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Booze and Pot in Teen Years Lessen Life Success 

Booze and Pot in Teen Years Lessen Life Success

Girl smoking weed. (Getty Images)
Young adults dependent on marijuana and alcohol are less likely to achieve adult life goals, according to new research by UConn Health scientists. (Getty Images)

Young adults dependent on marijuana and alcohol are less likely to achieve adult life goals, according to new research by UConn Health scientists presented today at the American Public Health Association 2017 Annual Meeting & Expo.

Chronic marijuana use in adolescence was negatively associated with achieving important developmental milestones in young adulthood.— Elizabeth Harari

UConn Health researchers examined data from the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) to track the effect teenage alcohol and marijuana use has on the achievement of life goals, defined as educational achievement, full-time employment, marriage, and social economic potential. The study includes 1,165 young adults from across the United States whose habits were first assessed at age 12 and then at two-year intervals until they were between 25 and 34 years old. Most of the study participants had an alcoholic grandparent, parent, aunt, or uncle.

Overall, individuals who were dependent on either marijuana or alcohol during their teen years achieved lower levels of education, were less likely to be employed full time, were less likely to get married, and had lower social economic potential.

“This study found that chronic marijuana use in adolescence was negatively associated with achieving important developmental milestones in young adulthood. Awareness of marijuana’s potentially deleterious effects will be important moving forward, given the current move in the U.S. toward marijuana legalization for medicinal and possibly recreational use,” says UConn Health psychiatry resident Elizabeth Harari, author of the study.

The researchers also found that dependence may have a more severe effect on young men. Dependent young men achieved less across all four measures, while dependent women were less likely than non-dependent women to obtain a college degree and had lower social economic potential, but were equally likely to get married or obtain full-time employment.

Previous research had shown that heavy use of alcohol or marijuana in adolescence affects people developmentally. This study followed up on that, to look at what happens after age 18. The life outcomes seem to show that the differences are meaningful into adulthood.

The study is ongoing.

“COGA investigators are following many subjects over the years, and are using this extensive and growing database to examine several significant research topics,” says assistant professor Grace Chan, a statistician in the UConn Health Department of Psychiatry.

Chan, Harari, and UConn Health Alcohol Research Center director Victor Hesselbrock are currently looking at whether there are different outcomes between young people dependent on alcohol versus marijuana, as well as why there were marked differences in outcomes between the sexes.

Harari’s research was supported by Hesselbrock and Chan. The Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism is funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

 

Despite Progress, Most Food Advertising to Kids Still Unhealthy

Despite Progress, Most Food Advertising to Kids Still Unhealthy

(Whitney Hubbard/UConn Photo)
Ten years after the launch of food industry self-regulation, food advertising to children remains far from the goal of supporting healthful diets, according to a comprehensive new study released today by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. (Whitney Hubbard/UConn Photo)

Although children are viewing less food-related advertising, especially on children’s TV and the internet, since the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) industry self-regulatory program was launched in 2007, they still see 10 to 11 food-related TV ads per day, promoting mostly unhealthy products, including fast food, candy, sweet and salty snacks, and sugary drinks. These are the findings of a comprehensive new study, released today, by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

Ten years after the launch of food industry self-regulation, food advertising to children remains far from the goal of supporting healthful diets.— Jennifer Harris

As part of the voluntary initiative, major food and beverage companies pledged to shift the mix of foods advertised to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices. Yet the majority of CFBAI companies have not responded to repeated calls from public health experts to further strengthen nutrition standards for products they identify as healthier dietary choices that can be advertised directly to children; expand the initiative to cover children up to at least 14 years old; and expand the types of media covered by their pledges to include programming that children frequently view, as well as all forms of marketing that appeal to children, such as mobile apps with branded games and YouTube videos.

“The food and beverage companies participating in the voluntary initiative should be recognized for actions they have taken to reduce advertising to children,” said Jennifer Harris, associate professor of allied health sciences, director of marketing initiatives for the UConn Rudd Center, and lead author of the study. “But limitations in self-regulatory pledges allow companies to continue to advertise unhealthy products to children.

“Furthermore, increased advertising by companies that do not participate in CFBAI has offset much of the reduction in advertising by CFBAI companies,” Harris adds, “and children continue to view thousands of TV ads per year for unhealthy food and drinks, including ads for candy, snacks, sugary drinks, and fast food that target them directly.”

Harris is presenting the new report today at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

The study assesses the stated goal of CFBAI participating companies’ to promote healthier choices in child-directed advertising, which the companies define as media where children under age 12 make up 35 percent or more of the audience, as well as changes in children’s exposure to all food-related advertising, from both CFBAI participating and non-participating companies, on TV and the internet.

Specifically, the researchers quantified food-related advertising to children in 2016 using syndicated market research data; measured improvements since the CFBAI began in 2007; quantified progress and the impact of limitations in industry voluntary pledges; and assessed the nutritional quality of participating CFBAI companies’ child-directed products and brands as of May 2017.

Key findings include:

  • Youth exposure to all food-related TV advertising – from both CFBAI participating and non-participating companies – declined from 2007 to 2016, by 4 percent for preschoolers (ages 2-5), 11 percent for children (6-11), and 14 percent for young teens (12-14).
  • Less food advertising on children’s TV programming by CFBAI companies, as well as reduced time spent watching TV, contributed to much of the decline in food-related TV ads viewed by children in all age groups. But the number of food-related ads per hour of TV viewing increased, reaching 4.1 and 4.9 ads per hour in 2016 for children and young teens, respectively, due to increases in the amount of food advertising on programming that is not viewed primarily by children (such as children’s cartoons), but that children and young teens frequently watch.
  • In contrast, food advertising viewed by children on children’s TV for companies that do not participate in the CFBAI – primarily restaurants and candy companies – increased by 36 percent for preschoolers and 27 percent for children from 2007 to 2016. In addition, children’s exposure to TV advertising placed by non-participating fast food restaurants (for products excluding kids’ meals) on all types of TV programming increased by 95 percent for preschoolers and 61 percent for children, averaging almost two ads viewed per day.
  • On the internet, the number of children visiting popular CFBAI-company websites promoting children’s food brands in 2009 declined by 80 percent or more, while four of the most popular websites have been discontinued. The majority of children’s food brands now sponsor popular and active social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or YouTube.
  • Of the 319 products examined that CFBAI companies indicated met CFBAI nutrition criteria for healthier dietary choices and may be in child-directed advertising, almost 60 percent did not meet Smart Snacks nutrition standards for food and drinks that could be provided to children in schools, due primarily to excessive sugar, fat, and/or sodium content. These same brands offered 386 additional products that companies did not designate as healthier dietary choices. As a result, companies can continue to advertise brands that include primarily unhealthy products to children, as long as they show one of the healthier versions in their child-directed ads.

“Ten years after the launch of food industry self-regulation, food advertising to children remains far from the goal of supporting healthful diets,” Harris says. “The food and media industries must act to address repeated calls from parents, policymakers and children’s health advocates to strengthen industry self-regulation and take meaningful action to ensure that marketing for food and beverages does not continue to put children’s health at risk.”

Support for this research was provided the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.

 

National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology Launched by Industry, Academia 

National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology Launched by Industry, Academia

Atlantic Ocean. The fast-attack submarine USS Alexandria (SSN 757) surfaces for a formation sailing event while participating in the War of 1812 fleet exercise.
Atlantic Ocean. The fast-attack submarine USS Alexandria (SSN 757) surfaces for a formation sailing event while participating in the War of 1812 fleet exercise.

Two of New England’s flagship universities and the United States Navy’s primary builder of submarines are at the helm of the new National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology.

Located on the Connecticut coast, the new national institute was established to develop the personnel and knowledge to accelerate critical research and enhance U.S. dominance in submarine and other undersea technologies.

It is a joint effort between the engineering schools at the University of Connecticut, University of Rhode Island, and General Dynamics Electric Boat, recognizing the rich history of the region, which has been a hub for development of the technologies and the workforce that advances the national undersea arsenal.

“This initiative demonstrates the tremendous potential for innovative collaboration not only between universities, but in partnership with industry leaders and government,” says UConn President Susan Herbst. “On behalf of UConn, I am very excited that our institution is a key player in this important work.”

Headquartered at the UConn Avery Point campus, the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology capitalizes on a close proximity to the naval submarine base in Groton, Connecticut, as well as to Electric Boat’s facilities in Connecticut and Rhode Island, the main campuses of both UConn and URI, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and the Naval War College. A cooperative research and development agreement with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Middletown, Rhode Island, furthers the regional significance of the institute.

The shipbuilding industry in the Northeast is a crucial contributor to the U.S. Navy’s undersea fleet, with expertise in submarines and other vehicles both manned and unmanned, and technologies that can operate in all areas of the underwater landscape, from shallow tidal areas to the deep ocean.

Many companies throughout the two states contribute to the national supply chain for undersea vehicles, and the synergies will benefit the states’ economies and workforce. The national institute will leverage these major naval resources across southeast New England to develop and accelerate the transition of innovative technologies to the U.S. undersea fleet.

“This institute will help industry support the desire to deploy new undersea capabilities more rapidly,” says Kurt Hesch, chief operating officer at General Dynamics Electric Boat. “The intellectual horsepower and the state-of-the-art research facilities at the universities provide the tools necessary to research technologies so that industry partners can transition them for integration onto undersea vehicles.”

Recent expansion in global access to technology has threatened U.S. dominance in undersea warfare. The national institute will build upon the experience and expertise of Electric Boat, UConn, and URI to bring promising innovations from the lab to commercial readiness faster and more cost-effectively, while training the next generation of engineers and technologists.

As an example of the national institute’s efforts, a recently awarded three-year, $1.3 million Office of Naval Research STEM grant to UConn and URI will facilitate opportunities that prepare undergraduates to join the shipbuilding industry.

“As Land Grant and Sea Grant institutions, URI and UConn are uniquely positioned to undertake cutting-edge research, in collaboration with our close partners, and then assist in the development of our innovations to improve national and global security,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “Our universities are engaged in the scientific exploration of our oceans and the invention of new undersea technologies that facilitate the creation of the next generation of undersea vehicles.”

The establishment of the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology expands the benefits that current research at the two universities provide the Navy. Throughout the past decade, UConn and URI have pursued more than 140 research projects in areas that advance the technology and understanding of undersea warfare.

Among the other research projects UConn and URI have embarked upon with the Navy since 2007:

  • Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative rational design of advanced polymeric capacitor films;
  • Blast performance of marine composite and sandwich structures and experimental investigation of free field and shock-initiated implosion;
  • Exploring uncertainty in real-time hybrid substructuring of marine systems;
  • Sensor networks for multiple target tracking;
  • Automated 3-D target reconstruction and classification using distributed passive sensors for persistent surveillance;
  • Development and testing of undersea gliders;
  • Low-cost acoustic transmitters;
  • An interactive wave sediment profiler.

Navy Using New UConn Software to Improve Navigation 

Navy Using New UConn Software to Improve Navigation

Screenshot of a requested ship transit from Jacksonville, Florida, through the Panama Canal and on to San Diego. The bright circle at the foot of the image shows where the Panama Canal is and can be selected by the user.
The Navy is using new software developed by UConn engineering professor Krishna Pattipati to vastly improve the ability to route ships through unpredictable situations.

Major research discoveries generate news headlines. But a research undertaking by one University of Connecticut engineering lab seeks to forestall some headlines of a different kind.

The loss of life because of weather events, as happened on Oct. 1, 2015 when cargo ship El Faro sank with its 33-member crew in Hurricane Joaquin, is one example. Transcripts released by the National Transportation Safety Board showed an increasingly anxious and panicked crew as the 790-foot vessel sailed into the raging storm two years ago.

Software developed by Krishna Pattipati, UTC Professor in Systems Engineering at UConn and his research team, in collaboration with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory-Monterey, may go a long way toward avoiding such tragedies.

The prototype, named TMPLAR (Tool for Multi-objective Planning and Asset Routing), is now being used by the Navy to vastly improve the ability of ships to reroute through unpredictable weather. It is the type of technology transition that the new National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology based at UConn Avery Point, is now able to foster.

Created by Pattipati and electrical and computer engineering graduate students David Sidoti, Vinod Avvari, Adam Bienkowski, and Lingyi Zhang, and undergraduate students Matthew Macesker and Michelle Voong, TMPLAR is still in development, but it has already been fully integrated with the Navy’s meteorology and oceanographic weather forecasts.

Members of the UConn team meet weekly with Navy officials, via teleconference, to discuss project updates and receive  feedback.

“Their progress is fast,” says Sidoti. “Frankly, it’s kept us on our toes as we try to manage both our academic responsibilities here at UConn while enhancing and updating the software.”

TMPLAR is like a much more complex version of Google Maps, because it will be applied to ships and submarines, where there is no underlying network of roadways to navigate.

In Google Maps, a user typically seeks to maximize the average speed of travel between start and end locations to get to a destination in the shortest amount of time, hence the route may favor highways instead of back roads.

Pattipati’s team is now approaching problems with upwards of 17 or more objectives, which may change depending on the vehicle and the conditions.

The algorithms take into account obstacles such as ocean depth, undersea pipelines, cables, oil rigs, for example. And they factor in multiple user objectives, whether to traverse to an area to minimize travel time, maximize fuel efficiency given the predicted weather, accomplish training objectives, or maximize operational endurance.

“The tool guarantees safe travel from any point in the ocean, above, on, or below its surface, while making choices en route that optimize fuel consumption and cater to any set of objectives of the operator,” says Sidoti. “Using special clustering techniques, the tool’s algorithms have even been applied to finding low-risk routes that avoid storms or hurricanes.”

The next step for TMPLAR is programming the tool for use by aircraft, such as drones.

Last month, Pattipati and Sidoti traveled to San Diego to demonstrate the capabilities of the software to the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific. Their algorithim is now going to be integrated with a tool for aircraft carrier strike group planning.

The lab first published details about the software last year in the journal IEEE, the world’s largest professional organization for the advancement of technology. Avvari, one of the graduate students, will detail some of the enhancements that have been made since then at an upcoming professional conference.

And, as the software transitions to operational settings, the team is looking to speed up the capabilities to output smart weather-informed route recommendations in less than a second. Adding neural network modules to TMPLAR is another new horizon; artificial intelligence would help condense solutions so it is less overwhelming to a user, says Sidoti.

When he reviewed the factors faced by the crew of El Faro using TMPLAR software, Sidoti was able to find safe routes for the ship that involved waiting at waypoints and varying the ship’s speed in order to avoid unsafe environmental conditions, while also reducing costs of the route.

The Coast Guard’s report on the tragedy – released just a month ago – said the captain misjudged the strength of Hurricane Joaquin and should have changed the El Faro’s course.

Sidoti found up to eight possible safe routes using TMPLAR. That’s the sort of information he hopes other captains will have.

Recently, the team received notification that the software was demo’ed to onboard ship navigators who were interested to the point that they requested the ability to use it in order to plan and test it on a real-world deployment.

Funding for this research is supported by the U.S. Office of Naval Research under contracts #N00014-16-1-2036 and #N00014-12-1-0238; by the Naval Research Laboratory under contract #N00173-16-1-G905; and by the Department of Defense High Performance Computing Modernization Program under subproject contract #HPCM034125HQU.

Reforestation: Knowing When to Let Nature Take its Course 

Reforestation: Knowing When to Let Nature Take its Course

path in secondary forest; Lindero Sur.jpg: A trail bisects a large area of 32-yr old naturally regenerating forest on former cattle pasture near the south boundary of La Selva Biological Station in northeastern Costa RIca. This forest area has been monitored annually for 20 years, contributing to the dataset used in this study. Photo by Robin L. Chazdon
Allowing Nature to restore deforested areas often restores them closer to the characteristics of the original forest than planting large numbers of trees, according to a new study by an international team including UConn researcher Robin Chazdon. (Robin Chazdon/UConn Photo)

In forest restoration, letting nature take its course may be the most effective and least expensive means of restoring the biodiversity and vegetation structure of tropical forests, according to a new study by an international team of researchers, including UConn ecology and evolutionary biology professor emerita Robin Chazdon. The study, which concluded that active interventions are not always the best route for forest regeneration, was published today in Science Advances.

There is currently a global effort to pledge 350 million hectares of degraded forest for restoration by 2030. Although this is a big commitment, Chazdon and her colleagues say it doesn’t need to be as costly or labor-intensive as many think.

Not wasting money on planting trees when nature can plant them for a much lower cost means we can accomplish more.— Robin Chazdon

Intervening and restoring deforested and degraded forest areas can be accomplished through many different activities. Some interventions are more active and costly, such as planting nursery stock, whereas other interventions are more passive, such as spontaneous or assisted natural regeneration.

“Natural regeneration can happen, for instance, in areas that have been deforested and have forest fragments nearby, and where soil is not heavily disturbed. In these cases, the forest itself starts the process,” says Chazdon. “Seeds are carried by animals, and trees and shrubs establish rapidly.”

There are some areas that need active measures, however, namely those where the soil has been removed or depleted of organic matter. Processes such as mining, unsustainable farming, or erosion can heavily disturb the soil to the point where vegetation and trees cannot re-establish themselves. These areas would require more active methods.

Although active interventions are generally favored by practitioners and policy-makers, some have argued that natural regeneration is the most cost-effective approach for recovering biodiversity, ecological processes, and ecosystem services under favorable ecological conditions. Most of the evidence for this is driven by the substantially lower cost of natural regeneration relative to active restoration. Until now, no robust comparisons of ecological benefits between active restoration and natural regeneration outcomes had been made for tropical forest regions, where large-scale restoration efforts are needed to ensure delivery of ecosystem services and to protect biodiversity.

In the new study, the researchers posed the question of whether natural regeneration was the most beneficial approach for forest restoration success in terms of biodiversity and vegetation structure. They conducted a global meta-analysis of the most comprehensive dataset gathered to date on tropical forest restoration success, encompassing 133 primary studies spread across 115 study landscapes, and containing 1,728 quantitative comparisons between reference (i.e. old-growth forests) and restored systems.

Because forest restoration success is influenced by many confounding factors, the analysis controlled for four key factors known to influence the recovery of biodiversity and vegetation structure: forest amount, precipitation, time elapsed since restoration started, and past disturbance.

Although the researchers found that neither method of restoration is likely to return the forest to exactly its former state, compared to natural systems, passive restoration yielded greater increases in biodiversity and vegetation structure (between 34 percent and 56 percent, respectively) than active restoration (between 19 percent and 56 percent, respectively).

“We found very clear results that the passive restoration approaches had better outcomes, and the forest returned to a much closer state to the original forest than in the case of active interventions,” Chazdon says.

The researchers caution that these findings should be applied carefully, as each restoration site is unique and presents its own challenges. Some sites require the more active approaches, and it is important to be able to identify and prioritize the sites.

“If we can map out where there is capacity for successful natural restoration, we can prioritize,” Chazdon says. “Not wasting money on planting trees when nature can plant them for a much lower cost means we can accomplish more.”

She says the prevailing view that restoration requires planting millions of trees needs to be redirected. Instead, a well-informed, combined approach of active and natural approaches is needed to achieve robust results with global forest restoration, and the researchers hope these findings will help shift the established mindset.

With countries pledging their intentions to restore millions of hectares of forests, this study may help focus their efforts and costs where they are needed most, and hopefully lead to the regeneration of many more millions of hectares of much needed forests, world-wide.

How People Cope with Weight Stigma Affects Their Health

How People Cope with Weight Stigma Affects Their Health

A focus on positive coping strategies could help improve health for those who experience being teased or bullied because of their weight, according to new research by the UConn Rudd Center. (UConn Rudd Center Photo)
A focus on positive coping strategies could help improve health for those who experience being teased or bullied because of their weight, according to new research by the UConn Rudd Center. (UConn Rudd Center Photo)

A new study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut shows that how people cope with being mistreated because of weight can affect their health.

The study, published online today in Health Psychology, found that coping with the experience of being teased or bullied because of weight by engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors (like exercise or eating healthy foods) was associated with better health, including greater self-esteem, better physical and psychological well being, and less frequent depressive symptoms. Responding to weight stigma with negative emotions and maladaptive eating (such as starving, bingeing, or purging) was linked with more depressive symptoms, lower self-esteem, and worse physical and emotional health.

We need to find ways to help individuals experiencing weight stigma use coping strategies that have healthy benefits.— Mary Himmelstein

“Overall, our results suggest that how people cope with weight stigma may be important when it comes to the negative health effects of being mistreated because of weight,” says Mary Himmelstein, postdoctoral fellow at the UConn Rudd Center, and lead author of the study. “Our findings indicate that we need to find ways to help individuals experiencing weight stigma use coping strategies that have healthy benefits, rather than strategies that may worsen health.”

Considerable evidence had previously linked the experience of weight stigma to poor health. Yet few studies had explored how individuals cope with being mistreated because of their weight, or the role that their coping responses may play in health outcomes.

The UConn Rudd Center study involved a national sample of 912 American adults who completed an online survey in 2015. Participants answered questions about demographic characteristics, whether they had experienced weight stigma and how they typically coped with these experiences, and health questions about current dieting behavior, depressive symptoms, physical and psychological well being, and self-esteem.

All participants in the study reported experiencing some form of weight stigma. Weight-based teasing was the most common (88.9 percent), followed by unfair treatment (56.1 percent) and weight-based discrimination (43.1 percent). The most common strategy for coping with these stigmatizing experiences was engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors, followed by responding with negative emotions, and avoiding exercise.

“Obesity-related treatments, weight-management programs, and health professionals aiming to help individuals who report being stigmatized because of their weight need to focus on weight stigma,” Himmelstein says. “Offering support and focusing on positive coping strategies will be important to help improve their patients’ physical and emotional well-being.”

Study co-authors include Rebecca Puhl, professor of human development and family studies and deputy director of the UConn Rudd Center, and Diane Quinn, professor of psychological sciences at UConn.

 

Researchers Discover Super-Elastic Shape-Memory Material

Researchers Discover Super-Elastic Shape-Memory Material

Seok-Woo Lee, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, at his lab at the Gant Complex on Oct. 27, 2016. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Materials science and engineering professor Seok-Woo Lee and colleagues have discovered super-elastic shape-memory properties in a material that could be used in the harshest of conditions, such as outer space. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

UConn materials science and engineering researcher Seok-Woo Lee and his colleagues have discovered super-elastic shape-memory properties in a material that could be applied for use as an actuator in the harshest of conditions, such as outer space, and might be the first in a whole new class of shape-memory materials.

If you have ever had braces or wear eyeglasses, you may have already come in contact with shape-memory materials. With applications in a wide range of consumer products such as “unbreakable” frames for glasses, and civil industrial structures like bridges, materials with shape-memory properties can return to their original shape by magnetic forces or heat even after being significantly deformed.

Our results can be applied to more than 400 similar materials. This discovery opens up an entirely new area of research on superelastic materials.— Seok-Woo Lee

Lee, who is Pratt & Whitney assistant professor of materials science and engineering, studied calcium iron arsenide, or CaFe2As2, which is an intermetallic better known for its novel superconducting properties. Since the material is commonly used in high-temperature superconductors, extensive research had already examined the compound’s superconducting and magnetic properties. Inspired by previous research conducted at the U.S Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory by Paul Canfield on calcium iron arsenide’s electronic properties, Lee set out to measure the material’s high degree of pressure and strain sensitivity for potential applications as a structural material.

Working with a team of graduate and undergraduate students at UConn and collaborators at Ames Laboratory, Drexel University, and Colorado State University, Lee discovered that not only did CaFe2As2 exhibit the ability to “bounce” back into its original shape, it showed “giant super-elasticity.” While normal metal alloys or intermetallics recover 0.5 percent of the pre-deformation shape once the compressing force has been removed, CaFe2As2 recovers more than 13 percent.

This video demonstrates the intermetallic compound’s super-elasticity during a cyclic micro-compression test conducted by John Sypek, a UConn Ph.D. candidate, and Lee on a single CaFe2As2 crystal two micrometers in diameter that was synthesized at Canfield’s lab at the Ames Laboratory: 

In addition to the crystal’s large ability to recover, the team saw evidence of calcium iron arsenide’s ultra-high strength and significant fatigue resistance, which would guarantee structural performance and integrity if used as a structural material. They also noted another unique property when testing CaFe2As2 at extremely cold temperatures. The existence of shape-memory effect was confirmed when tested at temperatures as low as 50 Kelvin, or about -370 degrees Fahrenheit. This could lead to the development of technologies that change shape at low temperatures for use in deep space travel.

But Lee is most excited about what these discoveries could indicate about other materials in the same family as calcium iron arsenide.

“Our results can be applied to more than 400 similar materials. This discovery opens up an entirely new area of research on superelastic materials,” Lee says. “We see great potential for our findings to be applied by fellow scientists in future research and by industry in the development of new technologies.”

The findings were published in Nature Communications online on Oct. 20 in a paper titled “Superelasticity and Cryogenic Linear Shape Memory Effects of CaFe2As2.” Graduate and undergraduate students in Lee’s lab performed much of the mechanical property measurement and testing for the paper: materials science and engineering (MSE) doctoral candidates John Sypek and Keith Dusoe and MSE undergraduate researchers Hetal Patel and Amanda Giroux, are co-authors on the paper, along with Seok-Woo Lee, Hang Yu, Alan I. Goldman, Andreas Kreyssig, Paul C. Canfield, Sergey L. Bud’ko, and Christopher R. Weinberger.

The research at UConn’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering & Institute of Materials Science was supported by UConn Start-up Funding and the UConn Research Excellence Program. Lee credits this institutional support with helping him win a 2016 Early Career Faculty Grant from NASA’s Space Technology Research Grants Program (grant number NNX16AR60G).

“UConn’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering is among the top programs in the country, and since Seok-Woo came to UConn three years ago, he has shown that he is one of our most creative and productive early career faculty,” says Radenka Maric, vice president for research and professor in the department. “Not only a preeminent researcher, Seok-Woo engages with students at the graduate and undergraduate levels. We are thrilled that the collaboration between Seok-Woo, his talented students, and acclaimed scientists from the Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and other esteemed institutions has yielded such remarkable results. This is a testimonial to his commitment to both cutting-edge research and his role as an educator.”

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. 

Aged DNA May Activate Genes Differently 

Aged DNA May Activate Genes Differently

Double strand of pearls tied in a knot over black background. Chromosomes look like long necklaces of DNA in the center of every cell in the body. Some parts of the necklace are open and loose, others are coiled tightly. New research shows that as we age, some sections of our chromosomes curl and close up, making it harder for cells to access genes critical to defense against disease. (Getty Images)
Chromosomes look like long necklaces of DNA in the center of every cell in the body. New UConn Health/JAX-GM research shows that as we age, some sections of our chromosomes curl and close up, making it harder for cells to access genes critical to defense against disease. (Getty Images)

Grey hair, wisdom, and wrinkles on our skin mark us as we age, but it’s the more subtle changes beneath the surface that make us old. Now, researchers have discovered that our chromosomes also wrinkle with age, changing how our immune system renews itself.

Our chromosomes are our instruction manuals. They tell how to make every protein we need to live. They look like long necklaces of DNA, coiled and curled in the center of every cell in the body. Some parts of the necklace are open and loose, others are coiled tightly or obscured by other sections of the chain. If a part is tightly coiled, it’s harder for the cell’s machinery to access the DNA in that section and activate the genes that DNA describes.

New research by a team from UConn Health and the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine (JAX-GM) shows that our chromosomes age along with us, with some sections of the chromosome curling and closing up and making it harder to access DNA that might be critical to defend our bodies against disease. The paper appeared in the Journal of Experimental Medicine on Sept. 13.

“In young people, thousands of sites are open, seemingly ready to activate genes and make protein. There are genes and pathways that are very active in younger people that appear to lose their activity in older adults,” says George Kuchel, UConn Health geriatrician and director of the UConn Center on Aging. “The portions that are open and the portions that are closed look very different” in younger people versus older people, he adds.

Kuchel worked with JAX-GM’s immunologist Jacques Banchereau and computational biologist Duygu Ucar to determine the regions of chromosomes and genes that lose their activity with aging. The large amount of data and its diversity required Ucar and her team to invent new analysis techniques to get meaningful results from it. The close collaboration between researchers at UConn Health and JAX-GM is what makes this type of complex study possible.

The researchers recruited 75 healthy young people between the ages of 22 and 40 years, and 26 healthy seniors aged 65 and older to participate in the study. Each person gave a blood sample, and the research team then isolated immune cells from the blood. They investigated how the immune cells’ gene activation changed with aging.

The differences between younger people and older made a clear signature, one that had never been seen before in genomic analysis. Regions of chromosome coding for genes that encourage the development and differentiation of T-cells, which help defend us against flu and other viral infections and some cancers, are more likely to be open in young people compared to the elderly. On the other hand, regions of chromosome coding for genes associated with cell death and inflammation appeared to be more open in the elderly than in the young.

Kuchel, Banchereau, and Ucar have new studies now underway that will apply this type of genomic analysis to pneumococcal vaccine response, as well as to overall disease resilience in the elderly.

The work was supported by the Jackson Laboratory Director’s Innovation Fund, the UConn Health Travelers Chair, and funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Living on the Edge Not for All Species

Living on the Edge Not for All Species

As forest edges multiply and deep forest shrinks, some edge-loving species like the boa constrictor are becoming invasive, while deep forest-dwellers like the Sunda pangolin are becoming at risk of extinction. (Image from an animated video, 'Biodiversity on the Edge'/ Imperial College London, ERC, and Newcastle University)
As forest edges multiply and deep forest shrinks, some edge-loving species like the boa constrictor are becoming invasive, while deep forest-dwellers like the Sunda pangolin are becoming at risk of extinction. (Image from an animated video, ‘Biodiversity on the Edge’/ Imperial College London, ERC, and Newcastle University)

In nature, it is often said that there are winners and there are losers. An international team of researchers, that includes researchers from UConn, have found that as tropical forests become increasingly fragmented, some species are at an ever-increasing risk for extinction, especially those dependent on the deeper reaches of the forest.

Laura Cisneros, visiting assistant professor of natural resources and the environment, handles a recently captured bat from the Caribbean Lowlands of Costa Rica.
Laura Cisneros, visiting assistant professor of natural resources and the environment, handles a recently captured bat from the Caribbean Lowlands of Costa Rica.

The study, published today in Nature, was a collaborative effort involving more than 30 researchers from 29 institutions, including UConn ecology and evolutionary biology professor Michael Willig, visiting assistant professor of natural resources and the environment Laura Cisneros, and Brian Klingbeil (formerly of UConn and now at Auburn University), and was led by researchers from Newcastle University and Imperial College London in the U.K.

Focusing on these impacts in depth and at this scale was no easy task, and impossible for a single researcher, says Willig.

“Who has the expertise or the ability to be all over the world studying all these different taxa at the same time? The answer is, nobody. So there was a call to researchers to collaborate.”

Together, the team amassed the largest global data set on species responses to fragmentation to date. They collected species abundance data for more than 1,600 forest vertebrates – amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles from Africa, Asia, and South America, and then applied these data to sophisticated spatial and statistical analyses. What they found was that 85 percent of species are now being impacted, some positively, but more species are impacted negatively by forest fragmentation.

“For the first time, we’ve comprehensively and indisputably documented this pervasive phenomenon of forest fragmentation and its effect on all major classes of vertebrates, across the world,” says Willig.

The Importance of the Forest Core

An aerial photo of tropical forest in Iquitos, Peru, shows the spread of forest edges due to the expansion of road networks, logging, agriculture, and other human activity. (Photo by Stephen P. Yanoviak)
An aerial photo of tropical forest in Iquitos, Peru, shows the spread of forest edges due to the expansion of road networks, logging, agriculture, and other human activity. (Photo by Stephen Yanoviak)

Half the world’s forest habitat is now within 500 meters of a forest edge, due to the expansion of road networks, logging, agriculture, and other human activity, say the researchers. They found that species depending on the core of the forest are most abundant around 200 to 400 meters from the forest edge. Breaking up forests into small, isolated patches pushes more species closer to the forest edge, putting them at risk.

“What we are doing is essentially creating isolated islands of core forest for these species. The areas are becoming more fragmented, populations are becoming smaller, and this can lead to increases in things like inbreeding, which have further deleterious effects that enhance the likelihood of populations going extinct,” Willig says.

The importance of the forest core lies in the fact that different areas of the forest offer different conditions to its inhabitants. The edges of the forest generally have more light, less moisture, and are typically warmer. For forest inhabitants, different animal species are constrained by their needs and demands for these varying conditions. For instance, species more prone to overheating and water loss, like forest core-dwelling amphibians, may quickly die when forced out of the core and into the fringes.

A carnivorous bat from the Caribbean Lowlands of Costa Rica. (Photo by Brian T. Klingbeil)
A carnivorous bat from the Caribbean Lowlands of Costa Rica. Some core forest species of bats are benefiting from the creation of forest edges. (Photo by Laura Cisneros)

Some animals are acclimatizing or adapting to changes better than others, but for those core-dependent species such as the Sunda Pangolin, the Long-billed Black Cockatoo, and Baird’s Tapir, the findings are critical and show how very vulnerable these species are.

Going forward, the team hopes this data will be useful for implementing conservation efforts and informing land management practices and policies.

Willig says, “This assessment indicates considerable conservation concern, unless a lot of steps are taken, such as reducing habitat fragmentation, restoration of habitats, or creating corridors between fragmented forests, many species are in significant danger of extinction.”

The UConn portion of this research was funded by: Bat Conservation International, Organization for Tropical Studies, American Society of Mammalogists, and UConn’s Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

For more information contact:

Elaina Hancock, UConn: elaina.hancock@uconn.edu
Louella Houldcroft, 
Newcastle University, United Kingdom: houldcroft@ncl.ac.uk
Marion Pfeifer, Newcastle University, United Kingdom: pfeifer@ncl.ac.uk
Michael Willig, University of Connecticut, United States: willig@uconn.edu

Tanning Beds and Risky Behavior Linked – in Men

Tanning Beds and Risky Behavior Linked – in Men

A young man lying on a tanning bed. Even though men use tanning beds at lower rates than women, men who tan tend to do it in riskier ways, according to a new study by UConn researchers. (Getty Images)
A young man lying on a tanning bed. Even though men use tanning beds at lower rates than women, men who tan tend to do it in riskier ways, according to a new study by UConn researchers. (Getty Images)

Even though men use tanning beds at lower rates than women, men who tan tend to do it in riskier ways, according to a study by researchers at the University of Connecticut. The findings should help public health officials rethink how, and to whom, they’re targeting anti-tanning messages.

Because the stereotypical tanning salon client is a young woman, almost all the research and health messaging on tanning has focused on that demographic. But the new research in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that one in three people who use tanning beds in the U.S. are male.

Men who tan report using tanning beds with about the same frequency as women, but smoke and binge drink at higher rates than their female counterparts, and they also tend to treat tanning more like an addiction than women do, say the authors. A full 49 percent of men who used tanning beds fit a pattern of addictive behavior around tanning.

“That was really surprising,” says lead author Sherry Pagoto, a clinical psychologist and director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media. “If they tan with the same frequency as women, why would tanning in men be more addictive?”

Pagoto and her colleagues conducted a national survey of 636 people who answered “yes” when asked whether they had ever used a tanning bed. They queried the participants about frequency of use, preferred locations to tan, how they felt about tanning, and why they did it.

The differences between men and women were marked. Women preferred to tan in salons, and said they valued low cost, cleanliness, and convenience. Men who tanned preferred less regulated settings, such as gyms or private homes. They said they liked to tan to accentuate the appearance of their muscles, or as a reward after working out. They also reported smoking tobacco, binge drinking alcohol, and drinking soda significantly more often than women who tan. 

Men also answered “yes” when asked if they ever felt anxious if they weren’t able to tan, tanned to relieve stress, or spent money on tanning even when they couldn’t afford it. They agreed with statements such as “I’d like to quit but I keep going back to it.”

There’s a population of men who tan and engage in other risky behaviors and are very unlike the young women that health educators assume are at risk of tanning bed health impacts, says Pagoto.

Pagoto and her team are pursuing another study to delve more deeply into who tans, asking questions about sexual orientation, given that recent research has revealed that homosexual men are just as likely to use tanning beds as young women. The research should help health officials trying to warn the public of the very real connection between tanning beds and skin cancer, she says.

Sun lamps and tanning beds are legal for adult use in all 50 states, even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies them as a Class 1 carcinogenlike tobacco, radon, and arsenic, and the use of tanning beds has been linked to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Most current marketing messaging is targeted to teen- and college-aged women, according to Pagoto. Men who tan are unlikely to relate to that type of message. Pagoto is now applying social media marketing principles to develop prevention messages that resonate with specific audience segments.

“We’re also hoping to spread the message on college campuses, since the tanning industry heavily markets to college students,” she says.

Toward that end, the National Council for Skin Cancer Prevention recently launched the Skin Smart Campus Initiative, a national initiative, co-chaired by Pagoto, to help colleges educate their students about the dangers of tanning, and prevent tanning salons from taking advantage of students. You can learn more and get involved by visiting https://www.skinsmartcampus.org/site/.

The research was funded by grants from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health.