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UT scientist named Top 40 Under 40 by Greenhouse Product News

When asked how she first became interested in plants and nature, Dr. Jennifer Boldt attributed her passion to her family.

“For most of my life, my parents owned and operated a greenhouse and garden center in Florida. I have literally grown up surrounded by plants. My sister and I would help out in the afternoons after school and during the summers. I have fond memories of helping my parents and grandparents transplant seedlings,” she recalled.

Dr. Jennifer Boldt, adjunct research assistant professor of environmental sciences, was named one of the Top 40 Under 40 by Greenhouse Product News.

“My sister and I thought it was great because we got to spend time with [family] and nobody minded that we got dirty. As we got older, we assumed more and more responsibility in both the production and retail aspects of the business. We saw all the hard work, dedication and passion that our parents had for growing beautiful plants, helping customers find the right plants for their gardens and landscapes, and providing a sense of community for their employees and customers,” Boldt continued. “My dad was a very patient teacher and cultivated our interest in learning how plants grow. As I got older, I decided that this could be a career path for me, too.

“I studied horticulture and business administration as an undergraduate, and had planned to one day take over the family business. However, I discovered research and have taken a slightly different career path, but I am still very much involved in the horticulture industry and enjoy it immensely.”

Boldt was recently named one of the Top 40 Under 40 by Greenhouse Product News. She is a research horticulturalist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, housed in Wolfe Hall. She and her colleagues utilize space in the Wolfe Hall greenhouse and at the Toledo Botanical Garden. The Wolfe Hall greenhouse also is utilized by members of the departments of Biological Sciences and Environmental Sciences.

In addition, Boldt is as an adjunct research assistant professor in environmental sciences at UT.

Listed among Boldt’s accomplishments in Greenhouse Product News was her research program that studied how different factors and practices influenced the growth and development of greenhouse crops.

“The Agricultural Research Service is the chief in-house scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It has more than 90 research locations and 690 research projects, but our group is the only one whose project is focused specifically on the production of greenhouse-grown ornamentals. This includes primarily flowering plants, like what you would plant in a home garden or in container planters, but also vegetables and culinary herbs. Our research looks at how light, temperature, carbon dioxide concentration, fertilizers, and the growing medium influence how quickly a plant grows, how quickly it flowers, how it looks (its architecture), and/or how well it is able to tolerate stress,” Boldt explained.

“For instance, one project looks at what growing conditions optimize a plant’s photosynthetic rate. We have developed models and incorporated them into a software tool that growers can use to see how adding supplemental lighting or increasing and/or decreasing the greenhouse temperature will affect plant growth. They can compare the predicted change in plant growth to the costs associated with changing the greenhouse environment and determine if it is worthwhile from an economic perspective. We want to provide information and recommendations to growers that can help increase their productivity and profitability, while at the same time reduce the quantity of inputs — water, fertilizer, energy, etc. — required to successfully grow plants in greenhouses and other controlled environments.”

Though her work may seem complicated to outsiders, Boldt enjoys her day-to-day research.

“There never is a typical day, which keeps things interesting. Most of my time is spent in the office, planning upcoming research, analyzing data from experiments, writing manuscripts, reviewing manuscripts, and checking in with our fabulous greenhouse and lab technicians to see how plant care, data collection and laboratory analyses are going. I have ongoing research collaborations with a few Agricultural Research Service and university researchers, so there are planning and update meetings that occur. When we have ongoing plant trials, I routinely check in on the plants — like a doctor making rounds at a hospital — to see how they are growing.

“I do enjoy the days when I get to spend some time in the greenhouse; we lease greenhouse space at the Toledo Botanical Garden and conduct many of our research trials there,” she said.

As for her colleagues, Boldt said, “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great team of scientists, postdocs, technicians and undergraduate students that work daily to accomplish the research goals of our group. Current members include Mona-Lisa Banks, Douglas Sturtz, Cindy Carnicom and Mitchell Caris. We also had two terrific UT undergraduate students in spring semester — Amy Towell and Maithili Kulkarni.”

There was another member of the horticulture industry that Boldt was especially pleased to be recognized alongside: her twin sister, Jessica Boldt.

“It was a wonderful surprise. We are very close and have very similar interests. Our undergraduate degrees are the same, and we even had the same adviser for our master’s degrees. We have cheered on each other’s accomplishments, and so it’s very special to be nominated by different individuals and selected for this recognition together in the same year,” Boldt said. “We found out that we both had been selected when someone emailed me instead of Jessica to congratulate her. We had a good laugh, since we get mistaken for the other all the time, even though we now live in different states.

“In case you can’t tell, I’m very proud of Jessica,” she said and then laughed.

The two share the same passion for horticulture and the large role that it plays in society.

“On a basic level, plants are a source of food, fiber and fuel. They provide vitamins and nutrients. Many contain compounds that have medicinal uses. Plants improve the air quality. Trees, shrubs and green roofs lower the energy costs of homes and buildings. Exposure to plants and nature reduces our stress levels. Gardening is therapeutic and provides a way to stay active. There are so many benefits that plants provide that positively impact our well-being,” Boldt explained.

“Have you seen how someone’s face lights up when you give her or him a basket of fresh-picked strawberries or a bouquet of beautiful flowers? There is joy in planting bulbs in the fall and watching them emerge from the ground the following spring. Without waxing poetic too much, we need to feed and nourish the body, mind and soul, and horticulture allows us to do that. Also, career opportunities abound in horticulture — plant breeding, greenhouse flower and vegetable production, public garden management, teaching, research, education, and marketing, to name a few.”

She beamed as she looked at the pink petunias lined up in the greenhouse at Toledo Botanical Garden.

“From my little corner of horticulture, it’s very satisfying to not just advance our understanding of plants, but also provide practical recommendations to growers so that they can continue to be successful.”

Scientist studies effect of algal blooms on turtles

When the tap water of more than 500,000 northwest Ohioans was declared unsafe in August 2014, the three-day crisis caused global concern. Most was focused on how high levels of microcystin in citizens’ Lake Erie-fed tap water could affect those using it to drink, cook and bathe.

There was scant discussion regarding how the toxin, which is caused by certain freshwater cyanobacteria found in algal blooms, affects wildlife in and around freshwater lakes such as Lake Erie because little research existed.

This painted turtle from the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Oak Harbor, Ohio, was trapped and released by Dr. Jeanine Refsnider and her assistants after they took measurements to assess the effects of algal blooms on the reptile.

Dr. Jeanine Refsnider, assistant professor of ecology in UT’s Department of Environmental Sciences, is among the first to study how the harmful effects of algal blooms influence the health of Lake Erie wildlife, particularly turtles.

“Turtles are quite robust,” Refsnider said. “For a lot of species of vertebrates, what you see is when they’re stressed, their immune function is depressed, just like you find in humans. For turtles, preliminarily, we don’t really see that. [Their] immune system doesn’t seem to get weaker when they’re under stress.”

Refsnider and her team have been trapping turtles at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Oak Harbor, Ohio, since mid-May and will continue through next month. In the field, they take baseline measurements, such as weight and size; determine the genders; check females for eggs; count the number of leeches clinging to shells; and photograph the shells.

Dr. Jeanine Refsnider set up a trap to catch turtles at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Oak Harbor, Ohio. The turtles are not harmed by the tests performed in the lab or field, she said.

“Turtles that aren’t able to bask as much as they should tend to have more leeches and more algae growing on their shells, and we think that’s an indicator of worse health,” Refsnider noted.

The team also will take blood samples from each turtle’s tail for various assays to be examined in Refsnider’s lab.

“We’re looking for baseline levels of physiological stress,” she said. “When an organism is exposed to a longer-term stressor, the ratio of different types of white blood cells changes. It takes a few days, but you can actually get an estimate of their stress level by counting the number of white blood cells and looking at this ratio.

“We’re expecting that turtles during an algal bloom will have higher stress levels and lower immune functioning than turtles that are not exposed to an algal bloom, or turtles from different years when there isn’t any exposure to algae.”

Jessica Garcia, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in biology, walked a painted turtle to the water at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Oak Harbor, Ohio.

Refsnider’s research, funded in part by a $10,000 Ohio Sea Grant, will continue through 2018. This year, turtles will be trapped and analyzed in May and June, then again in August. In 2018, Refsnider’s team will repeat a spring catch, when algal blooms are absent from Lake Erie, and again in August, when warmer lake temperatures, increased rainfall and other factors contribute to the formation of algal blooms.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, spring measurements and rainfall projections indicate that the formation of harmful algal blooms this summer will be in the “middle of the pack” — neither severe nor insignificant.

Since Lake Erie is the shallowest and warmest of the Great Lakes, it is most susceptible to algal bloom formation.

Jessica Garcia returned a painted turtle to the water at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

Refsnider said this year she’d like to sample about 80 turtles, including painted turtles, which are the most common to be seen basking on rocks and other structures; map turtles, which live closer to streams and rivers; snapping turtles; and red-eared slider turtles, which are not indigenous to Lake Erie, but are bought in pet stores and sometimes released into the wild.

Map turtles will be subject to an additional assay that takes place during 48 hours in Refsnider’s lab.

“We inject a skin irritant in the webbing between their toes that causes their body to think it’s infected, so the skin swells a little bit,” Refsnider said. “It is similar to the response to a bacterial infection. We can measure how much their skin swells in response to that irritant. It usually peaks at about six hours, then goes back to normal within the next 36 hours.”

Jessica Garcia checked a net for turtles at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Oak Harbor, Ohio.

She said her team measures the injected area every six hours.

None of the turtles, she added, are harmed by tests performed in the field or the lab.

Refsnider expects turtle research to be a precursor for further studies among Lake Erie’s wildlife, including water snakes, frogs and water birds.

“Since turtles are pretty tough, you can expose them to new climates and it doesn’t seem to affect them too much,” Refsnider, who has conducted research on turtles previously, said. “But a toxin in their water might be a substantially bigger problem; we’re just not sure. It could be that it doesn’t affect turtles, but it affects snakes or birds.”

She said water snakes at the Ottawa refuge are similar to the indigenous Lake Erie water snakes found only around the limestone islands scattered near the Catawba/Marblehead peninsula in Catawba Island, Ohio.

“The snake we’ll be studying is closely related to the Lake Erie water snake, and there are two rare turtle species that live along Lake Erie,” Refsnider said. “Whatever impact algal blooms have on these common species, they’re going to have on the rare species because both are closely related, so this will have implications on the endangered species.”

At UT since 2015, Refsnider was drawn by the opportunity to study how organisms respond to rapid environmental change. The ecological climate surrounding Lake Erie seemed an ideal laboratory.

“The ecology here is really interesting,” Refsnider said. “For the Midwest, Ohio has a really diverse community of reptiles and amphibians, which is what I work on. This is a great fit for me.”

She hopes research that begins with 80 turtles will have broader applications as scientists grapple with the effects of unprecedented climate change.

“If we can tell that algal blooms have a severe impact on these populations, maybe we can think about how to protect certain habitat areas from any kind of water exchange with Lake Erie so they have a refuge,” Refsnider noted. “Understanding the role algal blooms play in the decline of a local species will give us a better idea of how to protect these species against some human-caused threats.”

Researchers study red-headed woodpeckers to solve mysteries of charismatic, declining species

The red-headed woodpecker’s feisty, loud personality fits the reputation of crimson-maned creatures, but the student researcher gently holding the bird bucked the trend.

University of Toledo graduate student Kyle Pagel was calm, steady and methodical as he banded the woodpecker’s legs with tiny, colorful identifying rings and looped a miniature backpack armed with a light-level geolocator and pinpoint-GPS around its legs.

UT graduate student Kyle Pagel held a red-headed woodpecker at Oak Openings Metropark in Swanton, Ohio. He is helping to conduct research on the bird to discover migration routes and why the species is in decline.

“The woodpecker is wearing it like a climbing harness,” said Pagel, who is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental sciences at UT. “The backpack is so thin and light that it doesn’t inhibit flight or movement.”

The bird that flies freely once again from tree to tree isn’t the scarlet-mohawked woodpecker regularly spotted in backyards. The red-headed woodpecker is about the size of a robin or 10 times larger than a warbler.

This 70-gram, boldly patterned “flying checkerboard” is the seventh bird of its kind in a week that the UT team has examined at Oak Openings Metropark, taken a blood sample from, and outfitted with tracking technology to identify migration routes.

A photographer with the media took a photo of a red-headed woodpecker held by UT graduate student Kyle Pagel at Oak Openings Metropark.

“This is such as photogenic, popular species, it’s surprising how little is known about them,” Pagel said. “It’s fascinating to work with such a charismatic bird.”

Pagel, along with Dr. Henry Streby, UT assistant professor of environmental sciences and ornithologist, launched a study this month of red-headed woodpeckers that could last up to 10 years and solve many mysteries about the species.

For the next several weeks, the birding team’s office will be located throughout the Oak Openings region, including sites along Girdham Road and Jeffers Road at Oak Openings Metropark in Swanton, Ohio. They expect this year to put tracking technology on 20 adult red-headed woodpeckers in Ohio and 20 in Minnesota, and on another 25 juveniles in each of those states.

At Oak Openings Metropark, Dr. Henry Streby set up a mist net used to gently collect red-headed woodpeckers so more can be learned about the vanishing species.

“They’re in extreme decline, especially in the Midwest and Great Lakes area, maybe because of habitat loss and changes in their food supply,” Streby said. “We’re lucky to have Oak Openings just west of Toledo because it’s a place where red-headed woodpeckers seem to be doing relatively well. We want to figure out what’s working here and see if we can offer recommendations for habitat management elsewhere.”

Every morning the team sets up mist nets and uses recorded calls, drums and decoy birds to attract the woodpeckers.

Researchers are using blood samples to analyze DNA and hormones, as well as measure stress, immune system condition and aging.

The miniature backpack weighs about two grams and uses a light-level geolocator to gather data about when the birds go in and out of tree cavities each day. Pinpoint GPS, like on a cell phone, will tell the researchers where the birds traveled.

“Red-headed woodpeckers are inconsistent,” Streby said. “Some years they migrate for the winter, some years they don’t. We want to know why. We also want to know where they go when they’re not here on their breeding grounds. It could only be as far south as Kentucky or Tennessee. That is what we will learn for the first time when we recover the backpacks from the birds.”

Food availability, specifically acorns, is one of the factors being observed at Oak Openings this season, as well as reproductive success and genetics.

“We’re studying all of this without knowing whether these woodpeckers are going to leave or not,” Streby said. “It’ll take several breeding seasons to be able to analyze their habits and help us know what needs to be done to conserve the species, especially in places where the populations are shrinking.”

Streby also has been studying golden-winged warblers for five years using light-level geolocators that weigh less than half a paper clip to track migration patterns. The songbirds, which are about the size of a ping-pong ball, travel thousands of miles once they leave their spring and summer nesting grounds.

Engineering classmates win first-place prize in 2017 business plan competition

The SpecuLIFT Team claimed the $10,000 prize last month in the seventh annual UT College of Business and Innovation’s Business Innovation Competition.

The award will help the team develop its idea into a successful business.

Winning the College of Business and Innovation’s Business Innovation Competition and $10,000 were members of the SpecuLIFT Team, from left, Michael Peachock, Rachel Wagner, Andrew Oehrtman, Mark Caris, Melissa Brodsky, and Dr. Ronald Fournier, professor of bioengineering and team adviser. The team posed for a photo with Dr. Sonny Ariss, professor and chair of the Department of Management.

The winning team — Michael Peachock, Rachel Wagner, Andrew Oehrtman, Mark Caris and Melissa Brodsky — all met in the College of Engineering, are all bioengineering majors, and have remained close friends through their shared five-year educational journey. Their competition idea submission, developed for their engineering senior design project, was for a Novel Vaginal Speculum, a medical diagnostic device for which they are pursuing a patent.

“We started with about 50 different ideas for our senior design engineering project,” Wagner said. “Melissa and I worked on research. My sister works in the health-care field, and current specula are uncomfortable. Our team member, Michael, is a business minor and gave us a lot of insight into developing our business plan.”

“Since our major is bioengineering, we saw that it has good market potential,” Caris said, “so it was one of our top three ideas. The device is used by gynecologists for a pelvic exam, and a likely scenario for our device would be in an emergency room setting. Our goal was to maximize patient comfort with functionality.”

Caris added, “We all met in engineering and have known each other for five years. They are all great people, and we are great friends.”

Brodsky said, “The $10,000 prize will enable us to do more prototyping, such as a version that has a light source. Entering the business plan competition was a very eye-opening experience.”

“We are willing to support you, to provide free advice about how to spend, where to spend and when not to spend,” advised Dr. Sonny Ariss, professor and chair of the Department of Management in the College of Business and Innovation. “Statistically, you have a 5 percent chance of success, and I’m telling you this so you will be diligent not to fail. Your prize money is a major leap. Don’t underestimate yourself. Surround yourself with a great advisory board.”

“We are pursuing a patent for the device and, ultimately, will need to obtain FDA approval,” Caris said. “I am super-excited about this and fully expect to work lots of hours. We are ready to proceed.”

Finishing in second place was Green Agrothermal LLC, submitted by Mohammadmatin Hanifzadeh and Dr. Dong Shik Kim, associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering, who received the $5,000 prize to develop their business.

Honorable mention went to RowBot, submitted by Jeffrey Darah and Andrew Puppos.

The College of Business and Innovation’s business plan competition received 31 entries this year and was open to all UT faculty, staff and students.

UT faculty, students to present diverse water quality research at Great Lakes conference in Detroit

An ongoing study on the height of the annual algal bloom in the water near the Toledo Water Intake in Lake Erie is one of 34 University of Toledo research projects being presented this week at the annual conference of the International Association of Great Lakes Research.

The study, which measures the algal bloom over 24 hours in rough and calm waters, is entering its second year. The goal is to make recommendations to water plant operators on the best time to pump water and reduce intake exposure to microcystin.

Last year, Ken Gibbons pulled up a water sample using a long, white tube that reaches the lake bottom. The water was emptied into the orange bucket held by Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, UT algae researcher and professor of ecology.

“This has the possibility to provide a practical way to protect the public drinking water,” Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, UT algae researcher and professor of ecology, said. “We want to develop a model that tells the water utilities where to expect the algae to be and when to pump more or less to avoid it.”

Graduate student researcher Eva Kramer will present the research, which is titled “Avoiding Harmful Algal Blooms at Toledo’s Drinking Water Intake by Observing Vertical Distribution and Migration,” during poster presentations Wednesday, May 17.

“It’s inspiring to be surrounded by hundreds of people working to understand, protect and restore the Great Lakes from a broad range of backgrounds,” said Kramer, who is pursuing a master’s degree in ecology. “I look forward to hearing their stories and learning from their successes and struggles.”

UT researchers take regular samples near the Toledo Water Intake in Lake Erie.

The annual conference of the International Association of Great Lakes Research is taking place from Monday, May 15, through Friday, May 19, at the Cobo Center in Detroit.

UT researchers will present from diverse areas of study, including economics; engineering; environmental sciences; chemistry and biochemistry; geography and planning; and medical microbiology and immunology.

A full list of the UT researchers and their projects can be found at utoledo.edu/nsm/lec/news/abstracts.html.

Dr. Carol Stepien, Distinguished University Professor of Ecology, and Dr. Kevin Czajkowski, professor and director of the UT Center for Geographic Information Sciences and Applied Geographics, organized a special session titled “Pathways for Invasions Into the Great Lakes: Detection, Monitoring and New Technology” that will run from 8 a.m. to noon Wednesday, May 17. Stepien and Czajkowski work with bait shops and fishermen for invasive species prevention.

PhD student researcher Alison Brandel, who works in the lab of Dr. Jason Huntley, associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology, will present a talk titled “Isolation and Characterization of Lake Erie Bacteria That Degrade the Microcystin Toxin MC-LR” Friday, May 19, at 10:40 a.m. during the session titled “Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiatives: Field to Faucet and Beyond.”

During that same session, Dr. Kevin Egan, associate professor of economics, will present “Benefit-Cost Analysis for Policy Options (e.g. Fertilizer Fee, Wetlands) to Reduce Nutrient Runoff” Friday, May 19, at 8 a.m.

Water quality is a major research focus at the University. With $12.5 million in active grants underway, UT is studying algal blooms, invasive species such as Asian carp, and pollutants, and looking for pathways to restore the greatest natural resource for future generations to ensure communities continue to have access to safe drinking water.

Researchers and students help to protect the public drinking water supply for the greater Toledo area throughout summer algal bloom season by conducting water sampling to alert water treatment plant operators of any toxins heading toward the water intake. UT’s 28-foot research vessel enables the University to partner with the city of Toledo and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to monitor the health of the lake and provide real-time data.

The UT Lake Erie Center is a research and educational facility focused on environmental conditions and aquatic resources in Maumee Bay and western Lake Erie as a model for the Great Lakes and aquatic ecosystems worldwide.

UT ranked 66th in nation for technology transfer, commercialization

The University of Toledo is ranked 66th in the nation by the Milken Institute’s Center for Jobs and Human Capital in its list of Best Universities for Technology Transfer.

The 2017 report focuses on innovative discoveries at public and private research universities that lead to new products and a rise in entrepreneurial success and regional economic impact through job creation and growth.

The ranking measurements include a four-year average of research expenditures, patents, licenses executed, licensing income and start-up companies. The University Technology Transfer and Commercialization Index uses data from 2012 to 2015.

In fiscal years 2012 through 2015, the University received 258 invention disclosures and entered into 59 option or license agreements. Eleven start-up companies were established to commercialize UT technology.

“I was pleased to see the University was ranked in the top 75 Best Universities for Technology Transfer by the Milken Institute,” Stephen Snider, UT associate vice president of technology transfer, said. “This wouldn’t be possible without the participation of faculty, staff and students throughout the institution who help our office to protect and transfer novel innovations to the commercial marketplace.”

According to the report, “More than 1,000 firms were launched in fiscal year 2015 through [technology transfer offices] at research universities, with more than 70 percent of start-ups located in the same state as the affiliated university.”

“The University of Toledo’s Technology Transfer Office has been one of the top performers in the state for many years under the leadership of Stephen Snider,” Dr. Frank Calzonetti, UT vice president of research, said. “We are proud to support faculty and students who are coming up with creative ways to solve problems and helping generate high-tech jobs.”

Ohio State University is ranked No. 55 on the Milken Institute’s list. Ohio University is ranked No. 113 and University of Dayton No. 200. The University of Utah is No. 1.

For the entire report, click here.

Girls in Science Day at UT May 10

More than 140 sophomore high school girls will visit The University of Toledo Wednesday, May 10, when prominent female scientists and engineers across the region will introduce them to the exciting world of science and technology careers through hands-on experiments and demonstrations.

The eighth annual Women in STEMM Day of Meetings, which goes by the acronym WISDOM, will take place from 8 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. on UT’s Main Campus and Health Science Campus.

UT faculty and industrial professionals from Marathon Petroleum Corp. and Spartan Chemical Co. Inc. will help inspire a passion for science careers by exploring the tools of the trade. The visiting high school students also will get to interact with female graduate students in the various areas in science, engineering and the health sciences.

The girls will carry out investigations in a number of areas, including physics and astronomy, chemistry, biology, engineering, pharmacy, and medicine.

Activities for students will include building solar cells; using liquid nitrogen to make objects float in the air; swabbing their cheeks for a DNA sample; building a motor; generating electricity on a bike; making biodiesel fuel; using patient simulators to practice patient interventions; and making lip balm.

During lunch in the Brady Center on the Engineering campus, the students will learn about coding and its importance for future careers in STEMM.

“Girls are just as interested in science and technology as their male peers, but the number of girls that make it to college to pursue a major and get a job in a STEMM field is not growing as we need it to do,” said Edith Kippenhan, senior lecturer in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, director of WISDOM, and past president of the Northwestern Ohio Chapter of the Association for Women in Science. “Women approach problems differently, and they come up with different, equally valid solutions. We need them in the workforce to better design products and solutions for the various problems facing our society and our planet.”

Students from Toledo Public, Washington Local and Oregon Schools, as well as from the Toledo Islamic Academy and Wildwood Environmental Academy, will participate in WISDOM at the University.

“It is our goal to show the students they have a real and doable pathway to their dream career in STEMM,” Kippenhan said. “It is our hope that a visit to UT for events such as WISDOM will inspire them to embrace science and technology, and turn their dreams into reality.”

The event is hosted by the Northwestern Ohio Chapter of the Association for Women in Science. Sponsors include Marathon Petroleum Corp., Columbia Gas, Spartan Chemical Co., the Toledo Section of the American Chemical Society, the Catharine S. Eberly Center for Women, and the UT colleges of Engineering, Medicine and Life Sciences, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Study shows UT has $3.3 billion economic impact on community

The University of Toledo’s impact to the region’s economy totals $3.3 billion, according to a comprehensive study by UT economists.

That is equivalent to 9.7 percent of the region’s gross metropolitan area product.

“As the second largest employer in northwest Ohio with an enrollment of more than 20,000 students, we are proud to be one of Toledo’s anchor institutions contributing as a major force to the region’s growth and development,” UT President Sharon L. Gaber said. “The University of Toledo continues to work hard to strengthen the community.”

Dr. Oleg Smirnov, associate professor of economics, and Dr. Olugbenga Ajilore, associate professor of economics, completed the analysis this academic year.

“We show the short-term and cumulative, lasting contributions the institution makes to the region,” Smirnov said. “If the University had not been opened in Toledo 145 years ago, these impacts would not exist.”

The UT economists not only charted University, student and employee spending over the 2015-16 academic year and its ripple effect, they also calculated the long-term value of the educated workforce of UT alumni and faculty living in the area.

Of the $3.3 billion, $1.98 billion in economic growth and competitiveness is contributed by UT faculty and alumni who live in the region. Thirty-three percent of UT alumni have remained in the Toledo area after graduating.

UT is the top-ranked institution in the region for social mobility and second in Ohio. UT also ranks among the highest compared to other Ohio public research universities for income mobility.

“UT provides a path to success and professional opportunity for underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access higher education,” Ajilore said. “Because of this University, they are thriving. Plus, many of them stay in the region and impact the economy once they graduate.”

Of the $3.3 billion in total economic impact, $1.35 billion goes from UT to the Toledo area through payroll, local purchases for day-to-day operations, and expenditures by students and visitors at local businesses. That includes direct impacts of $769 million, which lead to an additional $582 million in indirect and induced effects.

The study finds that for every job at UT, the local economy gains 2.6 full-time equivalent jobs.

According to the study, UT directly generates more than 5,000 full-time jobs, and economic activity by the University leads to the creation of over 8,000 additional direct and indirect jobs. A total of 13,498 jobs were created directly or indirectly because of UT’s presence.

UT’s 20,381 students and visitors to the campus contributed an estimated $340 million to the Toledo area economy in fiscal year 2015-16, according to the report.

Plus, Smirnov and Ajilore looked at state impact. They found that for every $1 invested by the state into UT, $10 of economic impact is generated to the local economy. University operations and associated economic activity contributed $44.4 million in state and local taxes.

“When it comes to supporting higher education, every dollar counts, and any change is felt widespread,” Smirnov said.

To read the full report, go to utoledo.edu/economic-impact.

UT researchers investigate racial disparities in end-of-life planning

A national study by University of Toledo researchers shows 75 percent of adults in the U.S. have not completed end-of-life planning.

Only 18 percent of Hispanic and 8 percent of African-American respondents had a living will, durable power of attorney, or talked with family members and loved ones about their wishes, in contrast to 33 percent of whites.

The UT research study titled “Predicting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Advance Care Planning Using the Integrated Behavioral Model,” which also investigates reasons behind the racial and ethnic gap, was recently published in OMEGA: The Journal of Death and Dying.

Jordan

“We don’t like to talk about our mortality,” Dr. Timothy Jordan, professor in UT’s School of Population Health in the College of Health and Human Services, said. “But the minute we’re born, we begin the dying process.”

Jordan cites the case of Terri Schiavo, a 26-year-old Florida woman whose death more than 12 years ago still resonates.

After suffering cardiac arrest in 1990, Schiavo was the focus of a contentious, seven-year fight that pitted her parents — and many right-to-life advocates — against her husband, Michael, who vowed to remove her from artificial life support based on her previously spoken wishes.

Jordan said the lack of hard copy documentation of Terri Schiavo’s wishes propelled her case into a slew of legal machinations that twisted through the Florida governor’s office, to the U.S. Senate floor and, ultimately, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Without clear documentation of one’s end-of-life wishes, Jordan said, the battle that fueled the “what would Terri want” argument could erupt any time, with anyone at its epicenter.

“We live in a society that’s death-denying,” Jordan said, noting that current funeral practices beautify corpses with makeup and hair-styling, and use carpets of artificial grass to hide the freshly dug gravesite holding the deceased’s casket. “We don’t like to talk about death because it reminds us that we’re mortal.”

Several studies, he said, have established that racial/ethnic minority adults are less likely than whites to complete advance care planning, also called end-of-life planning.

“The question is why,” Jordan said. “[Current research] has just reported that gap. No one has really explained why it occurs.”

McAfee

Jordan and then-UT doctoral student Dr. Colette McAfee, now an assistant professor at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, designed a study to investigate why African Americans and Hispanics were less likely to have three of the following advance care components completed:

• Living will;

• Durable power of attorney for health-care decisions; and

• Verbal discussion with family members and loved ones.

The three-component approach is significant. Most studies, Jordan said, consider advance care planning complete if one or two of the elements have been finalized.

The study sampled a random cross-section of 386 American adults between 40 and 80 years of age; 51 percent was female, with 49 percent male. The racial/ethnic makeup and geographical locations of respondents, Jordan noted, were nearly identical to the U.S. population.

Three in four respondents had not completed advance care planning as defined by the study.

“Hispanics were two times more likely than blacks and eight times more likely than whites to say they’d never even heard of end-of-life planning,” Jordan said. “That really shocked us.”

Even more noteworthy was the finding that just 30 percent of respondents’ advance care planning intentions was explained by the Integrative Behavioral Model — a well-accepted standard that helps researchers explain and predict behaviors.

“One of the key take-home points is that 70 percent of the decision to do complete end-of-life planning in the future was outside of our behavior model,” Jordan said. “We could only explain 30 percent of respondents’ behavioral intention, so what other factors were at work?”

He cites several speculations, including lack of awareness, computer access, knowledge of end-of-life documentation and accessibility, as well as language barriers. He and McAfee may address these issues in future studies.

When McAfee presented the research at the American Public Health Association annual meeting last fall, many researchers from across the country were interested in expanding it.

“Dr. Jordan and I are already working on a follow-up study with similar parameters, but in a younger population,” McAfee said, noting the target age range for respondents will be between 20 and 40. “We know that the younger the population, the less likely they are to give attention to advance care planning.”

Since Hispanics were the least likely to have a basic awareness of advance care planning, McAfee also intends to further explore cultural subsets, including Hispanics of Puerto Rican, Mexican and Cuban descent. Additional research may focus on Americans of Pacific-Islander and Asian origin.

McAfee taught courses on death and dying at UT and has initiated a similar class at Westminster College, where she works mostly with public health students. She and Jordan find it remarkable that a formal end-of-life curriculum is not required for all students in nursing, pre-medical and other clinical fields, considering most of these students will deal with patients’ life-threatening illnesses and death frequently during their careers.

“I think it’s extremely important,” McAfee said of exposing student populations, even those in high schools, to education regarding death and dying. “It’s a prime opportunity to bring up end-of-life issues. If you’re an oncologist or a health-care practitioner who deals with critical illnesses, you need to be able to communicate these issues with your patients or they won’t get the appropriate care.”

She and Jordan believe the general population is open to end-of-life discussions, but reticent to initiate them.

“Once you bring it up, most people are willing to discuss it,” McAfee said. “Primary care and family physicians, in particular, would provide a perfect atmosphere to intervene because they have longstanding relationships with their patients.”

If those conversations don’t take place, Jordan said people become aware of end-of-life issues when a close friend or family member becomes progressively ill or has a catastrophic situation.

“The only time you really think about it is when we have a big, national case that goes to the Supreme Court, like the Terri Schiavo case,” Jordan added. “But it’s something we need to think about and bring into the classroom, because how much more relevant can a class be?”

Bright work: UT research shines, sets low-bandgap perovskite solar cell world record for efficiency

With the depletion of nonrenewable energy sources and the increase of pollution, researchers have turned to finding ways to harness clean energy from cheap alternative sources.

Researchers at The University of Toledo have recently focused their investigation in the area of perovskite solar cell technology.

Dr. Yanfa Yan and his team make perovskite solar cells in the lab. Their research revealed a world record efficiency (low-bandgap) for the conversion of sunlight to electricity.

Perovskite is a compound material with a special crystal structure, according to Dr. Yanfa Yan, Ohio Research Scholar chair and UT professor of physics.

“Metal halide perovskites can effectively harvest sunlight and efficiently convert it into usable electrical power. They have the potential to be used for fabricating cheap and highly efficient solar cells,” he said. “Perovskite photovoltaic technology has attracted tremendous interest in the past several years.”

Current conventional solar cells are made out of materials such as silicon, a material more expensive than perovskite solar cells.

Yan explained that his research combined theoretical and experimental approaches to understand the fundamental mechanisms of the limitations of the perovskites and to develop processes and design new materials to overcome the limitations.

“Our ultimate goal is to help improve the energy conversion efficiencies of photovoltaic cells and solar fuel devices,” Yan said.

Dr. Yanfa Yan’s all-perovskite tandem solar cell combines two different solar cells to increase the total electrical power generated by using two different parts of the sun’s spectrum.

He and his team did just that. In fact, their research revealed a world record efficiency for the conversion of sunlight to electricity in the area of perovskite solar cell technology using less toxic lead as well as demonstrated a concept for producing an all-perovskite tandem solar cell that can bring together two different solar cells to increase the total electrical power generated by using two different parts of the sun’s spectrum.

“We reported a method that can easily be followed by other researchers in the field,” Yan said.

The research has been published in the journal Nature Energy.

“The publication of this paper in Nature Energy shows a significant recognition of our work by the peers in the field of photovoltaics,” Yan said. “We are very proud of our achievements.”

He added, “We are thankful for collaborations with colleagues in the Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization at UT.”

“Dr. Yan and his team are doing outstanding work on this promising type of solar cell, paving the way for cheaper and more efficient ways to provide clean renewable energy to meet the needs of society,” 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. “The faculty and researchers in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and UT’s Wright Center for Photovoltaic Innovation and Commercialization continue to lead the way in improving photovoltaic devices to address our growing energy demands through sustainable and renewable means.”