||Vol. 5 No. 7 September 30, 2010
Special Research Spotlight
Global Study Finds Widespread Threats to World’s Rivers
Multiple environmental stressors, such as agricultural runoff, pollution and invasive species, threaten rivers that serve 80 percent of the world’s population, around 5 billion people, according to researchers from (CCNY, University of Wisconsin and seven other institutions. These same stressors endanger the biodiversity of 65 percent of the world’s river habitats and put thousands of aquatic wildlife species at risk. The findings, reported in the September 30 issue of "Nature," come from the first global-scale initiative to quantify the impact of these stressors on humans and riverine biodiversity. The research team produced a series of maps documenting the impact using a computer-based framework they developed. "We can no longer look at human water security and biodiversity threats independently," said the corresponding author, Dr. Charles J. Vörösmarty, director of the CUNY Environmental Crossroads Initiative and professor of civil engineering in The Grove School of Engineering at CCNY. "We need to link the two. The systematic framework we’ve created allows us to look at the human and biodiversity domains on an equal playing field." The framework offers a tool for prioritizing policy and management responses to a global water crisis. More on this story.
Energy Department Awards CUNY Energy Institute $4.6 Million
The CCNY-based CUNY Energy Institute was awarded two grants totaling $4.6 million over three years in the latest round of funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). They are among the 43 grants totaling $92 million announced July 12 by U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu for cutting-edge research projects to dramatically improve how the United States uses and produces energy. "ARPA-E conducted an intensely competitive selection process, evaluating over 500 proposals for this round of funding," said Dr. Sanjoy Banerjee, director of the Energy Institute and distinguished professor of chemical engineering in the Grove School of Engineering. "We’re ecstatic to have two of our grants funded. The funding is an important vote of confidence for our work to help America achieve energy independence, and these projects are another important collaboration between the Grove School and City College’s Division of Science." ARPA-E is a newly created agency for energy technology research and development funded through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. It is intended to bring a sense of mission to energy research that will attract many of the United States’ best and brightest minds, especially, those of students and young researchers. More on this story.
Professor Helps Document Obesity's Impact on Longevity
A new study published in the September issue of the "American Journal of Preventive Medicine" indicates that Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) lost to U.S. adults due to morbidity and mortality from obesity have more than doubled from 1993-2008 and the prevalence of obesity has increased 89.9% during the same period. Haomiao Jia, PhD, Columbia University, and Erica I. Lubetkin, MD, MPH, Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, examined trends in the burden of obesity by estimating the obesity-related QALYs lost, defined as the sum of QALYs lost due to morbidity and future QALYs lost in expected life years due to premature deaths, among U.S. adults. They found the overall health burden of obesity has significantly increased since 1993 and such increases were observed in all gender and race/ethnicity subgroups and across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. "The ability to collect data at the state and local levels is essential for designing and implementing interventions, such as promoting physical activity, that target the relevant at-risk populations," said Dr. Lubetkin. "Although the prevalence of obesity has been well documented in the general population, less is known about the impact on QALYs both in the general population and at the state and local levels." More on this story.
CCNY-Led Team Develops Non-Toxic Oil Recovery Agent
A team of chemists led by CCNY Associate Professor Dr. George John has developed a non-toxic, recyclable agent that can solidify oil on salt water so that it can be scooped up like the fat that forms on the top of a pot of chilled chicken soup. The agent could potentially be used to recover oil lost in the British Petroleum (BP) spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the laboratory, Professor John and colleagues added a sugar compound mixed in alcohol to diesel oil floating on top of a saline solution. "Within five minutes, the oil had gelled into a substance thick enough to be scooped up," he said. Then the team separated 80 percent of the oil from the gel using a vacuum distillation process. The gelling agent developed by his team is environmentally benign. It uses a sugar-based molecule that can be obtained from renewable sources and is biodegradable. In addition, only a relatively small amount of the agent – five percent of the volume of the oil being recovered – is required for the process, which handles a range of oil from crude to vegetable oil, to work. More on this story.
More Frequent, More Intense Heat Waves for New York
Heat waves like those that baked the Northeast in July are likely to be more frequent and more intense in the future, with their effects amplified in densely built urban environments like Manhattan, according to CCNY climate scientists. "Manhattan is subject to an urban heat island effect because its physical landscape is significantly different from the surrounding suburbs," said Dr. Jorge Gonzalez, NOAA-CREST Professor of Mechanical Engineering in CCNY’s Grove School of Engineering. "This makes heat waves here more intense because Manhattan cannot cool off as readily as outlying areas." Data collected by City College’s New York City Meteorological Network (NYCMetNet) indicate that during the first July heat wave overnight low temperatures ran 10 to 15 degrees (Fahrenheit) higher in Manhattan than in Long Island or in western New Jersey, while daytime highs were roughly the same. High temperatures do not dissipate as quickly in Manhattan as in other areas because of the large amount of stored energy contained in its massive buildings, Professor Gonzalez explained. "While surrounding suburban and green areas may perceive the same maximum temperatures, the built regions will perceive them for longer periods of time." More on this story.
CCNY Biologists Study Rain Forest Host-Plant Associations
The widening of the Panama Canal currently underway has created a rare opportunity to study the insects that inhabit the plants of environmentally sensitive Central American rain forest habitats. CCNY Professor of Biology Amy Berkov is leading a research effort that could shed new light on biodiversity by documenting the area’s host-plant relationships. "If you want to study biodiversity and conservation, you need to know what animals eat and where they live, even when those animals are insects," said Professor Berkov. "For concealed feeders that spend their immature stages feeding within plant tissues, where they live and what they eat are the same…but the insects are not easy to find." The canal expansion project requires trees and other plants on eight headlands or islands that jut into the canal to be cut down. Professor Berkov and her colleague, Dr. Hector Barrios, were able to persuade the Panama Canal Authority and other agencies to permit them to collect samples from a one-hectare plot before the bulldozers began to uproot the trees. "We’re trying to collect woody species – trees and vines – to find out what wood-boring species inhabit these plants," she said. "There are not many opportunities to work where a lot of trees are going to be destroyed anyhow." More on this story.
Location Determines Social Network Influence: CCNY Physicist
A team of researchers led by CCNY Professor of Physics Dr. Hernán Makse has shed new light on the way that information and infectious diseases proliferate across complex networks. Writing in "Nature Physics," they report that, contrary to conventional wisdom, persons with the most connections are not necessarily the best spreaders. "The important thing is where someone is located in a network," said Professor Makse in an interview. "If someone is in the core, they can spread information more efficiently. The challenge is finding the core." That kind of information could help marketers and public relations practitioners conduct more effective of social media and social marketing campaigns. It could also help epidemiologists target resources to reduce the spread of infectious diseases. To identify the core, Professor Makse and colleagues used a technique call k-shell decomposition. In this process, network nodes with just one link are removed until no single-link nodes remain. The remaining nodes are assigned a k-shell value of one. The process is repeated with higher k-shell values assigned to remaining nodes after each round of cuts. Those nodes that cannot be reduced to a single link are identified as the core of the network and have the highest k-shell values. More on this story.
Dominican Studies Institute Investigates Financial Behavior
New York City’s 600,000-plus Dominicans are more likely than Latinos nationwide to have accounts at a bank or credit union. However, they continue to rely heavily on alternative financial institutions such as check-cashing businesses because the mainstream financial institutions are not meeting their needs. Those were among the key findings of a study by the CCNY-based CUNY Dominican Studies Institute (CUNY DSI) of financial literacy and behavior in New York’s Dominican community. More than four out of five respondents – 82 percent – said they had accounts at banks or credit unions. However, a surprisingly high 25 percent of respondents reported using check-cashing businesses, money orders and/or tax refund anticipation loans. "The common wisdom is that low-income communities use alternative financial institutions and tools because they don’t have checking or savings accounts at mainstream banks or credit unions," said CCNY sociologist Dr. Ramona Hernández, director of CUNY-DSI and lead investigator. "Our study of the Dominicans in New York City reveals that even when they do have such accounts, low-income and working-poor customers of those banks are not accessing all the services they provide." More on this story.
Promoting New Ideas for Long Island’s Aging Downtowns
With an aging infrastructure and an aging population, Long Island – America’s first suburb – is in need of a facelift. June Williamson, associate professor of urban design in the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at The City College of New York (CCNY), is helping to generate fresh thinking about what can be done to rejuvenate the region’s commercial centers. Professor Williamson is serving as advisor and jury coordinator for "Build a Better Burb," a competition to promote ideas for retrofitting underutilized asphalt and creating new land uses and building forms for suburban downtowns in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. A co-author of "Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs" (John Wiley & Sons, 2009), a widely acclaimed book on adaptive reuse of abandoned and outdated suburban properties; she is regarded as a leading authority on smart-growth strategies for suburbia. "The role of urban design is to visualize alternative futures and help change the status quo," said Professor Williamson. "By holding a competition, we can engage creative thinking focused around a particular set of opportunities or problems." More on this story.
High School Alma Mater Honors CCNY Historian
When the University School of Nashville (USN) needed an alumnus on an "upward trajectory" to inspire its senior class this year, Dr. Gregory Downs, assistant professor of history at The City College of New York (CCNY) and award-winning author, got the nod. Professor Downs, who graduated from USN, a K-12 school, in 1989, received the school’s Distinguished Alumnus award for his postgraduate success at its 2010 senior convocation. "We sought someone active on an upward trajectory, busy in work of a demanding profession, with accolades already on a national stage," said Vince Durnan, USN principal. "Greg Downs, a mentor still becoming a voice in his field, brought that story to our seniors." Professor Downs studies the political and cultural history of the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. His research focus is the relationship between citizenship and subject-hood and the retention of feudal ideas within American popular politics. At the convocation, Professor Downs read one of the stories from "Spit Baths," his collection of short stories that won the Flannery O’Connor Award (2005) and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop’s James Michener/Copernicus Society of America Award (2003). More on this story.
From the President
I was thrilled to learn that Professor of Civil Engineering Charles Vörösmarty is lead author for the cover story in this week’s edition of "Nature." He led a multinational team that produced a groundbreaking report on the state of the world’s rivers that is too important to ignore.
Professor Vörösmarty’s study exemplifies the caliber of research being done by City College faculty – work that addresses critical topics of our times. This issue of "138@Convent" showcases the breadth of that work. You’ll find stories about obesity’s impact on quality of life, locating influencers in social networks, nontoxic materials that can clean up oil spills and more.
It’s no wonder that last year funded research at CCNY jumped 24.3 percent to over $69 million, on top of a 22.5 percent gain the prior year. The real beneficiaries of all that funding are our students. Through our undergraduate research programs, they get to work alongside top scientists and engineers and gain experience that will provide an invaluable edge as they enter the workforce or compete for openings at leading graduate schools. This Friday, we’ll observe another milestone on our journey to become a world-class research center. We are holding a "topping off" ceremony for the CUNY Advanced Science Research Campus, which will include the new City College Center for Innovation and Discovery. This new complex, valued at close to $1 billion, will facilitate interdisciplinary, collaborative efforts across the CUNY system in ways we have only begun to imagine. Indeed, these are exciting times!
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