region provides numerous picturesque backdrops for amateur photographs to utilize in their photographs.”

In addition to the prizes being offered in multiple age categories, winners of the contest will gain access to a wide audience for their photos.

“We encourage photographers to enter our contest because we compile a visually appealing display that showcases their work on the walls of the Lake Erie Center. We use these photographs throughout the year on our website and in our marketing materials,” Lohner said. “Winners of our contest will be invited to attend an awards reception and be presented with their prizes in January.”

For online submissions, past winners and official contest rules, visit utoledo.edu/nsm/lec/webforms/2017_LEC_Photo_Contest.html.

Professor joins editorial board of mathematics journal

Dr. Zeljko Cuckovic, professor of mathematics, has been invited to join the editorial board of the Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications published by Elsevier as an associate editor.

“It is an uncommon honor to be selected as associate editor of such a high-level journal,” said Dr. Donald White, professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. “We are proud of Zeljko and are happy to have him represent the University at this publication.”

Cuckovic

The Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications publishes 24 issues per year and receives about 3,500 submissions annually.

“Being invited to join the editorial board of a well-recognized and highly reputable journal is a great honor,” Cuckovic said. “This invitation represents recognition of years of my research work.”

He has published nearly 40 papers and has more than 400 citations. He has given talks in the United States and abroad and has held visiting positions at several universities. In 2006, he received one of UT’s Outstanding Teacher Awards. He also serves on the board of the European Journal of Mathematics.

“In addition to personal recognition, I hope this higher visibility will help me attract quality PhD students to our Department of Mathematics and Statistics,” Cuckovic said.

Cuckovic received his PhD at Michigan State University. His research includes expertise in functional analysis, operator theory and complex analysis.

American Chemical Society topic of Nov. 13 colloquium

In celebration of 100 years of existence, the Toledo section of the American Chemical Society is partnering with the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry to host a colloquium next week.

Dr. Thomas Connelly Jr., senior director and CEO of the American Chemical Society, will speak Monday, Nov. 13, at 4 p.m. in Wolfe Hall Room 1205. His seminar is titled “American Chemical Society: Journals and Information Solutions.”

Connelly

He has served as chief science and technology officer and as chief innovation officer for the DuPont Co. While there, he was responsible for science and technology, with special emphases on polymer science, chemical process development, and bioprocessing for chemical synthesis and production.

Connelly graduated with highest honors from Princeton University with degrees in chemical engineering and economics, and received his doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Cambridge, where he was a Winston Churchill Scholar.

For inquiries about the free, public event, contact Dr. Joanna Hinton at 419.530.4292 or Dr. Jon Kirchhoff at 419.530.1515. Both are faculty members in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Biology graduate students to host research symposium Nov. 3

The Biology Graduate Students’ Research Symposium will take place Friday, Nov. 3, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Thompson Student Union Ingman Room.

This is the fifth year for the symposium, which is designed to showcase the biology research being conducted at the University and introduce graduate studies to students.

The free, public event will include a poster presentation by graduate students followed by an introduction to undergraduate research opportunities by faculty. Snacks and beverages will be provided.

“Biology research can be an alien language for a lot of the people in the community due to its complexity and ambiguous findings,” said Kyoung Jo, a PhD candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences. “We are attempting to simplify our findings and research subjects into posters so that people can understand better what kind of science we are doing in the community.”

There will be poster presentations on fertility; cancer, including breast cancer; viruses and the immune system; neuroscience; and plants.

The event also will include a presentation from Dr. Claire Walczak, assistant director of research for the Medical Sciences Program at Indiana University. Her presentation titled “Polypoid Cell Divisions and Genome Stability” will begin at 3:30 p.m.

The event is sponsored by the Graduate Student Association, the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and the Department of Biological Sciences.