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UToledo student studying suicide and opioids awarded prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Margaret Baer, a first-year doctoral student in The University of Toledo Department of Psychology, uses science to help make sense of suicide and substance use, leading causes of death in the United States.

Baer’s somber work is driven by these widespread sources of pain and unlocking new ways to ease suffering and prevent the loss of more lives.

Baer

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Baer a Graduate Research Fellowship in clinical psychology, recognizing her potential for significant research achievements.

The fellowship is worth $34,000 a year for three years. It is regarded as one of the most competitive and respected scientific fellowships in the country. This year the NSF awarded fellowships to 2,050 students around the country out of about 12,000 applications.

“I am immensely grateful for the NSF support,” said Baer, who is currently examining the link between suicide and substance abuse. “My passion is to conduct impactful, innovative research that ameliorates these large-scale public health problems. Among other studies, I hope to investigate the mechanisms underlying the co-occurrence of suicide-related behaviors and opioid misuse.”

Baer, who is from Evansville, Ind., works in the Personality and Emotion Research and Treatment Laboratory of Dr. Matthew Tull and Dr. Kim Gratz, both UToledo professors of psychology.

“Margaret is highly dedicated to conducting innovative and clinically relevant research, particularly in the areas of substance abuse and suicide,” Tull said. “I am incredibly pleased that the NSF has recognized her with this fellowship, which will provide her with even more opportunities to contribute to the field, as well as provide a foundation and resources for Margaret to build a highly impactful career.”

Baer’s own undergraduate experience at several different colleges sparked her interest in becoming a suicide researcher.

“I thought of college as a very exciting, hopeful time. I was shocked at the number of students who struggled with thoughts of suicide,” Baer said. “Kids were at their healthiest and youngest, on the cusp of exploring their extraordinary potential in higher education. It was an eye-opener. I felt the urgency of suicide prevention.”

Before arriving at UToledo in August 2018 to pursue her Ph.D., Baer worked with researchers at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md.

“There is great need for suicide prevention at all ages — adolescents, seniors and middle-aged adults. All may resort to risky behaviors, such as substance abuse or self-injury — cutting, for example — while also having thoughts of suicide or attempting suicide,” Baer said. “My focus right now is on substance use impacting barriers to suicide. Soon I hope to examine the relationship between negative social interactions in daily life and opioid craving.”

Since 1952, NSF has funded more than 50,000 Graduate Research Fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants. Currently, 42 Fellows have gone on to become Nobel laureates.

UToledo astronomer wins observing time on Hubble after most competitive cycle in history

This summer’s 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing also marks a major life milestone for The University of Toledo astronomer who is a world leader in her particularly male-dominated field.

“I was born in 1969, two months after Neil Armstrong took one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Dr. Rupali Chandar, professor of astronomy, said. “I am delighted every time the anniversary comes up in July — the moon landing epitomized the human spirit of discovery, and that same spirit drives my research to understand our universe of galaxies.”

Dr. Rupali Chandar, professor of astronomy, was awarded 40 hours of observing time with the Hubble Telescope between July and early 2020. Her work will focus on star formation in nearby galaxies.

Chandar, who studies star formation in galaxies far, far away with her feet firmly on Earth, is gearing up to once again use NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope for her research.

However, this year is extra-special for two reasons.

Chandar not only won coveted observing time in the most competitive cycle in history, she also leads the Space Telescope Users Committee.

Chandar heads the group of 12 astrophysicists from around the world who act as the direct interface between astronomers who want to use the telescope and top-level management of the Hubble project. Committee members hail from places with prestigious astronomical communities such as Harvard and Arizona State, as well as Paris, Spain and Italy.

She is the second UToledo astronomer to lead this powerful committee. Dr. Michael Cushing, associate professor of physics and astronomy, and director of Ritter Planetarium, led the committee in 2015 and 2016.

“It’s unusual for one university to have had more than one representative in the group — let alone two people who have led the committee’s work,” said Dr. Karen Bjorkman, interim provost and Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy. “Dr. Chandar is a shining star for women in science and contributes significantly to The University of Toledo’s research excellence in astronomy and astrophysics.”

Even as a child, Dr. Rupali Chandar was looking skyward. She was born two months after the Apollo moon landing and is shown in this photo with her mother, Sneh Chandar.

Every year astronomers around the world vie for precious minutes of Hubble’s view of unfathomably distant celestial targets. It is NASA’s flagship space telescope.

“I’ve used Hubble data from the beginning of my career, and this cycle was the most challenging one in my experience, with only one in 12 proposals being successful,” Chandar said. “I am thrilled that my proposal was approved.”

As head of the Space Telescope Users Committee, she helped implement the dual-anonymous selection process that debuted this cycle, which means the names of the proposers and reviewers are made known only after the review process is complete.

“Hubble is leading the way in emphasizing the science and ideas that are proposed, and not who is doing the proposing,” Chandar said. “Although it’s too early to tell, this double-blind review process has the potential to reduce inherent bias.”

Chandar, a mother of two who joined the UToledo faculty in 2007, was awarded approximately 40 hours of observing time spread out between July and early 2020. Her work will help understand star formation in some of the most intensely star-forming galaxies found in the nearby universe.

And by nearby, she means those 130 million to 300 million light years away.

These galaxies are generating stars at a pace about 100 times faster than the Milky Way.

“In the modern-day nearby universe, most galaxies form stars at a modest rate,” Chandar said. “I will be observing a sample of the few actively merging, nearby galaxies that have rates of star formation that are as high as galaxies in the early universe. Studying them gives us insight into what was happening when the universe was young and galaxies were just starting to form.”

Astronomers can’t study details of star formation in early galaxies because they’re too far away. We’re talking billions and billions of light years.

However, astronomers believe new, more powerful telescopes in the pipeline, like the James Webb Space Telescope, will make it possible to study the evolution of the earliest stars in greater detail than ever before.

As Chandar looks ahead to the next 50 years of space exploration, it’s vitally important for her to inspire children, especially girls, to take the step toward science.

“Girls in elementary school are just as interested in science as boys. It’s alarming how much that changes during middle school,” Chandar said. “When I was in fifth and sixth grades, I read about the formation of the solar system and wrote reports about black holes, but I didn’t think you could do astronomy as a career until I took a class during my sophomore year of college.”

She ended up earning her Ph.D. in astrophysics at Johns Hopkins University in 2000.

“Good professors make a difference,” Chandar said. “Without many female astronomers around, my mentors have been almost exclusively men. Their support has been critical for achieving my dream career.”

Chandar has one more connection to the moon landing, besides being born in 1969.

“I was lucky enough to hear Neil Armstrong’s last public address at the July 21, 2012, First Light Gala to celebrate the debut of the Discovery Channel Telescope when The University of Toledo joined as a scientific partner,” Chandar said. “We were all devastated when Neil died just a few weeks after that.”

As part of the partnership, UToledo students and researchers use the Discovery Channel Telescope at Lowell Observatory in Arizona to collect data on a wide variety of objects, from the closest failed stars known as brown dwarfs to star-forming regions within our own galaxy to more distant merging galaxies.

The 4.3-meter telescope located south of Flagstaff overlooks the Verde Valley and is the fifth largest telescope in the continental United States and one of the most technologically advanced.

The Discovery Channel Telescope partnership has been a boon to UToledo astronomers and helped put the astronomy department on the map.

“It’s another powerful tool at our fingertips to continue NASA’s mission and push technology to new frontiers over the next 50 years,” Chandar said.

UToledo scholar awarded Fulbright to Sudan for next academic year

Dr. Asma Abdel Halim’s quarter century of research questioning the breach and progress of Muslim women’s human rights is personal.

Her own life experience fuels her life’s work to protect Muslim women worldwide for generations to come.

Abdel Halim

The next leg of her journey takes her back to her native Sudan, a place Abdel Halim describes as “a country that has always subjected women to a version of Islamic law that is fashioned according to the political mood of the government.”

The prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar program selected The University of Toledo faculty member focused on women’s rights under religious laws to travel to Sub-Saharan Africa for the 2019-20 academic year as a Fulbright Scholar.

Abdel Halim, associate professor in the UToledo Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, and director of the Center of the Muslim Woman, will study the history of gender effects on Sudanese law, produce ideas for reform, and teach a class on gender and the law at her alma mater, the University of Khartoum.

“As a Muslim woman joining other Muslim women in researching Islamic laws and critiquing centuries of patriarchal dominance, I find it necessary to explore women’s history, rights and developments because I am determined to address gendered laws and how to combat their effects,” Abdel Halim said.

Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright U.S. Scholar program within the U.S. Department of State has worked to improve intercultural relations and diplomacy through national fellowship. The program in Sudan was suspended in 1992 after the U.S. issued an embargo on relations with the country and was reinstated two years ago after President Trump lifted U.S. sanctions.

“As Dr. Asma Abdel Halim travels around the world sharing her knowledge, insight and experience, she helps raise awareness about problems and protections of women living under Muslim laws,” Dr. Sharon Barnes, associate professor and chair in the UToledo Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, said. “Her outstanding scholarship consistently brings great prestige to The University of Toledo. While we will miss her at home, we are proud the Fulbright program has recognized her forward-thinking work on international women’s issues.”

Abdel Halim, a faculty member at UToledo for 15 years, graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Khartoum with a bachelor’s degree in 1980 and a master’s degree in 1988.

“As a student there, I never encountered gender in any of the courses,” Abdel Halim said. “My experience studying and teaching in the United States proved that gender as a tool of analysis is vital in studying law.”

Abdel Halim, who earned her Ph.D. at Ohio University, said actions of extremists lead many to question the tenets of Islam and the religion’s commitment to equality.

“Religious interpretations are being misused to strengthen conservative stances regarding the curbing of human rights,” Abdel Halim said. “Old traditions of favoring men because of their participation in war lead to the subjugation of women to the authority of male guardians.”

Abdel Halim plans to write a book after accessing old Shari’a sources, such as treaties written by scholars centuries ago and still considered the main source of Islamic rules today. She also plans to delve into the era of Mahdiyya uprisings and older archives.

“The intersection of religion and gender seems to be working against women where legislation is concerned,” Abdel Halim said. “Ideological traditions find safety in regression to old traditions rather than in change. I plan to follow the historical events of the recent history of the Sudan and look closely to the history of women in the country and understand why developments in legislation go back and forth. I also will examine how the intersection of gender and religion seems to always end in the defeat of women’s rights in favor of archaic religious norms.”

Inexpensive agricultural waste product can remove microcystin from water, new UToledo research finds

Scientists at The University of Toledo have discovered that rice husks can effectively remove microcystin from water, a finding that could have far-reaching implications for communities along the Great Lakes and across the developing world.

An abundant and inexpensive agricultural byproduct, rice husks have been investigated as a water purification solution in the past. However, this is the first time they have been shown to remove microcystin, the toxin released by harmful algal blooms.

Dr. Jon Kirchhoff, right, Dr. Dragan Isailovic, center, and doctoral student David Baliu-Rodriguez have published a paper, along with UToledo graduates, Dr. Dilrukshika Palagama and Dr. Amila Devasurendra, about using rice husks to remove microcystin from water.

The results of the study were recently published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

“Delivering safe water is critical, and finding an economically viable solution to deliver safe water to people all over the world is going to be really important. The ability of this simple material to be powerful enough to address this issue is impressive,” said Dr. Jon Kirchhoff, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department.

The research, led by Kirchhoff and Dr. Dragan Isailovic, associate professor of chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, used organic rice husks that were treated with hydrochloric acid and heated to 250 degrees Celsius.

The rice husks were then dispersed in a series of water samples collected from Lake Erie during the 2017 harmful algal bloom to measure how much of the toxin they could absorb.

UToledo researchers say rice husks are effective at removing microcystin from water. In addition, the rice husks are economical and, after soaking up microcystin, can be heated to destroy the toxins and create silica particles that can be used for other applications.

Researchers found the rice husks removed more than 95 percent of microcystin MC-LR — the most common type found in Lake Erie — in concentrations of up to 596 parts per billion (ppb). Even in concentrations approaching 3,000 ppb, more than 70 percent of the MC-LR was removed, and other types of MCs were removed as well.

“We looked at the removal of microcystins from real environmental samples and the material has performed really well,” Isailovic said. “We are talking about extremely high concentrations of microcystins originating from cyanobacterial cells. Normally during summer, we have much, much lower concentrations in Lake Erie.”

Devasurendra

The United States Environmental Protection Agency recommends a 10-day drinking water guideline that young children not drink water containing more than a total of 0.3 ppb of microcystin and school-age children and adults not drink water containing more than a total of 1.6 ppb of microcystin.

Beyond their effectiveness, rice husks have a number of other appealing attributes. They’re cheap — researchers paid $14.50 for half a cubic foot, and buying in bulk would bring that price down significantly — and they’re able to be repurposed.

Heating microcystin-laden rice husks to 560 degrees Celsius destroys the toxins and produces silica particles, which can be used in other applications.

Palagama

The researchers are hopeful their discovery could be scaled up beyond the lab to develop a more environmentally friendly method for treating water that has been contaminated by harmful algal blooms or cheap but effective filtration systems for the developing world.

“We could potentially use this readily available material to purify water before it even gets into Lake Erie,” Isailovic said. “There are engineering solutions that need to be done, but one of our dreams is to apply what we develop in our labs to provide safe drinking water.”

Other authors of the study were doctoral students Dr. Dilrukshika Palagama and Dr. Amila Devasurendra, who first proposed looking at rice husks as a way to remove microcystin and have since graduated from UToledo, and current doctoral student David Baliu-Rodriguez.

UToledo researcher using drones to measure algal blooms to speak May 23 at National Museum of the Great Lakes

Determined to protect drinking water and avert another water crisis, a scientist at The University of Toledo deploys drones to snap a quick assessment of water quality during algal bloom season, no boat or satellite required.

Dr. Richard Becker, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, will give a presentation titled “Using Drones to Answer Questions in Environmental Science” Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m. at the National Museum of the Great Lakes, located at 1701 Front St. in Toledo.

Dr. Richard Becker uses drones to help monitor water quality during algal bloom season.

The researcher will discuss his use of low-flying unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor the health of Lake Erie.

The free, public event is the final presentation in the 2018-19 UToledo Lake Erie Center Lecture Series.

“As remote sensing technology advances, monitoring lakes using satellites, aircraft and drones is becoming more effective,” Dr. Tom Bridgeman, professor of ecology and director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center, said. “Dr. Becker’s research in coupling remote sensing data with boat-based water monitoring has improved the accuracy of harmful algal bloom assessments. Also, his research to develop drones as inexpensive tools to measure algal blooms is helping to fill a gap left by more expensive methods.”

A shuttle will be available to transport visitors from UToledo’s Main Campus to the National Museum of the Great Lakes and back. The shuttle will depart at 6:15 p.m. from the south side of Bowman-Oddy Laboratories. Passengers must reserve a spot by Tuesday, May 21.

Email lakeeriecenter@utoledo.edu or call 419.530.8360 to make a reservation for the shuttle.

UToledo public health expert awarded Fulbright grant to Taiwan

A University of Toledo public health expert will spend six weeks in Taiwan this spring to help one of that country’s top universities internationalize its public health curriculum.

Dr. Jiunn-Jye Sheu, a professor in the College of Health and Human Services’ School of Population Health, received a Fulbright Specialist Award to advance global health initiatives.

Dr. Jiunn-Jye Sheu showed off his Fulbright Specialist Award. He leaves this week for National Taiwan Normal University, where he will help revise and refine its public health curriculum.

The trip to National Taiwan Normal University in May will be his first as part of the Fulbright program.

“To become a Fulbright Specialist or Scholar really comes with enthusiasm. We have so many qualified, outstanding faculty at The University of Toledo, and I’m very proud and pleased to have been selected,” Sheu said. “I think it’s meaningful I’m able to make such a contribution to help people in Taiwan and the United States.”

He will provide guidance to National Taiwan Normal University, which is working to revise and refine its public health curriculum to meet the same standards set by the accrediting body in the U.S.

Sheu, who earned his bachelor’s degree at National Taiwan Normal University, also will help the school toward its goal of adding more English-instructed courses.

Taiwan has a robust health-care system, but as a fully developed country, residents face many of the same chronic health threats as the United States — heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke are among the 10 leading causes of death.

“Good patient education can prevent unnecessary costs in health care,” he said. “Unfortunately, patient education has not been mandated in Taiwan or the U.S. I want to investigate in collaboration with Taiwan scholars how they work patient education into the national health insurance system and how that is effective and efficient.”

Much of Sheu’s research work is focused on quantitative analysis of public health data, particularly on youth risk behaviors and the ways in which patients and health-care providers make choices that influence care.

Recently, using path modeling, he worked with Dr. Colleen Taylor, assistant professor in the College of Nursing, to investigate the factors that go into how nurses make decisions about administering pain medication in patients recovering from operations. The study was named the 2017 best research paper of the year by the journal Orthopaedic Nursing.

Sheu also collaborated on soon-to-be-published research into how pregnant women adhere to prenatal care recommendations and the health protective behaviors of women who had gestational diabetes.

“These types of studies provide a better understanding about how people make their decisions and how people act in terms of their health-related behaviors,” he said. “We’ve always known their stated reasons, but without this technique, we don’t know how those reasons interact with each other and which are direct and indirect influences.”

Breakthrough in new material to harness solar power could transform energy

The most affordable, efficient way to harness the cleanest, most abundant renewable energy source in the world is one step closer to reality.

The University of Toledo physicist pushing the performance of solar cells to levels never before reached made a significant breakthrough in the chemical formula and process to make the new material.

Dr. Zhaoning Song holds a perovskite solar cell minimodule he developed with Dr. Yanfa Yan. The higher-efficiency, lower-cost solar cell technology could revolutionize energy generation around the globe.

Working in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab, Dr. Yanfa Yan, UToledo professor of physics, envisions the ultra-high efficiency material called a tandem perovskite solar cell will be ready to debut in full-sized solar panels in the consumer market in the near future.

Perovskites, compound materials with a special crystal structure formed through chemistry, would replace silicon, which — for now — remains the solar-cell material of choice for converting the sun’s light into electrical energy.

“We are producing higher-efficiency, lower-cost solar cells that show great promise to help solve the world energy crisis,” Yan said. “The meaningful work will help protect our planet for our children and future generations. We have a problem consuming most of the fossil energies right now, and our collaborative team is focused on refining our innovative way to clean up the mess.”

The new research paper, which is published in the journal Science, outlines how the photovoltaics team is fine-tuning a mix of lead and tin to advance the technology closer to its maximum efficiency. Efforts have currently brought the efficiency of the new solar cell to about 23 percent. In comparison, silicon solar panels on the market today have around an 18 percent efficiency rating.

Scientists used a chemical compound called guanidinium thiocyanate to dramatically improve the structural and optoelectronic properties of the lead-tin mixed perovskite films.

“Science is the top academic journal in the world, alongside Nature, which published other research by Dr. Yan only five months ago after he discovered a single material that produces white light, which could boost the efficiency and appeal of LED bulbs,” Dr. Sanjay Khare, professor and chair of the UToledo Department of Physics and Astronomy, said. “His significant sustainability work at The University of Toledo can help power the world using clean energy.”

About five years ago Yan’s team at UToledo identified the ideal properties of perovskites, and he has since focused his 20 years of experience on producing an all-perovskite tandem solar cell that brings together two different solar cells to increase the total electrical power generated by using two different parts of the sun’s spectrum.

Last month the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Yan a $1.1 million grant to continue his research in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Lab.

“This is the material we’ve been waiting for for a long time,” Yan said. “The solar industry is watching and waiting. Some have already started investing in this technology.”

Yan is an expert in theory of defect physics and electronic properties in semiconductors, materials synthesis and thin-film solar-cell fabrication.

“Our UToledo research is ongoing to make cheaper and more efficient solar cells that could rival and even outperform the prevailing silicon photovoltaic technology,” said Dr. Zhaoning Song, research assistant professor in the UToledo Department of Physics and Astronomy, and co-author on the study. “Our tandem solar cells with two layers of perovskites deliver high-power conversion efficiency and have the potential to bring down production costs of solar panels, which is an important advance in photovoltaics.”

While Yan’s team has improved the quality of the materials and the process to manufacture them at a low cost, more progress needs to be made.

“The material cost is low and the fabrication cost is low, but the lifetime of the material is still an unknown,” Song said. “We need to continue to increase efficiency and stability.”

“Also, lead is considered a toxic substance,” Yan said. “I am determined to work with the solar industry to ensure solar panels made of this material can be recycled so they don’t cause harm to the environment.”

UToledo research: When smartphones aren’t used socially, there’s a link to anxiety

If endlessly scrolling through the news on your smartphone has you feeling anxious, it might not just be distress about current events.

New research from The University of Toledo has found a link between what psychologists call intolerance of uncertainty and problematic smartphone usage — particularly when the use isn’t for social interaction with others.

A new study about problematic smartphone usage by Dr. Jon Elhai, professor of psychology, was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

“We know from the past that anxiety is related to problematic smartphone use. We wanted to extend this line of research by examining intolerance of uncertainty,” said Dr. Jon Elhai, professor of psychology, whose research focuses on how some can develop harmful relationships with their smartphones.

Elhai and his team, which included Dmitri Rozgonjuk, a doctoral student from Estonia who was hosted at UToledo as a Fulbright Scholar, compared scores indicating problematic smartphone usage and intolerance of uncertainty, a type of anxiety where an individual worries about the future and not being able to control things that are beyond his or her control.

They found a strong correlation between that anxiety and non-social smartphone usage, which includes things such as reading news, playing games, or sorting one’s calendar — anything that involves little to no interaction with others.

No link was found between intolerance of uncertainty and using one’s smartphone for social engagement such as texting or sharing links on social media, even if they spent a lot of time using their smartphone.

“A lot of people know when to put down their devices, and the way we define problematic, excessive use of smartphones is not just based on the frequency of use. If you’re using your phone socially a lot, that tends not to be associated with the excessive use,” Elhai said. “But if you’re using your phone in a way that it’s interfering with your social life or you’re avoiding people, that’s the problem.”

The study was published recently in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

In a way, the findings suggest a feedback loop.

The more anxiety someone has, the more likely they are to dive into their smartphone looking to ease their uncertainty. That excessive use correlates with problematic non-social smartphone usage, which in turn feeds the intolerance of uncertainty.

“People who are having this anxiety can also find it spills over into social anxiety, and they may deal with that by avoiding people offline and online and instead use their phone for non-social purposes,” Elhai said. “The more you do that, the more you can excessively use your phone in ways that interfere with your social life offline.”

Elhai, who has co-authored more than a dozen papers looking at links to problematic smartphone usage including fear of missing out and anxiety and depression, said the findings are an important piece in understanding potential causes for problematic smartphone usage.

UToledo develops precise method to test for exposure to toxic algae

Researchers at The University of Toledo have developed a highly accurate method to test for microcystin in blood or urine samples, an advancement that could provide clinicians a powerful new tool in assessing a patient’s exposure to the dangerous toxin.

The discovery is a continuation of the work UToledo has done around harmful algal blooms since the 2014 Toledo water crisis that temporarily left the city without drinkable water.

Dr. David Kennedy, left, and Dr. Dragan Isailovic have developed a test for microcystin in blood or urine samples that could prove to be a powerful new tool to assess a patient’s exposure to the toxin.

“We don’t want to just be known as the people who turned off the tap, we want to be known as the people who come up with the solutions,” said Dr. David Kennedy, assistant professor of medicine in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and one of the researchers involved in the project. “We’re leading in that area, and the way we’re leading isn’t just going to help northwest Ohio — it’s going to help the world.”

Kennedy’s lab collaborated with Dr. Dragan Isailovic, associate professor of chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Dr. Steven Haller, assistant professor of medicine, to develop and test the method. The research was funded from grants awarded from the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative.

UToledo’s microcystin test combines a method for separating the toxic compounds out of blood or urine samples by liquid chromatography with further examination using mass spectrometry.

The test can identify various microcystins and quantify concentrations of six common microcystins, including the types most often found in Lake Erie.

“Together, we have created a reliable tool that hasn’t existed before. From a clinician’s point of view, you can’t underestimate the importance of having certitude in your diagnosis. We’re helping to provide new diagnostic methods for clinicians to rule in or rule out exposure to microcystin,” Haller said.

Most other attempts at testing blood or urine samples for microcystin have relied on the ELISA test, which is the standard method for quantifying microcystins in water but isn’t as effective in biological samples.

“Our method is very sensitive and reproducible for identification and quantification of microcystins in biological fluids,” Isailovic said. “It would be difficult to do this with the same sensitivity and specificity using any other method.”

The findings were published in the Journal of Chromatography A. Other UToledo contributors on the paper were Dr. Dilrukshika S.W. Palagama, David Baliu-Rodriguez, Apurva Lad and Dr. Bruce S. Levison. A provisional patent on the testing method has been filed.

The researchers are exploring opportunities to use the lab’s technology to offer testing of samples to outside entities.

UToledo physicist awarded $1.1 million to boost performance of solar cells

A physicist at The University of Toledo was awarded a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop ultra-high efficiency solar cells that accelerate the conversion of the sun’s energy into electricity.

Dr. Yanfa Yan, professor of physics, is teaming up with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on the photovoltaics project to create what are referred to as all-perovskite tandem solar cells that would have a higher conversion efficiency and lower cost.

Yan

While the majority of solar panels based on polycrystalline absorber materials on the market today have about a 16 percent efficiency rating, Yan’s goal is to raise the bar by creating a cell with more than 25 percent efficiency.

“We are excited about this opportunity and eager to collaborate with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to push the performance of solar cells to a higher level and make contributions to the U.S. Department of Energy’s clean energy goal,” Yan said.

Yan’s work is one of 25 projects recently awarded a total of $28 million in federal funding by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, which supports early-stage research and development to improve the affordability, reliability and performance of solar technologies on the grid.

“This $1.1 million award recognizes The University of Toledo as a national leader in photovoltaics research,” Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur said. “This is part of an effort to innovate toward a cleaner energy future. With First Solar’s footprint in northwest Ohio and the Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization at The University of Toledo, Toledo is a hotbed for clean energy and photovoltaics research. This is another success story for northwest Ohio’s green energy economy.”

Yan is one of the leaders of UToledo’s area of excellence in solar energy, water quality and sustainable technologies.

“I am delighted about Dr. Yanfa Yan’s continuing success in advancing his research on perovskite solar cells,” UToledo Vice President for Research Frank Calzonetti said. “Building upon his remarkably impressive publication record in solar energy science, this award confirms the quality and importance of his research and provides him and his collaborators funding to develop techniques to increase the power conversion efficiency of these cells up to 28 percent.”