Tripathi: ‘We are on the brink of a new future’

When Satish K. Tripathi came to UB as the university’s provost in 2004, UB was “a very fine institution with a solid foundation and great potential.” Now, a decade later, “I see a remarkable institution, a world-class university taking its rightful place alongside some of the best research universities anywhere,” UB’s president told members of the university community, alumni and friends on Friday during his third State of the University address.

Speaking to an audience in Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall on the North Campus, Tripathi outlined the progress UB has made across the university and the many ways it is transforming both the local and global communities.

He began by noting recent faculty and research highlights:
*UB hired 110 faculty members and 157 staff members in the past academic year.
*Total research funding from all sources is at an all-time high of $388 million.
*Faculty and staff members continue to receive national and international recognition as the recipients of major awards like National Science Foundation CAREER Awards and Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships, as well as being named fellows in the prestigious scholarly associations in their fields, among them the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Psychological Association.
*UB has had the “lion’s share” of appointments as SUNY Distinguished Professors during the past five years.

Having world-class faculty attracts world-class students, Tripathi pointed out, and UB is recruiting more of the best undergraduate, graduate and professional students.

“These are intellectually passionate, motivated students who know they want to use their talents to make a difference in the world,” he said. “And they come to UB “because they know they will find opportunities here that will challenge them to do just that, to the very best of their abilities.”

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Kwon receives award to reduce hazmat accidents

Safety often takes a back seat to speed when transporting hazardous materials, such as radioactive materials, gasoline or medical waste from hospitals.

But a hazardous materials (hazmat) routing simulator that UB researcher Changhyun Kwon is developing aims to place safety at the forefront of shipping dangerous chemicals.

His research, “Advancing Routing Methods in Hazardous Materials Transportation,” is supported by a five-year, $400,000 National Science Foundation CAREER grant. The CAREER award is among the foundation’s highest honors for young investigators.

“Current hazmat routing methods are at an elementary level,” says Kwon, assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “Most hazmat carriers do not consider risk; they find the shortest path and use it, regardless of the risk level around that route. That is not enough.”

The possibility an accident occurs during shipment is small, but the results are often catastrophic. While some carriers use the average risk of an accident to determine their routes, Kwon’s risk-adverse simulator will base transportation routes on worst-case scenarios.

“I’m coming up with a new risk measure to capture the extreme cases of hazmat accidents,” Kwon says.

The simulator is inspired by a similar risk-adverse technique in the finance industry, whose risk-management software has improved significantly, says Kwon. The new method may compromise delivery time, but trucks will become less vulnerable to large accidents.

Nearly one in five commercial trucks on the road is carrying hazmat, says Kwon. And according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2013 roughly 4,800 incidents resulted in almost $79 million in damages.

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$1.4 million NIH grant to study effects of arsenic on cancer tumor production

University at Buffalo faculty member Xuefeng Ren has received a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate the mechanisms of arsenic carcinogenesis — the process by which exposure to arsenic transforms normal cells into cancer cells.

Chronic exposure to arsenic, a ubiquitous element widely distributed in the natural environment, affects up to 100 million people in 70 countries, including the United States. It can lead to increased morbidity and mortality from both non-cancerous and cancerous effects, including diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, cardiovascular diseases and cancers of the bladder, lung, kidney and skin.

Many environmental scientists are wrestling with ways to deal with the problem at its most ubiquitous source: groundwater that is naturally contaminated with inorganic arsenic compounds.
Ren and his team, however, will employ an integrated approach that combines cell and molecular biology with epidemiology in order to decipher how chronic arsenic exposure works in the body. This could lead to new methods of prevention and treatment.

Ren, an assistant professor of epidemiology and environmental health in the School of Public Health and Health Professions, says that although the relationship between arsenic exposure and cancer is well documented, the mechanisms by which arsenic participates in the production of tumors are not clear.

He says researchers theorize that arsenic causes changes in the epigenome, which is the record of chemical changes to the DNA and histone proteins that affect both gene expression and carcinogenesis.

His long term goal, he says, is to define the effects and consequences of chronic arsenic exposure on the epigenome, which could allow targeted therapeutic interventions with epigenetic-targeting drugs.

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US News ranks UB in top 50 among public universities; No. 1 for grads with least debt

Top-notch academics and the lowest possible debt: that’s the win-win value offered to students by the University at Buffalo, according U.S. News and World Report.

This year, UB for the first time cracked the top 50 among the best public “national universities” in the country – ranking No. 48, up three spots from last year’s No. 51 ranking. U.S. News bases its rankings on an assessment of 1,600 of the country’s four-year colleges and universities. Among both public and private national universities, UB is ranked No. 103, up 6 spots from last year and an improvement of 17 spots over the past 5 years.

And UB continues to outperform its peers on value. UB is ranked No. 1 among public colleges and universities nationwide for graduating students with the least amount of debt. Among both public and private schools, UB is ranked No. 8 for the least debt.

According to U.S. News, for those UB students who graduate with debt (55 percent of students don’t have any debt upon graduation), the average debt amount is $17,455. At national universities with the “most debt,” students graduate with average debt of $35, 902 to $41,060, according to U.S. News, and as many as 87 percent of students graduate in debt.

For the first time, UB also was ranked one of the best colleges for veterans, at No. 23. This category, introduced last year, lists top-ranked schools that participate in federal initiatives to help veterans and active service members apply, pay for and complete their degrees.

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C&E News picks X-ray crystal study as one of the world’s top 10

An X-ray crystal structure solved by a University at Buffalo chemistry professor has been chosen as one of the world’s top 10 molecular structures ever solved.

The list was compiled by the science and technology magazine of the American Chemical Society, Chemical & Engineering News (C&E News), to celebrate the 100 anniversary of X-ray crystallography, the technique that gave scientists their first peek into the atomic world.

In the Aug. 11 issue of C&E News, the editors wrote that choosing 10 favorite X-ray crystal studies was tough. “That’s no easy task: there are now nearly 1 million to choose from. But we persevered. We zeroed in on a handful that answered pressing chemical questions of their day.”

The editors chose the work of Distinguished Research Professor of Chemistry Philip Coppens from the 1990s because it ushered in a new era of X-ray crystallographic research, allowing chemists to study short-lived, excited-state molecules. Until that point, the technique had only allowed scientists to study molecules when they were inactive. Because molecules often pass through excited states just before reacting, they were of special interest to chemists.

A few months ago, Coppens was contacted by a C&E News editor.

“I was called for some information for an issue highlighting a hundred years of crystallography,” says Coppens, “but I was not told in what context. I only found that my structure was in the top 10 when some friends in Europe, who received the issue earlier, wrote to congratulate me.

“What did I think? Well, I knew that we were attempting things that had not been done before and which would be important, because the excited states we wanted to probe were structurally unknown and very reactive precursors in chemical reactions,” he recalls. “But I did not expect that we would be quoted on par with the DNA double helix, transfer RNA and other structures of such importance.”

In the early 1990s, Coppens and his UB colleagues completed what was believed to be the first, structural study of an excited molecule, providing scientists with a glimpse of the distortions that a molecule undergoes in the milliseconds or nanoseconds before it reacts chemically. Coppens and colleagues studied sodium nitroprusside, primarily because its presumed electronic excited state lasts for hours, far longer than other molecules, when the crystal is cooled to very low temperatures. They found that in its excited state, the molecule underwent a number of important structural changes. The 1994 achievement, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, was reported as the first X-ray crystallographic solution of a molecule in its excited state.

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UB education student and ‘regular English teacher’ chosen for national media literacy award

University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education doctoral student Denise Grandits, a middle school literature teacher in St. Amelia School in Tonawanda, is the latest recipient of the Media Literacy Award from the National Council of Teachers of English.

Grandits received this national recognition for her work integrating new media and literacies into her seventh- and eighth-grade literature class at St. Amelia. The award goes to an individual, team or department that has implemented and refined exemplary media literacy practices in the school environment.

Grandits, a student from the Department of Learning and Instruction, is in her third year at St. Amelia.

“I am humbled, honored and, to be honest, still in shock, that I have been named this year’s recipient,” says Grandits.  “I always knew my students were excited and motivated to learn, but until my studies in my doctorate program at University at Buffalo, I didn’t have the words or theories to back up what I saw happening.

“I can’t believe this happened to just a regular English teacher in regular America.”

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UB names first WBFO-Silvers Visiting Professor in Arts, Humanities

The University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences and its Humanities Institute has announced the name of its first WBFO-Eileen Silvers Visiting Professor in the Arts and Humanities.

She is Rosalyn Diprose (pronounced DIP-rose), PhD, professor emeritus of philosophy, University of New South Wales in Australia, an internationally recognized scholar of feminist and continental philosophy whose work has had a broad impact across disciplines.

Diprose will hold the visiting professorship from Aug. 26 through Oct. 6, during which time she will be involved in several activities. Among them is “Biopolitics, Health and Sexualities: An Interdisciplinary Symposium with Rosalyn Diprose,” a free public event presented by UB that will take place 1-4:45 p.m. Sept. 5 at Hallwalls Center for Contemporary Arts, 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo.

She also will present a free public lecture, “The Body and Politics,” at 5 p.m. Sept. 25 in 640 Clemens Hall, UB North Campus, and team-teach a graduate seminar, “Arendt: Natality, Politics and Narrative.”

Much of Diprose’s published research applies concepts from 20th-century existential and feminist philosophy to the development of ideas about community, generosity and responsibility. She also addresses social and political issues, especially in biopolitics.

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UB to offer online graduate certificate in music learning theory

The University at Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education expands its online services this fall by offering a fully online advanced graduate certificate program in music learning theory, a curriculum that teaches educators how to instruct their students to become better musicians and appreciate music throughout their lives.

“Music learning theory is an explanation of how we learn when we learn music. It’s based on an extensive body of research and practical field-testing,” says Maria Runfola, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Learning and Instruction.  “This new certificate program will provide music teachers a comprehensive sequence for teaching musicianship to learners of all ages and abilities.”

The advanced graduate certificate in music learning is a 15-credit certificate designed for those interested in advanced study in music learning theory — or MLT — and its practical applications, Runfola says.

Those who successfully complete this program will have the knowledge and skill to guide others in developing better musicianship and to become lifelong learners and consumers of music.

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UB’s Jeffrey Higginbotham named fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

D. Jeffrey Higginbotham, PhD, of Buffalo, associate professor and chair of the Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, will be named a fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) at the association’s 2014 annual convention being held Nov. 20-22 in Orlando, Florida.

Higginbotham is a clinician and educator whose work confronts human issues associated with disability, including the question of how disabled identities are constructed.

He directs the UB Signature Center for Excellence in Augmented Communication (CEAC) and is a partner in the university’s Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Communication Enhancement (AAC-RERC).

Fellowship is one of the highest honors bestowed by the ASHA, the national professional, scientific and credentialing association for more than 173,070 audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students.

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Student’s water- and solar-powered lens purifies polluted water

Water may appear to be an abundant resource, but in some parts of the world clean water is hard to come by.

That could change through the work of Deshawn Henry, a sophomore civil engineering major, who researched how to improve a 6-foot-tall, self-sustaining magnifying glass.

Properly termed a water lens, the device uses another abundant resource — sunlight — to heat and disinfect polluted water. Since the frame for the lens can be constructed from commonly found materials — wood, plastic sheeting and water — the lens can be built for almost no cost, offering an inexpensive method to treat water.

The device may not look like much, but it can heat a liter of water to between 130 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit in a little more than an hour, destroying 99.9 percent of bacteria and pathogens.

“The water lens could have a huge impact in developing countries,” says Henry, who performed the study under James Jensen, professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering.

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