The University of Texas at Arlington College of Science January 2014  
Welcome to the January 2014 edition of Maverick Science E-News. This monthly e-newsletter provides information about College of Science events involving students, alumni, faculty and staff. To contribute items for inclusion, please send an email to If possible, please include a high-resolution headshot photo of those mentioned in your items.
Microbe community changes may reduce Amazon rainforest’s ability to lock up CO2  

For Alumni

UT Arlington Alumni
You can help the next generation of Mavericks

Andrew Baum

Did the University of Texas at Arlington change your life? Do you want to help a future Maverick? Call Dr. Ignacio Nuñez, the chair of the College of Science Advisory Council. He'd love to help get you involved on campus again. The Advisory Council is issuing a challenge to each alumnus and to each member of our North Texas community who believes in our mission. The challenge: Give one day a year and $1,000 annually (that's just $83.33 a month) to benefit the students of UT Arlington. Dr. Nuñez was a first-generation college student, and UT Arlington made it possible for him to attend medical school and create a life vastly different than that of his parents. Did UT Arlington change your life too? Let's work together to help the next generation. You can contact Nuñez at or leave a message for him at 817-272-1497.

Memorial fund created to honor Truman Black

Andrew Baum
A special fund has been created to honor the memory of Dr. Truman Black, professor of physics and beloved member of the UT Arlington family, who died on Sept. 12, 2012.
Donations to the fund may be mailed to:
Truman D. Black Scholarship Fund at The University of Texas at Arlington
Office of Development
P.O. Box 19198
Arlington, TX 76019-0198

Calendar of events

March 10-14
Spring Break
Wednesday, March 26
First day to register for Fall 2014 classes
ACES Symposium Wednesday, March 26
E.H. Hereford University Center

The Annual Celebration of Excellence by Students, a daylong symposium which showcases the best of research being done by UT Arlington students in all disciplines. There are poster and oral presentation categories in a variety of divisions, with panels of judges awarding winners in each category. More information here.
Friday, March 28
Last day to drop classes for Spring 2014 semester
Friday, May 2
Last day of classes for Spring 2014 semester
May 3, 5-9
Final exams for Spring 2014 semester

Sunday, May 11
7 p.m. COS Spring 2014 Commencement
College Park Center

The College of Science and School of Architecture will have a joint graduation ceremony. Details coming soon.

The Planetarium at
UT Arlington

Have you been to a show at the planetarium lately? The facility, one of the finest in the nation, offers a variety of exciting shows and programs year-round and is equipped with Digistar 5, the latest in planetarium software. The Spring 2014 show schedule is in effect through June 1. See the full schedule here.
Maverick Science
Keep up with the COS with Maverick Science
Read the 2012-13 edition of Maverick Science Magazine for the latest faculty, student and alumni news. Copies are available in the Dean’s Office (Life Sciences Room 206) and in LS 112. The next edition of Maverick Science is coming soon! Read the online version here.
Follow the COS on Facebook and Twitter
Facebook LogoKeep up with the College of Science on the popular social media sites Facebook and Twitter, and stay informed Twitter Logoabout what's going on and upcoming events in the College of Science.
Maverick Science
E-Newsletter Archives
A UT Arlington research team organized by Jorge Rodrigues, assistant professor of biology, focusing on the Amazon recently found that widespread conversion from rainforest to pastureland has significant effects on microorganism communities that may lead to a reduction in the region’s role as a reservoir for green-house gas.
The Amazon rainforest is the largest terrestrial reservoir or “sink” for carbon dioxide, a gas that has been linked to climate change. Through photosynthesis, the Amazon absorbs 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year in a process that requires input of nitrogen. That nitrogen, for the most part, comes from a process called nitrogen fixation - essentially microbes pulling nitrogen form the air into the soil.
The new paper, featured in the January issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, looks for the first time at the reaction of free-living nitrogen-fixing microorganisms called diazotrophs to the deforestation. Babur S. Mirza, formerly a postdoctoral fellow in the Rodrigues lab, is the paper’s lead author.
Read more on this story here.
Pierce leads research which is uncovering enzyme’s role in various diseases in humans
Brad Pierce, an assistant professor of chemistry & biochemistry doing National Science Foundation-funded research on enzymes that regulate human biology, has uncovered characteristics that could be used to identify predisposition to conditions such as heart disease, diabetic ulcers and some types of cancer.
Pierce recently led a team that examined an oxygen utilizing iron enzyme called cysteine dioxygenase or CDO, which is found in high levels within heart, liver, and brain tissues. Enzymes are proteins that act as catalysts to enable metabolic functions, but under some circumstances these oxygen-dependent enzymes can also produce highly toxic side products called reactive oxygen species or ROS.
For the first time, Pierce’s team found that mutations outside the CDO active site environment or “outer coordination sphere” have a profound influence on the release of ROS. Excess ROS has been linked to numerous ageonset human disease states.
“Most research in the past has focused on the active site inner coordination sphere of these enzymes, where the metal molecule is located,” Pierce said. “What we’re finding is that it’s really the second sphere that regulates the efficiency of the enzyme. In essence, these interactions hold everything together during catalysis. When this process breaks down, the enzyme ends up spitting out high levels of ROS and increasing the likelihood of disease.”
Read more on this story here.
Schug authors article for LCGC blog touting advantages of using flow injection analysis
Kevin Schug, associate professor of chemistry & biochemistry, wrote an article for the LCGC Blog addressing flow injection analysis (FIA), which he concludes is a powerful technique in quantitative analysis for mass spectrometry (MS).
“I think that FIA is a very powerful technique for quantitative analysis, especially in conjunction with MS detection, and that is underappreciated,” Schug writes in the article. “I am not one to advocate the complete removal of chromatography in favor of using MS to resolve all of the necessary components, but there are times where this is possible. Nanita has nicely shown a way that matrix effects can be circumvented and this is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of quantitative MS with which we have to deal. I hope that this blog entry gives you some pause to consider how FIA might be used in novel ways. Certainly, simplicity and amenability for increased throughput are compelling advantages.”
Read the article here.
Dias, Foss co-organize DFW Section of ACS meeting spotlighting young investigators
Dias Foss
Rasika Dias, professor and chair of the chemistry & biochemistry department, and assistant professor Frank Foss co-organized the January meeting of the DFW Section of ACS (American Chemical Society), held on January 25 at UT Arlington in the W.A. Baker Chemistry Research Building.
The event spotlighted young investigators from the DFW area and their research. A morning symposium featured chemistry faculty from area universities and included talks by UT Arlington chemistry assistant professors Junha Jeon and Kayunta Johnson-Winters. Faculty members from Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University and UT Southwestern Medical Center also participated. A poster presentation featured research of DFW section postdoctoral research associates.
Dias and Dan Frankel of Bruker AXS, a scientific instrument manufacturer, co-organized a Problem Structures Workshop at UT Arlington related to small molecule X-ray crystallography, which was held in the W.A. Baker Chemistry Research Building on November 2. It drew participants from Texas A&M University, Texas Christian University, UT Dallas and the University of North Texas. Charles Campana of Bruker AXS and Joseph Reibenspies of Texas A&M conducted the workshop and discussed various challenges and problems encountered during the X-ray structure solution and data analysis of small molecules.
Strom co-edits American Chemical Society volume on pioneers of quantum chemistry
E. Thomas Strom, adjunct professor in chemistry, recently co-edited a new American Chemical Society (ACS) Symposium volume. The recently published book is titled Pioneers of Quantum Chemistry. The book is based upon a symposium of the same name co-organized by Strom and held at the 2011 spring ACS meeting in Anaheim, Calif. For this volume, Strom has provided a 40-page chapter on pioneering quantum chemist George Wheland.
For the Spring 2014 ACS National Meeting & Exposition, which will be held March 16-20 in Dallas, Strom has organized a symposium celebrating the 50th anniversary of the James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry. The symposium will feature presentations by many of the early winners of this important award. The president of the ACS has denoted this symposium as a 'presidential recommendation,' given the symposium a $1,000 presidential grant, and will publicize the symposium along with other presidential events.
Learn more about the upcoming ACS National Meeting & Exposition in Dallas here.
Castoe’s role in project mapping genome of Burmese python detailed in Star-Telegram
Todd Castoe, assistant professor in biology, was featured in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on December 17 about his genomics research. A paper co-authored by Castoe is the first of its kind to map the Burmese python genome.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the paper. Castoe believes there might be answers to the human genome if we can better understand the Burmese python’s genome.
“Early in snake evolution, an overwhelming amount of functional changes in genes happened in a concentrated period of time, Castoe said. The paper points this fact out for the first time and asks the question of how it happened,” the article says. “Castoe looks at what genes are turned on and off before and after a python eats. By doing so they can pinpoint the subset of genes that are at work when the heart is growing 50 percent in size.”
“Snakes and humans have about 25,000 genes, and they are relatively similar,” Castoe says in the article. “If we can understand what genes a python uses to grow its heart, we might be able to find out how to turn our versions of those same genes on to grow or repair hearts.”
Read the article here.
Levine discusses reasons why people keep playing lottery games despite steep odds
Daniel Levine, professor of psychology, was quoted in a December 14 Chicago Tribune story about the massive jackpot in the Mega Millions lottery and why people play lottery games despite the astronomical odds against winning.
The Mega Millions jackpot climbed to $636 million, the second-largest jackpot in U.S. lottery history, before two winning tickets were sold on December 17.
Levine said people often make decisions in terms of what’s possible rather than what's probable, the article stated.
“They’re drawn to the fact that there is a chance that they’ll win, and they’re not thinking about the numbers,” Levine says in the article. “Our decisions don’t always fall into a rational model.”
The article says lottery players are often attracted by giant jackpots, despite the miniscule odds. “Somebody has to win it,” is the rationale often used.
The story was picked up by news outlets nationwide as the jackpot continued to climb. Read the Chicago Tribune article here.
Paulus quoted in story about ineffectiveness of brainstorming as a way to generate ideas
Paul Paulus, distinguished professor in psychology, was quoted the Dec. 11 edition of in a story that says the traditional model of brainstorming wastes time and is not effective in generating high-quality ideas.
“[Paulus] adds more damning evidence,” the article says. “For 15 years, he has studied the quality and quantity of ideas produced in group brainstorming sessions versus those that emerge from solitary or paired thinking. The unequivocal results? The most revolutionary solutions spring from group discussion of ideas hatched in isolation.
“When it comes to typical brainstorming sessions, Paulus tells the school’s magazine, ‘There's plenty of rain in the storm. That is, plenty of ideas falling from the sky. But there's not much lightning — the exceptional ideas that have the potential to set things on fire.’
The article was picked up by various other media outlets. Read the article here.
McMahon quoted in stories about continuing spread of zebra mussels in North Texas lakes
Robert McMahon, professor emeritus in biology, was mentioned in recent stories about the continuing issue of invasive zebra mussels in Texas lakes.
The National Institutes of Health is funding the research.
In a January 24 story, the Associated Press reported that boaters on more Texas lakes and rivers will now be required to drain their watercrafts to help fight the spread of the mussels following a vote January 23 by state officials. The story mentioned the work of McMahon, who has said the mussel is by far the most costly aquatic freshwater invasive species ever introduced into U.S. waters. McMahon was also quoted in a Fishing World story about the invasive species.
McMahon is quoted in January 21 stories by KXAS/NBC 5 and KERA/90.1 FM about zebra mussels being found in Lake Lavon in Collin County. The presence of live zebra mussels has now been confirmed in six Texas water bodies: Lakes Texoma, Ray Roberts, Lewisville, Bridgeport, Belton, and Lavon, the stories say.
McMahon is one of a team of scientists who has been monitoring North Texas reservoirs and rivers for the presence of juvenile and adult zebra mussels as well as for the presence of zebra mussel DNA. Lake Lavon’s water samples recently tested positive for zebra mussel DNA and a veliger, their larvae, was also positively identified. Zebra mussel DNA has also been detected in lakes Grapevine, Fork and Tawakoni.
McMahon says that while this news is of concern, he suspects that Lake Fork cannot sustain a zebra mussel population because of low levels of calcium, which the mussels use to construct their shells. He believes that Lake Tawakoni is likely more susceptible, the stories state.
Read the KXAS story here, and read the KERA story here.
Alumna Hew among winners in Aviation Week awards honoring top STEM students
Yayu ‘Monica’ Hew, a 2013 UTA aerospace engineering and physics graduate, is one of Aviation Week’s “Twenty20s”, the magazine announced in November.
The Twenty20s are Aviation Week’s newest awards, produced in partnership with Raytheon, and recognize top science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students. The program connects the next generation of aerospace and defense talent with established leaders who have created many of the “firsts” driving innovation in the 21st century, according to a news release announcing the winners.
Hew is pursuing her master’s degree in aerospace engineering at Stanford University. She was honored during Aviation Week’s annual Aerospace & Defense Programs Conference on November 14 in Phoenix. Hew is part of UTA’s NASA parabolic flight campaign team, which flies wireless strain sensing experiment developed in associate professor of engineering Haiying Huang’s lab.
Alumnus Porterfield receives ASTM Award
of Merit for work in standards development
Donivan Porterfield, an analytical chemistry and radiochemical measurements scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M., received the 2013 Award of Merit from the American Society for Testing and Materials on November 26. Porterfield earned a B.S. in Chemistry from UT Arlington.
The award recognizes Porterfield for his extensive knowledge and commitment to excellence in standards development. The award and its accompanying title of fellow is ASTM’s highest organizational recognition for distinguished service and outstanding participation in ASTM technical committee activities. Porterfield is an expert in the nuclear energy field and the water industry; he joined Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1993 and assumed his technical role in the actinide analytical chemistry group in 2000. Prior to that he was a scientist at Radian Corp. in Austin.
Porterfield is also a member of the American Chemical Society and holds a master’s degree in chemistry from UT Austin.