News Article | April 21, 2017
In college, Paul Roebber reveled in the interdisciplinary aspects of meteorology. This was a sign to come, as Roebber, now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, would go on to apply biological aspects in his research as he became one of the foremost experts in meteorology forecasting. Ten years ago, Roebber designed weather forecast simulations that were organized like networks of neurons in the brain. The computer programs formed a system of interconnected processing units that could be activated or deactivated. This “artificial neural network” tool proved especially proficient at predicting scenarios with large data gaps and reams of variables. It significantly advanced snowfall prediction efforts—so much so that the artificial neural network is now used by the National Weather Service. “For me, creativity comes from being open to broad interests,” said Roebber in a release from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Recently, that broad interest extended to Charles Darwin’s evolution theory based on the finches of the Galapagos Islands—spurring Roebber’s next big weather innovation. Currently, weather forecasters use “ensemble” modeling, which predicts the weather based on the average of many weather models combined. But, ensemble modeling isn’t always accurate as each model is so similar, they end up agreeing with each other, rather than the actual weather. Essentially, more data diversity is needed to distinguish relevant variables from irrelevant ones. However, it’s expensive to obtain and add new data. The importance of a weather forecast goes beyond you bringing an umbrella to work, or planning to host a party outdoors. In fact, an estimated 40 percent of the U.S. economy is somehow dependent on weather prediction. Even a small improvement in the accuracy of forecasts could save millions of dollars annually for the industries that are affected most—notably agribusiness and construction. So, if the key to improving ensemble modeling is data diversity—how do you do it without first collecting new data? In 1835, Darwin observed what came to be known as natural selection in a population of finches inhabiting the Galapagos Islands. The birds divided into smaller groups, each residing in different locations around the islands. Over time, they adapted to their specific habitat, making each group distinct from the others—and all different from the original finches. Applying this to weather prediction models, Roebber devised a mathematical method in which one computer program sorts 10,000 other ones, improving itself over time using strategies such as heredity, mutation and—of course—natural selection. The professor began by subdividing existing variables into conditional scenarios: the value of a variable would be set one way under one condition, but be set differently under another condition. Then, his computer program picks out the variables that best accomplish the goal and recombines them. This means the “offspring” weather prediction models improve in accuracy because they block more of the unhelpful attributes—just as Darwin observed all those years ago. “One difference between this and biology is, I wanted to force the next generation [of models] to be better in some absolute sense, not just survive,” Roebber said in a UWM press release. He is already using the evolutionary methodology to forecast minimum and maximum temperatures for seven days out, and the technique is outperforming models used by the National Weather Service. In particular, Roebber’s new model works well on long-range forecasts and extreme events, when an accurate forecast is most needed.
News Article | May 25, 2017
The study originated in 2008 with a planned expansion of Fort Irwin National Training Center in the Mojave Desert. But the expansion area included a swath of prime habitat for the endangered desert tortoise. So the U.S. Department of Defense funded relocation of the tortoises to an area adjacent to the base that is less than 10 miles south of their previous home. The Smithsonian Institute's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute has completed parentage analysis after the relocation and has found that none of the transported males had sired any offspring. In contrast, all the moved females and the resident tortoises had adjusted well and reproduced. "These results were really surprising," said Emily Latch, a UWM associate professor of biological sciences and a co-author of a paper published May 24 in the journal Biological Conservation. "We fully expected that after several years, all tortoises would be reproducing at 'regular' levels. Our radio telemetry data indicated that translocated males were in the vicinity of females, and so had access to mates." Translocation is common conservation strategy, used to increase genetic diversity among populations and move threatened animals in the case of habitat loss. Latch, who worked on the early stages of tortoise project as a post-doctoral researcher with the Smithsonian, has also worked on translocation projects involving species of wild turkeys, mule deer, bison, bighorn sheep, river otters and fishers. These findings, she said, suggest that for some species, translocation may not be as effective a tool to rescue populations at risk as previously thought. Kevin Mulder, a graduate student at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and first author on the paper, said more research is necessary to identify what may have happened. Explore further: California tortoises died trying to reproduce during drought More information: Kevin P. Mulder et al. No paternal genetic integration in desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) following translocation into an existing population, Biological Conservation (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2017.04.030
News Article | December 13, 2016
News Article | March 14, 2016
For 40 years, Rohatgi has been steadily creating metal matrix composites, which combine standard metal alloys with completely different classes of material – ceramics, nanoparticles and even recycled waste – to give them "smart" qualities. For all their potential, most of Rohatgi's creations sat on the shelf for decades. But a flourishing entrepreneurial culture at UW-Milwaukee, the right partners and a national push for conservation and energy independence convinced him to make the leap into the commercial sphere. He's doing so with a product line made using a self-lubricating composite, one he believes will cut friction in internal combustion engines significantly, saving gas while reducing emissions. "The federal mandates to reduce carbon emissions and increase fuel efficiency could be the incentives that finally help these composites into the marketplace," said engineering alumnus Chris Jordan, who worked in Rohatgi's lab as an undergraduate. Jordan and lab mate Simon Beno have joined Rohatgi and two of his collaborators in a startup company, Intelligent Composites, which aims to get car parts made with the composite into commercial use. If successful, the startup's product line could reinvigorate Wisconsin foundries that have lost business to cheap labor overseas. Rohatgi pioneered the development of metal matrix composites in the 1970s while working for the International Nickel Company's U.S. lab. An official at General Motors suggested the lab develop a lightweight alternative to cast iron that would reduce the weight of vehicles and reduce the cost of shipping vehicles to showrooms. But metal matrix composites were high-tech materials too complicated to mass-produce, and automakers balked at the cost, Rohatgi recalled. At the time, gas was cheap, so there was little motivation for them to pursue the research. Rohatgi, however, persevered, believing the materials could improve lives and provide jobs. "These composites can give old-line manufacturing the means to produce new, high-tech products that industries can't find anywhere else," he said. Rohatgi and longtime collaborator David Weiss spent years testing composites with various smart qualities at Manitowoc's Eck Industries, where Weiss is vice president of engineering. They resolved compatibility issues and devised a method to mass-produce composites in foundries, bringing down the cost. Metal matrix composites have been the exclusive property of labs that custom-make them for use in projects like the Hubble spacecraft. Now, Eck will prove that same technology can be used to produce the engine part Intelligent Composites will sell. "For years, Pradeep used to come to Eck, and we were trying to understand how we could scale up some of his inventions with the goal always of bringing them to the commercial market," said Weiss, who is also acting CEO for Intelligent Composites. "What was missing was a business that could take the materials into production and sell them." Jordan was already a successful Internet entrepreneur when he returned to college to finish his bachelor's degree. He took a part-time job in Rohatgi's lab in 2012, just as the professor decided to enter the self-lubricating composite in the Governor's Business Plan competition. "He said it was only an academic exercise when he asked me to get involved," Jordan said. But within a week, Jordan was envisioning a profitable startup. He sought help from James Hunter, a Lubar School of Business entrepreneur-in-residence who signed on as the startup's chief financial officer. Promising early test results helped Intelligent Composites attract more than $350,000 in grant funding during its first 15 months. According to the team's market research, engine and vehicle manufacturers facing stricter federal emissions regulations would sit up and take notice if presented with a cost-competitive method of reducing fuel consumption and emissions by 1 or 2 percent. Prototypes of a rotary engine with a part made from self-lubricating composite have produced far better results. Independent testing reported a 35 percent reduction in fuel consumption compared to rotary engines made of traditional materials. Jordan and Beno hope to see similar benefits when the composite reduces friction between pistons and cylinders in internal combustion engines. Piston engines are used in almost all cars and trucks, so the impact could be dramatic. "If every car and truck in the country used Intelligent Composites cylinder liners, the United States could become energy independent," Beno said. His claim is supported by years of testing Rohatgi and Weiss did with manufacturing giants Ford, Briggs & Stratton and Oshkosh Corp. before Intelligent Composites formed. Robert Hathaway, a UW-Milwaukee alumnus and vice president of Global Technology – Materials and Process Engineering at Oshkosh Corp., has collaborated on research projects with Rohatgi for two decades. "We believe these materials have commercial merit," Hathaway wrote in a letter supporting the startup's application for a Small Business Technology Transfer grant. "Should Intelligent Composites achieve the goals outlined in the federal grant application, Oshkosh Corporation would be interested in giving this technology a closer look." Although much more testing is ahead, the team also is executing a two-pronged game plan to break into the market. Weiss is introducing the composite parts to original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs. These companies, like the major automakers, outsource production of parts used in their final product and can influence others. "These are disruptive materials that call for the suppliers to change manufacturing processes," Weiss said. "And manufacturers are not as accepting of change as some of the high-tech companies are." Growth potential may help nudge them, Rohatgi said. There are at least 25 other vehicle parts that could become more energy-efficient if made with the composite. Jordan and Beno are focusing on a second front. They plan to make and sell engine cylinder liners for power sport vehicles – ATVs, snowmobiles and watercraft. "We first want to approach a group that could be early adopters," Weiss said. "Racers are willing to do anything quickly that will give them a competitive advantage. Winning over power sport vehicle users would help validate the technology and show other OEMs that customers want to see Intelligent Composites components in their vehicles, Jordan said. Grateful for the university's support, the Intelligent Composites team granted 1 percent equity in the startup to the UWM Research Foundation. "I feel like the university environment allowed this work to grow," Rohatgi said. "Our partnership holds an important tech-transfer lesson on the critical role of testing great academic ideas in the industry environment. Each one helps propel and hone the other."
News Article | March 15, 2016
Imagine engines that conserve fuel by automatically dialing down internal friction, water pipes that seal their own cracks and iPhones that protect themselves when dropped. Metallurgist Pradeep Rohatgi has—and he invented the futuristic materials necessary to build these smart products. For 40 years, Rohatgi has been steadily creating metal matrix composites, which combine standard metal alloys with completely different classes of material—ceramics, nanoparticles and even recycled waste—to give them “smart” qualities. For all their potential, most of Rohatgi’s creations sat on the shelf for decades. But a flourishing entrepreneurial culture at UW-Milwaukee, the right partners and a national push for conservation and energy independence convinced him to make the leap into the commercial sphere. He’s doing so with a product line made using a self-lubricating composite, one he believes will cut friction in internal combustion engines significantly, saving gas while reducing emissions. “The federal mandates to reduce carbon emissions and increase fuel efficiency could be the incentives that finally help these composites into the marketplace,” said engineering alumnus Chris Jordan, who worked in Rohatgi’s lab as an undergraduate. Jordan and lab mate Simon Beno have joined Rohatgi and two of his collaborators in a startup company, Intelligent Composites, which aims to get car parts made with the composite into commercial use. If successful, the startup’s product line could reinvigorate Wisconsin foundries that have lost business to cheap labor overseas. Rohatgi pioneered the development of metal matrix composites in the 1970s while working for the International Nickel Company’s U.S. lab. An official at General Motors suggested the lab develop a lightweight alternative to cast iron that would reduce the weight of vehicles and reduce the cost of shipping vehicles to showrooms. But metal matrix composites were high-tech materials too complicated to mass-produce, and automakers balked at the cost, Rohatgi recalled. At the time, gas was cheap, so there was little motivation for them to pursue the research. Rohatgi, however, persevered, believing the materials could improve lives and provide jobs. “These composites can give old-line manufacturing the means to produce new, high-tech products that industries can’t find anywhere else,” he said. Rohatgi and longtime collaborator David Weiss spent years testing composites with various smart qualities at Manitowoc’s Eck Industries, where Weiss is vice president of engineering. They resolved compatibility issues and devised a method to mass-produce composites in foundries, bringing down the cost. Metal matrix composites have been the exclusive property of labs that custom-make them for use in projects like the Hubble spacecraft. Now, Eck will prove that same technology can be used to produce the engine part Intelligent Composites will sell. “For years, Pradeep used to come to Eck, and we were trying to understand how we could scale up some of his inventions with the goal always of bringing them to the commercial market,” said Weiss, who is also acting CEO for Intelligent Composites. “What was missing was a business that could take the materials into production and sell them.” Jordan was already a successful Internet entrepreneur when he returned to college to finish his bachelor’s degree. He took a part-time job in Rohatgi’s lab in 2012, just as the professor decided to enter the self-lubricating composite in the Governor’s Business Plan competition. “He said it was only an academic exercise when he asked me to get involved,” Jordan said. But within a week, Jordan was envisioning a profitable startup. He sought help from James Hunter, a Lubar School of Business entrepreneur-in-residence who signed on as the startup’s chief financial officer. Promising early test results helped Intelligent Composites attract more than $350,000 in grant funding during its first 15 months. According to the team’s market research, engine and vehicle manufacturers facing stricter federal emissions regulations would sit up and take notice if presented with a cost-competitive method of reducing fuel consumption and emissions by 1 or 2 percent. Prototypes of a rotary engine with a part made from self-lubricating composite have produced far better results. Independent testing reported a 35 percent reduction in fuel consumption compared to rotary engines made of traditional materials. Jordan and Beno hope to see similar benefits when the composite reduces friction between pistons and cylinders in internal combustion engines. Piston engines are used in almost all cars and trucks, so the impact could be dramatic. “If every car and truck in the country used Intelligent Composites cylinder liners, the United States could become energy independent,” Beno said. His claim is supported by years of testing Rohatgi and Weiss did with manufacturing giants Ford, Briggs & Stratton and Oshkosh Corp. before Intelligent Composites formed. Robert Hathaway, a UW-Milwaukee alumnus and vice president of Global Technology—Materials and Process Engineering at Oshkosh Corp., has collaborated on research projects with Rohatgi for two decades. “We believe these materials have commercial merit,” Hathaway wrote in a letter supporting the startup’s application for a Small Business Technology Transfer grant. “Should Intelligent Composites achieve the goals outlined in the federal grant application, Oshkosh Corporation would be interested in giving this technology a closer look.” Although much more testing is ahead, the team also is executing a two-pronged game plan to break into the market. Weiss is introducing the composite parts to original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs. These companies, like the major automakers, outsource production of parts used in their final product and can influence others. “These are disruptive materials that call for the suppliers to change manufacturing processes,” Weiss said. “And manufacturers are not as accepting of change as some of the high-tech companies are.” Growth potential may help nudge them, Rohatgi said. There are at least 25 other vehicle parts that could become more energy-efficient if made with the composite. Jordan and Beno are focusing on a second front. They plan to make and sell engine cylinder liners for power sport vehicles—ATVs, snowmobiles and watercraft. “We first want to approach a group that could be early adopters,” Weiss said. “Racers are willing to do anything quickly that will give them a competitive advantage. Winning over power sport vehicle users would help validate the technology and show other OEMs that customers want to see Intelligent Composites components in their vehicles, Jordan said. Grateful for the university’s support, the Intelligent Composites team granted 1 percent equity in the startup to the UWM Research Foundation. “I feel like the university environment allowed this work to grow,” Rohatgi said. “Our partnership holds an important tech-transfer lesson on the critical role of testing great academic ideas in the industry environment. Each one helps propel and hone the other.”
News Article | September 19, 2016
Less than a decade ago, Bradford Beach in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was mysteriously contaminated. The city would shut the beach down all the time, worried that it could threaten the health of visitors. Then Sandra McLellan, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (UWM) School of Freshwater Sciences, diagnosed the problem. Her lab tested water and sand samples at Bradford Beach to determine that sea gulls congregating in the area, and stormwater drainage pipes, were the source of much of the beach's contamination. Armed with that knowledge, the city rerouted the outfalls and in 2016, Bradford Beach was named the third best urban beach in the country. The backbone of McLellan's research—and success—is the rapid advancement in gene sequencing. In 1990, the idea of sequencing genes was just a hypotheses. The Human Genome Project, which mapped human DNA, took almost fifteen years to complete, cost upwards of $2.5 million, and was a massive undertaking by the US government and international partners. But the project's impact extends beyond the human body. Previously, the only major testing of water was for E. coli, a very simple bacteria that can cause dangerous, sometimes deadly, health problems. The problem is that E. coli, carried through fecal matter, is present in a number of different contaminants from even more possible locations. So testing only for E. coli shows that the water (or sand) is contaminated, but provides no information on how to fix the problem or where it's coming from. Today, scientists like McLellan can go well beyond that. She can sequence the DNA in multiple water samples in her lab shortly after collecting them to examine the bacteria and investigate water pollution. This information drastically changes how scientists and health departments can react to and correct water contamination by helping them treat water at the source. Much of McLellan's work is geared toward local impact. Milwaukee provides an ideal location for the School of Freshwater Sciences and McLellan's lab. The Great Lakes contain one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water and the school sits directly on Lake Michigan. In addition, there are three rivers that converge on Milwaukee's port and each of them represent the three areas of concern for scientists studying water contamination and pollution—agricultural runoff, suburban land use and a dense urban area. But in 2013, the National Resource Defense Council reported Wisconsin's beach water was the second poorest in the nation. So Milwaukee's South Shore Beach is the next focus for McLellan and her team. Samples showed that there was little E. coli in the water, but the numbers spiked on the beach. The lab has already attributed much of the problem to storm water runoff from nearby parking lots and grants have been acquired to start addressing the problem. "The research of Dr. Sandra McLellan has greatly assisted the City of Milwaukee Health Department in better understanding actual health risks associated with microbial contamination at public beaches, including Bradford Beach located within the at City of Milwaukee," said Paul A. Biedrzycki, Director of Disease Control and Environmental Health for the City of Milwaukee Health Department. McLellan's research could have far reaching implications for public health, both in the US and internationally. Globally, 1.8 billion people still drink contaminated water, according to the World Health Organization. And an estimated 842,000 people die each year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water, often because of fecal matter, and lack of sanitation. "What our lab is doing is trying to come up with better indicators of fecal pollution that are very specific to sources. Is it from a human is it from a bird is it from cattle? So we take it a step further to see if we can trace where fecal pollution is coming from in the environment," McLellan said. She was recently awarded a $1.5 million dollar grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to continue her work and research. It's the third grant they've awarded McLellan—she's spent almost a decade advancing her research. And McLellan hypothesizes that in less than two decades, she and her team will be able to complete sequencing on site, as soon as a sample is collected. "It's almost like the preventative medicine of water. Instead of figuring out the pathology, let's just make sure people don't get sick in the first place," she said. Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.
News Article | January 29, 2016
"I intentionally heat up an object a little bit, and it wants to expand because it's heating up, so it generates an outgoing pressure pulse. We measure those pressure pulses with ultrasound receivers," Patch explained. "A few years ago, we landed a grant through UWM's instrumentation award program to purchase a research-friendly ultrasound system. Now I can use a transducer just like those in hospitals to 'listen' for the signal." Patch uses that existing technology to create 3D images of prostates with the goal of crafting a diagnostic tool that spots cancer without the risks associated with biopsies. She started by imaging cancerous prostates immediately after they were removed from patients at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. "Lots of folks at MCW have been very supportive of this project, from Dr. (William) See in urology, to the MCW Tissue Bank and MCW's Clinical & Translational Science Institute," Patch said. To create thermoacoustic images, Patch needed a way to heat prostates uniformly. In the basement of the UWM Physics building, a souped-up FM radio transmitter propagates high-power VHF (very high frequency) pulses through her bench-top imaging system. The signal is driven by electrical conductivity. Healthy prostate glands produce fluid that is about three times more conductive than blood or plasma. Unhealthy prostate glands produce less conductive fluid. Patch and collaborator Dr. David Hull compare the thermoacoustic images to the corresponding prostate samples to determine whether the images could be used for cancer diagnosis. If thermoacoustic imaging proves as effective as more costly techniques, Patch would look to image prostates still inside patients. The process would be similar to the current transrectal biopsy now used for diagnosing tumors. "We are looking for surgeons in town to help us move to the next level," she said. "To drum up funds to build a prototype, we'll need to have physicians and patients on board who will allow us to perform thermoacoustic imaging the biopsy procedure." Longer term, she hopes to image other abdominal organs, like the liver and pancreas. It's also possible that thermoacoustic imaging could do more than just detect cancer; it could be used to treat it. Proton therapy is a method of cancer treatment in which doctors direct a beam of charged particles at a tumor. Unlike regular radiation treatments, in which X-rays can affect a wide area of the body, particle beams deposit most of their energy at a certain point known as the Bragg peak, and then die away almost completely. In principle, treatment can be focused on the tumor, leaving the healthy tissue beyond the Bragg peak untouched. Positioning errors, however, result in treating healthy tissue and under-treating the tumor. Patch and scientists working on the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab's (LBNL) 88-inch cyclotron worked together to detect thermoacoustic emissions from the Bragg peak. Patch tested her newest ultrasound equipment at Berkeley last summer with an upgraded cyclotron that accelerates protons to approximately one-third the speed of light. "LBNL donated a day's worth of time of on the cyclotron. We did some experiments and it worked better than I thought it would," Patch said. LBNL also provided staff support, including technicians who modified electronics, operators who controlled the beam and a scientist coaxed out of retirement. The experiment involved pulsing a proton beam at a "phantom," a model of human tissue used for ultrasound. The team designed a phantom with a cavity that mimicked a portion of the intestine, because gas pockets wreak havoc with treatment plans. Scientists George Noid and Allen Li at MCW took CT scans of the phantom, which Patch used to estimate the Bragg peak when the cavity was empty and when it was filled with olive oil. "The beam could penetrate 2 centimeters in the oil. But when the cavity is empty, the beam flies right through and doesn't slow down until it enters phantom material. With my ultrasound transducers, we can see that difference pretty accurately," Patch said. Her results are preliminary, but Patch thinks that if the team continues to see positive results, thermoacoustics could improve the accuracy of proton therapy.
News Article | November 3, 2015
For the next two days, 50 million people in eight states were left without power. But a technology being perfected at UWM, called a microgrid, will keep that from happening again. Microgrids are free-standing power sources that integrate disparate energy-generating sources, store the energy and then distribute it uninterrupted to a limited surrounding area during power outages. "Any place where large numbers of people congregate – military bases, factories, sports arenas or even Disney World – would be unaffected by a blackout if there is a microgrid in place," said Vijay Bhavaraju, principal engineer in power system technologies at Eaton Corporation. Eaton is one of six Milwaukee companies working with UWM Professor Adel Nasiri to advance microgrid technology, addressing the obstacles that have so far kept it from the commercial market where it is projected to generate revenues of $3 billion by 2017. "This one in Milwaukee will be the state-of-the-art microgrid testbed in the country," Nasiri explained. "We can use it in conducting research for federal projects, and for testing with private companies. It will accelerate what we can do together with industry." While microgrids can serve as energy islands, Nasiri's testbed has another important benefit: It can integrate energy from diverse sources – like solar, wind and batteries – into the nation's distribution system for electricity, called the central grid. That means eco-minded energy consumers won't have to put solar cells in their backyards in order to have access to green energy. The timing is right. The cost of obtaining renewable energy is dropping. But because renewables generate and distribute energy differently than power plants, the transfer of these added sources isn't compatible with the nation's grid. In order to augment the grid, the "added" energy sources must conform to the way the existing grid distributes electricity. When dispatching energy from coal-burning power plants or hydroelectric plants, the grid adjusts the output amount to match user demand. Energy coming from renewable energy sources is not adjustable, however, and is difficult to store. "By adding multiple other sources, we will need to 'smooth out' the intermittent power that renewables generate, in order to keep the output-demand in balance," Nasiri said. Wind turbines, for example, generate electricity only when the wind is blowing. But in most places, the wind blows more often at night when demand for electricity is low. Nasiri's patented technology allows renewable energy produced when demand is low to be stored and then released when the demand is high. Microgrids like the one Nasiri is building with industry partners will fix energy-compatibility problems, and ultimately help reduce emissions from fossil fuel-burning power plants by increasing use of renewables. The energy sources in a microgrid vary in number and variety. Renewables could be included in a microgrid, but so could natural gas- and diesel-fueled generators. UWM engineering students are working with Eaton on software that allows communication among the various energy sources, giving the microgrid the ability to customize the mix of energy sources in its "arsenal" in order to improve efficiency. "For example, on a windy day you could eliminate the diesel portion of the microgrid," said Eaton's Bhavaraju. "You can tune the kind of output to the end user by scheduling when to turn one source on and another one off. So if we can manage the electricity sources, we could show up to 40 percent in fuel savings." UWM's microgrid testbed, funded in part by the Midwest Energy Research Consortium, an industrial-academic research coalition, will give regional companies a first look at the compatibility of their parts. Besides Eaton, other participating companies are Kohler, Rockwell Automation, LEM, Odyne and ZBB Energy Corp. The U.S. Army is already developing microgrid technology to ensure power to military bases. Nasiri and Bhavaraju recently received funding to improve operations of a microgrid at Fort Sill, a base about 80 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. Their objective was to identify how to orchestrate a seamless transfer of service when the microgrid is disconnected from the grid. Their efforts resulted in creation of a new part, the controller, which enables that uninterrupted jump. Working out the manipulation of energy needed to make microgrids safe and viable is a major undertaking. One of Nasiri's remaining challenges is developing components that will streamline the complicated task of managing voltage and frequency. Along the microgrid construction journey, UWM engineering students from Nasiri's lab have participated in grant-funded research, such as the Fort Sill microgrid project. Eaton has hired a few UWM students part-time to focus on a specific feature, says Bhavaraju. Of three UWM students assisting with the work at Fort Sill, Eaton recently hired two full time after graduation. The participation of students is an asset to the work, added Bhavaraju. "It will be the students who will move the needle."
News Article | October 26, 2016
2,500 Years Ago, This Brew Was Buried With The Dead; A Brewery Has Revived It It's one thing to appreciate a 20-year-old fine wine. It is something else to brew up a 2,500-year-old alcoholic beverage. While sifting through the remains of an Iron Age burial plot dating from 400 to 450 B.C. in what is today Germany, Bettina Arnold, an archaeologist and anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and others uncovered a cauldron that contained remnants of an alcohol brewed and buried with the deceased. "We actually were able, ultimately, to derive at least some sense of what the contents were in a bronze cauldron," says Arnold. So she decided to team up with Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery to re-create the ancient brew, using a recipe inspired by evidence collected from the archaeological remains. Arnold says the cauldron actually contained about 14 liters of fairly high-quality liquid. A paleobotanist then analyzed the contents and shared a basic idea of the recipe. "The honey, which is definitely present ... and then as a bittering and preservative agent — not hops ... but meadowsweet," Arnold explains. Mint was also uncovered in the brew. The alcohol in the vessel is believed to be a braggot. As Chad Sheridan, a cellarmaster at Lakefront Brewery, explains, "a braggot is a blend of barley and honey as the two sugar ingredients to create the beverage." Sheridan was pulled into the project because of his background in home brewing meads and braggots. Besides yeast, the brew really only contains four ingredients: barley, honey, mint and meadowsweet. It took seven hours to make the brew and another two weeks to let it ferment. I got to sip the final product. The result was smooth and pleasant — almost like a dry port, but with a minty, herbal tinge to it. It also packed an alcoholic kick. Alas, you won't find this ancient recipe on beer store shelves any time soon. While it's certainly drinkable and "very cool to taste ... I don't think people would be interested in purchasing it to drink," says Lakefront Brewery's Chris Ranson. "But it sure was a fun experiment," Ranson adds. Arnold says it's actually quite fortuitous that they were able to re-create this recipe. "Luckily for us, they didn't just send people off to the afterlife with [swords and spears] — they also sent them off with the actual beverage. It's a BYOB afterlife, you know? You have to be able to sort of throw a party when you get there." For thousands of years, alcohol has played a vital role in cultures around the world. During the Iron Age, as it is today, alcohol was used as a social lubricant and it was also used to mark special events, like inaugurations, weddings and, in this case, burials. "Alcohol's a really important part of ritual. It helps us kind of pay attention to a specific moment in time," says Joshua Driscoll. He's an anthropology Ph.D. student at UWM specializing in the history and archaeology of fermented beverages. "So if you take the example of a toast — everyone raises their glasses, they drink a little bit of the alcoholic beverage and it makes everyone pay attention to that specific moment, which helps them remember it in the future," Driscoll says. This re-created brew is hopefully the first attempt of many, Arnold says. UWM's College of Letters and Science is developing a program on the culture and science of fermentation. Eventually, she says, she will be developing a course where they will brew up different beverages based upon archaeological evidence. This story first aired on Lake Effect, a program on member station WUWM in Milwaukee.
News Article | December 22, 2015
A study published recently by Edward (Ned) Ruby, professor at the University of Hawai'i - Mānoa's Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC) and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin - Madison (UWM) revealed that Vibrio fischeri has a novel type of receptors that sense the presence and concentration of fatty acids, a building block of all cell membranes. This class of receptors allows a bacterium to migrate toward short-chain fatty acids- a phenomenon referred to as chemotaxis. "This is the first example of a receptor for this class of compounds, and this receptor appears to have evolved in, and be restricted to, the Vibrionaceae family of marine bacteria," said Ruby. Sending and receiving chemical signals allow bacteria to communicate with other organisms, gather information about their environment, and determine with whom to create a mutually beneficial partnership - a symbiosis. For example, the Hawaiian bobtail squid hatchlings aren't born with Vibrio fischeri. They attract it, and only it, from the surrounding seawater using chemoattractants, and capture it in their light organs. However, the newly discovered fatty-acid sensors are not required for the bacterium to initiate symbiosis with the squid. Thus, the ability to migrate towards fatty acids appears to play a critical role in some other aspect of the bacterium's life history. "Interestingly, in Vibrio fischeri the gene encoding the receptor has duplicated, so that the cell has two copies of similar, and apparently functionally identical, genes. Such genetic investment in this receptor suggests that the ability to sense and migrate toward fatty acids may be important in the pathogenicity of other Vibrio species like Vibrio cholera [which causes cholera], Vibrio vulnificus [which causes necrotizing skin infections and gastroenteritis] and others," said Ruby. All organisms, even humans, use chemotaxis to attract beneficial microbes to specific tissues. For example, as human infants are exposed to bacteria in their environment, they must attract desirable species to particular tissues - gut, skin, teeth, reproductive tract - that must be colonized by these bacteria. In the future, Ruby and colleagues will continue to try and discover the attractants that allow Vibrio fischeri to be the only bacterial species that can colonize the light organ of the squid. With only one species to track, it is easier to study the colonization process than when there are dozens or hundreds of bacterial species that are needed to colonize the tissue (like the gut). Understanding how this colonization takes place will lead to greater understanding of how Earth's many microbiomes become constructed and, thus allow us to better construct and manage them. Explore further: Single gene lets bacteria jump from host to host