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Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Study Reveals Many Great Lakes State Parks Impacted By Record-High Water Levels

Every summer millions of people visit parks and protected areas along the shorelines of the Great Lakes to camp, hike, swim and explore nature’s beauty.

While COVID-19 has impacted staffing, operations and budgets at the parks, tourists this year also may notice changes if recent record-high water levels persist on Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie and Lake Superior.

UToledo graduate student Eric Kostecky posed for a photo on the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.

A new study by a graduate student at The University of Toledo zeroes in on how coastal flooding and erosion in 2019 damaged park facilities and roads and interrupted visitor experiences, as well as examines the financial cost of the high water levels.

The research presented at the 2020 Great Lakes Virtual Conference, which is hosted by the International Association of Great Lakes Research, was completed by Eric Kostecky, a graduate student earning his master’s degree in geography, as part of a course in environmental planning he took last fall while completing his undergraduate degree in geography and planning.

“A humbling statistic is that 75% of the parks indicated that continued higher lake levels in 2020 and beyond would further impact park operations and infrastructure,” Kostecky said. “Future management actions would be to improve parking lots and roads and to move hiking trails, campgrounds and public access locations.”

This photo at Golden Hill State Park in Barker, N.Y., was taken by Dr. Patrick Lawrence.

To gather information, Kostecky surveyed 50 parks along the Great Lakes, both federal and state parks in the United States and provincial parks in Canada. Twenty-nine responded.

“Even though Great Lakes parks and protected areas have experienced impacts from shoreline erosion and flooding during previous high water-level events in 1972-73 and 1985-86, this study is the first comprehensive attempt to catalogue those impacts,” said Dr. Patrick Lawrence, professor and chair of the UToledo Department of Geography and Planning and Kostecky’s faculty advisor.

The study shows 50% of the responding parks were impacted by both shoreline erosion and flooding, with the most common type of damage being to boat launches and building structures that were flooded, and roads near dunes washed away by waves.

Total cost of damage for 55% of the parks was $50,000 or less.

As a result of the damage, parks implemented a variety of changes for public safety last year: sections of the park were closed, select park operations were canceled, and some visitor education programs were suspended.

Great Lakes water levels peaked in July 2019, with increases varying between 14 and 31 inches above their long-term averages; Lake Superior was at 14 inches above its average, while Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario were at 31 inches above average, Lawrence said.

“The water levels in the Great Lakes fluctuate, but they don’t fluctuate rapidly, so it’s hard to say if we’re still in the upswing or on the downswing,” Kostecky said. “We won’t know if we’re continuing to rise or if waters have started to recede for the next couple of years.”

The Great Lakes shoreline stretches 10,000 miles around eight U.S. states and Canada.

“Many parks and protected areas in the Great Lakes have struggled with the economic costs and interruptions of their operations, including services and programs for their visitors, and are concerned that as this period of high water levels continues this summer, they will face ongoing challenges in delivering the levels of public access and services to their visitors so eager to explore the parks and enjoy the nature and environment provided by these special spaces,” Lawrence said.

UToledo Researchers Tracking Algal Bloom on Maumee River, Lake Erie

Algae scientists and student researchers aboard The University of Toledo research vessel are taking measurements and collecting water samples on the Maumee River in Toledo after a harmful algal bloom popped up downtown.

“This week has become a five-alarm fire for our research,” Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center and ecology professor, said. “We are working to figure out what may have caused this sudden river bloom.”

Algae scientists and student researchers aboard The University of Toledo research vessel took measurements and collected water samples on the Maumee River in Toledo. The crew was dispatched July 8 after a harmful algal bloom appeared downtown.

Bridgeman has monitored, tracked and studied algae in the Great Lakes for nearly two decades. He created a new method to measure how much harmful algae there is in the lake during the course of a summer and has compared the bloom from one year to another since 2002.

“The bloom appears to be growing in the river, not blown in from Lake Erie,” said Zach Swan, UToledo graduate student working on a master’s degree in ecology. “The recent high temperatures we’ve had have contributed to the growth of this bloom, and we could see it continue to grow if these conditions continue.”

Bridgeman said it’s likely a combination of factors.

UToledo students collected a water sample on the Maumee River.

“Dry conditions have resulted in very low river flow and, in addition, high lake water levels cause the river to slow down even further,” Bridgeman said. “Essentially, the lower stretch of the Maumee River has become a large pond. Anytime nutrient-rich water sits still and becomes warm, there’s an enhanced risk of a bloom. Although the bloom is visible at the surface, we’re especially interested in the conditions near the river bottom, where chemical changes can take place that can accelerate a bloom.”

The crews focused their efforts Wednesday on areas downtown by Promenade Park, the National Museum of the Great Lakes and near the Port of Toledo.

The UToledo team tracks and combats growing algal blooms in Lake Erie every year during algal bloom season to sound the early warning for water treatment plant operators as they work to provide safe public drinking water.

“Whenever cyanobacteria is visible in the water as a surface layer or scum, toxin levels in that layer are likely to exceed the recommendations for recreational contact,” Bridgeman said. “Pets and small children who may be at risk of ingesting water especially should be kept away from areas with visible surface scums of cyanobacteria.”

The Lake Erie Center is UToledo’s freshwater research and science education campus focused on finding solutions to water quality issues that face the Great Lakes, including harmful algal blooms, invasive species and pollutants.

Math Camp Helps Students Assess and Improve Skills Starting June 29

Math Camp 2020, an intensive, six-week review of skills and concepts hosted by faculty in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, is scheduled for June 29 to Aug. 6.

Each week, the camp’s instructional sessions will be held Monday to Thursday from 10 to 11 a.m. via online video conference.

While Math Camp is designed with incoming freshmen in mind, any students wishing to improve their math skills are welcome to attend. Planned session topics include rational equations and expressions, exponents, polynomials, geometry and many others.

Registration for Math Camp 2020 is $75 and includes all instructional sessions. Applications and payments are due by Friday, June 26.Math Camp Graphic

“For students, getting placed correctly is key to succeeding in that first college-level math course,” said Kevin Gibbs, a senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and one of the instructors for Math Camp. “Math Camp aims to fill in missing bits of knowledge that might keep students from thriving in their studies.”

The course includes short lectures, demonstrations and discussions along with one-on-one preparation for the ALEKS® placement test, which UToledo uses to provide a current measure of students’ skills to place students in the appropriate mathematics courses. ALEKS® uses adaptive questioning to determine what students know and don’t know about a topic.

For more information on Math Camp 2020, students are encouraged to contact the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at mathcamp@utoledo.edu or call 419.530.2249.

UToledo Students Examine Human Consumption in International Biodesign Challenge Summit 2020

Four University of Toledo students have teamed up to critically investigate the behaviors of human consumption. Their project is competing in the international Biodesign Challenge Summit 2020, held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The competition is being held online June 15-19, but the video presentations are available for view anytime. Winners will be announced June 19 on the Biodesign Challenge Summit website.

The UToledo project, “Wastr: Reassessing Our Trash,” was the brainchild of students Jarrett Cunningham, who graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in film and video in May; Madalyn Jones, a senior majoring in environmental science; Michael Miller, a bioengineering major with an economics minor; and Mohamed Nawras, who received a bachelor of science degree in biology in 2018 and is a doctor of medicine candidate for fall 2020.

The team developed a presentation highlighting the paradox of creating an eco-friendly product that adds to consumptive behaviors. The ultimate goal is to get people to become more aware of the amount of waste they personally generate.

A video presentation of the project states, “Landfills are reaching capacity at alarming rates, impacting the environment tremendously while also contributing to a culture of consumption.”

Students from UToledo prepare for the competition every year through a class offered in the Department of Art. The spring 2020 Biodesign Challenge course brought together students from multiple disciplines into the Department of Art under the direction of faculty members Brian Carpenter and Eric Zeigler. Students worked in interdisciplinary teams to research real-world problems and then sought to solve those problems with biotechnology and/or biomaterials. This year’s groups addressed potential eutrophication solutions, antimicrobial structures, innovative health testing devices, and consumption.

The Biodesign Challenge course asks students to stretch their known capabilities by making meaningful connections between disciplines and designing unique solutions to complex problems in a normal year. As the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the course moved to virtual learning, the teams continued to work extensively on their projects.

“We are truly amazed at the tenacity of our students, and the outcomes from remote research they were able to accomplish in such a difficult time,” Carpenter, assistant professor of art and gallery director, said.

“We are proud of the work every student has done, and we are excited to compete internationally again,” Zeigler, associate lecturer of art, said.

UToledo Students Earn Recognition in Statewide Health Professions Competition

Tomorrow’s doctors, nurses and other health professionals aren’t waiting for a diploma to contribute to their fields. Several Rockets set themselves apart in a recent statewide competition among health science and biomedical programs in events testing their medical knowledge, presentation skills and analytical abilities.

The UToledo chapter of the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) Future Health Professionals competed remotely for the first time in the organization’s annual State Leadership Conference against chapters from other Ohio colleges and universities. More than 1,000 teams from high schools and postsecondary institutions participated in the competition.

Because of their placing performances, the UToledo students qualified to compete in the HOSA International Leadership Conference, which will be held virtually Wednesday through Saturday, June 24-27.

“Despite the challenges faced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our members continued to showcase dedication and pride,” said Rupesh Boddapati, a bioengineering major as well as founder and president of UToledo’s chapter of HOSA Future Health Professionals. “We cannot thank them enough for their participation as well as their involvement in the UToledo chapter.”

Members of the UToledo chapter of the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) Future Health Professionals posed for a photo after preparing food during a CommunityCare Clinic service event before the pandemic.

HOSA Future Health Professionals, founded in 1975, is an international student organization with more than 245,000 members that helps to develop leadership and technical skills in health science education programs around the world.

Qualifying students were:

• Aditya Acharya, first place in medical law and ethics;

• Amarjot Bhangu, first place in job-seeking skills;

• Rupesh Boddapati, first place in pathophysiology;

• Sharvari Brahme, third place in prepared speaking;

• Samhitha Dasari, second place in human growth and development;

• Maya Girn, second place in cultural diversities and disparities;

• Megha Girn, second place in nutrition;

• Jeremy Mathews, second place in medical math;

• Drew Pariseau, first place in nutrition;

• Jessica Rinehart, third place in medical math; and

• Calvin Sunny, third place in medical law and ethics.

UToledo Unites in Solidarity to Identify Solutions to Address Systemic Racial Injustice

The University of Toledo’s campus community united in solidarity and support Thursday evening for those affected by the killing of George Floyd.

The first Dialogues on Diversity Virtual Town Hall brought together University leadership, faculty, staff, students and the public to reflect on their experiences, identify solutions to address systemic racial injustice, and highlight campus and community resources to aid in coping with trauma.

“I am so pleased with the dynamic, meaningful ideas that resulted from our successful discussion,” Dr. Willie McKether, vice president for diversity and inclusion, said. “I appreciate the passion and motivation of our Rocket family and the support we have for each other. This is the beginning of a series of respectful, painful conversations in the coming weeks, including when the semester starts.”

More than 350 people attended the event that featured panelists:

• UToledo Police Chief Jeff Newton;

• Benjamin Davis, UToledo law professor;

• Dr. Monita Mungo, UToledo assistant professor of sociology;

• Dr. La Tasha Sullivan, director of the University Counseling Center;

• Nyah Kidd, president of the Black Student Union;

• Darren Gordon, former president of the UToledo chapter of the Student National Medical Association;

• Giselle Zelaya, president of the Latino Student Union;

• Nick Thompson, president of Student Government;

• Anjali Phadke, vice president of Student Government; and

• Asher Sovereign with the Sexuality and Gender Alliance.

Members of the campus community shared personal experiences and the great sadness and fear sparked by watching the video of George Floyd’s death.

“As a teen growing up in Mississippi, my parents would consistently remind my siblings and me when we would leave the house for fun or to hang out with our family and friends, ‘Remember we love you, but you must come home at night,’” Dr. Phillip “Flapp” Cockrell, vice president for student affairs and vice provost, said. “As I got older and started to experience racism, discrimination and prejudice firsthand, I began to understand the meaning of those powerful 11 words. In essence, my parents were saying, ‘Always obey the law and follow their instructions and rules. Do as you are told. Don’t argue.’ These past two weeks have been the most difficult weeks in my life. When will this behavior stop? Am I next? I’m at a loss for words.”

“As I reflect on the events of the last few weeks and our community discussion last evening, I am inspired by our students, faculty, staff and alumni for their commitment, perseverance and passion to change the world,” UToledo President Sharon L. Gaber said. “Yet I grieve the recent senseless deaths of George Floyd and Breona Taylor. As a human and a mother, I cannot fathom the pain and anguish that their families are experiencing. Racial injustice, police brutality and disparate treatment have painfully existed for longer than all of us have been alive. As a campus community, we have made great strides to create a more open and inclusive community, working together to develop and implement UToledo’s first diversity plan. And yet it isn’t nearly enough. Now is the time to end this in our community, our country and in the world. I challenge each and every one of you to ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’”

Panelists brought forward ideas and solutions to elevate our community, such as training students in nonviolence and conflict transformation to teach them how to respond to what they will face while protesting by utilizing faculty expertise in the Peace Education Program, which is part of the Judith Herb College of Education.

“I am proud of the strength and courage of our students as they engage in deep, thoughtful, critical discussions and examine the ways we can change our society for the better,” Dr. Karen Bjorkman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said. “It is our solemn responsibility and our honor to equip them with the knowledge and tools they need to lead that change into the future.”

Leaders from across the University have expressed their commitment to embracing the critical role higher education can and must play in facilitating open and honest discussions that empower us as a community and a nation to translate our ideals into actionable change.

• Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College: “We believe in the power of higher education to address major societal problems like this injustice. We hope that by challenging our students to think deeply about the world they live in and to take actions that support greater diversity, equity and inclusion, we are helping to build a better world.”

• Dr. Anne Balazs, dean of the College of Business and Innovation: “It is with great sadness that we bear witness to the events of the past week, with the untimely and violent death of George Floyd and the continuing expressions of hatred and prejudice. As members of a scholarly community, one which is dedicated to education and improving our shared quality of life, it is unacceptable to idly stand by and allow racism in all its many forms to persist.”

• Benjamin Barros, dean of the College of Law: “The past week’s events have shown the realities of the work we must do as a nation to ensure that our justice system protects and serves all people. Our mission at the law school is intrinsically tied to the mission of equal access to justice. We are uniquely positioned to empower future generations of lawyers to evaluate our country’s legal systems, engage in thoughtful discourse, and address inequality. The change we need to see as a nation begins with each of us doing our part to create a diverse, supportive and inclusive community.”

• Dr. Amanda Bryant-Friedrich, dean of the College of Graduate Studies: “Life is heavy for all of us today. It has been that way for some of us for many, many days. First, a global pandemic and now violence and division dominate our news cycle. I am sad, I am afraid, and I am hopeful. I am sorry for your loss, I am sorry for your fear, I am sorry for your anger, I am sorry for the lack of justice, I am sorry there is no cure, and I am sorry that I am sorry. You are valued, and we hear you. We are here for you today and every day.”

• Beau Case, dean of University Libraries: “The University Libraries believe that diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility are not merely ideals — they are core values which we display daily in our work. Our campus doors are open to all. Our services are free of bias. We offer safe spaces for exploration, discovery, lifelong learning and wonder.”

• Dr. Christopher Cooper, dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences: “From all appearances, he was neither protected with courage nor served with compassion. Now ‘I can’t breathe’ has become the rallying cry of protests locally and nationally, peaceful and violent. Lurking beneath this are the concerns and outrage of ongoing racism, systemic racism, institutional violence and failed inclusion. If we want to improve the world, we better start close to home with our region, our community and, most importantly, with ourselves.”

• Charlene Gilbert, dean of the College of Arts and Letters: “The peaceful protests occurring in many of our major cities and towns not only reflect the anger over the death of Mr. Floyd, but also represent years of frustration with the injustice and unequal treatment experienced by African Americans and people of color in communities all across this nation. The College of Arts and Letters is a community where we value and celebrate not only critical inquiry, but also thoughtful action. We want to thank every student, faculty member, staff person and alumnus who has participated in some form of action to add your voice to the many calling for justice.”

• Dr. John Laux, associate dean of student affairs in the College of Health and Human Services: “George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officers is the latest example of violence perpetrated against African Americans. We honor George Floyd’s life, and those who were murdered or assaulted previously by focusing our attention on our society’s history of and ongoing racism and systemic social injustice by working collectively to be agents of change. The College of Health and Human Services trains students for careers in social service, health sciences and criminal justice, including police civil service. We recognize that we are a product of our society. The status quo is not acceptable. And, as such, we have work to do to root out and put an end to individual and institutional racism. We are committed to do the work necessary to be a part of the solution.”

• Dr. Linda Lewandowski, dean of the College of Nursing: “We know that long-term discrimination has negative effects on physical and mental health and that violence, discrimination and racism directly impact social determinants of health and result in health disparities and inequities. Given the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our African-American communities, the health impact of continued disparities is even more profound. As healthcare professionals, we are in a unique position to address the health and the social justice issues that are so pressing in our nation at this time. Change begins with each one of us and is reflected in how we treat each other on a daily basis.”

• Mike O’Brien, vice president and athletic director: “Last night’s dialogue was excellent as it was very informative and insightful. We must stand together and be committed for equity, diversity and the fight against racial injustice.”

• Dr. John Plenefisch, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics: “The College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics must translate the powerful words and feelings expressed by those protesting systemic racism into sustained action that makes a concrete difference in our community, including through our work and actions here in our college. As scientists and mathematicians, we can take action against racism, bigotry and prejudice in many ways, including choosing to focus our research on issues that disproportionally impact marginalized communities or groups, and deliberately supporting the careers and training of people of color as future generations of scientists and mathematicians.”

• Dr. Gary Pollack, dean of the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences: “Our obligation to our fellow human beings is not diminished by the color of their skin, or by how they express their spirituality, or by their country of origin, or by whom they happen to love. Those characteristics, which some voices emphasize in an attempt to divide us, are infinitesimal compared to the many things that make us what we are: the human family.”

• Dr. Mike Toole, dean of the College of Engineering: “I found each of the speakers and the entire event to be compelling and inspiring. It is critical that we have administrators, faculty and student leaders on campus who are speaking out to support the protests against racial injustice in our nation. Eliminating institutionalized racism, white privilege and racist violence will take many voices and much work.”

• Dr. Raymond Witte, dean of the Judith Herb College of Education: “We all want to feel safe when in the presence of the police. This will require time and honest dialogue because many, including myself now, don’t feel safe. I am now faced with the reality that police may not act impartially and without bias. To be honest, most of us are biased in some way. However, the decisions police make can have life and death outcomes.”

The next Dialogues on Diversity Virtual Roundtable is scheduled Thursday, June 25, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Access and panelist participation information will be released prior to the event, which is titled “The Death of George Floyd: Race and Anti-Blackness in America.”

UToledo Chemists Identify Toxic Chemicals in Fracking Wastewater

Before water produced during hydraulic fracturing is disposed of in waterways or reused in agriculture and other industries, chemists at The University of Toledo are zeroing in on water quality and environmental concerns of fracking wastewater to determine if it is safe for reuse.

The research scientists of the new Dr. Nina McClelland Laboratory for Water Chemistry and Environmental Analysis at UToledo created a new method that simultaneously identified 201 chemical compounds in fracking wastewater, called produced water.

Dr. Emanuela Gionfriddo, assistant professor of analytical chemistry, and Ronald Emmons, UToledo Ph.D. candidate, are studying water quality and environmental concerns of fracking wastewater to determine if it is safe for reuse.

The research, which is published in the Journal of Separation Science and was carried out in collaboration with scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington, shows that many of the chemicals found in produced water are carcinogens, solvents and petroleum distillates that can directly contaminate drinking water sources.

“The issue with produced water is that this is a very new and overlooked source of pollution, and disposal and purification practices are not yet fully optimized to guarantee total removal of environmental pollutants,” said Dr. Emanuela Gionfriddo, assistant professor of analytical chemistry in the UToledo Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and the School of Green Chemistry and Engineering. “Our work aimed to provide a new, simple and cost-effective method for the comprehensive characterization of chemicals and fill the gap of knowledge currently existing about the chemical composition of this waste product of the oil and natural gas industry.”

Scientists and natural gas companies are seeking creative ways to use produced water because current treatment processes to remove salts and radioactive substances — processes that include reverse osmosis and distillation — are expensive.

“Current methods for chemical characterization of produced water can give an estimate of the total amount of contamination, but do not give information about what type of contamination is present,” Gionfriddo said. “It could be that a molecule can be still very toxic even if present at very low concentration, or it has the potential to accumulate in the body over time, so the point is to know exactly what is in produced water, not only how much.”

Gionfriddo’s research outlines how the chemists developed and optimized a thin-film, solid-phase microextraction approach to characterize the organic compounds in the produced water.

The team identified many chemicals, including a pesticide called atrazine; 1,4-dioxane, an organic compound that is irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract; toluene, which at low exposure has health effects like confusion, weakness, and loss of vision and hearing; and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which have been linked to skin, lung, bladder, liver and stomach cancers.

“There are many chemicals that still need to be identified at this time,” said Ronald Emmons, UToledo Ph.D. candidate. “More research also is needed to test the uptake of these chemicals in crops when produced water is recycled for agriculture. We need to study if and how these chemicals from the produced water can accumulate in the soil watered with produced water and if these chemicals can transfer from the soil to the crops.”

The collaborative research between UToledo and UT Arlington will continue using the new method for screening the presence of toxic molecules in produced water samples from various sampling sites in Texas.

UToledo scientists also are developing new methods for the extraction of heavy metals and rare earth elements that will aid the full characterization of produced water samples.

State Awards UToledo $613,436 to Lead Harmful Algal Bloom Research Projects

The University of Toledo is among four Ohio universities to receive a total of $2.08 million from the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative in this year’s round of state funding to address Lake Erie water quality and find solutions for algal bloom toxicity.

UToledo scientists situated on the western basin of Lake Erie from diverse research areas were awarded $613,436 to lead four projects related to protecting public health:

• Dr. April Ames and Dr. Michael Valigosky, assistant professors in the School of Population Health in the College of Health and Human Services, will assess microcystin inhalation risk to shoreline populations;

• Dr. Steven Haller, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, will work to create a new therapy for microcystin exposure and hepatotoxicity using naturally occurring Lake Erie bacteria that removes microcystin released by harmful algal blooms in drinking water;

• Haller also will conduct deep phenotyping of human organ biobank specimens for cyanotoxin exposure in at-risk populations; and

• Dr. Von Sigler, professor of environmental microbiology in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, will investigate any risks to beach visitors who come in contact with sand along a beach that has had bloom-enriched water wash up on the shoreline.

The UToledo Lake Erie Center research vessel helps to monitor the lake’s water quality.

“Foreshore sands are frequently contacted by beach visitors and are known to play a crucial role in accumulating bacteria, often harboring potentially pathogenic bacteria in densities exceeding those in nearby waters,” Sigler said. “Although no data is currently available that describes the ecology of microcystis in sands, there is potential for human health impacts.”

UToledo and Ohio State University lead the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative, which consists of dozens of science teams across the state and is managed by Ohio Sea Grant.

Researchers from UToledo, Ohio State University, the University of Akron and Bowling Green State University will lead 12 newly announced projects — four from UToledo — to track blooms from the source, produce safe drinking water, protect public health, and engage stakeholders.

The selected projects focus on reducing nutrient loading to Lake Erie, investigating algal toxin formation and human health impacts, studying bloom dynamics, and better informing water treatment plants how to remove toxins.

Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, professor of ecology, director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center and co-chair of the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative, examines a water sample aboard the UToledo Lake Erie Center research vessel.

“Thanks in part to past HABRI projects, the primary threat of microcystin algal toxin to our Lake Erie-sourced drinking water has been greatly diminished,” said Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, professor of ecology, director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center and co-chair of the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative. “Even under the best-case scenario, however, we are likely to be living with harmful algal blooms for many years to come. This new set of HABRI projects allows us to follow up with questions about other algal toxins such as saxitoxin and anatoxin that we know much less about, long-term exposure to toxins, and secondary routes of exposure, such as inhalation.”

Harmful algal blooms are not only a Lake Erie problem.

“Many lakes and rivers across Ohio are having similar issues,” Bridgeman said. “Several new projects are dedicated to helping smaller Ohio lakes and rivers use remote sensing, groundwater tracing and improved toxin-testing methodology.”

Previous HABRI projects have developed algal toxin early warning systems for water treatment plants, changed the way state agencies collect data for fish consumption advisories, and helped modify permit procedures for safer use of water treatment residuals as agricultural fertilizer.

“Lake Erie is an invaluable resource and a true treasure for the state of Ohio, and we have a responsibility to do all we can to preserve it and protect it,” said Randy Gardner, chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE). “I’m pleased that our university researchers are collaborating to lead this endeavor.”

The projects also aid the efforts of state agencies such as the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Department of Health, and Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“Direct engagement with these front-line agencies continues to allow HABRI scientists to develop research proposals that address both immediate and long-term needs of the people tackling this important statewide issue,” said Dr. Kristen Fussell, assistant director of research and administration for Ohio Sea Grant, who leads the initiative’s daily administration.

A total of $9.1 million in funding was made available through ODHE in 2015 and designated for five rounds of HABRI projects. Matching funding from participating Ohio universities increases the total investment to almost $19.5 million for more than 60 projects, demonstrating the state’s overall commitment to solving the harmful algal bloom problem.

Information about HABRI projects, partner organizations and background on the initiative is available on the Ohio Sea Grant website.

The UToledo Water Task Force, which is composed of faculty and researchers in diverse fields spanning the University, serves as a resource for government officials and the public looking for expertise on investigating the causes and effects of algal blooms, the health of Lake Erie, and the health of the communities depending on its water. The task force includes experts in economics, engineering, environmental sciences, business, pharmacy, law, chemistry and biochemistry, geography and planning, and medical microbiology and immunology.

Water quality is a major research focus at UToledo, with experts studying algal blooms, invasive species such as Asian carp, and pollutants. Researchers are looking for pathways to restore our greatest natural resource for future generations to ensure our communities continue to have access to safe drinking water.

UToledo Scientists Discover New Targets for Preventing Damage From Viral Infections

When the body faces stressful conditions such as high temperatures or lack of nutrients, cells produce the same large structures they make to combat virus infections.

Scientists at The University of Toledo discovered the connection that could be an attractive bulls-eye to aim for when identifying new antiviral targets and immune modulators to fight diverse viruses.

Dr. Malathi Krishnamurthy worked in her lab.

“In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this is a promising avenue to protect people by enhancing immune response and stop the spread of deadly viral infections,” Dr. Malathi Krishnamurthy, associate professor in the UToledo Department of Biological Sciences, said. “There is an urgent need to identify new drugs and new drug targets.”

Research published in the Journal of Virology shows how cells in our body use a unique platform that is normally made during stress to combat virus infection. These new targets have potential to lead to new drug therapies to prevent serious damage to human health by harmful viruses.

“Understanding the molecular mechanisms of how the body defends itself is critical for the development of new treatment strategies against viruses,” Krishnamurthy said. “Currently available antiviral therapies target viral replication or viral proteins, but high mutation rates of viruses often lead to drug resistance. Therefore, identification of host response pathways identified in these studies that are common to many viruses can be used to combat a broad range of viral infections, including SARS-CoV2, and improve human health.”

In this study, the researchers demonstrated how a combination of proteins and RNAs called stress granules produced in response to different types of environmental stress also is produced when an enzyme present in all our cells called Ribonuclease L (RNase L) is “turned on” in virus-infected cells.

During virus infection, double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) molecules are produced that alert the host cells of an infection to activate immune pathways.

Specialized cells in our body sense these dsRNAs, which are unique to a virus-infected cell, and produce a chemical called interferon to protect the body and clear the virus infection.

These interferons activate RNase L, which is “turned on” by a small molecule that is produced only during virus infection, and its activity produces more dsRNA to produce more interferon to clear the virus.

“In addition to RNase L, several other proteins in our cells orchestrate response to virus infection, and timely expression and coordination of response is critical to fight viral infections,” Krishnamurthy said.

Unlike the body’s response to conventional stress, these stress granules produced during virus infection orchestrate a more effective and rapid response to increase interferon production to clear viruses.

“Many viruses adapt and evade these host response pathways, and knowledge gained from these studies may help scientists find targets that can prevent serious damage to human health by harmful viruses,” Krishnamurthy said.

University Honors Faculty, Staff for Advising, Research, Teaching, Mentoring, Outreach

UToledo has announced outstanding advisors, researchers and teachers, and recipients of the Edith Rathbun Award for Outreach and Engagement for the 2019-20 academic year.

In addition, the inaugural Faculty Mentoring Award has been presented.

“It is important to recognize these dedicated and deserving award recipients, even though we were not able to hold an official ceremony this semester,” Dr. Karen Bjorkman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said. “These faculty members and advisors exemplify the excellence everyone at The University of Toledo strives for every day.”

A ceremony to celebrate recipients is scheduled to take place during fall semester.

Recipients of the Outstanding Advisor Award are:

Dr. Lorie D. Gottwald, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Dermatology in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences. She received her doctor of medicine degree from the former Medical College of Ohio in 1990. Gottwald joined the MCO faculty in 1998.

“It is obvious to anyone who has spent time around Dr. Gottwald how much time and effort she puts toward cultivating success for her mentees,” one nominator wrote. “When one of her students is successful or reaches a goal, she shares that joy with him or her. She is very invested in her mentees.” Another noted, “Dr. Gottwald develops great relationships with her students, especially those interested in dermatology. She is friendly, positive, and always encourages students to pursue their dreams.” Another wrote, “She has frank conversations about strengths and weaknesses, and she is helpful in finding research opportunities.”

Matt Reising, academic advisor for interdisciplinary and special programs, and instructor in University College. He started advising UToledo students in 2016.

“Matt educates and empowers students by listening to them and understanding what their future goals are,” a nominator wrote. “He has a nurturing personality, substantial knowledge about academic pathways, and an overall love for helping students reach their goals.” Another wrote, “Matt creates an environment in which students feel comfortable sharing their goals, fears and concerns. He is a good listener and offers positivity, hope and vision for each of his students.” Another wrote, “I’d be lost without his knowledge and guidance of everything UToledo. I’ve bombarded him with countless emails and calls, and he shows me the way time and time again. Thanks for everything.”

Recipients of the Outstanding Research and Scholarship Award are:

Dr. A. Champa Jayasuriya, professor of orthopaedic research in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences. She joined the faculty in 2004 and also holds an adjunct faculty position with the Department of Bioengineering in the College of Engineering.

Her work focuses on injectable bone graft devices to regenerate and repair damaged human bone tissues. She is investigating biocompatible, biodegradable and injectable biomaterials that can be applied for bone regeneration via an arthroscopically administered, minimally invasive procedure. Jayasuriya’s recent research uses a 3D printer to create viable multifunctional bone grafts to regenerate damaged or lost bone tissues. In addition to bone regeneration studies, Jayasuriya’s lab is working on the delivery of drugs, antibiotics, growth factors and cells. She has received $4.6 million for her research and has authored more than 70 peer-reviewed articles, which have approximately 1,750 citations.

Dr. Sridhar Viamajala, professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering. He has been at UToledo since 2009.

Viamajala’s research concentrates on sustainable energy production and green engineering. He is working to find a faster, cleaner process to produce fuel using algae without needing to add concentrated carbon dioxide. Viamajala has received nearly $12.1 million in awards for his pioneering work in the areas of algae cultivation, harvesting and conversion. His creative, innovative engineering solutions are aiming for commercial implementation to replace fossil fuels with algal fuels. He has established collaborations with researchers at UToledo, Montana State University and Arizona State University. Viamajala has written more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and technical reports, presented his work at more than 110 conferences, and received 11 patents with colleagues.

Recipients of the Edith Rathbun Award for Outreach and Engagement are:

Dr. G. Glenn Lipscomb, professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering. He joined the faculty in 1994.

Lipscomb has led efforts to engage students in chemical and environmental engineering in projects to provide clean water to communities in need. In 2015, he arranged a partnership between the University and Clean Water for the World, a nonprofit organization, for UToledo students to have a multi-year experiential learning project. Students in the chemical and environmental engineering programs produce and install units that deliver up to 300 gallons per hour of clean water — enough water for a community of up to 600 people. These water treatment systems greatly reduce water-borne diseases. Students also raise funds to travel to villages to install the systems. Thanks to Lipscomb, UToledo students have provided clean water to communities in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Dr. Matt Foss, assistant professor of theatre in the College of Arts and Letters. He began teaching and directing at the University in 2017.

Since coming to UToledo, Foss has found opportunities to be involved in the community — and included his students. He has worked with the Toledo Museum of Art on two projects, “Portraits of Toledo” and “The Art of the Cut.” After “Portraits,” the museum requested his assistance with “The Art of the Cut,” an initiative with ProMedica that raised awareness of the role barbershops play in the health and wellness of African-American men. Foss involved students to help stage manage the event, which proved a success in 2018 and was repeated this year. He and students also created puppets of endangered area wildlife and held eco-parades to raise awareness during the Momentum Festival.

Recipients of the Outstanding Teacher Award are:

Dr. Gabriella Baki, assistant professor of pharmaceutics and director of the Cosmetic Science and Formulation Design Program for undergraduates in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She came to the University in 2012.

“I am so lucky to have the opportunity of knowing such an amazing faculty member. Dr. Baki assists us with finding good internship sites and great job opportunities, and she encourages us to attend conferences to become the best version of ourselves,” one nominator wrote. Another noted, “I love that she always welcomes students to her office. Students can come for help, for questions, for guidance, or even candies she keeps stocked. She will always make sure she has time for students.” “Dr. Baki is friendly but respected, challenging but helpful. She encourages her students to work hard and put themselves out there,” another wrote.

Dr. David Gajewski, associate lecturer of mathematics in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. The UToledo alumnus received bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University, where he started to teach in 2009.

“Dr. Gajewski was my favorite calculus teacher in college,” one nominator wrote. “Not only does he have a real passion for the math he teaches, he also really cares about the students in his class. A lot of teachers are intimidating and hard to approach, but with Dr. Gajewski, it is easy to make jokes and be friendly while still respecting the fact he is a professor.” “He explained things so logically that I found I no longer thought of calculus as some alien language. Instead, it made complete sense. I actually started looking forward to class,” another wrote. Another noted, “He even met students who couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving for dinner.”

Dr. David Jex, professor of music in the College of Arts and Letters. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University in 1973 and joined the UToledo faculty in 1983.

“Dr. Jex is extremely warm and inviting. The first time you meet him, it feels like reconnecting with an old friend,” a nominator wrote. “When sitting in class, I can’t help but admire his creative styles in keeping the class engaged and active with each lesson. He is a leader in the Music Department and has gone unnoticed for far too long. It is because of him and his encouragement that I feel like I’m going to be successful in the future.” “As an accomplished composer, Dr. Jex has always been a champion of the creation of new music,” another wrote. “Dr. Jex is well-liked and well-respected by music students and faculty.”

Teresa Keefe, Distinguished University Lecturer of Information Operations and Technology Management in the College of Business and Innovation. She received a B.B.A. and a M.B.A. from the University in 1987 and 1990, respectively, and began teaching at her alma mater in 2001.

“She teaches each concept with the utmost patience and loves to solve problems for each student. I love that she has a lot of knowledge about whatever she teaches and loves to joke around in class,” a nominator wrote. “She teaches with the best material, which is very simple to understand.” Another wrote, “She is an exceptional lecturer; all of the handouts and learning materials were custom-made by her for the specific class and concepts being taught. I learned and retained more information than in any other class that I can recall because the presentation made it a joy, and I always looked forward to class.”

Dr. Kristi Mock, associate lecturer of chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. She began teaching at UToledo in 2011.

“Despite only having Dr. Mock as an instructor for one semester, her kindness and helpfulness made a huge impact on me,” one nominator wrote. “Something I found incredibly helpful was the amount of resources she provided. Every class, she would come in with a new opportunity — shadowing doctors, scribing jobs, volunteer and internship opportunities — for those of us who desired a job in chemistry.” “Dr. Mock is an incredibly enthusiastic teacher. She is incredibly knowledgeable and describes subjects in many ways so students can better understand. She is very passionate and grounded when she is teaching. She is very approachable and is always there for her students,” another wrote. Another noted, “Moving forward, we all really miss her lectures and her personality.”

Dr. Ozcan Sezer, associate professor of finance in the College of Business and Innovation. He joined the faculty in 2002.

“I am in the Student Managed Portfolio class taught by Dr. Sezer. It has been the most useful class I have taken,” one nominator wrote. “We receive a huge amount of investment knowledge, as well as learning how to work together toward one main goal. This class is a great simulation of the workplace. It is not a regular class; it is real money, which puts a lot of responsibilities on students, but Dr. Sezer set up the class as an amazing learning experience.” Another wrote, “Dr. Sezer is very laid-back, open-minded and friendly, which makes it very easy to communicate with him. And at the same time, you are feeling respected and appreciated for your effort.”

The recipient of the inaugural Faculty Mentoring Award is:

Dr. Maria Coleman, professor and chair of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering, and associate director of the Polymer Institute. She joined the University in 1998.

“I have worked with Dr. Maria Coleman since 2003. She began serving as my mentor when I arrived on campus and began my tenure-track position. We also have collaborated on research and co-mentored many women in engineering,” a nominator wrote. “She is an approachable, nonjudgmental and thoughtful mentor. She has always been more than willing to help, intervene on behalf of, and to advocate for her mentees. Dr. Coleman has been a longstanding and excellent mentor to several current and former women in the UToledo College of Engineering.”