University of Connecticut University of UC Title Fallback Connecticut

July, 2017

UConn Professor: Light Show Dances To The Beat Of The Music

Published by the Hartford Courant

Rebecca Lurye

EAST HARTFORD — LED strips and twinkle lights flash constantly in the office of University of Connecticut professor Ed Large, just waiting for a beat to latch onto.

They’re controlled by a brain, an intelligent listening system designed by Large, who himself is partial to jazz and funk. He thinks his invention, Synchrony LED, which listens to music and creates real-time light shows, is too.

“If you play a rhythmically boring song. it’ll just go with the beat and it becomes boring really fast,” Large said of Synchrony’s lighting effects. “But if you listen to music that has an interesting rhythm, that’s when it does super interesting things.”

Large teaches psychological science and physics and directs UConn’s music dynamics laboratory. Synchrony, his first commercial product after 25 years of research, will be available for sale to the public this winter.

Synchrony works in the same way that people bounce their knees to a tune; the same way that mangroves full of fireflies in Southeast Asia blink their lights in unison; the same way that pacemaker cells all fire at once to make our hearts beat.

People, organisms and even cells have a natural rate of internal vibrations, or oscillations. This back-and-forth activity tends to sync up with surrounding vibrations. In humans, this is particularly effective with music, which explains how a snappy tune can set people tapping their toes, nodding their heads and harmonizing to the beat.

Synchrony does the same, just with patterns of light.

And the more Large learns about the way the brain perceives sound, the more intricate Synchrony’s effects will become, he said.

“At this stage of programming, we’re not going to compete with a light show that somebody spent two months programming,” he said. “But we will.”

Large began the project in October from the office he rents at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, a nonproft manufacturing innovation hub on Pitkin Street. He launched a Kickstarter campaign in June and, by July 12, raised more than $60,000 to move into final engineering and production.

Large says he’s already seen interest from other companies interested in using his technology in their own sound-capturing products and apps, which is exactly what he was hoping for.

“One goal of this was to show off to them,” Large said.

Unlike other sound-activated light shows on the market — some of which sell for about $25 — Large’s nearly $200 version does not need to be programmed and its visuals go beyond flashing in time with every note.

Using a built-in microphone and an advanced neural network, it synchronizes its rhythms like the human brain does, intelligently translating songs into patterns that mimic the way we process music.

“We’re taking a flashing light and making it feel really good to watch,” said Dylan Reilly, chief technology officer for Large’s company, Oscilloscape.

A starter kit, including a controller box and one LED strip or two LED strings, will sell for $189.

Large says it all started with the desire to understand how the brain predicts and hears the beat of a song.

“It seems like it’s so easy and it’s so obvious. You listen to music, and there it is,” Large said. “But no one knew how it was done.”

In the early 1990s, he decided to go to graduate school to study in the then-novel field of music cognition.

Since then, his experiments have ranged far and wide, including finding a bonobo at the Jacksonville Zoo that was amenable to banging on a drum to a steady beat.

Large wanted to prove that apes could sense oscillations in music the same as humans, and the same as Snowball the dancing cockatoo, whose head-banging and high-kicking moves gained Youtube fame in the mid-2000s. The parrot was deemed the first animal capable of “beat induction,” or perceiving music and synchronizing body movements to it.

Large has moved on to another group of bonobos in Iowa, but his auditory research has also attracted the attention of the U.S. Air Force, which issued him contracts worth $2.5 million.

The technology behind Synchrony was developed with significant grants from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, Large said.

He went through several iterations of the product itself. The first concept, wearable pins, were bad business — too costly to manufacture for the price people would be willing to pay. A second idea, rave gloves, was a bit too complicated.

Then he hit on LED strips.

“It was really captivating. When you see it happen, you just can’t take your eyes off it,” Large said. “So we decided that’s got to be the thing.” Large says he plans to send the first round of products to his backers in time for them to string up their Christmas trees.

And though holiday lighting was Large’s original concept, and it remains one of his favorites, he says Synchrony works best with songs that have some funk. The more complex the music, the more interesting the visuals.

When he was developing the system, Large played Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” on repeat.

And no, he’s used to saying: That didn’t ruin the music.

“You could play that song for me every moment of the day.”

UConn Pathobiologist, Paulo Verardi, Discusses Continued Efforts to Tackle the Zika Virus on WNPR’s Where We Live

Published by WNPR on July 24, 2017

Jeff Tyson and Lucy Nalpathanchil

It’s mosquito season and the Zika virus still remains a threat in many parts of the world — including here in the U.S.

This hour, we hear the latest on efforts to develop a Zika vaccine and we find out what researchers have learned since last summer about how the virus causes microcephaly in newborns.

Are you concerned about traveling to Zika affected states or countries?

And later, a Norwalk mother facing deportation has sought sanctuary in a New Haven church. What can we learn from a very similar story in Denver?

Plus, it has been 10 years since the horrific murders of a Cheshire mother and her two daughters in their suburban home. Hartford Courant reporter Alaine Griffin will join us to reflect on her experience covering the killer’s criminal trials.

GUESTS:

You can listen to the conversation here

UConn Study: Reduced Oxygen Nanocrystalline Materials Show Improved Performance

Published by Phys.org on July 17, 2017

Researchers at the University of Connecticut have found that reducing oxygen in some nanocrystalline materials may improve their strength and durability at elevated temperatures, a promising enhancement that could lead to better biosensors, faster jet engines, and greater capacity semiconductors.

“Stabilizing nanocrystals at elevated temperatures is a common challenge,” says Peiman Shahbeigi-Roodposhti, a postdoctoral research scholar with UConn’s Institute of Materials Science and the study’s lead author. “In certain alloys, we found that high levels of oxygen can lead to a significant reduction in their efficiency.”

Using a special milling process in an enclosed glove box filled with argon gas, UConn scientists, working in collaboration with researchers from North Carolina State University, were able to synthesize nano-sized crystals of Iron-Chromium and Iron-Chromium-Hafnium with oxygen levels as low as 0.01 percent. These nearly oxygen-free alloy powders appeared to be much more stable than their commercial counterparts with higher oxygen content at elevated temperatures and under high levels of stress.

“In this study, for the first time, optimum oxygen-free nanomaterials were developed,” says Sina Shahbazmohamadi, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UConn and a co-author on the paper. “Various characterization techniques, including advanced aberration corrected transmission electron microscopy, revealed a significant improvement in grain size stability at elevated temperatures.”

Grain size stability is important for scientists seeking to develop the next generation of advanced materials. Like fine links in an intricately woven mesh, grains are the small solids from which metals are made. Studies have shown that smaller grains are better when it comes to making stronger and tougher metals that are less prone to cracking, better conductors of electricity, and more durable at high temperatures and under extreme stress. Recent advances in technology have allowed materials scientists to develop  at the scale of just 10 nanometers, which is tens of thousands of times smaller than the thickness of a sheet of paper or the width of a human hair. Such nanocrystals can only be viewed under extremely powerful microscopes.

But the process isn’t perfect. When some nanograins are created in bulk for applications such as semiconductors, the stability of their size can fluctuate under higher temperatures and stress. It was during the investigation of this instability that Shahbeigi-Roodposhti and the UConn research team learned the role oxygen played in weakening the nanocrystals’ stability at .

“This is only a first step, but this line of investigation could ultimately lead to developing faster jet engines, more capacity in semiconductors, and more sensitivity in biosensors,” Shahbeigi-Roodposhti says.

Moving forward, the UConn researchers intend to test their theory on other alloys to see whether the presence or absence of oxygen impacts their performance at elevated temperatures.

The study, “Effect of  content on thermal stability of grain size for nanocrystalline Fe10Cr and Fe14Cr4Hf alloy powders,” which was supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, currently appears online in the Journal of Alloys and Compounds.

Growing UConn’s Research Enterprise with an Inclusive Approach

Published by UConn Innovation Portal on 7/27/2017

Jessica McBride

Dr. Radenka Maric, newly appointed Vice President for Research at UConn and UConn Health, intends to grow the university’s research enterprise by increasing strategic connections within and beyond the university’s walls.

“Collaboration is going to become the model of the future for scientists,” Maric explains. “I want to bring more faculty, companies, and foundations together on collaborative projects to grow UConn’s capabilities and increase our chances of receiving substantial funding for cutting-edge research. We cannot do that alone.”

UConn officials say it is Maric’s combination of scientific and industry expertise that sets her apart. Her unique career path has helped her facilitate strategic partnerships with diverse stakeholders, which is important given the highly competitive funding environment and uncertain federal budget for research.

“She has a proven track record as an innovative thought leader and world-class researcher in both corporate and academic environments, and is highly respected by fellow faculty, graduate students, and others within the UConn community” says Jeremy Teitelbaum, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at UConn. “We are thrilled to have someone with Radenka’s unique background and global perspective to lead UConn’s continued growth in research, scholarship, and creative initiatives.”

Maric began her research career at the Japan Fine Ceramics Center where she managed technology development for fuel cells, electronics, and biomaterials applications. From there she moved across the world to the U.S. to work in the private sector at nGimat Corporation (formerly known as Micro Coating Technologies), a leading manufacturer and innovator of engineered thin films and nanopowder technologies. After five years with nGimat, she took on a leadership role at the National Research Council of Canada’s Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation where she led efforts to develop a breakthrough thin film deposition technology that enables next generation semiconductor and advanced fuel cell materials production at significantly reduced costs and enhanced performance.

In addition to her current responsibilities at UConn, she is also the founder of a biotech startup based on her research.

As Vice President for Research, Maric wants to build on the momentum she has already seen at UConn since coming to the university in 2010 through the Eminent Faculty Initiative in Sustainable Energy program. Increased focus on partnerships with industry leaders in UConn’s areas of strength, additional entrepreneurial training for faculty and students that leads to startup creation, and bigger emphasis on large-scale, multi-institution grants all provide an excellent foundation for improving and promoting UConn’s status as a top public research university, says Maric.

“The amount of talent at UConn and UConn Health is staggering,” says Maric. “During my time here, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of energy put in to making the university better. I want to galvanize our best resources – our people – and leverage our state-of-art research infrastructure to enhance opportunities for collaborations.”

In the first weeks of her tenure as VPR, Maric has already begun to reach into all corners of the state’s flagship university to connect faculty and students with opportunities that can help UConn grow and benefit the state. Specific efforts will focus on linking researchers across schools, departments, and campuses to enable cross-disciplinary research that aligns with federal science and health initiatives, such as those for manufacturing technologies, microbiome research, and the National Institutes of Health’s recent BRAIN Initiative.

She recently met with faculty and students from the School of Dental Medicine at UConn Health to discuss many opportunities that exist at UConn to expose scientific researchers to commercialization and entrepreneurship in order to translate their lab discoveries into products on the market.

Maric has formulated initiatives to carry out her ambitious mission including efforts that:

  • Utilize emerging data on federal funding priorities to align and promote UConn research capacity and increase UConn’s research competiveness based on these trends.
  • Enable and empower faculty to focus on large-scale global research opportunities with corporate and foundation partners.
  • Convene cross disciplinary research teams able to target and cultivate relationships with other academic institutions, national labs, industry, and government partners to build new comprehensive strategic partnerships.
  • Facilitate strong communications, dialogue, and coordination to foster an exciting intellectual environment that encourages new engagement among different schools.
  • Increase external promotions that demonstrate the unique value and capacity of UConn research, with particular emphasis in areas of interest to funding agencies, foundations, and industry.
  • Provide faculty with access to industry mentors, information about market opportunities, and seed funding to align their academic research projects with industry priorities and increase the quantity of UConn inventions.

“We want to grow our faculty; we want to grow our students; and we want to grow an increasingly strong portfolio of companies that are associated with UConn through the future Innovation Partnership Building (IPB) and other initiatives like the UConn Technology Incubation Program (TIP),” says Maric. “We want partners that will help us build specific research clusters as part of a consortium model to show that we have the critical mass to lead.”

Prior to her role as VPR, Maric served as executive director of UConn’s IPB. Her ability to build fundamental and applied research and technology commercialization capabilities with a keen eye towards government, industry, and academic interests has been instrumental to the $132 million project. Her leadership has already leveraged more than $80 million in industry and federal agency projects.  The IPB is scheduled to open its doors to industry and academic researchers in the fall of 2017. As VPR, the IPB will remain within the scope of Maric’s responsibilities and extends her ability to connect UConn with startups and industry leaders.

In addition to being responsible for managing successful partnerships with General Electric, Comcast, UTC Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney and Eversource that are key to the IPB,  Maric has a history of creating collaborations between UConn and industry, such as sponsored projects with United Technologies Research Center, Sonalysts, Proton OnSite, NGK Spark Plugs, Advent Technologies, Cabot, and Danbury-based FuelCell Energy.

“Dr. Maric is fluent in many languages, but one of the most important languages she speaks is that of industry,” says Dr. Hossein Ghezel-Ayagh, Director of Advanced Technology at FuelCell Energy and one of Maric’s frequent collaborators. “We’re looking forward to continuing our partnership with her, since she understands first-hand the needs of industry and the potential gain for all involved when researchers with diverse backgrounds and complementary strengths, such as industry and academic scientists, innovate together.”

Continuing to consider UConn’s impact throughout the state, Maric is also currently serving on CTNext’s Higher Education Innovation & Entrepreneurship Working Group composed of leaders from in-state public and independent colleges and universities. The group is drafting a master plan that aims to facilitate collaboration and cooperation, identify funding opportunities, establish a state-wide intercollegiate business plan competition, and scale existing or emergent programs at institutions of higher education around the state.

Beyond science and technology, Maric is committed to supporting the arts, social sciences and humanities by facilitating partnerships and sponsorships for creative projects, concerts, and exhibits. She also hopes to encourage interactions between faculty from non-STEM fields like digital media and design with those from scientific disciplines like engineering. She is confident that these connections will lead to positive impacts for faculty, students, and the state.

“Connecticut has made a significant investment in UConn aimed at building infrastructure, improving education, and training the states’ future workforce. UConn’s research enterprise is a critically important part of making sure this happens,” says Maric. “It helps drive Connecticut’s innovation economy by forging important partnerships, commercializing life-saving technologies, supporting entrepreneurship, and preparing talented graduates for high-wage jobs.”

Maric earned her BS in materials science from the University of Belgrade, and her MS and PhD in materials science and energy from the University of Kyoto. Her research interests include nanomaterials and thin films, the effect of structure, defects, and microstructure on transport and electrical properties of surfaces and interfaces. In particular, she is interested in developing novel materials for fuel cells, batteries, and biomaterials. Maric has been invited to give keynote addresses at numerous international conferences, was named the Connecticut Technology Council’s Woman of Innovation in 2016, and was selected to be a Fulbright Scholar at Politecnico Di Milano in Italy in 2016-2017. She has authored over 100 journal publications and holds four patents.

 

UConn Researchers Develop Fireproof Plastics Thanks to Mother-of-Pearl Mimic

Published by True Viral News on 7/20/2017

It’s a technicolour dreamcoat for your crisp packet – a strong, flame-retardant and airtight new material that mimics mother of pearl.

The natural version, also called nacre, is found on the inner shell of some molluscs, where it is built up of layers of the mineral aragonite separated by organic polymers such as chitin. It is remarkably strong, without being brittle or dense.

We would like to use nacre and similar materials as a protective coating in many situations. However, making them is a slow and delicate process that is difficult to recreate at any useful scale. Artificial nacre-like materials are usually painstakingly built up layer by layer, but Luyi Sun at the University of Connecticut in Storrs and his colleagues found a way to do it all in one go.

With their quick method, they were able to make their thin film coating 60 per cent stronger than stainless steel. A plastic sheet covered in the material was over 13,000 times less permeable to air and other gases than it was on its own. When the team tried to set it on fire, it became scorched where the flame directly touched the coated sheet, but would not ignite.

To form the film, the researchers mixed a type of clay that sheds layers when exposed to ultrasonic pulses with water and a polymer to stick the layers together. They then dipped strips of plastic the size of standard sheets of paper in the mixture to coat them.

When the coated sheets of plastic are hung up like drying laundry, the thin liquid layer flows towards the ground, pulling the nanometre-thick sheets of clay into alignment with one another like neatly laid bricks. This is crucial for keeping the coating strong and airtight.

Finally, the material was placed in an oven, drying the sticky polymer sandwiched between the clay layers. The whole process can be completed in a matter of minutes.

“Traditionally people make this kind of material very tiny, fingernail-sized, and it would take maybe a week to coat a small object like this,” says Sun. “Now we can do it easily on standard-sized paper in minutes.”

Fast and friendly

Because of the method’s speed and environmentally friendly components, it would be easy to apply it to a variety of applications that require an airtight or flame-retardant coating.

“Some biodegradable plastics have a bunch of bad properties – they have a poor barrier and they’re flammable,” says Jaime Grunlan at Texas A&M University in College Station. “With this coating, they could compete with higher-performance polymers.”

The coating could potentially be used in food-related products such as crisp bags, which are now generally coated in aluminium that can leak into the environment and has been linked to a number of health problems.

Applications in electronics generally require barriers against air and moisture that are stronger than what Sun and his colleagues were able to achieve, but in principle their nacre-mimicking coating could be used on cellphone parts to stop them from being ruined or combusting.

Sun says that his team is working with industry partners to commercialise the coating method so that objects can be continuously dipped, hung and baked. He hopes it will be widely used in the next year or so.

UConn Incubator Company’s Cardiovascular Connected Healthcare Provides A Solution for AFIB

Published by Med Device Online on 7/19/2017

Bob Marshall

Atrial fibrillation (also called AFib) is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications. At least 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib, according the American Heart Association (AHA). A worldwide study of AFib epidemiology from 1990 to 2010 estimated its prevalence at 33.5 million males and 12.6 million females in the year 2010.

During AFib, the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) do not beat effectively to move blood into the ventricles, which can result in clotting. If a resulting clot breaks off, enters the bloodstream and lodges in an artery leading to the brain, a stroke results. About 15–20 percent of people who have strokes have this heart arrhythmia, and this clot risk is why patients with AFib are often put on blood thinners.

The AHA provides these examples of how patients have described their experience:

“My heart flip-flops, skips beats, and feels like it’s banging against my chest wall, especially if I’m carrying stuff up my stairs or bending down.”

“I was nauseated, light-headed, and weak. I had a really fast heartbeat and felt like I was gasping for air.”

“I had no symptoms at all. I discovered my AF at a regular check-up.”

This third example is most troubling – due to a lack of symptoms and the intermittent nature of AFib, many people are unaware they have a serious condition that doubles the risk of heart-related death and is associated with a 5X increased risk for stroke. In addition, the prevalence of AFib increased by nearly five percent between 1990 and 2010, and the mortality rate doubled during the same time period, according to the above study.

Historical means of detecting AFib have included traditional electrocardiographs (ECGs) used during stress tests, Holter monitors, and event monitors. Holter monitors are portable ECGs worn to measure and record heart activity, continuously, over a period of 24-48 hours. The recordings then are reviewed by medical professionals to look for occurrences of AFib. Event monitors are used over a longer period of time (up to 30 days), and they are triggered by the patient when that patient experiences an irregularity, or “flutter,” and pushes a button to note the sensation. Recordings from just prior to the trigger are sent to medical professionals, who review the irregularity experienced by the patient and recommend further action, if necessary.

These means of monitoring are able to help identify whether a patient is experiencing AFib in some cases, but given the intermittent nature of the condition, such devices’ use for limited amounts of time can fail to capture proof of the cardiac rhythm problem. The electrodes attached to the skin can cause irritation — especially in the case of an event monitor, where the electrodes have to be removed and replaced every day or two over a period of several weeks. Additionally, it is a nuisance to remove Holter and event monitors for showering and bathing, and subsequently to reconnect them.

Cardiovascular Connected Healthcare Provides A Solution

All of these challenges led Dr. David A. McManus, an electrophysiologist and cardiologist at UMass Memorial Medical Center, to research with his colleagues and develop an alternative device. McManus is clinical director for Mobile Sense Technologies in Farmington, CT, as well as inventor of the company’s SensBand. The SensBand, claims to fill the gap between short duration adhesive monitors and long duration sub-cutaneous implants. It connects with the patient’s smartphone to provide continuous monitoring for AFib, and to enable data sharing with the patient’s doctor. Connected cardiovascular care provides a means to better engage patients in managing their own care, and is aimed at producing value-based outcomes. Detecting and monitoring AFib reduces stroke risk, improves the quality of life for patients, and reduces the overall cost of healthcare.

In 2013, McManus published in HeartRhythm the article A Novel Application for the Detection of an Irregular Pulse using an iPhone 4S in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation. In the piece, he describes a clinical study of 76 adult subjects with persistent AFib. Pulsatile time series recordings were obtained before and after cardioversion using an iPhone 4S camera. A novel smartphone application conducted real-time pulse analysis using 2 different statistical methods. The sensitivity, specificity, and predictive accuracy of both algorithms were examined using the 12-lead electrocardiogram as the gold standard. An algorithm combining the 2 statistical methods demonstrated excellent sensitivity (0.962), specificity (0.975), and accuracy (0.968) for beat-to-beat discrimination of an irregular pulse during AFib from sinus rhythm.

The application was further evaluated in a study of 2000 people in India. McManus has stated that his goal is simple. He wants to keep people with AFib living longer and living well. “If the disease is diagnosed in time, it can go from life-threatening to an inconvenience – something you die with, not from,” he said.

UConn Research: In Frogs, Early Activity of Gut Microbiome Shapes Later Health

Published by UConn Today on 7/20/2017

Biologists at the University of Connecticut and University of South Florida have found that a crucial window in the development of tadpoles may influence a frog’s ability to fight infectious diseases as an adult.

The scientists showed that an early-life disruption of the gut and skin bacterial communities of tadpoles later affects the adult frogs’ ability to fight off parasitic gut worms. Led by Sarah Knutie of UConn, the team published its findings in the July 20 edition of Nature Communications.

“Our study found that a disruption of bacteria in tadpoles has enduring negative effects on how adult frogs deal with their parasites,” Knutie said. “These results suggest that preventing early-life disruptions of bacteria by factors such as nutrition, antibiotics, and pollution, might confer protection against diseases later in life.”

The project is significant not only for the insight it provides in threats to the health of the world’s frogs, but in its potential applicability to understanding the immune systems of mammals and even humans.

The impact of a healthy bacterial community in the gut is an increasing focus of scientists looking to understand a wide range of ailments in many species, including humans. Previous research has found that an early-life disruption of the gut microbiota in mammals can result in a hyper-reactive immune system that may increase the subsequent risk of immune-related health issues, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases.

Testing the effects of early-life disruption of the microbiota on later-life resistance to infections. Photos by Mark Yokoyama)
Testing the effects of early-life disruption of the microbiota on later-life resistance to infections. (Photos by Mark Yokoyama)

In their experiments, the scientific team manipulated the bacterial communities of Cuban tree frog tadpoles and then exposed them to parasites later in life. The tadpoles were either raised in natural pond water or one of three other treatments to manipulate the bacterial communities: sterile pond water, sterile pond water with short-term antibiotics, or sterile pond water with long-term antibiotics.

Adult frogs that had reduced bacterial diversity as tadpoles had three times more parasites than adults that did not have their microbiota disrupted as tadpoles, the study found. Those results suggest that preventing early-life disruptions of host-associated bacterial communities might reduce infection risk later in life.

“We think that the microbiota of juveniles likely played a role in priming the immune system against parasite establishment,” the researchers wrote. “We found that the relative abundance of certain bacteria … in juveniles was positively correlated with parasite resistance in adulthood.”

Knutie began the research as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of South Florida, and recently joined the UConn faculty.

The project was funded by the National Science Foundation, the British Ecological Society, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

To read the article, click here.

UConn Researcher: In Making Decisions, Are You an Ant or a Grasshopper?

Published by UConn Today on July 19, 2017

Elaina Hancock

In one of Aesop’s famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, while the dutiful ant toils away preparing for the winter.

Findings in a recent publication by UConn psychology researcher Susan Zhu and colleagues add to a growing body of evidence that, although it may seem less appealing, the ant’s gratification-delaying strategy should not be viewed in a negative light.

“This decision strategy can be harder or more time-consuming in the moment, but it appears to have the best outcome in the long run, even if it isn’t fun,” says Zhu.

The ant is what the researchers would call a maximizer. A maximizer is someone who makes decisions that they expect will impact themselves and others most favorably: they seek to “maximize” the positive and make the best choices imaginable. Yet the ant may consider so many variables that the same tendency to maximize benefit may lead to difficulty in making decisions. Previous research suggested this, with maximizers being less happy overall, having higher stress levels, and possibly regretting decisions they made.

Zhu suggests that maximizing has beneficial consequences.

“Maximizers are forward thinking, conscientious, optimistic, and satisfied,” she says. “Though a lot of work and thought go into those decisions, maximizing has beneficial outcomes.”

Surviving the winter perhaps?

On the other end of the spectrum, the grasshopper is more of what researchers might refer to as a satisficer (satisfy plus suffice = satisfice), or someone who will be happy with things being “good enough,” who tends to opt for instant gratification and tends to live moment to moment.

“A satisficer will make a decision, feel good about making it, and move on,” says Zhu.

The ant and the grasshopper are of course extreme examples of each dispositional type, and most people exhibit both qualities. “There tends to be a bell curve and most people fall towards the middle and exhibit aspects of both tendencies,” Zhu says.

To conduct the study, the researchers used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or MTurk service, where their survey was given to hundreds of participants, generating a pool of data.

Survey takers were asked questions regarding financial decisions, namely savings habits and tendencies. They rated various statements, such as “I never settle for second best,” on a five-point scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The questionnaire was designed to gauge whether participants tended to maximize their decisions, how they felt their decisions would impact the future, and how they viewed smaller immediate rewards or larger future rewards.

The survey also looked at how participants expected their decisions to affect the future. They were asked to rate statements like, “I consider how things might be in the future and try to influence those things with my day to day behavior,” and “I often think about saving money for the future,” and to provide information about lifetime savings amounts and current income.

“What we are measuring are tendencies,” says Zhu. “When we ask what people tend to do, they’re pretty stable and can be pretty good predictors for actual behavior.”

Once data was gathered, researchers crunched the numbers and observed trends. With maximizers, the data suggested a positive relationship with their future-oriented thinking, better money-saving habits, and concern for the future of others.

The main takeaway? Zhu says, “Maximizing can be a good thing. Previous research looked at decision-making difficulty and other negative outcomes, and that added a negative connotation to maximizing tendencies. We’re trying to frame it in light of the high standards and the beneficial outcomes, to help reshape the view of maximizing.”

No matter where you fall on the spectrum, take advice from both the forward thinking ant andthe fun-loving grasshopper. Plan for the future, but also have some fun now.

UConn Researchers: When Less Oxygen Means Better Performance

Published by UConn Today on 7/17/17

Colin Poitras

Researchers at the University of Connecticut have found that reducing oxygen in some nanocrystalline materials may improve their strength and durability at elevated temperatures, a promising enhancement that could lead to better biosensors, faster jet engines, and greater capacity semiconductors.

“Stabilizing nanocrystals at elevated temperatures is a common challenge,” says Peiman Shahbeigi-Roodposhti, a postdoctoral research scholar with UConn’s Institute of Materials Science and the study’s lead author. “In certain alloys, we found that high levels of oxygen can lead to a significant reduction in their efficiency.”

Using a special milling process in an enclosed box filled with argon gas, UConn scientists, working in collaboration with researchers from North Carolina State University, were able to synthesize nano-sized crystals of Iron-Chromium and Iron-Chromium-Hafnium with oxygen levels as low as 0.01 percent. These nearly oxygen-free alloy powders appeared to be much more stable than their commercial counterparts with higher oxygen content at elevated temperatures and under high levels of stress.

“In this study, for the first time, optimum oxygen-free nanomaterials were developed,” says Sina Shahbazmohamadi, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UConn and a co-author on the paper. “Various characterization techniques, including advanced aberration corrected transmission electron microscopy, revealed a significant improvement in grain size stability at elevated temperatures.”

Postdoctoral researcher Peiman Shahbegi and an undergraduate student in materials science work with a glove box to produce nanomaterials.
Postdoctoral researcher Peiman Shahbegi-Roodposhti and an undergraduate student in materials science work with a glove box to produce nanomaterials.

Grain size stability is important for scientists seeking to develop the next generation of advanced materials. Like fine links in an intricately woven mesh, grains are the small solids from which metals are made. Studies have shown that smaller grains are better when it comes to making stronger and tougher metals that are less prone to cracking, better conductors of electricity, and more durable at high temperatures and under extreme stress. Recent advances in technology have allowed materials scientists to develop grains at the scale of just 10 nanometers, which is tens of thousands of times smaller than the thickness of a sheet of paper or the width of a human hair. Such nanocrystals can only be viewed under extremely powerful microscopes.

But the process isn’t perfect. When some nanograins are created in bulk for applications such as semiconductors, the stability of their size can fluctuate under higher temperatures and stress. It was during the investigation of this instability that Shahbeigi-Roodposhti and the UConn research team learned the role oxygen played in weakening the nanocrystals’ stability at high temperatures.

“This is only a first step, but this line of investigation could ultimately lead to developing faster jet engines, more capacity in semiconductors, and more sensitivity in biosensors,” Shahbeigi-Roodposhti says.

Moving forward, the UConn researchers intend to test their theory on other alloys to see whether the presence or absence of oxygen impacts their performance at elevated temperatures.

The study, “Effect of oxygen content on thermal stability of grain size for nanocrystalline Fe10Cr and Fe14Cr4Hf alloy powders,” which was supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, currently appears online in the Journal of Alloys and Compounds.

Also serving as co-authors on the paper were Mostafa Saber, an assistant professor at Portland State University; and Professors Ronald Scattergood and Carl Koch from North Carolina State University. DOE funding supporting the research was acquired by Scattergood’s lab.

 

UConn Study: No Chocolate Milk? No Problem, Kids Get Used to Plain Milk

Published by UConn Today on 7/14/2017

Daniel P. Jones

A new study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut has found that most students adjust to drinking plain milk after flavored milk is removed from school lunch menus.

Flavored milk served in the National School Lunch Program contains up to 10 grams of added sugar per serving, which is 40 percent of a child’s daily allowance of added sugar. Given the nation’s key public health target of limiting added sugars in children’s diets, flavored milk has come under scrutiny in the context of school nutrition.

The study measured plain milk selection and consumption in the years after flavored milk was removed in two schools. During the first year without flavored milk, 51.5 percent of students selected plain milk. Two years later, 72 percent of students selected plain milk. Both years, student selection and consumption of plain milk dropped significantly on days when 100 percent fruit juice was also available.

“The decision to remove flavored milk has both nutritional benefits and potential costs. It is clearly an effective way to lower student intake of added sugars at lunch, and over time, the majority of students will switch to plain milk,” said Marlene Schwartz, professor of human development and family studies, director of the UConn Rudd Center, and lead author of the study. “However, there will always be some students who don’t like plain milk. The challenge is finding a way to meet their dietary needs by providing other nutrient-rich options at lunch.”

The study, published July 14 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, has implications for school nutrition policy and efforts to reduce added sugars in children’s diets.

The study was conducted in two elementary (K-8) schools in an urban New England school district during the 2010-2011 and 2012-2013 school years. Researchers assessed the selection and consumption of milk immediately after flavored milk was removed in the 2010-2011 school year, and two years later in the 2012-2013 school year.

The selection and consumption of milk were compared on days when 100 percent fruit juice was offered and not offered. The average number of students in the lunch line when data was collected was 369 in one school, and 391 in the other school.

The study’s key findings show:

  • The first school year after flavored milk was removed, 51.5 percent of students selected milk and drank 4 ounces per carton, indicating school-wide per-student consumption of 2.1 ounces.
  • Two years later, 72 percent of students selected milk and drank 3.4 ounces per carton, significantly increasing the school-wide per-student consumption to 2.5 ounces.
  • Older students and boys consumed significantly more milk.
  • The availability of 100 percent fruit juice at lunch was associated with a significant decrease in students selecting milk and lower milk consumption per carton throughout the years of the study.

“On days when schools had 100 percent juice, milk selection dropped considerably,” Schwartz said. “To maximize student nutrition, the best combination may be to offer plain milk and whole fruit every day.”

The study was funded by the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs and the Rudd Foundation.

Study co-authors include Kathryn Henderson of Henderson Consulting, Margaret Read, a research assistant at the UConn Rudd Center, and Talea Cornelius, a UConn graduate student.