University of Connecticut University of UC Title Fallback Connecticut

Exec. Director, Innovation, External Engagement & Industry Relations

Dear Colleagues,

I am pleased to announce that Dr. Mark Aindow will serve as Executive Director for Innovation, External Engagement, and Industry Relations beginning this coming fall. In addition to introducing Dr. Aindow, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the search committee and the other members of the university community who assisted during the search process.

In this role, Dr. Aindow will serve as a catalyst for new interactions between faculty, potential commercial partners, and other research organizations to support and articulate UConn’s technology innovation and research capacity. He is tasked with identifying and promoting initiatives that provide growth opportunities for applied research through technology transfer and industry partnerships. We will also look to Dr. Aindow to develop large-scale interdisciplinary, center-level initiatives, and proposals involving multiple researchers, and to coordinate with the OVPR and Government Relations to keep state agencies and congressional offices informed as appropriate, as we seek to gain support for new federal initiatives that align with UConn’s strategic priorities.

Dr. Aindow brings with him 27 years of experience in collaborative, interdisciplinary research with industry, academic, and other partners. He understands that in order for UConn to expand our research funding portfolio, it is essential that we look beyond the boundaries of traditional opportunities and that we increase outreach in emerging areas of strength for the University.

Dr. Aindow’s research, which is often interdisciplinary and invariably includes an industrial partner or sponsor, involves the study of microstructural development in engineering materials using, primarily, electron microscopy techniques. These projects include work with companies like GE Energy, Thermo Fisher Scientific (formerly FEI), and UTC Aerospace Systems, and all are associated with broader industry partnerships with UConn including: the GE/UConn partnership, the UConn/FEI Center for Advanced Microscopy and Materials Analysis (CAMMA), and the UConn/UTAS Center for Advanced Materials.

Dr. Aindow received a BEng in Metallurgy and Materials Science in 1985 and a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering in 1988 from the University of Liverpool. He joined the faculty at the University of Connecticut in 1999 and is currently a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE). While at UConn, Dr. Aindow served as Director of the MSE Program from 2006-2009 and as Associate Director for the Institute of Materials Science from 2013-2017. He has published over 350 peer-reviewed papers in journals and conference proceedings, and has graduated 29 PhDs.

We are thrilled to have someone with Dr. Aindow’s extensive experience as both an internationally recognized scientist and collaborator to lead these efforts. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Aindow on his new role!

 

Sincerely,

Dr. Radenka Maric
Vice President for Research
UConn/UConn Health

ResearchMatch Training

ResearchMatch.org is a national online recruitment tool, funded by the National Institutes of Health and maintained at Vanderbilt University. ResearchMatch connects researchers with individuals interested in participating in research studies, through its secure, online matching tool. There is no cost to UConn researchers to use ResearchMatch.

To learn more about using ResearchMatch for your studies, register for the free ResearchMatch Researcher Webinar Training/Live Demo on Thursday, July 12, 2018 from 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.mThe training is open to all research staff. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with instructions on joining the training.

The team at ResearchMatch will show you how to register your studies, create a cohort of potential volunteers and send out contact messages and surveys. They will also cover how to send a pre-screening (eligibility) survey, contact the volunteers that replied ‘yes’ to your initial message, and manage your enrollment continuum.

To register for the training, click here:

https://attendee.gototraining.com/r/9112903382698216193

For additional information, contact Ellen Ciesielski (eciesielski@uchc.edu; 860-679-6004).

OVPR Quarterly Reports

Dear Colleagues,

Now that data have been finalized, I would like to provide you with several reports relating to sponsored program activity—both research and education/service—managed by Sponsored Program Services within the Office of the Vice President for Research at UConn and UConn Health. These reports include:

In the reports, data are presented in two ways: by the PI’s Academic Home Department and by the Managing Department or Center/Institute. Please refer to the first pages of the reports for definitions and information regarding the data. Should you have any questions regarding these quarterly reports, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Please note that we have included an additional Summary of Sponsored Program Activity, which includes the Effective F&A rate on awards. This information provides a snapshot of our activity as compared to the same period last year.

Through the 3rd quarter of FY2018, we have seen continued increases in Proposal and Award amounts over the same period in FY2017, while Expenditures have declined. We believe that the delayed federal budget last year impacted federal awards in FY2017, particularly at UCH; the effects of which were less pronounced at Storrs due to a more diverse funding portfolio. Award rates are expected to return to more traditional levels by the end of the year. FY2018 combined Expenditures across both campuses are on track with FY2017 spending; however, there has been a decrease at UConn Health which has been offset by an increase at Storrs.

The OVPR continues to seek creative solutions that allow UConn and UConn Health to grow our research enterprise through federal funding, industry partnerships, and collaboration with foundations. I am confident we can continue upward trends by continuing to work together, aggressively applying for extramural funding, and pursuing new channels of support for the tremendous research, scholarship, and creative activities taking place every day at UConn and UConn Health.

Thank you for your continued commitment and contribution to our students, to your research and scholarship, and to UConn/UConn Health.

Sincerely,

Dr. Radenka Maric
Vice President for Research
UConn/UConn Health
Professor in Sustainable Energy
438 Whitney Road Ext., Unit 1006
Storrs, CT 06269
Storrs: 860.486.3621
UCH: 860.679.2230

Twitter: https://twitter.com/uconnresearch
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/uconnresearch/

Revised & New University-Wide Research Policies

 

The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) Research Compliance Services would like to share some important updates regarding university policies for animal use, human subjects, and stem cell research. These policies were revised to be consistent with federal requirements and are now in effect for all campuses, including UConn Health.  A new university-wide policy to address FDA, NIH, and CMS requirements for registration of applicable trials to ClinicalTrials.gov has also been published.

 

Please see links to published policies below.

 

ClinicalTrials.gov: https://policy.uconn.edu/?p=7310

Animal Use in Research, Teaching and Testing: https://policy.uconn.edu/?p=113

Human Stem Cell Research Approval: https://policy.uconn.edu/?p=2453

Human Subjects Research: https://policy.uconn.edu/?p=406

 

For additional information, contact Ellen Ciesielski (eciesielski@uchc.edu, 860-679-6004).

Attending Veterinarian and Director of Animal Care Services

Dear Colleagues,

I am pleased to announce that following a national search, we have selected Dr. Curtis Schondelmeyer, DVM, DACLAM to serve as Attending Veterinarian and Director of Animal Care Services for UConn’s Storrs and regional campuses, effective June 22, 2018. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the search committee and other members of the university community who assisted in conducting the search, met with candidates, and provided feedback.

I would also like to thank Attending Veterinarian and Director of the Center for Comparative Medicine at UConn Health, Dr. Ramaswamy (Ramy) Chidambaram, DVM, PhD, DACLAM. During the national search, Ramy served as Attending Vet for UConn Health as well as Storrs/regionals, which allowed programs at all campuses to be maintained and for research to continue uninterrupted. Ramy will return to his prior roles as AV and Director of CCM at UConn Health upon Curtis’ arrival. Thank you, Ramy!

In his role as institutional attending veterinarian, Curtis will have oversight and direction of all animal facilities at the Storrs and regional campuses; maintain a veterinary care program that ensures compliance with federal, state, and local regulations, laws, policies, accreditation agency standards, and guidelines for the ethical care and use of animals; develop and maintain a collaborative relationship with faculty, staff, and students; and lead the administrative, management, technical, and operational functions of ACS.

Prior to UConn, Curtis served as Senior Scientist and Veterinarian at Biogen, a multinational biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, specializing in the discovery, development, and delivery of therapies for the treatment of neurodegenerative, hematologic, and autoimmune diseases to patients worldwide. He also has extensive previous experience working in an academic setting and held various positions in animal care services at Delaware Valley University, Emory University School of Medicine and The Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and Harvard Medical School’s Center for Animal Resources and Comparative Medicine. He earned his BS in Small Animal Science from Delaware Valley University in 2001, his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2004, and held a postdoctoral appointment at Emory University School of Medicine and The Yerkes National Primate Research Center beginning in 2006. He is also a Certified Professional in IACUC Administration (CPIA) and a Diplomate, American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine.

Curtis brings extensive experience, expertise, and a history of collaboration and engagement with colleagues from the private sector and academia to this appointment. Please join me in welcoming him to UConn and congratulating him on this new position.

 

Sincerely,
Radenka Maric

Designing a Smart Sensor Network for Tracking Submarines

Read on UConn Today.

Illustration of network concept. (Getty Images)
Illustration of network concept. A UConn researcher at the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology is developing a ‘smart sensor network’ that is both energy-efficient and resilient, to track targets such as enemy submarines. (Getty Images)

A team of UConn engineers is developing an energy-efficient “smart sensor network” to track targets of interest, such as the proximity of enemy submarines or ships to Navy vessels.

The U.S. Navy currently uses underwater Intelligence, Surveillance, & Reconnaissance (ISR) sensor networks that run on full power, which can be a problem for long-term operations. The more accurate the sensor, the more power they consume.

The sensor networks currently being used could consist of several multi-modal sensor nodes, called sensor buoys, where each node acts independently and contains a diverse sensor suite, a data-processing unit, a transmitter and receiver, and a GPS device. The sensor suite can be composed of different types of sensors to detect and track targets, such as underwater microphones and active sonars.

Batteries typically burn out within  a few days,  just as cell phones suck up more power when running multiple operations.

Traditionally, these sensor nodes operate on full power, running all devices simultaneously, but the batteries that power them typically burn out within a few days of operation,  just as cell phones suck up more power when running multiple operations. This causes sensing failures which, in turn, leads to holes in coverage and affects tracking performance.

This poses a challenge to the Navy, since it deploys thousands of acoustic sensor networks throughout the ocean, where battery replacement can be time-consuming or impossible.

To address the challenge, Shalabh Gupta, a UConn engineer and researcher at the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology, devised the concept of a “smart sensor network” that is energy-efficient as well as resilient to failures.

Intelligent Energy-efficient Sensor Network. (Illustration by Hayley Joyal '18 (SFA))
Intelligent Energy-efficient Sensor Network. (Illustration by Hayley Joyal ’18 (SFA))

In a smart sensor network, sensor nodes adapt their sensing modalities based on the information about the targets’ whereabouts. Thus, the nodes around the target, such as a ship or submarine, activate their high-power sensing devices to track the target accurately, pinpointing its location, velocity, and trajectory.

On the other hand, the nodes that are located farther away from the target cycle between low-power sensing and sleep states to minimize energy consumption while still remaining aware.

Thus, if a low-power sensor detects a target, the node switches to high-power sensing to track it. Similarly, the high-power sensing devices that are tracking the target predict the target’s trajectory and alert other sensors within range of the target’s path, so that they switch to high power. Once the target has passed outside of a sensor’s range, it reverts to low-power mode.

The smart sensor networks also provide resilience. If a few nodes in the network fail, then the nodes surrounding the hole in coverage formed by the failed nodes jointly optimize to expand their sensing ranges to cover the gap.

“These networks have to contain built-in, distributed intelligence,” says Gupta, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

His first research paper on the algorithm, coauthored by graduate student James Hare, was published online in IEEE Transactions on Cybernetics in August 2017.

With this advance, crews on ships and submarines will be able to track enemy watercraft with batteries that last about 60 to 90 percent longer, Gupta says.

Gupta’s lab has prototypes of the sensors for ground use, and has been talking with Navy personnel about using them for the underwater acoustic sensor network.  He is currently seeking funding to build underwater sensors.

Piecing Together Our Planet Pixel by Pixel

Read on UConn Today.

UConn researcher Chandi Witharana is using remote sensing as 'a virtual passport' to monitor vast expanses of land in remote areas, including the Arctic tundra. (Chandi Witharana)
UConn researcher Chandi Witharana is using remote sensing as ‘a virtual passport’ to monitor vast expanses of land in remote areas, including the Arctic tundra. (Torre Jorgenson, University of Alaska-Fairbanks)
At first glance, the high-resolution satellite images of the Arctic tundra look like the lacy skin of a cantaloupe melon. But this characteristic feature of the tundra is perfect for studying the rapidly changing landscape of the region using remote sensing technologies. (Chandi Witharana)
At first glance, the high-resolution satellite images of the Arctic tundra look like the lacy skin of a cantaloupe melon. But this characteristic feature of the tundra is perfect for studying the rapidly changing landscape of the region using remote sensing technologies. (Torre Jorgenson, University of Alaska-Fairbanks)

At first glance, the high-resolution images of the polygons look like the lacy skin of a cantaloupe melon – perhaps not what would be expected of images of the Arctic tundra. But this characteristic feature of the tundra is a perfect focus for remote sensing technologies and for studying the rapidly changing landscape of the region.

From the Antarctic to the Arctic and areas in between, Chandi Witharana is applying powerful remote sensing technology to study global problems.

Witharana, a visiting assistant professor in UConn’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, says remote sensing is “a virtual passport” to these remote areas, allowing him to carefully monitor the harsh landscape from his grizzly bear-free computer laboratory on campus.

He and his collaborators are currently mapping thousands of square meters of the Pan-Arctic, using satellite images to collect data. The images offer a resolution so powerful that anything larger than 30 centimeters can be imaged from space, enabling the researchers to study areas across the globe that would be difficult or impossible to survey otherwise.

For the Pan-Arctic project, satellite images are taken roughly every two days, over a massive stretch of land encompassing parts of Alaska, Canada, and Siberia.

Each point or pixel within each image is identified by its geographical location, using latitude and longitude, and this geo-referencing is used to mesh the data together using super computers. The researchers then compare various features between images taken over time, noting changes or trends.

In the Arctic tundra, the researchers are seeing degradation proceeding at an alarming rate.

“Previously it was thought that topography was fixed, needing millions of years to change,” says Witharana. “But this degradation is happening within the span of a decade.”

Without remote sensing technologies, collection of this type of data over such vast expanses of land would be cost-prohibitive, dangerous, and potentially impossible for humans to accomplish, since many areas are remote and cannot be reached even by helicopter.

A satellite image of a refugee camp. (Chanda Witharana)
A satellite image of a refugee camp. (Torre Jorgenson, University of Alaska-Fairbanks )

Remote sensing is also a vital tool for an entirely different kind of extreme – wars and their effects on civilian populations. Working with the United Nations, Witharana studied how people migrate under forced conditions, where refugee settlements are established, and the number of those affected.

Due to the chaos inherent in war, the only unbiased and accurate measures of refugee populations are those gathered using remote sensing, says Witharana. “You cannot trust any other source in conflict situations. It is not possible to report exact numbers from the ground.”

Witharana has not only used the technology for his own research, he has introduced it to K-12 STEM classrooms as part of the Next Generation Science Standards. Using their own virtual passports, students can apply tools like Google Earth and StreetView to go on virtual hikes, exploring the Antarctic landscape and areas such as Deception Island and Bailey Head, and study the penguin population.

After a little tweaking, Witharana says, the technology can become a valuable tool in gathering information about almost anything you are interested in. The possibilities are as vast as the landscapes surveyed.

“This is everyday science, it is artwork, and it is a rich educational tool.”

Witharana is also participating in UConn’s Metanoia on the Environment, and will be holding a satellite image gallery during the week of Earth Day. The gallery will present appealing patterns, shapes, colors, and textures of the natural and human-made landscape, as well as sentient views of forced migration, violence, and destruction triggered by autocracy, racial aggression, and ethnic tension. The intent is to prompt viewers to observe and recognize the beauty in the world, and to contemplate the role humans play in its shaping.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation Arctic System Science Program Award # 1720875.

New Compound Helps Activate Cancer-Fighting T Cells

Read on UConn Today.

An illustration showing interactions between components of the AH10-7 compound (yellow), an immune system antigen presenting cell (gray) and an invariant natural killer T cell (green and blue) that spark activation of iNKT cells in “humanized” mice. (Image courtesy of Jose Gascon/UConn)
An illustration showing interactions between components of the AH10-7 compound (yellow), an immune system antigen-presenting cell (gray), and an invariant natural killer T cell (green and blue) that spark activation of iNKT cells in ‘humanized’ mice. (Image courtesy of Jose Gascon/UConn)
Researchers Amy Howell and José Gascón of the chemistry department discuss a molecular simulation on a laptop monitor in the academic wing of the Chemistry Building. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)
Researchers Amy Howell and José Gascón of the chemistry department discuss a molecular simulation on a laptop monitor in the academic wing of the Chemistry Building. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells are powerful weapons our body’s immune systems count on to fight infection and combat diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and lupus. Finding ways to spark these potent cells into action could lead to more effective cancer treatments and vaccines.

While several chemical compounds have shown promise stimulating iNKT cells in mice, their ability to activate human iNKT cells has been limited.

Now, an international team of top immunologists, molecular biologists, and chemists led by University of Connecticut chemistry professor Amy Howell reports in Cell Chemical Biology the creation of a new compound that appears to have the properties researchers have been looking for.

The compound – a modified version of an earlier synthesized ligand – is highly effective in activating human iNKT cells. It is also selective – encouraging iNKT cells to release a specific set of proteins known as Th1 cytokines, which stimulate anti-tumor immunity.

One of the limitations of earlier compounds was their tendency to cause iNKT cells to release a rush of different cytokines. Some of the cytokines turned the body’s immune response on, while others turned it off. The conflicting cytokine activity hampered the compounds’ effectiveness.

The new compound – called AH10-7 – is uniquely structured so that does not happen.

“One of the goals in this field has been to identify compounds that elicit a more biased or selective response from iNKT cells, and we were able to incorporate features in AH10-7 that did that,” says Howell, who has been studying the role of glycolipids in modulating the human immune system for more than 20 years.

The robust study, years in the making, also applied advanced structural and 3-D computer modeling analysis to identify the underlying basis for the new compound’s success. These highly detailed insights into what is happening at the molecular level open up new paths for research and could lead to the development of even more effective compounds.

“We synthesized a new compound, demonstrated its effectiveness with biological data, and learned more about its interactions with proteins through X-ray crystallography and computational analysis,’’ says UConn associate professor of chemistry José Gascón, a specialist in quantum and molecular mechanics. “We are providing protocols so that other scientists can rationally design related molecules that elicit desired responses from iNKT cells.”

The molecular analysis helped validate and explain experimental results.

“By exposing a crystalized form of the molecular complex to a high-intensity X-ray beam at the Australian Synchrotron, we were able to obtain a detailed 3-D image of the molecular interplay between the invariant natural killer T cell receptor and AH10-7,” says corresponding author Jérôme Le Nours, a structural biologist with the Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University in Australia. “This enabled us to identify the structural factors responsible for AH10-7’s potency in activating iNKT cells. This valuable insight could lead to the development of even more effective anti-metastatic ligands.”

Efforts to harness the therapeutic potential of human iNKT cells began 20 years ago with the discovery that natural and synthetic forms of glycolipid ligands known as alpha-galactosylceramides, or α-GalCers for short, were potent activators of iNKT cells. Scientists immediately recognized their possible value in fighting cancer and other diseases. These α-GalCer ligands serve as tiny dock masters in our immune system, helping antigen-presenting cells attract and bind with iNKT cells so they can be activated to kill cancerous cells or fight off pathogens and other foreign invaders.

Comparison of tumor suppression in the lungs of wild mice (top row) and 'humanized' mice (bottom row). First column represents untreated mice. Second column, mice treated with the KRN7000 synthesized compound. Third column, mice treated with the new compound AH10-7. Results show the newly synthesized compound AH10-7 is at least as effective as KRN7000 in suppressing growth of melanoma cells. (Images courtesy of Dr. Steven Porcelli and Weiming Yuan)
Comparison of tumor suppression in the lungs of wild mice (top row) and ‘humanized’ mice (bottom row). First column represents untreated mice. Second column, mice treated with the KRN7000 synthesized compound. Third column, mice treated with the new compound AH10-7. Results show the newly synthesized compound AH10-7 is at least as effective as KRN7000 in suppressing growth of melanoma cells. (Images courtesy of Dr. Steven Porcelli and Weiming Yuan)

The first promising version of a synthesized α-GalCer was a compound known as KRN7000. While KRN7000 powerfully stimulated iNKT cells in both mice and humans, it triggered the release of a flood of many types of cytokines, limiting its potential for clinical applications. Since then, researchers have been searching for new variations of KRN7000 that maintain their effectiveness in activating human iNKT cells while also favoring release of the powerful tumor fighting Th1 cytokines.

In the current study, Howell and colleagues made two significant modifications to an α-GalCer ligand in an attempt to make it more effective. They found that adding a hydrocinnamoyl ester on to the sugar stabilized the ligand and kept it close to the surface of the antigen-presenting cell, thereby enhancing its ability to dock with and stimulate human iNKT cells. In addition, trimming off part of the molecule’s sphingoid base appears to initiate the critical Th1 cytokine bias. Both changes, working in tandem, strengthened the effectiveness of the entire molecular complex in terms of activating human iNKT cells, Howell says.

To further validate AH10-7’s effectiveness, the researchers tested the new compound in wild mice as well as partially “humanized” mice, whose genomes were modified to mimic the human iNKT cell response. Notably, AH10-7 was shown to be at least as effective as KRN7000 in suppressing the growth of melanoma cells in the partially humanized mice.

Dr. Steven Porcelli, an immunologist with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in N.Y., also served as a corresponding author on the study.

The research was supported in part by NIH grants U01 GM111849, R01 GM087136, R01 AI45889, and R01 AI 091987.

A complete list of the contributing researchers and funding resources for the study “Dual Modifications of α-Galatosylceramide Synergize to Promote Activation of Human Invariant Natural Killer T Cells and Stimulate Anti-tumor Immunity” can be found here.

The Tragic Story of America’s Only Native Parrot

Read on UConn Today.

The last recorded Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) died nearly 100 years ago. (Wikimedia Commons)
The last recorded Carolina parakeet died nearly 100 years ago. Now, some scientists consider the Carolina parakeet one of the top candidates for ‘de-extinction.’ (Wikimedia Commons)

It was winter in upstate New York in 1780 in a rural town called Schoharie, home to the deeply religious Palatine Germans. Suddenly, a flock of gregarious red and green birds flew into town, seemingly upon a whirlwind.

The townspeople thought the end of the world was upon them. Though the robin-sized birds left quickly, their appearance was forever imprinted on local lore. As author Benjamin Smith Barton wrote, “The more ignorant Dutch settlers were exceedingly alarmed. They imagined, in dreadful consternation, that it portended nothing less calamitous than the destruction of the world.”

The history of the Carolina parakeet’s decline parallels the history of American growth over the course of the 19th century. All that prosperity came with many terrible costs.

You and I know that the birds weren’t a precursor of mankind’s demise – but in a way, there was impending doom ahead. These birds were Carolina parakeets, America’s only native parrot. Exactly 100 years ago this February, the last captive Carolina parakeet died, alone in a cage in the Cincinnati Zoo, the same zoo where the last captive passenger pigeon, named Martha, died four years earlier. The last “official” wild Carolina parakeet was spotted in Florida just two years later.

Why did these birds go extinct? It remains a mystery. Given that parrots today are at greater risk for extinction than other major bird groups, is there anything scientists can learn from the Carolina parakeet?

Unraveling parakeet mysteries

Over the past six years, I’ve been collecting information about where the Carolina parakeet was observed over the past 450 years.

I spent hours upon hours reading historical documents, travel diaries, and other writings, ranging from the 16th century all the way into the 1940s. I’ve often become lost in the stories surrounding these parrot observations – from the first accounts of Europeans exploring the New World, to the harrowing tales of settlers traveling the Oregon Trail in the 1800s, to grizzled egg hunters scouring the swamps of Florida in the early 1900s.

Conuropsis carolinensis (Linnaeus, 1758), the extinct Carolina parakeet, is on public display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois. (Wikimedia Commons)
Conuropsis carolinensis (Linnaeus, 1758), the extinct Carolina parakeet, on public display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois. (Wikimedia Commons)

I also dug through natural history museum collections, looking at what many would just see as just some old, dusty, creepy dead birds. But I see them differently: beautiful in their own way, each with a story to tell.

My goal was to unravel some of the lasting mysteries about the Carolina parakeet – like where it lived. Historically, people used to determine a species range by plotting the most extreme observations of that species on a map, drawing a polygon around them and called it a day. Because of this, people long thought Carolina parakeets lived from upstate New York all the way to Colorado and down to the Texas coast.

But birds are often seen in areas where they don’t normally go. For instance, the range of the snowy owl – like Hedwig of “Harry Potter” fame – doesn’t really extend all the way to Bermuda, though one was once spotted there.

What’s more, scientists don’t know what really drove these parakeets to extinction. Some thought it was habitat loss. Some thought it was hunting and trapping. Some thought disease. A few even thought it was competition with nonnative honey bees for tree cavities, where the parakeets would roost and nest.

Thanks to the data I compiled, as well as cutting-edge machine learning approaches to analyze those data, my colleagues and I were able to reconstruct the Carolina parakeets’ likely range and climate niche. It turned out to be much smaller than previously believed. Generally, their range extended from Nebraska east to Ohio, south to Louisiana and Texas. The eastern subspecies lived mostly along the southeastern coast from Alabama, through Florida, and up to Virginia.

We were also able to confirm the longstanding hypothesis that the parakeets in the northwest part of their range migrated southeast in the winter, to avoid the blistering cold of the Midwest.

Why it matters

John James Audubon's 'Carolina Parakeets.' (Wikimedia Commons)
John James Audubon’s ‘Carolina Parakeets.’ (Wikimedia Commons)

In a world that faces extinction on a scale not seen in the past 65 million years, some of you may wonder: Aren’t there more important things to study?

While this may seem rather minor, some scientists consider the Carolina parakeet one of the top candidates for “de-extinction.” That’s a process in which DNA is harvested from specimens and used to “resurrect” extinct species, not unlike “Jurassic Park” (but way less action and decidedly less Jeff Goldblum).

If someone were to spend millions of dollars doing all of the genetic and breeding work to bring back this species, or any other, how will they figure out where to release these birds? Given the effects of climate change, it’s no longer a given that scientists could release birds exactly where they used to be and expect them to flourish.

Whether or not de-extinction is a worthwhile use of conservation effort and money is another question, best answered by someone other than me. But this is just an example of one potential use of this type of research.

In many ways, the history of the Carolina parakeet’s decline parallels the history of American growth over the course of the 19th century. All that prosperity came with many terrible costs. As the U.S. expanded and remade the landscape to suit its needs, many native species lost out.

Today, parrots face a serious threat of extinction. Parrot diversity tends to be highest in areas around the world that are rapidly developing, much like the U.S. during the 19th century. So whatever lessons the Carolina parakeet can teach us may be crucial moving forward.

I continue to study Carolina parakeets, and other recently extinct species, in the effort to hear and relate these lessons. As cliche as it is to say, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Originally published in The Conversation.

How Privacy Concerns Drive Website Business Models

Read on UConn Today.

Icon of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Messenger (Facebook's proprietary messaging app) alongside other social media apps on a Samsung Galaxy smartphone's touchscreen. (Erik Tham/Getty Images)
Limiting online privacy intrusion may be best accomplished through the invisible hand of the market itself, says business professor Ram Gopal. (Erik Tham/Getty Images)

As is evident with the current Facebook crisis, third parties pose a significant potential privacy risk to visitors. But Facebook is not the only website using them. The convenience of easy sign-ins with Google or Twitter accounts also results in immediate identification with third parties.

Currently, there is effectively no tracking of where your data goes, and no ability for a consumer to know what is done with their data.

Even before the Facebook data breach, a U.S. Senate report found that visits to online news sites may involve connecting with hundreds of other parties, and the “sheer volume of such activity makes it difficult for even the most vigilant consumer to control the data being collected or protect against its malicious use.”

If simply landing on a website can cause substantial and instantaneous sharing with third parties, this begs the question, “What’s going to limit this privacy intrusion?”

Regulatory organizations such as the Federal Trade Commission and the European Union are looking into policy enforcement strategies.

But an overlooked method of limiting this privacy intrusion is through the invisible hand of the market itself. Our work focuses on the possibility that websites dealing with visitors who are more concerned about their privacy will be faced with a market that curbs their behavior.

In a paper published in a recent issue of MIS Quarterly, we found that when visitor privacy concerns for a website are high relative to the competition, the website will have a smaller niche market of customers willing to pay high subscription prices in exchange for privacy protection.

We concentrated on two sources of income for websites: subscriptions and the sale of visitor data to third parties. A website using the subscription model needs a large base of visitors, but it can also sell visitor information in secondary markets through advertising or other third parties. Therefore, the website must strike a balance between subscription and third party monetization in this two-sided market.

An overlooked method of limiting this privacy intrusion is through the invisible hand of the market itself.

At the other extreme, a website facing low visitor privacy concerns can tap into a larger market of customers willing to exchange their personal information to access the website. We found that the website’s profits are highest when visitors have moderate privacy concerns – not too low and not too high – especially when the competition faces very high privacy concerns.

We also analyzed how the third party industry structure is impacted by visitor privacy concerns.

We found that higher visitor privacy concerns will result in the website using fewer third parties, and the result is a higher concentration in the third party market for that industry. Higher industry security requirements result in higher barriers to entry, which also increase the industry concentration of third parties.

These findings about the third party market corroborate the finding that third party concentration is higher in markets with high privacy concerns, such as healthcare. Ironically, in a concentrated market, the fewer – but more powerful – third parties collect data from manywebsites. These third parties gain a more comprehensive visitor profile, which has greater value, but also greater privacy risk to visitors.

In the wake of the Facebook data breach, it is evident that policymakers and regulatory organizations must monitor the third party market for potential privacy violations.

Additionally, requiring transparency with respect to the exact third parties and the types of data they are receiving would allow consumers to make better decisions regarding their privacy. Adding tracking features for consumers to see where their data goes beyond these third parties would create additional and potentially important transparency.

Currently, there is effectively no tracking of where your data goes, and no ability for a consumer to know what is done with their data.