January 2014

University Awards SEC-Supported Faculty Travel Grants

Wen Zhang grows algae in flasks in her lab in the College of Engineering. Using an SEC Visiting Faculty Travel Grant, Zhang will meet with researchers at the University of Florida this spring.

For the second consecutive year, the University of Arkansas has awarded four $2,500 travel grants to faculty who plan to conduct research at other institutions in the Southeastern Conference.

The SEC Visiting Faculty Travel Grant Program is intended to enhance faculty collaboration that stimulates scholarly initiatives amongthe conference’s 14 member universities. It gives faculty from one SEC

university the opportunity to travel to another SEC campus to exchange ideas, develop grant proposals, and conduct research.

A maximum of four travel grants — funded by the SECU academic initiative — are available to each university for visiting faculty to use during an appropriate period, such as a sabbatical leave, the summer or a designated university break. The visiting faculty member may consult with faculty and/or students, offer lectures or symposia, or engage in whatever activities are productive for the visitor and host campus.

All areas of research and scholarly activity were eligible for support. The U of A faculty selected for travel grants are: Thad Scott, crop, soil and environmental science; Shannon Servoss, chemical engineering; Jennifer Veilleux, psychology; Wen Zhang, civil engineering.

Scott, an assistant professor of environmental water science, will visit the laboratory of Alan Wilson in the School of Fisheries at Auburn University. Scott and Wilson share a converging interest in harmful algal blooms and their effect on water quality. According to Scott, the project would benefit the U of A because it will allow him to learn the techniques necessary to quantify algal toxins in freshwater environments.

Servoss, who holds the Ralph E. Martin Professorship in Chemical Engineering, will visit Melissa Moss at the University of South Carolina. Moss, a renowned Alzheimer’s disease researcher, is an associate professor in the department of chemical engineering and undergraduate director for biomedical engineering at the University of South Carolina. Research in Servoss’ lab at the U of A intersects with Moss’ in the area of Alzheimer’s disease therapeutics.

Veilleux, an assistant professor of psychological science, will visit the the Personality and Emotion Laboratory at the University of Missouri at Columbia, where she will learn how to set up and run data collection using ambulatory assessment. Trull, curator’s professor of psychological sciences and Byler Distinguished Professor, is an expert on use of ambulatory assessment techniques in clinical psychology.

Zhang, an assistant professor of civil engineering, will visit the lab of Eric McLamore at the University of Florida. McLamore’s research group focuses on development and application of sensor/biosensor technology for solving hypothesis-driven research questions in the life sciences. It builds optical and electrochemical tools from the nanometer to the millimeter spatial scale, often incorporating biological molecules as an active element.

Each of these projects has the potential to become a fully supported research collaboration.
The SEC Visiting Faculty Travel Grant is one of several programs of the SECU academic initiative. SECU, headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., sponsors, supports and promotes collaborative higher education programs and activities involving administrators, faculty and students at its member universities.

 

U of A, NanoMech Install R&D 100 Award

 

Ajay Malshe

NanoMech, a company affiliated with the University of Arkansas, installed its prestigious “Oscar of Innovation” award at the university on Dec. 19.

The R&D 100 plaque, which signifies NanoMech’s inclusion in R&D Magazine’s 2013 list of the year’s top technological innovations, will be permanently displayed in the University of Arkansas’ Institute for Nanoscience and Engineering.

“This research was nurtured on the University of Arkansas campus and helped through the commercialization process at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park,” Chancellor G. David Gearhart told he crowd at the event. “New ventures based on university research serve as a key way to keep highly-skilled science, engineering and business graduates right here in Arkansas. ”

The magazine based its R&D 100 award on Tufftek, which greatly decreases wear, reduces heat resistance and improves precision for cutting tools. The technology behind Tufftek was invented and patented at the University of Arkansas and licensed to NanoMech for its commercialization and continued development.

Ajay Malshe, a Distinguished Professor of mechanical engineering, founded NanoMech in 2002.

“NanoMech could not have received this prestigious award without the interdisciplinary, out-of-the-box thinking and tireless work of our world-class team of scientists, including Dr. Wenping Jiang, vice president of manufacturing,” Malshe said.

“I would also like to thank the teams at the Institute for Nanoscience and Engineering at the University of Arkansas, the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency for their contributions over the years.”

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Biologist Performs DNA Analysis of Ancient Plant

Andrew J. Alverson

A new study has uncovered an unprecedented example of horizontal gene transfer — the acquisition of foreign DNA from different, unrelated species — in a South Pacific shrub that is considered to be the sole survivor of one of the two oldest lineages of flowering plants.

The research also shows, for the first time, that an organelle genome has captured an entire foreign genome, in this case, at least four of them. It is also the first description of a land plant acquiring genes from green algae.

A full description of the study of Amborella trichopoda was published in the Dec. 20 issue of the journal Science. Andrew J. Alverson, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, has been working on this project since his arrival at the University of Arkansas in 2012. Scientists at Indiana University led the study.

Alverson performed the computational analyses that identified the many donors of this foreign DNA, which includes entire mitochondrial genomes from three green algae and one moss. Alverson and his colleagues found that the plant’s mitochondrial genome is enormous, consisting of nearly 4 million nucleotides, which is about 240 times larger than a human mitochondrial genome.

“The Amborella mitochondrial genome is huge, and most of its DNA is foreign, acquired from the mitochondrial genomes of other plant species,” Alverson said. “We’ve never seen horizontal gene transfer at this scale. It’s not acquiring genes or bits of genes in a piecemeal way. It’s been swallowing up whole genomes. One of our main tasks was to determine the ancestry of its several hundred ‘extra’ genes.”

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Bone Shows Early Evolution of Human Hand

 

J. Michael Plavcan

A recently discovered bone from the hand of an East African hominim provides the earliest record of a structural feature related to tool use. At 1.42 million years old, the bone is evidence of the evolution of a distinctive feature of modern hands more than half a million years earlier than previously known.

J. Michael Plavcan, a professor of anthropology in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, was part of the research team that analyzed the bone.

“Modern human hands are specialized to hold tools, but hand bones are difficult to find, and we haven’t known when modern human hands developed,” Plavcan said. “With this discovery, we have the earliest evidence of the structural changes of the hand that are associated with tool use.”

In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the researchers wrote that the newly discovered bone “suggests that an increased reliance on manipulatory behaviors indicated by the archeological record early in the Pleistocene selected for the modern human hand early in the evolution of the genus Homo.”

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IN THIS ISSUE

University Awards SEC-Supported Faculty Travel Grants

U of A, NanoMech Install R&D 100 Award

Biologist Performs DNA Analysis of Ancient Plant

Bone Shows Early Evolution of Human Hand

IN OTHER NEWS

Researchers Develop Risk-Assessment Tool for Mobile, Point-of-Sale Technology in Retail

Secondary Conditions Affect Length of Hospital Stay and Charges for HIV Patients

Women's Strategies for Global and Social Mobility in Tanzanian Beauty Pageants

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Grant Award Winners

The following is a sampling of grants awarded to faculty in December, with the principal investigator, the award amount and the sponsor.
• Brent Williams, $5,080,774, Arkansas Department of Education
• James L. Gattis, $90,341, Texas A&M University System

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