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October 29, 2004

UMBC Researchers in Nature This Month

Research by faculty and graduate students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) was published in the prestigious Nature family of scientific journals four times in October, including work in molecular biochemistry, earth science and quantum photonics. Overviews of the findings by UMBC researchers follow below, with links to further coverage.

Synchronize Quantum Watches
Nature, October 14
UMBC physics graduate students Alejandra Valencia and Giuliano Scarcelli teamed with UMBC physics professor and co-principal project investigator Yanhua Shih on a method for synchronizing distant clocks, an important function for telecommunications and global positioning satellite systems. Their experiment showed that quantum entanglement of photon pairs allowed the synchronization of two clocks three kilometers apart to within picoseconds of each other. The research was also featured in Applied Physics Letters and Science News.

As the World Turns, It Drags Space and Time
Nature, October 21

UMBC Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET) scientist Erricos Pavlis co-led a team that proved how shifts in satellite orbits are caused by the Earth warping space and time as it rotates, a phenomenon first predicted in 1918 by Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity. The international team of NASA and university researchers studied the orbits of two satellites over an 11 year span to arrive at the first direct proof of what is known as "frame dragging." "It's like a bowling ball spinning in molasses," said Pavlis. "As the Earth rotates, it pulls space-time in its vicinity around itself, which shifts the orbits of satellites near Earth." The findings were covered by newspapers and science websites across the globe.

Iraqi Fire Pollution Rivaled 1980 Mt. St. Helens Eruption
Nature News, October 25

JCET volcano expert Simon Carn led a group of earth scientists who used satellite monitoring to show how pollution caused by the ongoing war in Iraq has rivaled the output of one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in recent history. Carn's group observed how a June, 2003 fire at a sulphur plant near Mosul, Iraq, probably started by arsonists, caused the largest man-made release of polluting sulphur dioxide ever recorded, which was similar in magnitude to the same type of pollution released by the 1980 Mount Saint Helens volcanic eruption. The story was covered by BBC News online and other national and international science media.

Why Retrovirus Replication Takes Two
Nature News & Views, October 28; Nature, Sept. 30
UMBC molecular biochemist and AIDS researcher Michael Summers, the only Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at a Maryland public university, and UMBC HHMI research associate Victoria D'Souza discovered a potential answer to a question that has baffled scientists for 20 years, namely how and why retroviruses must make two copies of their RNA in order to successfully infect other cells. By studying MoMULV, a retrovirus commonly used in the lab to learn more about lethal viruses like HIV, the UMBC team discovered a potential "RNA switch" instrumental to this process that could lead to a next generation of antiretroviral drug therapies. The work originally appeared in Nature on Sept. 30 and was then reviewed in the Oct. 28 "News and Views" section of the journal.

About UMBC Research:
UMBC's research funding has quadrupled during the past decade to over $85 million and the campus ranks sixth nationally in inventions disclosed and ninth nationally in U.S. patent applications filed per million dollars spent on research. UMBC, which is ranked 16th nationally in NASA funding, is home to three major collaborative NASA research centers. Michael Summers, the only Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at a Maryland public university, has led student researchers in solving three of the seven protein structures which make up HIV. In 2000, Summers was one of only 10 recipients nationwide of the National Science Foundation's Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

Posted by dwinds1 at October 29, 2004 12:00 AM