University of Cincinnati Research
Current Projects

November 19, 2002

Research funding at the University of Cincinnati is up by more than 13 percent over last year. In fiscal year 2002, UC earned more than $260 million in grants and contracts. That compares to $230 million in fiscal year 2001.

The last two years cap an upward trend that has transformed UC into a research powerhouse, placing it among the most selective in the country. For instance, research funding has quadrupled in the past 20 years, and the university's National Science Foundation ranking has climbed from a placement of 76th to 47th.

Following is a sampling of the projects in education, the environment, health, history, security/space and transportation that are behind UC's impressive figures and ranking:

EDUCATION

Making Sure Today's Technology Adds Up to Better Education
Joyce Pittman, assistant professor of educational technology, is seeking to determine which educational technology will have a lasting impact. And how can information about today's effective educational technology be shared among teachers? Pittman leads the Comprehensive, Educational Restructuring and Technology Infusion Initiative (CERTI) in order to answer these questions. The initiative provides for professional development and technical training for UC faculty, UC education students and teachers in the public schools. It focuses on building technology expertise in educational environments, performance-based assessment, and bridging the "Digital Divide," providing equitable access to high quality education for all individuals. Pittman, whose research has been extensively published, is particularly interested in the concept of "digital equity."

Her work is currently supported by $2.7 million in grants. Half of that is funded by the Department of Education (a Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology Grant). The remaining funding comes from a variety of partners including UC's College of Education, UC's McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, the Cincinnati Public Schools, Kent State University, Iowa State University, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, WCET-TV, Ohio SchoolNET and Generation www.Y.

Forging Tools to Make the Grade in Education
Janet Graden, professor and head of the Division of Human Services, and David W. Barnett, professor of school psychology, were awarded $175,000 from the Ohio Board of Regents' Incentive Fund to develop their proposal: "3 R's: Revitalizing Education Reform, Researching Effective Approaches and Reforming Accountability." They will create a new Center for Research on Academic Innovation to assist Ohio schools in building academic achievement, and in reversing the trend of increasing numbers of Ohio students who are not passing proficiency tests. Under Ohio law, schools that fail to meet the standards must develop a continuous improvement plan. The center will assist struggling schools as they develop effective approaches to improve student performance.

ENVIRONMENT

Piecing Together How Earth's Biodiversity Evolved
While some people might view the fossil skeletons of trilobites or dinosaurs as exciting glimpses of life during bygone eras, Arnold Miller, professor of geology, sees them as much more than that. He sees them as pieces of data that, along with the myriad of other fossils preserved in the earth's sedimentary veneer, can help us to understand the history, and perhaps the future, of global biodiversity on our planet.

Global biodiversity can be defined simply as: the number of different kinds of species living on the earth. Currently, scientists are worried that global biodiversity is in peril because of human-induced changes to the planet. By examining the ancient record of biodiversity, which has been marked by several major increases (known as "radiations") and decreases (known as "mass extinctions"), Miller and his colleagues hope to better understand the natural conditions that have caused these profound changes in the past. This, in turn, will give us a much stronger sense of what to expect under changing physical conditions (e.g., global warming) in the future.

The backbone of this effort is the development of a database that seeks to catalogue information about the occurrences of fossils worldwide throughout the history of life. Miller pioneered this approach in developing a global database for the Ordovician Period, the period represented by rocks of the Cincinnati area. He is now a member of the three-person executive committee that is overseeing a coordinated, multi-institutional effort to construct a global database (The Paleobiology Database) for the entire fossil record. Data can be entered and accessed by researchers at http://paleodb.org.

For the past decade, Miller's research has been funded by NASA's Program in Exobiology. More recently, he acquired funding for this research from the National Science Foundation's new, interdisciplinary program in Biocomplexity.

HEALTH

Methods of Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Disorders
College of Medicine researchers Paul Keck, M.D. and Nathan Shapira, M.D. were issued a United States patent for the use of the painkiller Tramadol for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder ("OCD"). Approximately 3.3 million Americans suffer from OCD, which is a chronic and often disabling condition with symptoms ranging from depression to irrational fears to compulsive checking, arranging and hoarding. The new medication acts within 30 minutes to one hour as compared to 8 to 12 weeks required for conventional medications before any response is apparent, thereby providing one of the first medications to offer short-term relief of symptoms in such patients.

Combating Stress, Affective Disorders and Addiction
Stress can be caused by a wide variety of environmental and perceptual stimuli and stress-related anxiety can predispose certain people to depression and food addiction. The stress response is complex and involves the integration of stressful stimuli by several key regions of the brain. Researchers at the UC Obesity Research Center have recently discovered that signaling through the "GLP-1" receptor is involved in the response to a wide range of stressors in rats. (Receptors are switches on the surface of brain cells that are turned on by specific brain chemicals and hormones.) Different receptors activate different responses, and the GLP-1 receptor seems to turn on specific populations of brain cells after stresses as diverse as chemical toxins and exposure to heights. The identification and study of this new receptor's role by UC researchers Randy J. Seeley Ph.D., David A. D'Alessio M.D., and Kimberly P. Kinzig may yield new treatments for stress-related anxiety and other affective disorders, including such affective disorders as depression and eating disorders that involve elevated levels of stress hormones in the blood. Based on these results, the university filed for patent protection for the invention. The invention has generated substantial interest from a number of pharmaceutical companies. This research is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Looking at Infant Feeding to Battle Birth Defects
Rebecca German, professor of biology, studies feeding mechanisms (chewing and swallowing) in mammals as well as the relationship between respiration and feeding in mammals. She does so in order to better understand and describe the mechanics of how infants breathe, suckle and feed. Thus, the research has implications for the correction of various birth defects such as cleft lip and palate.

In her lab, German uses non-invasive technology (like cineradiography which allows her to use x-rays that can follow motor function to see inside the mouth and throat) in order to observe and measure how infant mammals like pigs and monkeys swallow and feed. She explained, "We look at how oral function matures in mammals. As scientists, we don't really understand the fundamental biomechanical changes that occur in muscles prior to weaning. Swallowing requires the coordination of a large number of muscles. It's very complex because of the need to also protect the airway during breathing."

German works in collaboration with researchers at Harvard University and the University of London's United Medical and Dental Schools. Her work is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Clot Busting With Ultrasound
Christy Holland, director of research for UC's Biomedical Engineering program, has found a way to combine the power of ultrasound with a commonly used clot-busting drug to make the drug even more effective. Holland and her collaborators have shown that ultrasound can be targeted at the region of the human brain where strokes are most likely to occur. They also demonstrated that ultrasound can help the drug tPA work faster and more effectively to break up the clots which often cause strokes.

The project got the attention of Senmed Medical Ventures Inc. which is now supporting Holland's work. She's also filed for a patent on the idea. "My dream is that five years from now EMTs will be able to put a helmet on someone's head, and the clot will be gone before the patient reaches the hospital."

HISTORY

Troy Finale
Archaeologist Brian Rose, professor of classics, recently returned from his final session heading UC's Troy Excavation Team. Ancient golden jewelry, hidden sculptures of famous emperors and other historic treasures are the discoveries that filled his last 15 years at Troy, the fabled site of the Trojan War in western Turkey. Rose's work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, James Storer Foundation, Institute for Aegean Prehistory, Kress Foundation and Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Muddy Mayan Mystery Made Clearer
A team of scholars led by University of Cincinnati professors Nicholas Dunning and Vernon Scarborough found evidence of a major environmental transformation that helps to explain a puzzle that has stumped Maya scholars for decades. Why would the Maya live in an area where the primary water source is little more than mud half of the year? Their discoveries not only answer this first question but also reveal why many early Maya centers were abandoned about 1,600 years after the civilization first appeared in the lowlands of Latin America. They also document why the Maya moved to new areas where they created elaborate water storage systems that allowed their civilization to thrive for several more centuries. Dunning, a geographer, and Scarborough, an anthropologist, are joined by four co-authors in the report of their research in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers (Volume 92, No. 2, 2002). Their work was done in cooperation with the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project and the Bajos Communities Project. The work in Belize was supported by the National Science Foundation, while NASA funded their work in Guatemala.

SECURITY

Geographer Scouts Out Al Queda
Geographer Richard Beck has helped to answer the question "Where in the world is Osama bin Laden?" by using satellite imaging and other tools. Judging from one of the targets bombed during the war in Afghanistan, he may indeed be having an impact. Beck made a presentation on his work at the Geological Society of America meeting in Denver on Oct. 30. He explained how he identified a possible bin Laden stronghold in Afghanistan, based on geological features he viewed in video showing the Al-Queda leader. His funding sources are encouraging him to continue. A longer account of Beck's work will be published in a future issue of Professional Geographer. His work is supported by grants from NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.

SPACE

Researcher Preps Robot Rover for Mars
UC geographer Richard Beck trekked to the desert of Flagstaff, Ariz., in September to participate in NASA tests of a data-gathering robot system that may someday collect information during Mars exploration and feed it back to Earth using wireless technology. Beck, an expert in satellite imaging and geographic information systems and an adjunct research assistant professor of geography, was invited to work with NASA to design a scientific data-gathering system that could be used for planetary exploration. Beck will work with NASA again next summer. The work is funded by NASA.

TRANSPORTATION

Silane Coatings for Bonding Rubber to Metals
In the manufacturing of articles involving rubber-to-metal bonding, a two-stage process has traditionally been necessary. The first step involved treatment of the metal to prevent rusting or corrosion, and the second step involved techniques to reliably bond the metal to the rubber. Previous techniques for the corrosion protection step have involved environmentally unfriendly materials such as chromates and phosphates. Professor Wim van Ooij, along with graduate students Senthil Jayaseelan and Eric Mee were issued a patent in July 2002 for a new, one-step chemical bonding process which accomplishes both corrosion protection and durable bonding while eliminating the toxic chemicals associated with older techniques. Use of the method promises significant savings and greatly decreased environmental pollution.

An important application of this research would be to bond metal to rubber in tires, specifically to the steel belts within tires. According to van Ooij, the current process calls for adhering fine steel filaments to rubber using a brass plating on the filaments within the belts. However, this is precisely where today's tires tend to fail because the brass plate corrodes and rusts at the points in which its adheres to the steel filaments. His patented method for materials bonding avoids use of brass plating, and so, means less rust, much less frequent tire failure. The end result is safer, longer-lasting tires. Current funding for this project comes from the Environmental Protection Agency and Aeromettech (Salt Lake City). Initially, the project was funded by Chemetall GmbH of Germany.

Improved Fuel Injector Design
Fuel injectors are important to the automotive industry, aircraft propulsion and in many other power-generating applications. Optimal fuel injector design must simultaneously provide a combination of high penetration (requiring "concentrated momentum") and intense mixing (requiring "distributed momentum"). Because these mathematical attributes are contradictory, traditional fuel-injector technology has limited efficiency, high pollution potential, and large physical size. Ohio Eminent Scholar Ephraim Gutmark, Ph.D., and graduate student Shanmugam Murugappan from the UC College of Engineering's Aerospace Engineering Department have developed an exciting new fuel-injector design which allows for high penetration depth and efficient mixing while being more compact, efficient, environmentally friendly, and inexpensive than conventional designs.

Explained Gutmark: A fuel injector's purpose is to introduce fuel into a stream of air so that the fuel and oxygen will mix well and burn to provide energy. For good mixing (high penetration), it's necessary that the fuel enter deeply into the air volume found in the combustion chamber. This provides a challenge because fine droplets of fuel best penetrate and mix with oxygen while concentrated amounts of fuels don't usually mix well with oxygen. However, concentrated amounts of fuel are necessary for efficient combustion (burning) which provides energy. It's even more difficult to obtain optimal efficiency in high-powered engines because they have a very high speed of air flow that bends the entering fuel to the wall instead of allowing it to enter into the oxygen stream. "It's like throwing water out of the window of a car going at high speed. It just comes right back and hits the window," explained Gutmark. His design resolves the competing challenges of concentration of fuel (necessary for burning) and fuel-oxygen mixing. This research is funded by the State of Ohio and the U.S. Air Force.