UNM Research News

High-altitude observatory sheds light on origin of excess anti-matter

A mountaintop observatory in Mexico, built and operated by an international team of scientists, has captured the first wide-angle view of gamma rays emanating from two rapidly spinning stars. The High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Gamma-Ray Observatory, or HAWC, provided the fresh perspective on high-energy light streaming from these stellar neighbors, casting serious doubt on one possible explanation for a mysterious excess of anti-matter particles near Earth.

The research paper, “Extended gamma-ray sources around pulsars constrain the origin of the positron flux at Earth,” was published in the journal Science, and included scientists from the University of Maryland, The University of New Mexico, Los Alamos National Labs and others.

In 2008, astronomers observed an unexpectedly high number of positrons — the anti-matter cousins of electrons — in orbit a few hundred miles above Earth’s atmosphere. Ever since, scientists have debated the cause of the anomaly, split over two competing theories of its origin.

Some suggested a simple explanation: the extra particles might come from nearby collapsed stars called pulsars, which spin around several times a second and throw off electrons, positrons and other matter with violent force. Others speculated that the extra positrons might come from processes involving dark matter — the invisible but pervasive substance seen so far only through its gravitational pull.

Using new data from the HAWC observatory, researchers made the first detailed measurements of two pulsars previously identified as possible sources of the positron excess. By catching and counting particles of light streaming from these nearby stellar engines, HAWC collaboration researchers found that the two pulsars are unlikely to be the origin of the positron excess. Despite being the right age and the right distance from Earth, the pulsars are surrounded by an extended murky cloud that prevents most positrons from escaping, according to results.

“This new measurement is tantalizing because it strongly disfavors the idea that these extra positrons are coming to Earth from two nearby pulsars, at least when you assume a relatively simple model for how positrons diffuse away from these spinning stars,” said Jordan Goodman, professor of physics at the University of Maryland and the U.S. spokesperson for the HAWC collaboration. “

Francisco Salesa Greus, the lead contributing author of the new paper and a scientist at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow, Poland, added that “we are closer to understanding the origin of the positron excess after excluding two of the main source candidates.”

An eye in the sky
As with an ordinary camera, collecting lots of light allows HAWC to build sharp images of individual gamma-ray sources. The most energetic gamma rays originate in the graveyards of big stars, around stellar remains like the spinning pulsar remnants of supernovae. But that light doesn’t come from the stars themselves. Instead, it's created when the spinning pulsar accelerates particles to extremely high energies, causing them to smash into lower-energy photons left over from the early universe.

The size of the debris field around powerful pulsars, measured by the patch of sky that glows bright in gamma rays, tells researchers how quickly matter moves relative to the spinning stars. This enables researchers to estimate how quickly positrons are moving and how many positrons could have reached Earth from a given source.

Using a recently published HAWC catalog of the high-energy sky, scientists have absolved the nearby pulsar Geminga and its sister — the pulsar PSR B0656+14 — as sources of the positron excess. Even though the two are old enough and close enough to account for the excess, matter isn’t drifting away from the pulsars fast enough to have reached the Earth.

Professor John Matthews, Research Assistant Professor Robert Lauer, and graduate student Zhixiang Ren in UNM’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, are members of the HAWC Collaboration and co-authors of this publication. Matthews designed the system to calibrate the 1,200 photo-sensors that are HAWC’s “eyes,” while Lauer led the design and implementation of the software that is used to produce and analyze the sky maps for all gamma-ray analyses, including the modeling of the pulsars, which allows scientists to use the HAWC data to test arbitrary scenarios for the shape or spectrum of a gamma-ray source.

This measurement wouldn’t have been possible without HAWC’s wide view provided by the UNM scientists. It continuously scans about one-third of the sky overhead, which provided researchers with a broad view of the space around the pulsars. Other observatories watching for high-energy gamma rays with a much narrower field of view missed the extended nature of the pulsars.

Together with Patrick Younk and Hao Zhou, scientists at Los Alamos National Labs, Lauer realized that the observation of extended objects like Geminga or variable emission from other sources required a new approach for analyzing the gamma-ray sky maps.

The HAWC Observatory sits at an elevation of 13,500 feet, flanking the Sierra Negra volcano inside Pico de Orizaba National Park in the Mexican state of Puebla. It consists of more than 300 massive water tanks that sit waiting for cascades of particles initiated by high-energy packets of light called gamma rays—many of which have more than 10 million times the energy of a dental X-ray.

Matthews designed the laser calibration system, in which a central laser sends light through a network of optical fibers to all 1,200 photo-multipliers (i.e. photo sensors) in the HAWC water tanks. This calibration allows scientists to measure the arrival time of each particle in the gamma-ray shower with a precision of less than a nanosecond.

When these gamma rays smash into the upper atmosphere, they blast apart atoms in the air, producing a shower of particles that moves at nearly the speed of light toward the ground. When this shower reaches HAWC’s tanks, it produces coordinated flashes of blue light in the water, allowing researchers to reconstruct the energy and cosmic origin of the gamma ray that kicked off the cascade.

“Our advanced analysis method was crucial for not only detecting Geminga and its sister, but actually extracting the science about how the gamma rays are distributed,” said Lauer.

“Thanks to its wide field of view, HAWC provides unique measurements on the very-high-energy gamma ray profiles caused by the particle diffusion around nearby pulsars, which allows us to determine how fast the particles diffuse more directly than previous measurements,” Zhou said.

It’s possible that a new insight about the astrophysics of these pulsars and their local environments could account for the positron excess at Earth, but it would require a more complicated theory of positron diffusion than physicists in the collaboration think is likely. On the other hand, dark matter may provide the right explanation, but more evidence will ultimately be needed to decide.

"The small UNM group has made a disproportionate contribution to the science of HAWC by identifying tasks that are of prime importance for the experiment,” added Matthews.

The National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and Los Alamos National Laboratory provided funding for the United States’ participation in the HAWC project. The Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACyT) is the primary funder for Mexican participation. 

]]>Front PageCollege of Arts & SciencesPhysics & AstronomyResearchThu, 16 Nov 2017 21:30:04 GMTA mountaintop observatory in Mexico, built and operated by an international team of scientists, has captured the first wide-angle view of gamma rays emanating from two rapidly spinning stars. The High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Gamma-Ray Observatory, or...https://news.unm.edu/news/high-altitude-observatory-sheds-light-on-origin-of-excess-anti-matterThu, 16 Nov 2017 21:30:00 GMT

Study finds medical cannabis is effective at reducing opioid addiction

A new study conducted by researchers at The University of New Mexico, involving medical cannabis and prescription opioid use among chronic pain patients, found a distinct connection between having the legal ability to use cannabis and significant reductions in opioid use.

The study titled, “Associations between Medical Cannabis and Prescription Opioid Use in Chronic Pain Patients: A Preliminary Cohort Study,” and published in the open access journal PLOS ONE, was conducted by Drs. Jacob Miguel Vigil, associate professor, Department of Psychology and Sarah See Stith, assistant professor, Department of Economics. The results from this preliminary study showed a strong correlation between enrollment in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) and cessation or reduction of opioid use, and that whole, natural Cannabis sativa and extracts made from the plant may serve as an alternative to opioid-based medications for treating chronic pain.

UNM Economics Assistant Professor Sarah See Stith and Psychology Associate Professor Jacob Vigil.

Today, opioid-related drug overdoses are the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States killing approximately 100 Americans every day. Conventional pharmaceutical medications for treating opioid addiction, such as methadone and buprenorphine-tapering, can be similarly dangerous due to substantial risks of lethal drug interactions and overdose.

“Current levels and dangers of opioid use in the U.S. warrant the investigation of harm-reducing treatment alternatives,” said Vigil, who led the study. “Our results highlight the necessity of more extensive research into the possible uses of cannabis as a substitute for opioid painkillers, especially in the form of placebo-based, randomized controlled trials and larger sample observational studies.”

Cannabis has been investigated as a potential treatment for a wide range of medical conditions from post-traumatic stress disorder to cancer, with the most consistent support for the treatment of chronic pain, epilepsy and spasticity. In the U.S., states, including New Mexico, have enacted MCPs in part for people with chronic, debilitating pain who cannot be adequately or safely treated with conventional pharmaceutical medications.

Like other states, New Mexico only permits medical cannabis use for patients with certain debilitating medical conditions. All the patients in the study had a diagnosis of “severe chronic pain,” annually validated by two independent physicians, including a board-certified specialist.

New Mexico, Vigil notes, is among the U.S. states hardest hit by the current opioid epidemic, although the number of opioid-related overdose deaths appears to have fallen in recent years, perhaps the result of increased enrollment in the NM MCP, which currently includes more than 48,000 patients.

“MCPs are unique, not only because they allow patients to self-manage their cannabis treatment, but because they operate in conflict with U.S. federal law, making it challenging for researchers to utilize conventional research designs to measure their efficacy,” Vigil said.

The purpose of the researchers’ preliminary, cohort study was to help examine the association between enrollment in a MCP and opioid prescription use. The study observed 37 habitual opioid using, chronic pain patients that chose to enroll in the MCP between 2010 and 2015, compared to 29 patients with similar health conditions that were also given the option, but ultimately chose not to enroll in the MCP. 

“Using informal surveys of patients enrolled in the MCP, we discovered a significant proportion of chronic pain patients reporting to have substituted their opioid prescriptions with cannabis for treating their chronic pain,” said Vigil. 

The researchers used Prescription Monitoring Program opioid records over a 21-month observation period (first three months prior to enrollment for the MCP patients) to more objectively measure opioid cessation – defined as the absence of opioid prescriptions activity during the last three months of observation, with use calculated in average daily intravenous [IV] morphine dosages. MCP patient-reported benefits and side effects of using cannabis one year after enrollment were also collected.

By the end of the observation period, the data showed MCP enrollment was associated with a 17 times higher age- and gender-adjusted odds of ceasing opioid prescriptions, a 5 times higher odds of reducing daily prescription opioid dosages, and a 47 percentage point reduction in daily opioid dosages relative to a mean change of positive 10 percentage points in the non-enrolled patient group.

Survey responses indicated improvements in pain reduction, quality of life, social life, activity levels, and concentration, and few negative side effects from using cannabis one year after enrollment in the MCP.

The researchers’ findings, which provide clinically and statistically significant evidence of an association between MCP enrollment and opioid prescription cessation and reductions and improved quality of life warrant further investigations on cannabis as a potential alternative to prescription opioids for treating chronic pain.

According to Stith, “The economic impact of cannabis treatment should also be considered given the current burden of opioid prescriptions on healthcare systems, which have been forced to implement costly modifications to general patient care practices, including prescription monitoring programs, drug screening, more frequent doctor-patient interactions, treatment of drug abuse and dependence, and legal products and services associated with limiting opioid-related liability.”

“If cannabis can serve as an alternative to prescription opioids for at least some patients, legislators and the medical community may want to consider medical cannabis programs as a potential tool for combating the current opioid epidemic,” Vigil said.

]]>Front PagePsychologyResearchThu, 16 Nov 2017 19:30:03 GMTA new study conducted by researchers at The University of New Mexico, involving medical cannabis and prescription opioid use among chronic pain patients, found a distinct connection between having the legal ability to use cannabis and significant...https://news.unm.edu/news/study-finds-medical-cannabis-is-effective-at-reducing-opioid-addictionThu, 16 Nov 2017 19:30:00 GMT

Shared Knowledge Conference winners showcase diverse Lobo research

What do poop, cancer and snails have in common? They are the topics of the three winners of the LoboBITES competition, held Nov. 8 as part of the Shared Knowledge Conference.

1st place
James Fluke
Characterization of Bacterial Impairment along the Rio Grande near Albuquerque

2nd place
Cristabelle De Souza
Tackling a tumor suppressor gone rogue: Can we OVARcome ovarian cancer?

3rd place
Erin Watson-Chappell
Exploring snail immunology using the common garden snail

Fluke, an engineering master’s student from Bernalillo, gave a colloquial account of E. coli concentrations in both the Rio Grande river and the soil, investigating source and transport. Cristabelle, recently transferred from the University of Kansas, explained out how genetics can alter and manipulate cancer-causing mutations, preventing disease progression and reducing cancer health disparities among women. Watson-Chappell, a Las Cruces native and doctoral biology student, explored the immune system of snails, explaining their commercial value in everything from spa treatments to escargot.

Each year, the Shared Knowledge Conference (SKC) celebrates UNM graduate students and their outstanding research and scholarship. The conference provides a venue for students to engage with the UNM and larger New Mexico communities, to cross the borders that too-often divide academia from the larger world, and in so doing spark conversations and collaboration towards a world of equity, innovation, discovery and growth. Previously, the conference was held in the spring; but it has been moved to the fall to allow the winner of the LoboBITE showcase to participate in the annual Western Association of Graduate Schools regional competition, held each spring.

This year, the SKC was held where UNM began, at the historic Hodgin Hall on main campus, serving as an inspiring venue for the memorable event. Poster sessions were spread throughout Hodgin's series of warm, inviting meeting and gathering spaces, providing a unique opportunity for participants and attendees to share ideas and engage dialogues in a distinguished setting. The LoboBITES competition was held in the Bobo Room, a stunning presentation hall on the third floor. It was there that a diverse group of graduate students, from eight of UNM’s colleges, distilled their work into a three-minute sound bite, presented to non-academic, community judges. Three finalists were selected from each of four heats. Video of the final heat, along with student abstracts, can be accessed in the UNM digital repository, or by clicking here.

]]>Inside UNMAlumniResearchWed, 15 Nov 2017 18:42:52 GMTWhat do poop, cancer and snails have in common? They are the topics of the three winners of the LoboBITES competition, held Nov. 8 as part of the Shared Knowledge Conference. 1st place James Fluke Characterization of Bacterial Impairment along the Rio...Julie Coonrodhttps://news.unm.edu/news/shared-knowledge-conference-winners-showcase-diverse-lobo-researchTue, 14 Nov 2017 21:38:00 GMT

The beauty created by the ‘Destroyer of Worlds’

Martin Pfeiffer, or Marty as he prefers to be called, knows his way around our state’s nuclear fallout site—he’s dug through the debris left behind in this remote part of the desert. You could call him curious, but the fact is, as Ph.D. student in Anthropology at The University of New Mexico, Pfeiffer is more curious about the people, who are curious about the gems found in the scorched earth.

“I’m particularly interested in how sites and places have become nuclear heritage, like the Trinity Site where Trinitite comes from,” said Pfeiffer. “I am particularly interested especially in how nuclear weapons are constructed at those sites through heritage processes.”

Part of the heritage Pfeiffer is speaking of is the physical legacy of atomic bombs. A jewel-like mineral Trinitite, was created from the first detonation in the 1940s.

“It’s basically radioactive fallout that we gave a pretty name to. Literally,” says Pfeiffer. “It’s sand that was sucked up into the mushroom cloud or into the fireball, melted and rained down as glass mixed with weapon debris.”

As a result of the plutonium-based nuclear bomb test at the Trinity Site outside Alamogordo, N.M. in the 1945, a large depression was formed. Bits and chunks of Trinitite were scattered in the depression. Some of the stone was removed before most of it was bulldozed and buried by the United States Atomic Energy Commission in 1953. The stone was sold to mineral collectors as a novelty.

"Almost 75-years later, intrigue still drives a demand for Trinitite." 

Trinitite, usually a lightshade of green, is quite complex in its make-up and is still radioactive.  Similar minerals, still referred to as Trinitite, have been produced at other nuclear test sites. The color of the stone is based on soil chemistry: Black Trinitite is caused by iron from a shot tower. Red Trinitite is made from copper wire from diagnostic equipment.

“One of the things that has really fascinated me, is how Trinitite, as radioactive fallout, got picked up and mobilized for a variety of purposes,” said Pfeiffer. “On one hand it’s radioactive fallout, and on the other it a popular souvenir where it occupies a space as a remnant of history. They even had an actress wear jewelry made of Trinitite to dispel claims of lingering radiation injury to the Japanese.”

It is illegal now to take Trinitite from nuclear test sites. Which could account for one possible reason why people are buying it online or in gift shops. A small stone, roughly the size of a dime, is going for $35 on Amazon. Other collectors have the stones priced higher depending on their color and composition.

There are also multiple websites dedicated to helping collectors determine the authenticity of the stones they purchase.

“I’ve seen multiple artifacts circulated from nuclear sites,” said Pfeiffer. “It’s not the economic circulation, but the social circulation that fascinates me. People are so curious about Trinitite. Some people physically recoil when they are told what it is.”

“The fascinating part of it is, that people aren’t reacting to the property inherent to Trinitite itself, but they are clearly engaging with it through their cultural, social and inerrant belief experiences.”

Pfeiffer’s anthropological work is focused on ethnology—the study of the characteristics of various peoples and the differences and relationships between them. By studying the behaviors of people, he hopes to be able to engage in more productive conversations about nuclear deterrents, a conversation he has had more regularly with the current state of relations with North Korea.

“I’ve had more conversations lately about what the process is for the U.S. using nuclear weapons. Certainly people are re-experiencing or coming to experience a heightened or more intense sense of nuclear arrest,” he said. “One of my hopes is that by examining how we are constructing beliefs and values about nuclear weapons, I can help to identify points that help us alter the process or understand it better.”

Almost 75-years later, intrigue still drives a demand for Trinitite. But Pfeiffer has high-hopes for what it stands for.

“Anthropology is a very optimistic discipline—the whole cultural determinism thing,” he said. “You can look at things that Trinitite represents, and know it doesn’t have to be this way and here’s how we can do it differently.” 

]]>Front PageAnthropologyResearchTue, 07 Nov 2017 16:55:48 GMTMartin Pfeiffer, or Marty as he prefers to be called, knows his way around our state’s nuclear fallout site—he’s dug through the debris left behind in this remote part of the desert. You could call him curious, but the fact is, as Ph.D. student in...Katie Williamshttp://news.unm.edu/news/the-beauty-created-by-the-destroyer-of-worldsThu, 02 Nov 2017 15:15:00 GMT

Community members and employers invited to annual conference

UNM graduate students on the verge of joining the job force are showing off their research skills at the 2017 Shared Knowledge Conference (SKC).

The annual event is being held Nov. 8 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Hodgin Hall. Current and prospective students, as well as staff, faculty, alumni and members of the community are welcome to attend.

The conference provides a venue for graduate students to engage with the UNM and larger New Mexican communities, sparking conversations and working together for a world of equity, innovation, discovery and growth. Tech and research companies looking to hire new employees can also see the quality of researchers being developed at the UNM, and can network with potential job candidates.

The SKC is a free event that highlights research excellence from the graduate students at the University of New Mexico through two powerful showcases: LoboBITES, a 3-minute thesis-type event, and a research poster session.

LoboBITES Competition
LoboBITES are three minute presentations on a thesis, dissertation or other substantial research project. Students must present their research in a compelling and easily digestible way, using language and terms appropriate for a general, non-academic audience. Presentations will be judged by a panel consisting of UNM and Albuquerque community members and top contestants can win up to $1000.

Poster Presentations
Graduate students from varied disciplines across campus are selected by their department or program to present their research in poster format and engage directly with conference attendees. Students also benefit from the experience by adding the presentation to their CV, gaining valuable conference experience and having their work promoted online on the conference website.

The SKC Conference is sponsored by Graduate Studies, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and UNM Alumni Affairs. It’s free to attend and open to the UNM community and beyond; but presenters must be UNM students.

]]>Lobo HubAlumniResearchFri, 20 Oct 2017 17:01:21 GMTUNM graduate students on the verge of joining the job force are showing off their research skills at the 2017 Shared Knowledge Conference (SKC). The annual event is being held Nov. 8 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Hodgin Hall. Current and prospective students,...http://news.unm.edu/news/community-members-and-employers-invited-to-annual-conferenceFri, 20 Oct 2017 16:00:00 GMT

The beauty created by the ‘Destroyer of Worlds’

Martin Pfeiffer, or Marty as he prefers to be called, knows his way around our state’s nuclear fallout site—he’s dug through the debris left behind in this remote part of the desert. You could call him curious, but the fact is, as Ph.D. student in Anthropology at The University of New Mexico, Pfeiffer is more curious about the people, who are curious about the gems found in the scorched earth.

“I’m particularly interested in how sites and places have become nuclear heritage, like the Trinity Site where Trinitite comes from,” said Pfeiffer. “I am particularly interested especially in how nuclear weapons are constructed at those sites through heritage processes.”

Part of the heritage Pfeiffer is speaking of is the physical legacy of atomic bombs. A jewel-like mineral Trinitite, was created from the first detonation in the 1940s.

“It’s basically radioactive fallout that we gave a pretty name to. Literally,” says Pfeiffer. “It’s sand that was sucked up into the mushroom cloud or into the fireball, melted and rained down as glass mixed with weapon debris.”

As a result of the plutonium-based nuclear bomb test at the Trinity Site outside Alamogordo, N.M. in the 1945, a large depression was formed. Bits and chunks of Trinitite were scattered in the depression. Some of the stone was removed before most of it was bulldozed and buried by the United States Atomic Energy Commission in 1953. The stone was sold to mineral collectors as a novelty.

"Almost 75-years later, intrigue still drives a demand for Trinitite." — Marty Pfeiffer

Trinitite, usually a lightshade of green, is quite complex in its make-up and is still radioactive.  Similar minerals, still referred to as Trinitite, have been produced at other nuclear test sites. The color of the stone is based on soil chemistry: Black Trinitite is caused by iron from a shot tower. Red Trinitite is made from copper wire from diagnostic equipment.

“One of the things that has really fascinated me, is how Trinitite, as radioactive fallout, got picked up and mobilized for a variety of purposes,” said Pfeiffer. “On one hand it’s radioactive fallout, and on the other it a popular souvenir where it occupies a space as a remnant of history. They even had an actress wear jewelry made of Trinitite to dispel claims of lingering radiation injury to the Japanese.”

It is illegal now to take Trinitite from nuclear test sites. Which could account for one possible reason why people are buying it online or in gift shops. A small stone, roughly the size of a dime, is going for $35 on Amazon. Other collectors have the stones priced higher depending on their color and composition.

There are also multiple websites dedicated to helping collectors determine the authenticity of the stones they purchase.

“I’ve seen multiple artifacts circulated from nuclear sites,” said Pfeiffer. “It’s not the economic circulation, but the social circulation that fascinates me. People are so curious about Trinitite. Some people physically recoil when they are told what it is.”

“The fascinating part of it is, that people aren’t reacting to the property inherent to Trinitite itself, but they are clearly engaging with it through their cultural, social and inerrant belief experiences.”

Pfeiffer’s anthropological work is focused on ethnology—the study of the characteristics of various peoples and the differences and relationships between them. By studying the behaviors of people, he hopes to be able to engage in more productive conversations about nuclear deterrents, a conversation he has had more regularly with the current state of relations with North Korea.

“I’ve had more conversations lately about what the process is for the U.S. using nuclear weapons. Certainly people are re-experiencing or coming to experience a heightened or more intense sense of nuclear arrest,” he said. “One of my hopes is that by examining how we are constructing beliefs and values about nuclear weapons, I can help to identify points that help us alter the process or understand it better.”

Almost 75-years later, intrigue still drives a demand for Trinitite. But Pfeiffer has high-hopes for what it stands for.

“Anthropology is a very optimistic discipline—the whole cultural determinism thing,” he said. “You can look at things that Trinitite represents, and know it doesn’t have to be this way and here’s how we can do it differently.” 

]]>Front PageAnthropologyResearchMon, 06 Nov 2017 16:29:16 GMTMartin Pfeiffer, or Marty as he prefers to be called, knows his way around our state’s nuclear fallout site—he’s dug through the debris left behind in this remote part of the desert. You could call him curious, but the fact is, as Ph.D. student in...Katie Williamshttps://news.unm.edu/news/the-beauty-created-by-the-destroyer-of-worldsThu, 02 Nov 2017 15:15:00 GMT

D.I.Y. private investigation

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a private investigator, investigating everything from internet stalkers to missing persons? Meet “Jessamyn Jones” a.k.a. Jessamyn Lovell, senior lecturer and visual artist at The University of New Mexico’s College of Fine Arts. She is creating art and adventure in her current project, “D.I.Y. P.I. (Do It Yourself Private Investigation),” where she takes you into the world of private investigation.

Lovell recently showed a solo exhibition of “D.I.Y. P.I.” at Central Features Contemporary Art. This long-term conceptual art piece, which includes photography and videography, documents her journey of private investigation, starting with her pursuit to become a licensed private investigator.

Lovell’s work is largely drawn from her own life experiences - which were the subject of the 2015 episode of “This American Life The Haunter Becomes the Haunted. (Episode 556: Act III).” Throughout her life, she has been researching her own stories using privacy and narrative to question where truth meets fiction. Her research began with “Catastrophe, Crisis, and Other Family Traditions,” an in-depth project where she photographed and recorded her family’s experience of poverty.

The next phase of her career led her to utilize surveillance as a critical tool in examining her own identity, starting with “No Trespassing,” a project that documented her personal investigation of her estranged father. Later, her identity was stolen by a San Francisco woman whom she found, followed, and photographed to make the project “Dear Erin Hart,” an art exhibition, book, and the subject of international media attention.

“Working alongside seasoned private investigators has taught me on the one hand how easy it is to find information about anyone while simultaneously how much time, how many resources and tools are needed to uncover information about someone who doesn’t want to be found,” said Lovell. “I became fascinated with how closely connected the power dynamic in the use of photography is with those at work in private investigation.”

To date, she has worked more than 6,000 hours on cases collecting the traces of identity left behind by her clients, targets, subjects, and herself. Lovell works closely with clients of all types to support their own empowerment in difficult situations by finding tools they can use to gain agency in situations where they feel powerless. These cases have ranged from lost cats, missing persons, and paranormal mysteries. Lovell sees her work as an investigator and artist as a cultural worker finding paths to what types of information private citizens have access to and learning how to access the information. Living in an age of “truthiness” and “fake news,” Lovell hopes that she can uncover the importance of the storyteller in our culture.

“Lovell brings to UNM’s Department of Art a unique process of photography that is simultaneously removed and critical of its subject matter, as well as intimate,” said Justine Andrews, chair of UNM’s Department of Art. “Her ability to connect to people and their stories with an observer’s eye and an artist’s sincerity, makes her a tremendous asset to our students.”

At the time of this writing, Lovell has yet to receive her private investigation license. She plans to continue this project to further document her work in private investigation. Additionally, Lovell will expand this project to include a mobile art installation that will support her private investigation efforts.

To learn more about her work and follow “D.I.Y. P.I.,” visit https://www.patreon.com/JessamynLovell.  

]]>Front PageFaculty NewsCollege of Fine ArtsArt & Art HistoryResearchMon, 06 Nov 2017 12:00:05 GMTHave you ever wondered what it’s like to be a private investigator, investigating everything from internet stalkers to missing persons? Meet “Jessamyn Jones” a.k.a. Jessamyn Lovell, senior lecturer and visual artist at The University of New Mexico’s...Vanessa Tanhttps://news.unm.edu/news/d-i-y-private-investigationFri, 03 Nov 2017 21:22:00 GMT

Guiding the random laser

At its most basic level, a random laser is precisely what its name implies; random. It’s random in the spectrum of light it produces and in the way that light is emitted, making what could be an extremely versatile laser source, nearly useless for most practical applications.

So, how to control some of the randomness to make useful devices? It’s a question that’s led a team of researchers at The University of New Mexico to a discovery that’s taking laser technology to the next level.

“It’s been incredible to see how this project has progressed,” said Behnam Abaie, a Ph.D. student at UNM’s Center for High Technology Materials (CHTM). “When I first came to work with Professor [Arash] Mafi, I knew this project had the potential to be very successful but I never expected this.”

Abaie is the first-author on the paper, Random lasing in an Anderson localizing optical fiber’, recently published in Nature’s Light: Science & Applications. The article provides a technical analysis of how the research team, led by CHTM Interim Director Arash Mafi, is able to reliably control these extremely powerful, but previously uncontrollable, lasers.

“Our success in being able to control these random lasers addresses decade-old issues that have prevented these lasers from becoming mainstream devices,” said Mafi, who is also an associate professor in UNM’s Dept. of Physics & Astronomy. “It’s a very exciting contribution.”

Traditional lasers consist of three main components: an energy source, gain medium and optical cavity. The energy source is provided through a process called ‘pumping’ and can be supplied through an electrical current or another light source. That energy then passes through the gain medium which contains properties that amplify the light. The optical cavity ­– a pair of mirrors on either side of the gain medium – bounce the light back and forth through the medium, amplifying it each time. The result is a directed, intense beam of light called a laser.

“To be able to actually make devices that utilize this phenomenon, it’s taking the science to yet another level.” –Arash Mafi, Interim Director of CHTM

Random lasers, by comparison, perform using a pump, a highly-disordered gain medium but no optical cavity. They are extremely useful due to their simplicity and broad spectral features, meaning a single random laser can produce a beam of light containing multiple spectra, a very beneficial property for certain applications like biomedical imaging. However, given their nature, random lasers are difficult to reliably control due to their multi-directional output and chaotic fluctuation.

The UNM team, in collaboration with researchers at Clemson University and the University of California San Diego, has been able to overcome these obstacles in an efficient way – a victory they hope will continue to push the use of random lasers forward.

“Our device has all the great qualities of a random laser, plus spectral stability and it is highly directional,” said Mafi. “It’s a wonderful development.”

Researchers are able to achieve these results through the fabrication and use of a unique glass Anderson localizing optical fiber. The fiber is made of a ‘satin quartz’, an extremely porous artisan glass that is typically only used to calibrate the machinery that draws fiber optics. When pulled into long rods, the porous material forms dozens of microscopic air channels in each fiber.

“The glass that we’re using for these fiber optics is actually material that we would typically throw away because it is very porous,” said Abaie. “But, it’s those holes in the glass that are actually creating the channels that control the laser.”

Once filled with a gain medium and pumped using a single-colored green laser, the random laser becomes less random and highly controllable, thanks to a phenomenon known as Anderson Localization.

“There is still a lot to learn about Anderson Localization but it’s exciting for us to be part of this development,” said Mafi. “To be able to actually make devices that utilize this phenomenon, it’s taking the science to yet another level.”

Mafi and his research team are some of the leading experts in Anderson Localization. In 2014, they published an article on a different device capable of transmitting images using the phenomenon. That research was named one of Physics World’s Top Ten Breakthroughs of the year.

Moving forward, Mafi says they hope to broaden the spectrum of this new device and make it more efficient, creating a broad spectrum illumination source that can be utilized around the world.

Click here to learn more about The University of New Mexico Center for High Technology Materials. 

]]>CHTMCollege of Arts & SciencesPhysics & AstronomyResearchFront PageWed, 25 Oct 2017 15:00:05 GMTAt its most basic level, a random laser is precisely what its name implies; random. It’s random in the spectrum of light it produces and in the way that light is emitted, making what could be an extremely versatile laser source, nearly useless for most...Aaron Hilfhttps://news.unm.edu/news/guiding-the-random-laserWed, 25 Oct 2017 15:00:00 GMT

CHTM presents an Introduction to Synthetic Aperture Radar

The University of New Mexico Center for High Technology Materials hosts an Introduction to Synthetic Aperture Radar presented by Armin Doerry on Friday, Nov. 3 from 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. in CHTM Room 101. 

Doerry is a distinguished member of Technical Staff in the ISR Mission Engineering Department of Sandia National Laboratories and a research professor at CHTM. He holds a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from UNM and has worked in numerous aspects of Synthetic Aperture Radar and other radar systems’ analysis, design and fabrication since 1987.

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) is a radar imaging mode that maps radar reflectivity of the ground. It's an important earth resource monitoring and analysis tool in civilian and government communities, and an important intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tool for the military and intelligence communities.

The seminar is intended to provide an introduction to the physical concepts, processing, performance, features and exploitation modes that make SAR work, and make it useful. Although mathematics will be shown in some parts of the presentation, the lecture will focus on the qualitative significance of the mathematics rather than dry derivations. Liberal use of example SAR images and other data products will be used to illustrate the concepts discussed.

The seminar is intended for scientists, engineers, technicians or managers who wish to learn more about radar based imaging of land and sea surfaces. 

]]>Lobo HubCHTMResearchSun, 22 Oct 2017 12:00:06 GMTThe University of New Mexico Center for High Technology Materials hosts an Introduction to Synthetic Aperture Radar presented by Armin Doerry on Friday, Nov. 3 from 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. in CHTM Room 101.  Doerry is a distinguished member of Technical...https://news.unm.edu/news/chtm-presents-an-introduction-to-synthetic-aperture-radarSun, 22 Oct 2017 12:00:00 GMT

Community members and employers invited to annual conference

UNM graduate students on the verge of joining the job force are showing off their research skills at the 2017 Shared Knowledge Conference (SKC).

The annual event is being held Nov. 8 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Hodgin Hall. Current and prospective students, as well as staff, faculty, alumni and members of the community are welcome to attend.

The conference provides a venue for graduate students to engage with the UNM and larger New Mexican communities, sparking conversations and working together for a world of equity, innovation, discovery and growth. Tech and research companies looking to hire new employees can also see the quality of researchers being developed at the UNM, and can network with potential job candidates.

The SKC is a free event that highlights research excellence from the graduate students at the University of New Mexico through two powerful showcases: LoboBITES, a 3-minute thesis-type event, and a research poster session.

LoboBITES Competition
LoboBITES are three minute presentations on a thesis, dissertation or other substantial research project. Students must present their research in a compelling and easily digestible way, using language and terms appropriate for a general, non-academic audience. Presentations will be judged by a panel consisting of UNM and Albuquerque community members and top contestants can win up to $1000.

Poster Presentations
Graduate students from varied disciplines across campus are selected by their department or program to present their research in poster format and engage directly with conference attendees. Students also benefit from the experience by adding the presentation to their CV, gaining valuable conference experience and having their work promoted online on the conference website.

The SKC Conference is sponsored by Graduate Studies, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and UNM Alumni Affairs. It’s free to attend and open to the UNM community and beyond; but presenters must be UNM students.

]]>Lobo HubAlumniResearchFri, 20 Oct 2017 17:01:21 GMTUNM graduate students on the verge of joining the job force are showing off their research skills at the 2017 Shared Knowledge Conference (SKC). The annual event is being held Nov. 8 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Hodgin Hall. Current and prospective students,...https://news.unm.edu/news/community-members-and-employers-invited-to-annual-conferenceFri, 20 Oct 2017 16:00:00 GMT

Mafi named 2018 Optical Society Fellow

Arash Mafi, interim director of The University of New Mexico Center for High Technology Materials, has been named a 2018 Optical Society Fellow.

“UNM has a well-established and strong research and education tradition in optics and photonics, especially in the Optical Science and Engineering program, its affiliated departments and the Center for High Technology Materials,” said Mafi, who is also an associate professor in the Dept. of Physics & Astronomy. “I am really honored to be selected as a Fellow of the Optical Society and am excited to contribute to our optics program in an expanded capacity.”

Founded more than 100 years ago, The Optical Society (OSA) is the leading professional organization for scientists, engineers, students and business leaders around the world who focus on the science of light.

According to OSA, fellows “are members who have served with distinction in the advancement of optics and photonics.” The 2018 OSA Fellows Class is made up of 101 OSA members and represents a total of 19 countries. The organization says the fellowship process is both highly selective and competitive.

Mafi, along with his research group, focus on the application of theoretical, computational and experimental methods for cutting-edge research in photonics, especially on nonlinear and quantum aspects of guided-wave optics. His group’s work using disordered fibers to transmit images was selected by Physics World as one of their Top 10 Breakthroughs in Physics of 2014

]]>Front PagePhysics & AstronomyCHTMResearchWed, 18 Oct 2017 11:00:05 GMTArash Mafi, interim director of The University of New Mexico Center for High Technology Materials, has been named a 2018 Optical Society Fellow. “UNM has a well-established and strong research and education tradition in optics and photonics, especially...https://news.unm.edu/news/mafi-named-2018-optical-society-fellowWed, 18 Oct 2017 11:00:00 GMT

UNM is opening virtual doors to its plant collections

Hidden among the shelves and cabinets of natural history collections lie thousands of preserved plant specimens that represent the diverse flora of our planet. Scientists and researchers physically access these collections around the world in order to address challenges that threaten humanity and our environment. These specimens are rich sources of information about our planet's biodiversity and history. Their usefulness is limited because the number of people who can visit is limited; by providing digital access to the collections, The University of New Mexico’s Herbarium is opening its doors to the global community.

The UNM Herbarium, a division of the Museum of Southwestern Biology, is bringing digital life to the thousands of plant specimens within the herbarium. The herbarium houses well over 135,000 plant specimens, representing 10,300 taxa, making it New Mexico's largest collection of plants from the Southwest region.

Fireweed specimen, Big Costilla Peak, collected by Ben Legler, 7/21/2007. 

"As our collection continues to grow, we are met with the challenges of maintaining quality records and providing access to experts in need of this information, " said Timothy Lowrey, associate dean of Graduate Studies, professor of biology and curator of the UNM Herbarium.

Since 2002, the UNM Herbarium has worked to digitally document the collection by adding names and description of plants to public online biodiversity databases, such as SEINet and iDigBio. As technology advances, so does the need for these databases to include even more detailed data, including visual imagery and precise locality mapping.

Over the next four years and with $190,000 in support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Timothy Lowrey, principal investigator of the project and Phil Tonne, manager of the UNM Herbarium, will steer the “Digitization Thematic Collections Network: Collaborative Research: Using Herbarium Data To Document Plant Niches In The High Peaks And High Plains Of The Southern Rockies: Past, Present, and Future” project to enhance the digital preservation effort, by including visual imagery and precise locality mapping data.

Lowrey notes, "in the midst of global environmental change, this is a timely opportunity to expand accessibility and utility of our incredible and diverse plant collections."

UNM joins 37 partner institutions under this grant in an international effort to make biodiversity data electronically available to the public. The data from this project represent two million herbarium specimens that can be used to document and describe habitats - past, present, and future - in this ecologically important region.

The current project focuses on collecting enhanced specimen data - which include high resolution photographs and precise locality mapping - and contributing these data to the existing online biodiversity databases. The project also provides a unique opportunity for students to develop a mapping system to locate specimens using the location information.

"As botanical experts access our collections, their feedback allows us to refine our understanding of the world we live in and adds to the value of this extensive resource," said Tonne.

"The herbarium is a trove of knowledge about the flora of our region, and the digitization of the specimens under this grant will make it more accessible to researchers and students from this point forward," said Christopher Witt, Director of the MSB. "I’m also very excited about this project because it will get more students involved with our natural history collections at MSB and I’m sure that some of them will become inspired to pursue biodiversity research."

]]>BiologyResearchFront PageWed, 04 Oct 2017 17:00:08 GMTHidden among the shelves and cabinets of natural history collections lie thousands of preserved plant specimens that represent the diverse flora of our planet. Scientists and researchers physically access these collections around the world in order to...Vanessa Tanhttp://news.unm.edu/news/unm-is-opening-virtual-doors-to-its-plant-collectionsWed, 04 Oct 2017 17:00:00 GMT

Fighting fires before they spark

With warm, dry summers comes a deadly caveat for the western United States: wildfires. Scientists say the hot, dry climates found west of the Mississippi, along with decades of fire suppression efforts, are creating a devastating and destructive combination – leading to fires like the ones currently burning in California.

It’s a problem biologists at The University of New Mexico are looking to put a damper on. Now, new research from UNM is giving forest and fire management teams across the country the upper hand in reducing the severity of these events.

“These big fires will always happen,” said Dan Krofcheck, a post-doctoral fellow in UNM’s Department of Biology. “We’re looking at what forest managers can do to minimize the impact these wildfires have on the system.”

The issue has two main components, according to Krofcheck, both stemming from human impact to the environment. Global warming, due to human-caused carbon emissions, has worsened the already hot and dry climate in the most at-risk areas, like California. In addition, aggressive firefighting and fire suppression efforts have left a large amount of fuel, in the form of underbrush, throughout the forests. Together, these two factors lead to massive blazes with the capacity to destroy land, homes and lives.

“For a long time, there’s been this stigma that fire in the landscape is a bad thing. It makes sense, because fire is a destructive process,” says Krofcheck. “But, it’s also an integral part of how these ecosystems evolved and we kind of shut that down through heavy fire suppression activity. The result is that fuel that would have been consumed by frequent fire, builds up and accumulates. Subsequently, when you finally have fire move through an area, after it’s been suppressed for 30, 50, 100 years, you have these massive fires that no longer just consume the understory but they’re actually torching crowns and moving through the tree canopy.”

To combat this, forest managers employ two primary treatment practices. Mechanical thinning is the process of physically removing the thick underbrush with machinery or by hand – a method that is effective but also very expensive. Managers also use prescribed burns to clear areas – using fire, under very strict environmental conditions, to consume excess brush.

The UNM research, ‘Prioritizing forest fuels treatments based on the probability of high-severity fire restores adaptive capacity in Sierran forests,’ recently published in Global Change Biology, examines how to most efficiently use these two methods.

Krofcheck, along with his advisor, UNM Associate Professor Matthew Hurteau, and colleagues from North Carolina State University and the USDA Forest Service, ran forecast simulations using projected climate data in the Dinkey Creek Collaborative Landscape Forest Restoration Project area in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. In Scenario A, researchers mechanically thinned the entire area that is operationally and legally available – an unrealistically expensive endeavor in practice. Scenario B employed an optimized approach, thinning only the most at-risk portions of land, about two-thirds less than in Scenario A.

“We wanted to find a way to apply these expensive thinning treatments in such a way that we could put as few on the landscape as possible and achieve some comparable outcome, relative to a case where we thinned everything,” said Krofcheck.

After nearly a thousand simulations, the results show that both scenarios reduced the mean fire-severity by as much as 60 percent.

“Even though we thinned about two-thirds less of the forest, we saw the exact same treatment outcomes,” said Krofcheck.

“This research and way of thinking about optimally using your resources, in terms of where you thin, could go a long way in helping these organizations use their dollars most efficiently to achieve their desired outcomes, which is less severe fires,” Hurteau said.

Along with mechanical thinning, both scenarios also heavily depended on fire, either naturally occurring or through prescribed burning, being present in the ecosystem. Researchers say it’s another big takeaway: without fire, no amount of treatment will successfully do the job. It’s something they hope those who live in forested areas will begin to appreciate as a mechanism for stopping devastating wildfire before it breaks out.

]]>Front PageCollege of Arts & SciencesBiologyResearchTue, 17 Oct 2017 16:00:04 GMTWith warm, dry summers comes a deadly caveat for the western United States: wildfires. Scientists say the hot, dry climates found west of the Mississippi, along with decades of fire suppression efforts, are creating a devastating and destructive...Aaron Hilfhttps://news.unm.edu/news/fighting-fires-before-they-sparkTue, 17 Oct 2017 16:00:00 GMT

UNM grad student selected for Office of Science Graduate Student Research Program

University of New Mexico graduate student Jacek Ksawery Osinski was one of 52 students across the nation selected by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science for its 2017 Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program.

The SCGSR research projects are expected to advance the graduate awardee’s overall doctoral thesis while providing access to the expertise, resources, and capabilities available at the DOE laboratories.

“This DOE award will allow me to deepen my understanding of theoretical particle physics in an environment that is more focused than a university,” said Osinski.

Osinki’s project discovers the production mechanisms of dark matter before the universe existed. Scientists currently do not have any observational probe of this period, but the once the specific properties of dark matter are detected they can be used to probe the conditions of the early universe.

The SCGSR Program is established to support graduate students to do part of their graduate thesis research at a DOE laboratory with a DOE scientist for three to twelve months. The award provides support for inbound and outbound travel to the laboratory along with a monthly stipend of up to $3,000 for general living expenses while at the host DOE laboratory during the award period.

]]>Inside UNMPhysics & AstronomyResearchThu, 12 Oct 2017 18:55:28 GMTUniversity of New Mexico graduate student Jacek Ksawery Osinski was one of 52 students across the nation selected by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science for its 2017 Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program. The...https://news.unm.edu/news/unm-grad-student-selected-for-office-of-science-graduate-student-research-programThu, 12 Oct 2017 16:58:00 GMT

UNM alumnus part of Nobel Prize winning team

When Robert Ward (B.S. Physics, ’00) first came to The University of New Mexico in the late-1990s, he had no idea he’d be part of one of the most important scientific discoveries of the past century. 20 years later, that’s exactly what happened and now, the UNM alumnus can say he is part of a Nobel Prize winning team too.

“My advice to students is to not be afraid to join big quests with ambitious goals." – Robert Ward, UNM Alumnus

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne for the detection of gravitational waves – ripples in the fabric of spacetime, confirming a portion of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity. While the three senior scientists were named in the award and have been guiding members of the project for many years, a team of more than 1,000 researchers around the world, including Ward, were also part of the incredible discovery.

“It feels fantastic,” said Ward, who is currently a research fellow at the Australian National University. “It’s a wonderful validation of all the work we’ve done. The three collaboration leaders who were named in the Nobel Prize all emphasized that this was a collaborative achievement, with many individuals making critical contributions over multiple decades.”

The 2015 discovery of gravitational waves using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) stunned the scientific community and the world. The waves that were detected were the product of a deep-space collision between two black holes nearly 1.3 billion years ago. Scientists believe the discovery could provide important clues into the origins of the universe.

Ward has been a part of the LIGO collaboration since 2003 and has helped develop and test the technology that went into the second-generation detector. His entire career, in fact, has been spent prototyping the techniques used to in breakthrough – and he says it’s just the beginning.  

“We’ve opened a new window to the universe,” he said. “Now, we will use these observatories to study the dark side of the heavens and continue working assiduously to improve the sensitivity so we can use the gravitational waves to study objects further away and from further in the past – hopefully right back to the beginning of the universe.”

An Albuquerque-native, Ward split his time at UNM between the Department of Physics & Astronomy and Theatre, where he took a number of acting classes and performed in several plays. He says UNM had a tremendous influence on him and credits the University for his development not only as a scientist but as a person, too.

“My advice to students is to not be afraid to join big quests with ambitious goals, rather than focusing only on immediate gains,” he said. “Many people thought the detection of gravitational waves was impossible, but working together in our collaboration we achieved it.”

]]>Front PageCollege of Arts & SciencesPhysics & AstronomyAlumniResearchWed, 04 Oct 2017 21:16:27 GMTWhen Robert Ward (B.S. Physics, ’00) first came to The University of New Mexico in the late-1990s, he had no idea he’d be part of one of the most important scientific discoveries of the past century. 20 years later, that’s exactly what happened and now,...Aaron Hilfhttps://news.unm.edu/news/unm-alumnus-part-of-nobel-prize-winning-teamWed, 04 Oct 2017 20:02:00 GMT

UNM is opening virtual doors to its plant collections

Hidden among the shelves and cabinets of natural history collections lie thousands of preserved plant specimens that represent the diverse flora of our planet. Scientists and researchers physically access these collections around the world in order to address challenges that threaten humanity and our environment. These specimens are rich sources of information about our planet's biodiversity and history. Their usefulness is limited because the number of people who can visit is limited; by providing digital access to the collections, The University of New Mexico’s Herbarium is opening its doors to the global community.

The UNM Herbarium, a division of the Museum of Southwestern Biology, is bringing digital life to the thousands of plant specimens within the herbarium. The herbarium houses well over 135,000 plant specimens, representing 10,300 taxa, making it New Mexico's largest collection of plants from the Southwest region.

Fireweed specimen, Big Costilla Peak, collected by Ben Legler, 7/21/2007. 

"As our collection continues to grow, we are met with the challenges of maintaining quality records and providing access to experts in need of this information, " said Timothy Lowrey, associate dean of Graduate Studies, professor of biology and curator of the UNM Herbarium.

Since 2002, the UNM Herbarium has worked to digitally document the collection by adding names and description of plants to public online biodiversity databases, such as SEINet and iDigBio. As technology advances, so does the need for these databases to include even more detailed data, including visual imagery and precise locality mapping.

Over the next four years and with $190,000 in support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Timothy Lowrey, principal investigator of the project and Phil Tonne, manager of the UNM Herbarium, will steer the “Digitization Thematic Collections Network: Collaborative Research: Using Herbarium Data To Document Plant Niches In The High Peaks And High Plains Of The Southern Rockies: Past, Present, and Future” project to enhance the digital preservation effort, by including visual imagery and precise locality mapping data.

Lowrey notes, "in the midst of global environmental change, this is a timely opportunity to expand accessibility and utility of our incredible and diverse plant collections."

UNM joins 37 partner institutions under this grant in an international effort to make biodiversity data electronically available to the public. The data from this project represent two million herbarium specimens that can be used to document and describe habitats - past, present, and future - in this ecologically important region.

The current project focuses on collecting enhanced specimen data - which include high resolution photographs and precise locality mapping - and contributing these data to the existing online biodiversity databases. The project also provides a unique opportunity for students to develop a mapping system to locate specimens using the location information.

"As botanical experts access our collections, their feedback allows us to refine our understanding of the world we live in and adds to the value of this extensive resource," said Tonne.

"The herbarium is a trove of knowledge about the flora of our region, and the digitization of the specimens under this grant will make it more accessible to researchers and students from this point forward," said Christopher Witt, Director of the MSB. "I’m also very excited about this project because it will get more students involved with our natural history collections at MSB and I’m sure that some of them will become inspired to pursue biodiversity research."

]]>BiologyResearchFront PageWed, 04 Oct 2017 17:00:08 GMTHidden among the shelves and cabinets of natural history collections lie thousands of preserved plant specimens that represent the diverse flora of our planet. Scientists and researchers physically access these collections around the world in order to...Vanessa Tanhttps://news.unm.edu/news/unm-is-opening-virtual-doors-to-its-plant-collectionsWed, 04 Oct 2017 17:00:00 GMT

UNM awarded $7 million for integrated behavioral health intervention

University of New Mexico researchers have been awarded a five-year $7 million federal grant that establishes a new center to develop more effective behavioral health interventions for the state’s under-resourced, racially, ethnically and geographically diverse communities.

Conceptual model for the Transdisciplinary Research, Equity and Engagement Center for Advancing Behavioral Health, or TREE Center.

The Transdisciplinary Research, Equity and Engagement Center for Advancing Behavioral Health (TREE Center) will bring together researchers in multiple disciplines from across the university, said Lisa Cacari Stone, PhD, an associate professor in the UNM College of Population Health who will direct the new center.

“The center strives to partner with communities in order to conduct solutions-focused research with, rather than on them,” Cacari Stone says. While the two initial research projects will focus on Native American and immigrant Latino populations in the Southwest, future projects will include other populations.

Funding for the center was awarded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). UNM was one of only 15 institutions selected out of 110 applications for grant funding submitted to the NIH. “We became a competitive force both because of the trans-disciplinary scholarship we have here and our community and stakeholder commitment,” Cacari Stone says.

“We’re pleased that the NIH directed this funding to the UNM College of Population Health,” says Dr. Richard S. Larson, the UNM Health Sciences Center’s executive vice chancellor and vice chancellor for research. “We know that social determinants of health, which includes ready access to evidence-based and culturally appropriate behavioral health services, plays a huge role in a person’s overall health and well-being. The TREE Center’s research promises to show us the best way to organize and provide those services.”

The research team will study how social determinants, including historical trauma, adverse childhood experiences and the combined effects of poverty and discrimination, affect behavioral health, Cacari Stone says.

In a state where Native American youth are at high risk for suicide and immigrants may be dissuaded from seeking mental health care because of fears of deportation, the aim is to develop and evaluate sophisticated and culturally competent behavioral health interventions that operate in multiple dimensions, Cacari Stone says.

If the research is successful, it will make a measurable impact in preventing or reducing youth suicide, alcohol and drug misuse, and depression in vulnerable populations, while improving access to behavioral health services. It also will provide an opportunity to grow a diverse scientific workforce through training new investigators and building leadership capacity from under-represented minorities, she says.

Cacari Stone is one of four principal investigators on the grant. The others are Steven Verney, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and Gabriel Sanchez, professor in the Department of Political Science and executive director of the RWJF Center for Health Policy.

Other team members are drawn from UNM’s Colleges of Education and Pharmacy, the Office of Community Health and the Departments of Sociology, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.

“We’re showing leadership from the ground up,” Cacari Stone says. “We’ve got a lot of good things going on here.”

]]>Front PagePolitical SciencePsychologyResearchThu, 28 Sep 2017 23:15:06 GMTUniversity of New Mexico researchers have been awarded a five-year $7 million federal grant that establishes a new center to develop more effective behavioral health interventions for the state’s under-resourced, racially, ethnically and geographically...Michael Haederlehttps://news.unm.edu/news/unm-awarded-7-million-for-integrated-behavioral-health-interventionThu, 28 Sep 2017 21:12:00 GMT

Yale University professor to present annual Kahn Lecture on Sept. 29

The University of New Mexico Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology is hosting this year’s Milton Kahn Annual Lectureship on Friday, Sept. 29 at 4 p.m. in SMLC 102.

Professor Mark Johnson

The lecture will feature Mark Johnson, the Arthur T. Kemp Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Yale University. Johnson is known for the development and exploitation of experimental methods that capture and structurally characterize transient chemical species, such as reaction intermediates, using cryogenic ion chemistry in conjunction with multiple resonance laser spectroscopy.

The lecture, ‘Mass Spec Meets FTIR: The Genesis of Cryogenic Ion Vibrational Spectroscopy (CIVP)’, is free and open to the public.

Lecture Summary:
The coupling between ambient ionization sources, developed for mass spectrometric analysis of biomolecules, and cryogenic ion processing, originally designed to study interstellar chemistry, creates a new and general way to capture transient chemical species and elucidate their structures with optical spectroscopies. Advances in non-linear optics over the past decade allow single-investigator, table top lasers to access radiation from 550 cm-1 in the infrared to the vacuum ultraviolet. When spectra are acquired using predissociation of weakly bound rare gas “tags,” the resulting patterns are equivalent to absorption spectra and correspond to target ions at temperatures below 10K.

Taken together, what emerges is a new and powerful structural component to traditional mass spectrometric analysis. Moreover, because the spectral features of the cold ions are sharp, the evolution of bond-specific transitions can be used to follow the docking arrangements of host-guest complexes and the local contact points between the ionic constituents of ionic liquids. Recent applications ranging from the mechanisms of small molecule activation by homogeneous catalysts to the microscopic mechanics underlying the Grotthuss proton relay mechanism in water emphasize the generality and utility of the methods in contemporary chemistry.

]]>Inside UNMCollege of Arts & SciencesChemistryResearchThu, 28 Sep 2017 20:56:51 GMTThe University of New Mexico Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology is hosting this year’s Milton Kahn Annual Lectureship on Friday, Sept. 29 at 4 p.m. in SMLC 102. Professor Mark Johnson The lecture will feature Mark Johnson, the Arthur T. Kemp...https://news.unm.edu/news/yale-university-professor-to-present-annual-kahn-lecture-on-sept-29Thu, 28 Sep 2017 20:24:00 GMT

Unlocking the secrets of disease progression

Throughout her academic career, Lina Cui has always been interested in the chemistry of disease in the human body. Now, as a University of New Mexico Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Cui is using her knowledge and expertise to learn more about how diseases progress and how we can stop them.

In support of her research, Cui recently received a renewable five-year, $1.89-million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s General Medical Sciences division. The Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) for Early Stage Investigators (R35) is designed to provide stability and flexibility to early-career faculty members, allowing them the chance to make important breakthroughs, according to NIH. Cui’s project is focused on the chemistry and biological function of the enzyme, heparanase, a molecule very closely related to disease progression, such as cancer.

“It is very exciting to be able to do this work. If something significant comes from our research, it will be incredibly rewarding.” – Lina Cui, UNM Assistant Professor of Chemistry 

When first developed in the human body, most types of cancers are contained to one particular area. However, if left untreated, over time certain types of cancer cells begin spreading from the primary site to a secondary area of the body, a process called metastasis. With cancer, once this occurs treatment becomes much more difficult. In fact, metastasis is responsible for approximately 90 percent of cancer related deaths. For Cui, it’s a staggering statistic she hopes to have an impact on.

“There are many early-stage cancers that can be cured right now using different methods like surgical resection, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy and more” said Cui, who is also a member of the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center. “But, once the cancer migrates, it becomes much more difficult to control. It’s a big problem that we need to solve and hopefully, the research we’re conducting will be a part of that solution.”

Heparanase plays a crucial role in cancer metastasis, as well as in the progression of many other diseases. The enzyme is responsible for a process that essentially breaks down the extracellular matrix holding diseased cells in a specific area. Once that breakdown occurs, the cells are free to travel and interact with other areas of the body.

Cui says that along with the breakdown process, heparanase is also involved in cancer proliferation and angiogenesis, a process of new blood vessel formation. She says the enzyme releases biomolecules that trigger cell or blood vessel growth, so learning more about it will not only give clues on how to limit extracellular matrix breakdown but also possibly shed light on how to slow cancer growth.

“Using chemistry, we want to build molecules that allow us to map the various aspects of heparanase activities,” explained Cui. “Doing this will give us a better understanding of how these enzymes are involved in disease progression.”

Researchers say understanding the precise role of heparanase will give them the knowledge to be able to build molecules into diagnostic tools that target that particular enzyme. The idea is that if they can prevent the enzymes from breaking down the extracellular matrix, they can prevent the spread of disease, giving patients better odds in their fight.

“While we do use cancer models in our initial studies, it’s not our only focus,” said Cui. “Our research will potentially be able to be used for a variety of other diseases too.”

Cui says the MIRA award will go a long way in helping her team make significant progress on this research. Currently, she says there are nearly a dozen post-doctoral, graduate and undergraduate students working on this project, with the potential for more student involvement in the future. And, while Cui and her team do have specific goals and benchmarks in place for this round of funding, she says the award will give them the opportunity to create a large-scale program they will be able to build upon for many years.

“It is very exciting to be able to do this work,” she said. “If something significant comes from our research, it will be incredibly rewarding.”

To learn more about the Cui Laboratory and the research being done there, click here.

]]>Front PageFaculty NewsCollege of Arts & SciencesChemistryResearchWed, 27 Sep 2017 20:00:14 GMTThroughout her academic career, Lina Cui has always been interested in the chemistry of disease in the human body. Now, as a University of New Mexico Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Cui is using her knowledge and...Aaron Hilfhttps://news.unm.edu/news/unlocking-the-secrets-of-disease-progressionWed, 27 Sep 2017 20:00:00 GMT

New Mexico Academy of Science presents 2017 Research Symposium

The New Mexico Academy of Science (NMAS) and its partners, the New Mexico Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NM EPSCoR), the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation (NM AMP) and the University of New Mexico Center for Water & the Environment announces its 2017 Research Symposium. The Research Symposium takes place Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Embassy Suites in Albuquerque.

The Research Symposium, which started in 2013 as a collaborative partnership between NMAS and NM EPSCoR, has blossomed into an opportunity for students to present their research in oral presentations and poster presentations. Students (undergraduate & graduate) in STEM disciplines from across the state of New Mexico are invited to submit abstracts for oral or poster presentation at the Symposium. Accepted abstracts will be published in the 2017 New Mexico Journal of Science, published annually by NMAS. Deadline to submit abstracts is Monday, Oct. 2. Registration and abstract submission is online.

The New Mexico Academy of Science fosters scientific research and scientific cooperation, increases public awareness of the role of science in human progress and human welfare, and promotes science education in New Mexico. NMAS works with teachers, state agencies, and the legislature to establish appropriate standards for the teaching of the sciences and provide scientific advice & expertise. Visit New Mexico Academy of Science to learn more.

New Mexico EPSCoR is funded by the National Science Foundation to build the state’s capacity to conduct scientific research. The infrastructure and activities are designed to support shared-use equipment, engage new research and community college faculty and support the STEM pipeline by training teachers, undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Visit NM EPSCoR to learn more.

The New Mexico AMP program is a partnership of the state’s two– and four–year colleges and universities, with a primary goal of increasing the number of B.S. degrees awarded to under–represented students in New Mexico. NM AMP supports students with scholarships, research assistantships, professional development and enhanced teaching, learning and mentoring experiences. To learn more, visit New Mexico AMP.

The mission of the Center for Water and the Environment at The University of New Mexico is to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM professions while conducting cutting-edge research into technological and engineering-based solutions to problems with water and the environment in a framework that considers the social, economic, policy, regulatory and legal implications. Learn more at Center for Water and the Environment

For more information, contact Natalie Rogers, nrogers@epscor.unm.edu.

]]>Inside UNMResearchMon, 25 Sep 2017 22:00:10 GMTThe New Mexico Academy of Science (NMAS) and its partners, the New Mexico Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NM EPSCoR), the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation (NM AMP) and the University of New Mexico Center for Water &...https://news.unm.edu/news/new-mexico-academy-of-science-presents-2017-research-symposiumMon, 25 Sep 2017 22:00:00 GMT

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