Texas Tech


research • scholarship • creative activity

Spring 2014

In Short

Strategy to Fight Salmonella Outlined; TTU Part of $700,000 USDA Grant

Texas Tech’s International Center for Food Industry Excellence (ICFIE) in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources is part of a broad effort to develop detection and surveillance networks to protect against future outbreaks of salmonella bacteria. Earlier this year Texas Tech, Angelo State University and California State University-Fresno received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture totaling more than $700,000. The grant establishes a partnership among the academic trio with Port Washington, NY-based Pall Corp., a global microbiology equipment manufacturer.

Through the three-year project, “Building Laboratory and Intellectual Capacity in order to Effectively Detect and Reduce Salmonella in the Food Supply,” the ICFIE research team aims to achieve four objectives:

  • Create permanent collaborative partnerships.
  • Identify and effectively recruit high-ability undergraduate students into graduate programs through organized opportunities in undergraduate research.
  • Prepare graduate students to become future agents of change in the food industry.
  • Provide university faculty with the opportunity, means and locations to learn, teach and cooperatively share information with organizations and academic institutions in multiple Latin American nations.

As part of their contribution to the project, Pall Corp. donated an annual $1,000 student travel scholarship and $150,000 worth of equipment and supplies, including a GeneDisc, which allows for up to six pathogens to be tested at once.

Texas Tech Chemist Studies How Breast Cancer Breaks into the Brain

A Texas Tech University bioanalytical chemist recently received a $1.2 million grant from The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to study how breast cancer may metastasize to the brain.

The research also may discover a key to early detection of breast cancer cells that may have the ability to invade the brain. Yehia Mechref, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, will study how certain sugar signatures on breast cancer cells might gain them entrance past the blood-brain barrier and allow them to metastasize in the brain. The blood-brain barrier is semi-permeable and allows some materials to cross into brain tissue but prevents others. Mechref said his preliminary research has shown that perhaps these cancer cells contain a sugar compound that tricks pathways in the barrier into letting the cancer cells pass into the brain.

Texas Tech Receives $19.3 Million from Bayer CropScience

Texas Tech University received a $19.3 million contribution from Bayer CropScience to benefit research programs and projects in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. The funds will support significant research developments in the Department of Plant and Soil Science, including an endowed chair, a fellowship endowment for graduate students and new research facilities and space.

The contribution has been submitted for an equal amount of state matching funds from the Texas Research Incentive Program, which would increase the total impact to $38.6 million and be the largest cash investment for research in the history of Texas Tech University.

Texas Tech Part of Multi-Million Dollar Transportation Grant

Researchers from the Texas Tech Center for Multidisciplinary Research in Transportation (TechMRT), in the Whitacre College of Engineering, have been named as part of a consortium that will conduct cutting-edge research on transportation infrastructure in the region, with a specific focus on the impact of extreme climates on infrastructure.

The study, “State of Good Repair,” is funded by a $2.5 million University Transportation Center grant provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

The TechMRT research team joins seven other universities led by the University of Oklahoma. The Southern Plains Regional Transportation Center (SPTC) will represent Region 6 (Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico).

Planned research includes the study of innovative highway materials, geotechnical structures and data integration for intelligent transportation systems, the impact of weather extremes on bridge infrastructure, innovative monitoring to quantify climate impacts on damage accumulation in transportation infrastructure, and innovations in materials and construction of asphalt pavements to resist extreme temperatures.

Researchers to Study Regional Responses to Climate Change

Two projects underway by Texas Tech University researchers will receive $157,000 in funding from the South Central Climate Science Center led by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Dylan Schwilk, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, will receive $99,937 to fund a two-year project titled “Predicting Sky Island Forest Vulnerability to Climate Change: Fine Scale Climate Variability, Drought Tolerance, and Fire Response.” Working with postdoctoral researcher Anne Stoner, biology Professor Scott Holaday, and Helen Poulos, a consultant with Poulos Environmental Consulting, the team will investigate how different tree species survive in semi-arid and fire-prone landscapes.

Also, Stoner will receive $56,700 for a year-long project titled “Expanding a Standardized Framework for the Evaluation and Intercomparison of Statistically Downscaled Climate Projections,” which includes comparing different statistical downscaling methods using the same framework in order to identify the most accurate methods.

Researchers Awarded $640,000 from National Science Foundation

A pair of Texas Tech researchers will use a near $640,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to seek out more cost- and energy-efficient ways for biofuels to power the world.

Ronald Hedden and Rajesh Khare, associate professors of chemical engineering in the Whitacre College of Engineering, have embarked on a collaborative effort to enable the recovery of biofuels through pervaporation–a process that combines aspects of filtration and evaporation through a membrane to separate the biofuel from the other components in a mixture.

The team will apply combinatorial synthesis and theoretical modeling to enable rapid prototyping of new polymeric membrane materials for improved pervaporation processes. Their approach involves combinatorial, high-throughput screening methods, which permit rapid, matrix-based testing of large numbers of polymer compositions to find an optimal membrane material quickly. Computational modeling will help target the molecular factors underlying the good performance of the most promising membrane materials.

The team hopes to develop a methodology that can realistically be implemented on-site at biorefineries to prepare designer membranes in a short amount of time, offering clear benefits to the biofuels industry.

Researchers Discover Youngest Neutron Star in Binary System in Our Galaxy

A Texas Tech University postdoctoral researcher was part of an international team of astronomers who recently discovered the glowing wreckage of the youngest-known neutron star in a binary system in our Milky Way galaxy.

Neutron stars are the densely packed, collapsed cores of massive stars that sometimes are left after a supernova explosion.

Paul Sell, the astronomer who contributed to the research and currently is studying X-ray binaries at Texas Tech, said younger neutron stars exist. However, none of these are in a binary system that still has the visible nebulous debris around it from its supernova. Sell says that finding a very young neutron star is important because it provides a unique laboratory to test key theories of stellar evolution, especially about the stage of a star’s life just after most of it has been obliterated in a supernova explosion. At about 26,000 light years from Earth, the binary system that the researchers studied is called Circinus X-1. It is the brightest source of X-rays in the constellation of Circinus.

The results were published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Rawls College of Business Unveils STEM MBA

Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business has developed a STEM MBA program focused on the competencies that science, technology, engineering and math students need to move forward in their careers.

The one-year program is designed to help STEM students increase their marketability and gain the leadership and insights needed to succeed in the business world. The courses in the program will be unique to STEM students in two ways:

  • MBA core courses will include content, cases and examples that focus on industries that typically employ STEM students, with less emphasis on the financial and retail sectors and greater focus on the high-tech, pharmaceutical, manufacturing and energy industries.
  • Several courses will be STEM-based and taught by professors with STEM backgrounds.

The first cohort starts in summer 2014.

Free Market Institute Receives $1.7 Million Grant

Texas Tech University’s Free Market Institute (FMI) received a $1.7 million three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study the origins of economic freedom and prosperity.

The grant also will fund postdoctoral fellowships, visiting professors, doctoral student fellowships, guest lecturers, summer research stipends and a major conference.

The grant is the largest FMI has received since the initial pledge of $4 million that founded the institute.

Texas Tech Celebrates New Burkhart Center

The Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research has moved to a new building. The two-story autism education and research facility showcases the impressive growth the program has experienced since its establishment and now includes 28,458 square feet of space for clinical facilities.

The center is home to the Behavior Clinic and Transition Academy, which focuses on developing life and job skills for autistic students who have graduated from high school. The second floor is reserved for research and support space, as well as academic offices. The new facility also features an outdoor play area, public art and landscape enhancements.

Additionally, the building houses the Early Intensive Intervention Center, which is available to patients from diagnosis to 6 years old. The program focuses on rigorous one-on-one therapy for up to three hours a day per child.

The purpose of the Burkhart Center is to provide services for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their families, train regular and special education teachers, and conduct applied research that will increase the quality of life of those affected by ASD.

Texas Tech Receives $706,000 Grant for Quail Research on Parasitic Worms

Researchers at The Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH) at Texas Tech recently received a $706,000 grant from The Rolling Plains Quail Research Foundation to study how parasitic worms may be impacting the game bird’s recent precipitous decline on the Texas Plains.

The research is part of “Phase 3” of Operation Idiopathic Decline–the largest, most comprehensive disease and contaminant research study ever conducted on quail populations. The total grant of $781,000 funds a project titled “Treatment of Eyeworms and Cecal Worms in Bobwhites: Clinical and Field Studies,” led by Ron Kendall, a professor of environmental toxicology at TIEHH.

The objective of Phase 3 is to evaluate methods to control eyeworms and cecal worms in native bobwhite quail, and evaluate efficacy of treatments in laboratory and field settings. The project will involve scientists from TIEHH, Texas A&M University-Kingsville and the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch.

Desert Catchments May Harbor Hidden Water Danger

Texas Tech researchers say manmade catchments in the Sonoran Desert area of the U.S. originally built to help wildlife may be doing more harm than good, as ammonia levels found in them may be hazardous to animals and to humans.

The research team is composed of Kerry Griffis-Kyle, assistant professor of wetland ecology in the Department of Natural Resources Management, and Cristina Bradatan, associate professor of sociology in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, both of Texas Tech. Jeffery Kovatch, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Marshall University also was a member of the research team.

In 2012, they monitored water quality and amphibian and dragonfly use of wildlife waters in southwestern Arizona. They found that manmade water catchments constructed in the desert often have levels of ammonia that are in the lethal range for aquatic organisms and may be high enough to impact terrestrial wildlife as well as humans. The team measured ammonia concentrations that exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines for aquatic life and were well above concentrations that cause mortality in amphibians and other aquatic organisms.

Griffis-Kyle said both amphibians and dragonflies had lower species richness, and amphibian species richness was negatively associated with ammonia concentration. The concentrations of ammonia alone cause concern for the management of biodiversity, specifically for wetland-dependent organisms. Also, she said, ammonia concentrations may be high enough to impact terrestrial organisms of economic and conservation importance, including humans.

Their findings are published in The Wildlife Society Bulletin.

College of Media and Communication Introduces Communication Research Center

The College of Media and Communication recently opened the Center for Communication Research (CCR). CCR houses state-of-the art technology for studying all facets of audience response to media messages–video, audio, online, commercial, informational and more. The center contains more than 6,000 square feet of research labs and provides research services to those both within and beyond the Texas Tech community.

Center director Glenn Cummins says the center supports the college’s mission of education and research by not only teaching students how to be message creators, but also teaching them how to produce messages to achieve specific results.

CCR provides comprehensive research solutions using tools such as dial-testing, eye-tracking and biometric measurement of audience response. The center comprises an Audience Testing Lab, Content Analysis Lab, Experimental Lab, Eye-tracking Lab, Focus Group Room and Psychophysiology Lab.

Administrators hope the center will draw not only students, but also prospective faculty and partners to the university.

Physicist’s Camera Captures Day-Old Supernova

With the help of a special spectroscopic camera developed by a Texas Tech University physicist, researchers at Caltech and Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network captured rare images of a star in another galaxy going supernova within a day of the star’s explosion.

David Sand, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics who developed the camera, says this is the first time scientists have pinpointed a star that eventually exploded as a stripped-envelope supernova, called a type Ib.

Sand led the development and operations of the special camera, the FLOYDS spectrograph, which was used to help identify the specific kind of supernova. Taking a spectroscopic image helps scientists to tell what kind of supernova they’re looking at by splitting the supernova’s light up into the colors of the rainbow.

The FLOYDS spectrographs, of which there are only two in the world, are attached to two-meter telescopes located in Hawaii and Australia. The cameras operate completely robotically, allowing scientists to confirm supernovae earlier than ever before.

In the last six months, Sand and others have confirmed 25 supernovae with the camera. The aforementioned stripped-envelope supernova is one of the first published results.

The global team of astrophysicists, led by Yi Cao of Caltech, found the supernova on June 16, 2013. Their research was published in the peer-reviewed journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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Nov 24, 2015