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Researchers create online database to help inform public about harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie

It’s now easier for Toledo area residents and businesses looking for information about water quality and the health of Lake Erie to go directly to the source.

Researchers at The University of Toledo launched a website database containing hundreds of reports and studies discussing Lake Erie harmful algal blooms.

In 2014, the city of Toledo issued a ‘Do Not Drink’ advisory for half a million residents for three days due to the level of the algal toxin microcystin detected in the drinking water.

The Ohio Department of Higher Education, with the assistance of the Ohio Sea Grant College Program, gave UT $66,000 in 2015 to develop the database and support research related to harmful algal blooms.

The Lake Erie algal bloom online database project was a collaborative effort between Dr. Patrick Lawrence, professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, and associate dean of social and behavioral sciences in the College of Arts and Letters; Dr. Kevin Egan, associate professor in the Department of Economics; and researchers from Ohio State University and Kent State University.

The database currently contains more than 300 reports, web links and key contacts, Lawrence said. The team plans to update the database and add more resources before the next algal bloom season.

“The intent is to help educate and inform stakeholders in the Maumee watershed by providing access to the best and most recent research and information so as to drive an open and participatory engagement with discussion about how we can all work collectively on a wide range of solutions to reduce the frequency, size and impacts of Lake Erie harmful algal blooms,” Lawrence said.

The Ohio Department of Higher Education has funded more than 20 projects from several Ohio universities, including cost-benefit analysis for potential options to use wetlands as a form of natural storage and treatment of nutrients from farmland; economic issues associated with improving farm practices to reduce runoff of nutrients; and an assessment of the connections and interactions among stakeholders within the Maumee basin involved or interested in harmful algal blooms and possible measures to address and reduce them.

For more information about Lake Erie harmful algal blooms, the database can be found at lakeeriehabsis.gis.utoledo.edu.

UT selected as one of six partners in U.S. to join first research network on misdemeanor justice

The University of Toledo has been selected to join a new national research network to study trends in low-level crimes to inform smarter criminal justice policies that enhance public safety, increase public trust in police, and save tax dollars.

The Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice is run by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and funded by a $3.25 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

UT is one of six universities in the country to join a national research network to study trends in low-level crimes. The study started in New York City.

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice began focusing on misdemeanors in New York City years ago and is expanding the study’s scope to include six other cities. UT received a three-year, $169,000 grant to analyze local data and work with research institutions throughout the country.

In addition to Toledo, joining the new national alliance with New York City are Los Angeles, Seattle, St. Louis, Durham, N.C., and Prince Georges County in Maryland for a total of seven jurisdictions throughout the country working together.

“The University of Toledo is proud to be a part of this pioneering national project to inform policy discussions and reform because misdemeanors are the bulk of what police officers deal with every day, but there is not much research on it,” said Dr. David Lilley, assistant professor of criminal justice and the research director of the misdemeanor justice project at UT. “The vast majority of arrests are low-level offenses that carry a maximum sentence of up to one year in jail, such as drug possession, petty theft, simple assault and driving on a suspended license.”

Misdemeanors accounted for approximately 90 percent of total arrests by Toledo police officers in 2015 when there were 22,463 misdemeanor arrests and 2,296 felony arrests.

“Misdemeanors are the lion’s share of the charges that we usually bring against suspects,” Toledo Police Chief George Kral said. “I’m hoping this study gives us more ideas on what works and what doesn’t work. That valuable intelligence will help me change policy, if necessary, to make the whole process more efficient, keep the community safe, and give defendants the help they need. If we could nip it in the bud at the misdemeanor level, we could stop someone from escalating to felonies in the future.”

Toledo was chosen as part of the misdemeanor study out of 39 that applied, in part, because of the collaborations UT researchers already have with local law enforcement and the ongoing criminal justice reform efforts underway in Lucas County.

“We are one of the smallest cities on the list, but one of the factors that puts us ahead of the curve is that we have been doing this type of data analysis at UT for years by working with the Toledo Police Department,” said Dr. Kasey Tucker-Gail, associate professor of criminal justice, director of the Urban Policing and Crime Analysis Initiative, and principal investigator for the misdemeanor justice research project at UT. “TPD’s advanced data system is one of the best. Being chosen for John Jay College’s misdemeanor project is an honor that rewards our teamwork.”

UT researchers say many police agencies across the country do not know how many misdemeanor arrests result in incarceration.

“Part of what we’re doing is taking a close look at the outcomes and conduct cross-site analyses to figure out how to increase efficiency and effectiveness,” Lilley said. “Are people ending up in jail? Fined? Are charges dropped because the system is overburdened or there is not enough evidence? Are suspects going through a diversion program, such as drug court? Our research alliance will examine trends and outcomes of misdemeanor arrests, summonses, pedestrian stops and pre-trial detention at the local level.”

The University of Toledo will work with the Toledo Police Department, Northern Ohio Regional Information Systems and the Toledo-Lucas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council as part of the project.

“Hopefully, this research will help guide new alternatives for individuals that may need help instead of punishment,” said Holly Matthews, attorney and executive director of the Toledo-Lucas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. “We’re working on reducing our jail population by 18 percent. This misdemeanor project is going to help show the trends over the last three or four years — especially with the opioid epidemic — that we’re seeing locally. We have already been working proactively with the Lucas County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board to address other options besides incarceration for individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues.”

Research partners for the Misdemeanor Justice Project also include the University of California in Los Angeles, North Carolina Central University, Seattle University, the University of Maryland and the University of Missouri in St. Louis.

“To see the work of the Misdemeanor Justice Project expand from New York City to six other jurisdictions is very exciting,” said Dr. Preeti Chauhan, assistant professor of psychology at John Jay College and principal investigator of the research network. “We are looking forward to replicating the New York model to these sites and believe the results will guide smarter criminal justice reform.”

“The network has generated an outpouring of academic and government interest in pioneering a national conversation around enforcement of lower-level crimes — something that leads a large number of individuals to enter our justice system,” said Matt Alsdorf, vice president of criminal justice for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. “We are proud of the diverse U.S. cities leading this conversation, and we look forward to learning how the research partnerships inform local and national justice policies for the long term.”

Researchers across region can apply for federal innovation grant funding at UT

A new grant program called The University of Toledo Rocket Fuel Fund is accepting applications from researchers throughout northwest Ohio in need of resources to help develop new technology and gain the edge they need to succeed.

Applications will be accepted three times a year through 2019. The first deadline is Monday, May 1.

Faculty researchers at UT, other academic institutions and nonprofit research organizations in the 18-county region are eligible to apply for federal innovation grant money awarded to the University last year.

The U.S. Department of Commerce awarded UT $500,000 to help researchers in the region launch startup companies, move ideas to market, and spur job creation. UT matched the three-year grant with an additional $767,903 for the Rocket Fuel Fund.

“The UT Rocket Fuel Fund is an unusual and exciting program because grant funding will be available for any researcher at institutions throughout northwest Ohio, not only UT,” said Anne Izzi, licensing associate at UT’s Office of Technology Transfer. “It’s only done in a handful of areas across the country. This was a very competitive grant process.”

UT is one of 27 out of 215 applicants in the U.S. that received a portion of the $15 million i6 Challenge grant through the Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies program.

The selected recipients of UT Rocket Fuel Fund grants will be awarded up to $50,000 each to enhance the scope or patentability of inventions, and improve market potential through targeted research, customer discovery, and development of a prototype and business model.

“This is an incredible opportunity for UT faculty and academic researchers throughout the northwest Ohio region to apply for this funding for further development of their cutting-edge innovation and help move their new technologies toward commercialization, including women and minorities who are typically underrepresented in innovation and entrepreneurship,” Izzi said.

To apply, go to utoledo.edu/rocketinnovations/rocketfuelfund.html.

Nominations sought for Rathbun Outreach and Engagement Excellence Award

Nominations are being accepted for the Edith Rathbun Outreach and Engagement Excellence Award. 

It’s time to recognize a deserving colleague who has distinguished himself or herself through exceptional community outreach and excellence in community-engaged scholarship, whether in research, teaching or professional service.  

Each recipient of the Edith Rathbun Outreach and Engagement Excellence Award will receive a $750 award. Two awardees will be chosen.

The Rathbun Excellence Award was endowed through a generous and growing gift from Edith Rathbun and further gifts from campus and community donors. It recognizes outstanding outreach and engagement scholarship in any field, discipline or area at The University of Toledo. Full-time faculty members in all colleges are eligible to receive the award.

The deadline to submit nominations is Friday, Feb. 24.

The one-page nomination form is available here.

Winners will be recognized at the UT Outstanding Awards Reception Monday, April 17, at 5:30 p.m. in the Thompson Student Union Ingman Room.

The selection committee is composed of faculty members who served on the Scholarship of Engagement subcommittee of UT’s former Council on Outreach and Engagement.

For more information, contact Penny Thiessen in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at penny.thiessen@utoledo.edu or 419.530.6171.

Journal of Great Lakes Research names UT algae expert’s paper as one of most highly cited

The Journal of Great Lakes Research identified a University of Toledo ecologist’s “high-quality research” on harmful algal blooms as one of its five most highly cited papers for nearly three years.

In 2013, the quarterly journal published the paper titled “A Novel Method for Tracking Western Lake Erie Microcystis Blooms, 2002-2011,” by Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, UT algae researcher and associate professor of ecology.

Dr. Thomas Bridgeman held a jar containing concentrated algae pulled up last spring from Lake Erie using the plankton net hanging on the side of the boat. In mid-May, the golden algae called diatoms is good for the lake, according to the researcher.

Dr. Thomas Bridgeman held a jar containing concentrated algae pulled up last spring from Lake Erie using the plankton net hanging on the side of the boat. In mid-May, the golden algae called diatoms is good for the lake, according to the researcher.

Bridgeman’s paper was cited 33 times between January 2014 and June 2016, according to Scopus Article Metrics. It ranks in the 98th percentile compared to aquatic science articles of the same age.

“It’s nice to know that other people are using your work and building on what you have done,” Bridgeman said. “Our goal is to advance the science and provide knowledge that ultimately benefits society, and I think my students and I did that here.”

Bridgeman and his students developed a new method to measure how much harmful algae there is in the lake over the course of the summer and compared the harmful algal bloom from one year to another. In the paper, Bridgeman included data on a decade of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie from 2002 to 2011.

“Other researchers are now using this method, and therefore cite our method when they publish their own studies,” Bridgeman said. “In addition, the annual records are extremely valuable for any researcher who is trying to understand how the health of the lake has been changing and what we need to do to get harmful algal blooms under control.”

“The widespread use of Dr. Bridgeman’s work demonstrates that UT research is integrated into the region,” said Dr. Tim Fisher, geology professor and chair of the UT Department of Environmental Sciences and interim director of the Lake Erie Center.

Bridgeman’s research was a major contribution to the development of models that directly link the size of the annual harmful algal bloom with the amount of spring and summer phosphorus discharge from the Maumee River.

“Several of my colleagues are pursuing this line of research now,” Bridgeman said. “Together, our findings helped to convince the U.S. and Canadian governments that we need to decrease phosphorus entering Lake Erie by about 40 percent in order to reduce harmful algal blooms to a level that we can live with.”

Physician’s research earns Sigma Xi award

Dr. Blair Grubb, director of UT Medical Center’s Cardiac Electrophysiology Program, has been named the 2015-2016 winner of the Dion D. Raftopoulos/Sigma Xi Award for Outstanding Research, an honor given by the University’s Sigma Xi chapter.

Dr. Steven Federman, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and president of UT Sigma Xi, presented a plaque and cash award of $1,500 to Grubb Jan. 25 during a ceremony on Health Science Campus.

Dr. Steven Federman, right, shook hands with Dr. Blair Grubb after presenting him with the 2015-2016 Dion D. Raftopoulos/Sigma Xi Award for Outstanding Research.

Dr. Steven Federman, right, shook hands with Dr. Blair Grubb after presenting him with the 2015-2016 Dion D. Raftopoulos/Sigma Xi Award for Outstanding Research.

Grubb, who also is Distinguished University Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics and director of the Syncope and Autonomic Disorders Clinic, said he and a team of international researchers have studied the field of autonomics for more than 30 years. The Baltimore native is one of the world’s authorities in the treatment of illnesses that include syncope (abrupt, brief loss of consciousness) and other disorders of the autonomic nervous system.

“This award is presented to faculty who have made significant contributions in their fields of research,” Federman said. “Dr. Grubb’s accomplishments in the study of autonomic disorders while a professor at UT are truly impressive, and UT Sigma Xi is pleased to honor him.”

Internationally recognized as a pioneering researcher, Grubb identifies autonomics as a new field. His work has had a significant impact on the practice of medicine across the globe, and has improved the lives of hundreds of patients suffering from these disorders.

Grubb, who called his study of autonomic disorders his “life’s work,” discussed his research in a lecture titled “Autonomics: The Birth of a New Science” during the ceremony.

“When I began in this field,” Grubb said, “we knew virtually nothing about these disorders, and patients were often disabled and without hope. Over the last three decades, we have carefully characterized and classified these illnesses and established diagnostic criteria for them. Recently, we have embarked on an ambitious program to identify the molecular, genetic and immunologic causes of these disorders. In addition, we have used this information to discover a series of new and innovative therapies that can return close to 80 percent of these patients to near-normal lives.”

His patients, he added, routinely come to UTMC from around the world for treatment.

He added that he is humbled by the Sigma Xi award, noting that Sigma Xi’s national office has honored a number of Nobel laureates, including Albert Einstein and Al Gore. It is the most recent recognition for Grubb’s dedication to medical research and patient care. In 2016, he was the recipient of UT’s Career Achievement Award. The year before, he was named Dysautonomia International’s Physician of the Year, as well as the British Heart Rhythm Society and Arrhythmia Alliance’s Medical Professional of the Decade — one of the only non-British citizens to be so honored.

He has authored more than 240 scientific papers, five books and 35 book chapters during his career in medicine.

Also known for a creative prowess, Grubb has published more than 50 essays and poems, including a book titled “The Calling.”

Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society, is a national organization that recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the advancement of scientific research and knowledge. A voiceover on the Sigma Xi website stated, “The honor of members is that we are a society of integrity… that we have been chosen and selected to represent science, that we are members of a society with Nobel laureates, and we carry a tradition more than 100 years old.”

The organization has 60,000 members worldwide. Chapters usually are found in universities, industrial facilities and government laboratories, as well as other locations where scientific research is conducted.

Grubb succeeds Dr. Yanfa Yan, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the 2014-2015 Sigma Xi awardee.

Ecologist elected Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science

A University of Toledo ecologist is being honored for her work to advance science as a newly elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Stepien

Stepien

Dr. Carol Stepien, Distinguished University Professor of Ecology, is among the 391 AAAS Fellows elected in 2016 who will be recognized at the association’s annual meeting Feb. 18 in Boston.

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.

“You are being honored for distinguished contributions to the fields of molecular evolutionary ecology and conservation genetics, particularly invasive and native populations, and mentorship of graduate and undergraduate students,” Rush D. Holt, AAAS chief executive officer, wrote in a letter to Stepien informing her of the recognition.

“I am honored to be recognized by our nation’s scientific community,” Stepien said. “My special emphasis has been helping to train and mentor UT graduate and undergraduate students, and our local high school students in aquatic ecology, to aid conservation efforts in the Great Lakes.”

Stepien is internationally recognized for her research in the areas of invasive species and fish genetics. She joined UT’s Department of Environmental Sciences in 2004 and also served as director of the Lake Erie Center until 2016. She was appointed a Distinguished University Professor in 2012.

“Recognition as an AAAS Fellow is an enormous honor and a credit to Dr. Stepien and her impressive body of research to advance our knowledge of marine biology,” UT President Sharon L. Gaber said. “The University of Toledo is proud to have a faculty member selected to the AAAS and looks forward to more faculty receiving prestigious national awards.”

Stepien is on a leave of absence from the University while continuing her active research program and working with UT graduate students. She is serving as an Ocean Environment Research Division leader at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.

She is the author of the book “Molecular Systematics of Fishes” published in 1997 and reprinted in 2002, as well as more than 90 scholarly publications. She has received more than $12 million in grants and awards for her studies of molecular ecology, population genetics, evolutionary patterns and genomics.

UT research shows cigarette smoke exposure increases scar tissue in kidney, heart

Smoking cigarettes leads to fibrosis in the kidneys and heart and accelerates kidney disease, according to research at The University of Toledo.

“Smoking is bad for the kidneys and heart together,” said Dr. Christopher Drummond, postdoctoral fellow in the Cardiovascular Division of the UT College of Medicine and Life Sciences. “Tobacco and nicotine increase the formation of injury or scarring called fibrosis. That reduces cardiac function, so your heart isn’t operating as efficiently. It also makes it so your kidneys can’t filter toxins from your blood as effectively.”

Drummond

Drummond

His research titled “Cigarette Smoking Causes Epigenetic Changes Associated With Cardiorenal Fibrosis,” which was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and done in collaboration with the University of California at San Diego, recently was published in the journal Physiological Genomics.

“The results of this study are a public health concern because a significant portion of the U.S. population suffers from kidney disease and heart-related side effects,” Drummond said. “When you smoke, you’re speeding up the development of kidney disease.”

An estimated 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Drummond exposed two groups of rats to cigarette smoke five days a week for four weeks. One group had chronic kidney disease. The other group had normal renal function. Drummond compared those two groups with two control groups of rats — one with chronic kidney disease and one with normal kidney function — that were kept in a room with no smoke.

“We designed and built a system to expose rats to a constant concentration of smoke from cigarettes,” Drummond said. “Those were lit and the animals inhaled around five cigarettes’ worth of combustible smoke a day.”

In the smoke groups, researchers found a decrease in the genetic material called microRNA associated with slowing or preventing fibrosis in the organ tissue.

Smoking alone drove the rats into renal dysfunction, according to Drummond. Also, blood pressure increased, the heart enlarged, and scar tissue developed in the heart muscle and kidneys.

“If you are concerned or have a pre-existing condition, quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to improve your health,” Drummond said.

He is currently investigating the effects of e-cigarettes on the kidney and heart.

Climate change disruption to be discussed Jan. 19

The University of Toledo is hosting an event to discuss the polarizing topic of climate change.

Jorgensen

Jorgensen

Dr. Andy Jorgensen, associate professor of chemistry and environmental sciences at UT and senior fellow for the National Council for Science and the Environment, will lead a talk titled “Climate Change Disruption: How Do We Know? What Can We Do?” as part of the Lake Erie Center Public Lecture Series.

The free event will take place Thursday, Jan. 19, at 7 p.m. at the UT Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bayshore Road in Oregon.

“Climate change and the cost of carbon dioxide pollution is a very intense topic in our country, which finds its way into political, business and social conversations, often with vocal disagreement,” Jorgensen said. “This presentation will give background information about the phenomenon and methods that have been used to characterize these changes. The human dimension of the problem will be emphasized in order to consider solutions.”

People who attend the event will be able to ask questions and share opinions. Participants also will be encouraged to share their views using a “clicker” or personal response device to compare their replies to those of more than 3,000 members of Jorgensen’s previous audiences.

NASA and the National Science Foundation have supported Jorgensen’s work on science education. He helped create an online program with more than 800 resources on climate change for students and teachers. The free, web-based curriculum can be found at camelclimatechange.org.

Academic research uses hacked Ashley Madison data to map areas with most cheating husbands

The Bridgeport, Conn., metropolitan area led the nation last year in active use of Ashley Madison, the matchmaking website for extramarital affairs, with 6.23 subscriptions and $1,127 spent for every 1,000 men between the ages of 18 and 79, according to research at The University of Toledo.

Graduate student researchers used customer data exposed by anonymous hackers last year to analyze the geography and market characteristics of active users.

The research titled “Infidelity and the Internet: The Geography of Ashley Madison Usership in the Unites States” recently was published in the journal Geographical Review.

Chohaney

Chohaney

The common characteristics identified of cheating husbands are financially well-off, younger, not retired and less religious.

Michael Chohaney, a PhD student studying spatially integrated social science at UT, and Kimberly Panozzo, who recently graduated with a master’s degree from the Department of Geography and Planning, conducted the research.

“This is the only academic geography article we know of that collects, processes and analyzes publicly available data originally stolen and released by Internet hackers,” Chohaney said. “Due to ethics concerns, we handled the Ashley Madison user account information with the utmost respect for personal security and privacy. No individual user identities or locations can be derived from our work.”

Although the scandalous data dump included 7 million subscribers in the U.S., this research analyzed the accounts and narrowed it down to 702,309 active profiles. Researchers eliminated inactive users, such as people who visited the site once for free out of curiosity to view other members’ profiles. Unusable billing addresses and duplicate profiles paid for by a single credit card account also were removed.

“Women were not required to pay, so only heterosexual men are included in our sample,” Chohaney said. “We focus on users who put their money where their mouse is in order to measure and better understand the characteristics of those vulnerable to cheating.”

The top three areas with Ashley Madison subscription rates are Bridgeport, Conn.; Boulder, Colo.; and Jacksonville, N.C. The markets with the top spending rates are Bridgeport, Conn.; Washington, D.C.; and Boston.

“Income is the leading market determinant for Internet-facilitated infidelity,” Chohaney said. “The service of allowing people to pay to engage in an extramarital affair behaves as a luxury good, which means people with disposable incomes are willing to pay for a service that facilitates extramarital affairs and promises anonymity during the process. It makes sense; Bridgeport is wealthy.”

Chohaney said metropolitan statistical areas with the highest rates also housed large numbers of armed forces personnel and families with children headed by male breadwinners.

At the local level, spatial distribution of user and spending rates are most highly clustered in the Atlanta and Chicago areas. The most active suburbs and neighborhoods of Atlanta were Buckhead and Roswell. The most active suburbs and neighborhoods of Chicago were Lincoln Park and Aurora.

The research finds that locations with higher proportions of Asians and older married men were less likely to subscribe or spend money on Ashley Madison than locations with large proportions of African-Americans, Hispanics and younger married men. Further, the research found Ashley Madison subscription rates drop 18 percent and spending rates drop 13 percent for every additional religious congregation per 1,000 people.

“That indicates religiosity prevents individuals from using the Internet to cheat on their spouse,” Chohaney said.