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German physicist to speak at Lake Erie Center on measuring freshwater toxicity using algae, water fleas

A physicist from Germany who invented a water quality instrument used by University of Toledo scientists for Lake Erie algal bloom research is giving a lecture at UT titled “Measuring Toxicity in Freshwater Using Algae and Water Fleas.”

The free, public event will be Thursday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m. at the UT Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bayshore Road in Oregon.


Dr. Christian Moldaenke, researcher and founder of the German company bbe Moldaenke, has been in Toledo since mid-July using a new device in western Lake Erie to determine how well the instrument can measure the condition of harmful algal blooms and how blooms react to water treatment chemicals.

“Christian Moldaenke’s company produces some of the best water quality instruments in the world,” said Dr. Tom Bridgeman, UT algae researcher and professor of ecology. “Its fluoroprobe, which is capable of quantifying algae in the water and distinguishing between different types of algae, is the Cadillac of algal probes.”

Moldaenke is working with Bridgeman to advance research into how to protect the water supply.

“My presentation will be about measuring and understanding the water and its creatures,” Moldaenke said. “I will demonstrate how water fleas react to toxins and how we can use their movement to determine blue-green algae in order to achieve better treatment for cyanotoxins.”

Bridgeman said the new devices Moldaenke is testing this algal bloom season in Lake Erie may be capable of easily detecting when algal cells are starting to rupture, which would be a powerful tool for water utility managers to minimize toxin release.

Physicists compare drop in power output from UT solar panels during eclipse to cloudy day

While The University of Toledo experienced a solar eclipse last month, the solar panels on Main Campus and Scott Park Campus lost an “effectively inconsequential” amount of power production as the moon obscured as much as 84 percent of sunlight in the middle of the day.

“Much larger deviations result from daily or seasonal weather events,” according to a team from the UT Department of Physics and Astronomy that modeled and analyzed power output during the eclipse Aug. 21.

The solar photovoltaic array on Scott Park Campus lost an “inconsequential” amount of electrical energy generation due to the solar eclipse Aug. 21, according to UT researchers.

The solar photovoltaic array at the R1 Building along Dorr Street lost 33.5 kilowatt-hour (kWh), approximately as much electricity as the average single home in the U.S. consumes in one day.

“This is the typical production for a partly to mostly cloudy day,” Dr. Randy Ellingson, UT professor of physics, said.

The solar photovoltaic array on Scott Park Campus, which is 35 times larger than the R1 array on Main Campus and generates approximately 1,300,000 kWh of electrical energy during a typical year, lost approximately 1,170 kWh of electrical energy generation due to the eclipse.

“The eclipse resulted in the loss of less than 0.1 percent of annual production,” Ellingson said.

The UT team, which includes graduate student David Raker, will share its monitoring data with MDA Information Systems LLC, a Maryland company working to provide forecasts to predict the temporary shortfall from solar arrays up to three days in advance to help grid operators make changes to meet electricity needs for customers.

Toledo is in the path of totality for the solar eclipse in 2024.

UT seeks Toledoans’ planetarium memories to celebrate 50th anniversary of astronomy program

I teach astronomy at The University of Toledo, and I’m known as “Prof. B.” My job is part technical and part inspirational. The excitement of the recent, historic solar eclipse touched hearts and sparked the imaginations of generations of families across the country who crowded streets to witness something powerful in the universe.

Here at UT’s Ritter Planetarium and Brooks Observatory, we also are planning to celebrate a major milestone and are in need of the public’s help to share our rich history of education, outreach and celestial exploration. Friday, Oct. 13, will mark the 50th anniversary of the University’s astronomy program, Ritter Planetarium and Brooks Observatory. We’re in search of your stories and memories to better tell our story.

Ritter Planetarium and Brooks Observatory will celebrate their 50th anniversary Friday, Oct. 13.

As a child, my first visit to a planetarium involved marveling at one of the old “star ball” projectors, but since then I have enjoyed being transported to black holes and other worlds with increasingly beautiful full-dome movies. These visits certainly had an impact on me, for I went on to earn my doctorate in astronomy.

The Ritter Planetarium and Brooks Observatory are woven into the tapestry of this region. What do you remember from your visit?

In the 1920s, astronomy courses were offered through the Math Department at UT, so Professor Helen Brooks would bring students to her house to look through her personal telescope.

The Ritter facility was dedicated Oct. 13, 1967, with Brooks as the first planetarium director. The Brooks Observatory located in the dome on top of McMaster Hall was later named in honor of Brooks and her late husband, Elgin. The 1-meter-diameter telescope housed on top of the Ritter building is the largest optical telescope in the United States east of the Mississippi River.

The Ritter facility was deliberately planned to blend research and public education for the University, local schools and the community. One of the joys of astronomy is that people are inherently curious about it, and so sharing our research and our telescopes with the community have been vital in our mission from the beginning.

Helen Brooks died in 2011, two years before I came to Toledo. I never had the chance to meet her, but some of you did. I would like to learn more about your experiences. Did you attend any of the special events, such as for Apollo 11 and the impact of the Shoemaker-Levy Comet on Jupiter? Have you taken your family to experience programs in the planetarium or public viewings with telescopes in the observatories?

Additionally, with your permission, I would like to share your stories through a poster presentation at the Astronomy Open House at Ritter Planetarium Thursday, Oct. 26, to show the strong connection this community has for astronomy.

Please send your stories to me via email at  jillian.bornak@utoledo.edu or mail a letter to The University of Toledo Department of Physics and Astronomy at Mail Stop 111, 2801 W. Bancroft St., Toledo, OH 43606.

I look forward to reading your stories. Keep looking up!

Bornak is an associate lecturer in the Physics and Astronomy Department and chair of the UT Astronomy 50th Anniversary Committee. 

Math lectures slated for next week

Dr. Miroslav Engliš of the Mathematics Institute at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague, will visit campus for the Shoemaker Lecture Series, which will take place Monday through Wednesday, Sept. 11-13.

Each talk will begin at 4 p.m.


Engliš’ first lecture, “An Excursion Into Berezin-Toeplitz Quantization and Related Topics,” will be held Monday, Sept. 11, in Gillham Hall Room 5300.

“This talk will discuss an elegant quantization procedure that is based on methods from analysis of several complex variables,” he said. “Further highlights will include connections to Lie group representations or related developments for harmonic functions.”

The second lecture titled “Arveson-Douglas Conjecture and Toeplitz Operators” will take place Tuesday, Sept. 12, in Memorial Field House Room 1270.

“A basic problem in multivariable operator theory is finding appropriate ‘models’ for tuples of operators. For the case of commuting tuples, this is resolved by a nice theory developed by William Arveson, and the question of the size of the commutators of the model operators with their adjoints is the subject of the Arveson-Douglas conjecture,” Engliš said. “Though the latter is still open in full generality at the moment, we give a proof of the conjecture in a special case, using methods verging on microlocal analysis and complex analysis of several variables.”

The final lecture on “Reproducing Kernels and Distinguished Metrics” will be held Wednesday, Sept. 13, in Gillham Hall Room 5300.

“I will discuss the questions of existence and uniqueness of balanced metrics on noncompact complex domains, where some answers are yet unknown nowadays even for the simplest case of the unit disc,” Engliš said.

His free, public talks are made possible by the Richard Shoemaker Funds and are sponsored by the Mathematics and Statistics Department, as well as the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

For more information, go to math.utoledo.edu/shoemaker.html.

UT to participate in multi-agency action targeting grass carp in Sandusky River

A team from The University of Toledo Lake Erie Center will participate in a multi-agency project this week to assess the ability to target and capture grass carp, a type of invasive Asian carp reproducing in the Sandusky River, a Great Lakes tributary that flows into Lake Erie.

Crews will use electrofishing boats and a variety of nets during the two-day sampling expedition, which is led by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife.

In 2015, UT graduate student Holly Embke collected eight grass carp eggs in the Sandusky River, which flows into Lake Erie.

The UT crew includes Nicole King, aquatic ecology research technician working with faculty at the Lake Erie Center and UT Department of Environmental Sciences.

In addition to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and UT, participating agencies include the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Geological Survey and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

This action will occur in conjunction with aquatic invasive species sampling in Lake Erie’s Sandusky Bay by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The goal of the project is to work with cooperating agencies to develop best practices to capture grass carp. It is in preparation for a large-scale, planned response in 2018.

A UT graduate student was the first researcher to find direct proof of grass carp spawning in a Great Lakes tributary. Holly Embke collected grass carp eggs in summer 2015 in the Sandusky River between Fremont, Ohio, and Lake Erie’s Sandusky Bay after a period of heavy rains.

UT physicists to model and analyze power output from the University’s solar panels during eclipse

Physicists at The University of Toledo plan to monitor the power output of its solar panels on Main Campus during the solar eclipse Monday, Aug. 21.

The team plans to display the data in real time during UT Ritter Planetarium’s free, public viewing event from 12:30 to 4 p.m. on the campus lawn between Ritter and McMaster Hall.

Solar electricity produced by solar arrays on the Scott Park Campus of Energy and Innovation, shown here, and at the R-1 Building along Dorr Street will be monitored during the eclipse.

“It will be an unusual day for photovoltaic systems, and there is a lot of interest nationally in how the electrical grid responds to the change in solar electricity during the eclipse,” Dr. Randy Ellingson, UT professor of physics, said. “We are forecasting the solar electricity generated by UT’s solar array systems at the R-1 Building along Dorr Street, and also on the Scott Park Campus of Energy and Innovation. Accurately modeling and predicting solar electricity generation, which depends on weather conditions, will help power companies maintain grid reliability without major disturbance to electricity customers.”

Toledo is expecting a partial eclipse where the moon will block nearly the entire sun. According to Alex Mak, UT associate planetarium director, Toledoans should see an approximately 80 percent eclipse, weather permitting.

“As the moon moves into place, it will of course block sunlight that powers the solar panels,” Ellingson said. “In regions of the country with high penetration of solar photovoltaic arrays, grid operators will need to shift electricity locally and regionally to meet the temporary shortfall from solar arrays.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, no electricity reliability issues are expected in the United States.

During the eclipse viewing celebration, UT astronomers will have several safely filtered telescopes set up outside looking at the eclipse.

In the event of clouds, a web stream of the eclipse from other locations across the country will be playing in McMaster Hall Room 1005.

Volunteers invited to help keep Maumee Bay State Park beach barefoot friendly

To preserve the beauty, health and safety of a northwest Ohio shoreline frequently visited by families, The University of Toledo Lake Erie Center is inviting the public to help pick up litter on Maumee Bay State Park’s public beach Friday, Aug. 18, at 4 p.m. in Oregon.

The Lake Erie beach cleanup is in partnership with the Alliance for the Great Lakes, which holds Adopt-a-Beach events throughout the region each year sponsored by Barefoot Wine and Bubbly.

Last year, 15,181 Adopt-a-Beach volunteers removed 40,211 pounds of trash as part of 1,388 cleanups throughout the Great Lakes region, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin.

In 2016, the majority of trash picked up by Adopt-a-Beach volunteers (87 percent) was plastic.

For additional information, contact the UT Lake Erie Center at 419.530.8360.

UT researchers explore the beauty of crystals published in Science, Science Advances

Dr. Kristin Kirschbaum definitely found her passion when it comes to crystallography. The director of the Instrumentation Center in Bowman-Oddy Laboratories and graduate student Kelly Lambright recently solved the crystal structures of huge gold nanoparticles, which were published in Science and Science Advances.

“It is an achievement and an honor for The University of Toledo in general and crystallography at UT in particular,” Kirschbaum said of the work that appeared in the top scientific journals. “Crystallography at UT has had a great reputation over many decades, under the leadership of Dr. A. Alan Pinkerton, and we are proud to have worked over the years with high school, undergraduate and graduate students. I am particularly delighted that a large part of this work was done by one of our graduate students from the chemistry department, Kelly J. Lambright.

This is the UT team’s crystallographic analysis of the nanoparticle consisting of 246 gold atoms that was published in Science. The orange, blue and pink spheres are the gold atoms, yellow is sulfur, and grey and white are the carbon and hydrogen protective organic layer.

“The support and funding of our instrumentation by the University allowed this program to develop and become a leader in the field of crystallography of nanoparticles.”

The recent article in Science focuses on crystallography solving the atomic structure of a Au246 nanoparticle revealing the three-dimensional arrangement of all 246 gold atoms and the protective organic shell. This kind of information can only be determined by crystallography.

“First, you start with beautiful crystals,” said Kirschbaum cheerfully, isolating a single crystal sample, and placing it inside a diffractometer. The Instrumentation Center is home to five of these instruments, and it’s common for the lab to receive crystals from around the world to analyze; requests from places such as Iran and India, but also national collaborators from Duke, University of Houston, Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Carnegie Mellon. The Carnegie Mellon collaborator Dr. Rongchao Jin, an internationally recognized expert in nanoparticles, provided the crystal of Au246 nanoparticles.

This image shows the data collected when an x-ray beam shines on a crystal in a diffractometer.

The crystal is then exposed to an x-ray beam, which it diffracts in a way that is unique to that particular compound. These reflections are collected and analyzed to find the 3D structure of the compound.

“The importance of these structural results lies in the fact that all of the medical, electronic and optical properties differ depending on the size and the structure of the nanoparticles. Certain nanoparticles are known to enhance cancer radiotherapy, others assist in early tumor detection or are used in solar cells and nano-electronics,” Kirschbaum explained. “The secret of why some nanoparticles have certain properties and others do not is in the 3D arrangement of the atoms. The publication in Science is based on the crystal structure analysis of a novel nanoparticle. It is the largest gold nanoparticle so far whose structure has been determined by crystallography. The foremost largest crystallographically analyzed gold nanoparticle consisted of 133 gold atoms and was also just recently structurally characterized at UT and published in 2015 in Science Advances.”

Kirschbaum went on to say how the research done at UT can have tremendous applications: “Biomedical applications include sensing of important biomolecules — for example, glucose — radio-sensitizing for cancer radiotherapy and early tumor diagnosis. Knowing the arrangement of the atoms allows understanding and predicting the properties of these nanoparticles. Scientists can then design novel nanoparticles with a certain structure and desired properties.”

Grad student selected as finalist for national fellowship from Sea Grant

A University of Toledo graduate student in biology who has been working to restore giant, ancient sturgeon to Lake Erie was recently selected as one of 61 finalists across the country by Sea Grant for the 2018 Knauss Fellowship.

As a finalist, Jessica Sherman Collier, PhD student researcher in UT’s Department of Environmental Sciences, will spend a year working in Washington, D.C., on water resource policy.

Jessica Sherman Collier, UT doctoral candidate in biology, held a 32-inch, 40-pound lake sturgeon while surveying on the Detroit River with a crew from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“I am very excited and quite honored to be selected for this fellowship,” said Sherman Collier, who was recommended to Sea Grant by her PhD adviser Dr. Jonathan Bossenbroek. “The Knauss Fellowship is an amazing opportunity, and I am so happy to represent The University of Toledo and the Great Lakes region while I am there.”

Sherman Collier will spend a week in November interviewing with up to 20 different federal agency and legislative offices, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Interior, National Science Foundation, U.S. Navy, and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. After being matched with her fellowship placement, her work will begin in February.

“This is a great launch to Jessica’s career, and I hope she finds satisfaction doing work as a public servant for the betterment of our environment,” said Dr. Tim Fisher, geology professor, chair of the UT Department of Environmental Sciences, and interim director of the Lake Erie Center.

“We are excited about the talent and perspectives the 2018 Knauss Fellowship finalists will bring to their executive and legislative appointments next year,” Jonathan Pennock, director of the National Sea Grant College Program, said. “The Knauss Fellowship is a special program for Sea Grant, and we are proud of the professional development and opportunities Sea Grant has provided our alumni, the current class and now these finalists.”

Knauss finalists are chosen through a competitive process that includes several rounds of review.

Since 1979, Sea Grant has provided more than 1,200 early-career professionals with firsthand experiences transferring science to policy and management through one-year appointments with federal government offices in Washington, D.C. 

Sherman Collier, who also is president of the North American Sturgeon and Paddlefish Society Student Subunit, has been involved in the project to restore lake sturgeon to Lake Erie. Most recently, she helped the Toledo Zoo secure $90,000 in federal grant money to build a sturgeon rearing facility along the Maumee River, which flows into Lake Erie. Sherman Collier 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.

“I have enjoyed working with partners at the zoo, as well as state and federal agencies to give these large and ancient fish a chance to thrive in Lake Erie once again,” Sherman Collier said. “This is an instance when scientists and natural resource managers have the opportunity to improve the state of an ecosystem by restoring a species that belongs there and to learn a good lesson about our actions in the past.”

Graduate student awarded Spitzer Fellowship in astronomy

“As a teenager, gazing at the stars on the dark canvas of the sky was like entering the most luxurious cinema,” reminisced Thomas Lai, a graduate student studying astronomy. “Soon I picked up the habit of staying in the dark whenever I could, and to recognize as many constellations as possible during my high school years.

“In retrospect, I can see this as a sparkle of the beginning of my interest in the enigmatic cosmos.”


Lai’s passion and hard work were recognized by the Department of Physics and Astronomy: He recently received the Doreen and Lyman Spitzer Graduate Fellowship.

The fellowship is named after Toledo natives. Lyman Spitzer was a world-renowned physicist and astronomer, who was an early proponent of a project that became the Hubble Space Telescope. The Spitzer Space Telescope, launched in 2003, is named after the scientist. Doreen Spitzer was a prominent archaeologist who had an affinity for all things Greek.

Lai, with assistance from Dr. Adolf Witt, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Astronomy, and Dr. JD Smith, associate professor of astronomy, was able to publish a study on light emissions from nebulae in the Cassiopeia constellation.

“I was extremely pleased that we were able to offer the Spitzer Fellowship to Thomas. He was clearly qualified; he was eager to start an independent research project during his first year as a graduate student at UT, which the Spitzer Fellowship made possible,” Witt said. “The data for this project had been secured beforehand by my collaborator, Ken Crawford, and myself. This allowed Thomas to enter right at the data calibration, reduction and analysis stage of the project — the phase where scientific results and conclusions are being extracted from a collection of images and numbers.

“I enjoyed working with Thomas. The fact that the project resulted in a peer-reviewed scientific paper in a major journal within about two years speaks for itself.”

“They showed me not only the method in conducting research, but also the right attitude in finding the reasonable answer,” said Lai, regarding the aid he received from Witt and Smith.

On the results of his study, Lai said, “I am particularly interested in extended red emission, because we understood little about the exact emission process and the carrier involved in producing such light, even though it has been studied for more than 40 years. To summarize this study, we attributed the extended red emission to a fluorescent process, namely the recurrent fluorescence, which enables small and fragile particles in interstellar space to dissipate their energy efficiently after being bombarded by high-energy photons originating in an illuminating star. This mechanism prevents particles from getting destroyed in the harsh environment filled with ultraviolet radiation from stars, and it may be a crucial process for increasing the survival rate of small carbonaceous molecules, which might be the building blocks of life.”

Though great progress has been made, Witt pointed out the work of a scientist is never finished: “It is an important part of the research experience that every successfully completed project should lead to new questions, which then demand follow-up studies. This has been the case with our work as well. A new question has emerged from some of our current findings, the solution to which we are pursuing through observations with the 4.3-meter Discovery Channel Telescope in Arizona and the 10-meter Keck II telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. This will most likely be part of Thomas’s PhD thesis.”

Luckily, Lai’s passion for this field will surely lead to many more years of scientific discovery.

“Having this paper published means a lot to my career in astronomy,” Lai said. “It encourages me to find more intriguing phenomena provided by the universe and to reveal those profound facts hidden by wonders of the nature.”