The University of Texas at Arlington College of Science November/December 2014  
Welcome to the November/December 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.
College of Science to welcome newest class of graduates at Fall 2014 Commencement  

For Alumni

Alumni Relations
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

December 6, 8-12
Final exams for Fall 2014 semester
Friday, December 12
3 p.m. COS Fall 2014 Commencement
College Park Center

The College of Science will celebrate its newest group of graduates with the Fall 2014 graduation ceremony. Complete details here.
Tuesday, January 20
First day of classes for the Spring 2015 semester
March 9-13
Spring Break vacation
Monday, April 6
Registration begins for Summer and Fall 2015 semesters
Friday, May 8
Last day of classes for the Spring 2015 semester
May 9, 11-15
Finals exams for the Spring 2015 semester
Planetarium’s holiday schedule is under way
Looking for a fun, indoor activity during the holidays? Come see a show at the Planetarium at UT Arlington! 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 holiday schedule runs now through January 4. See the schedule here.
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Read the 2013-14 edition of Maverick Science for the latest College of Science faculty, student and alumni news. Copies are available in the Dean’s Office (Life Sciences Room 206) and in LS 112. The online version can be shared via social media and is available here.
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E-Newsletter Archives
Graduates will be all smiles while receiving their diplomas at College Park Center on December 12.
The College of Science will add new names to its roster of graduates at the Fall 2014 Commencement ceremony, scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, December 12 at College Park Center.
For students, the event is the culmination of years of dedication and hard work, whether at the undergraduate, master’s or doctoral level. It’s a chance for families and friends to come together to celebrate their students’ achievements.
Guest speaker for the ceremony will be College of Science alumna Lekha Gopalakrishnan, who earned an M.S. in Chemistry from UT Arlington in 1990 and went on to receive a Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology from Northwestern University Medical School in 1995 and a J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law in 2000. She is chair of the Intellectual Property Practice Group with Winstead, a national corporate law firm with headquarters in Dallas.
Tickets are required for all guests attending the ceremony, including children. Complete information about ticketing procedures and more can be found here.
Instrument designed by Armstrong is key part of first spacecraft to land on a comet
A scientific instrument invented by Daniel Armstrong, professor and UT Arlington Robert A. Welch Chemistry Chair, is on board the Rosetta Mission spacecraft’s Philae lander, which successfully landed on a comet 310 million miles from Earth on November 12, news outlets around the world reported.
Armstrong’s chromatography column was put aboard the Philae to analyze samples from the comet for organic molecules. His device separates special molecules, known as the “molecules of life.” Unfortunately, because the Philae had a rougher than anticipated landing on the comet — nicknamed 67P — the lander went dark. Armstrong and others are hopeful that the device will “wake up” again in the early months of 2015, when its solar panels can collect enough sunlight and the comet’s orbit carries it closer to the sun. The lander might then come out of hibernation mode.
In a November 20 interview with KERA radio’s All Things Considered show, Armstrong explained his instrument’s role in the scientific experiments mission leaders hoped to conduct. The instrument is something he designed over 20 years ago.
“We actually developed the column probably late 1990,” Armstrong told KERA. “It was commercialized rapidly and they probably picked it because it was a well-known commercial column that had a long track record and it also had the broadest selectivity — in other words, it seemed to separate the most, the greatest number of compounds and so probably that’s why they picked it.”
Read more of the All Things Considered interview and listen to it here.
Dasgupta is named Fellow by international engineering group for his innovative work
Purnendu “Sandy” Dasgupta
Purnendu “Sandy” Dasgupta, UT Arlington’s Jenkins Garrett Professor of Chemistry, has been named a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the highest membership distinction in the international organization of 430,000 engineers, scientists and other professionals.
Dasgupta is recognized worldwide for his pioneering work in ion chromatography, the process of separation and detecting atoms and molecules bearing a net electrical charge. He is the author of more than 400 scientific papers and book chapters and holds 25 U.S. patents. His work has garnered $18 million in research grants.
“I am humbled by this honor,” Dasgupta said. “For a long time, my website has proclaimed ‘We foster builders, not users.’ IEEE, perhaps more than any other organization, embodies this quest for the betterment of humanity.
“In honoring my contributions, the Institute really has recognized the work of scores of students whose countless hours lie behind everything I have done and I wish to share this with them, far and wide.”
Read more on this story here.
Sharma honored for commitment to physics with APS 2014 Distinguished Service Award
Suresh Sharma
Suresh Sharma, professor of physics, has been awarded the 2014 Distinguished Service Award by the Texas Section of the American Physical Society.
The award, given at the Texas group’s October meeting at Texas A&M University in College Station, honors “individuals that have made a significant contribution to the programs of the Texas Section and/or the Texas Physics community.” The Distinguished Service Award has been given since 2009. The American Physical Society is a non-profit group working to advance knowledge of physics, with 50,000 members worldwide.
“Professor Sharma has played an active role in guiding the activities of the APS in Texas for many years and this recognition honors his commitment to physics education and research,” said Alex Weiss, chair of the Department of Physics. “Besides fostering links between UT Arlington and other institutions, his work for APS also strengthened physics and the College of Science at UTA by bringing major meetings with top researchers to our campus.”
Read more on this story here.
Castoe team’s Burmese python research leads to new snake venom evolution model
Todd Castoe, left, with graduate students Jacobo Reyes-Velasco and Drew Schield.
Technology that can map out the genes at work in a snake or lizard’s mouth has, in many cases, changed the way scientists define an animal as venomous. If oral glands show expression of some of the 20 gene families associated with “venom toxins,” that species gets the venomous label.
But, a new study from UT Arlington challenges that practice, while also developing a new model for how snake venoms came to be. The work, which is being published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, is based on a painstaking analysis comparing groups of related genes or “gene families” in tissue from different parts of the Burmese python, or Python molurus bivittatus.
A team led by assistant professor of biology Todd Castoe and including researchers from Colorado and the United Kingdom found similar levels of these so-called toxic gene families in python oral glands and in tissue from the python brain, liver, stomach and several other organs. Scientists say those findings demonstrate much about the functions of venom genes before they evolved into venoms. It also shows that just the expression of genes related to venom toxins in oral glands of snakes and lizards isn’t enough information to close the book on whether something is venomous.
Read more on this story here.
Park team’s research indicates musicians may have advantages in long-term memory
Heekyeong Park
A peek inside the brains of professional musicians has given UT Arlington psychology researchers what may be the first links between music expertise and advantages in long-term memory.
Heekyeong Park, assistant professor of psychology, and graduate student James Schaeffer used electroenceph-alography (EEG) technology to measure electrical activity of neurons in the brains of 14 musicians and 15 non-musicians and noted processing differences in the frontal and parietal lobe responses. The team presented initial results of their new research on November 18 at Neuroscience 2014, the international meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, in Washington, D.C.
“Musically trained people are known to process linguistic materials a split second faster than those without training, and previous research also has shown musicians have advantages in working memory,” Park said. “What we wanted to know is whether there are differences between pictorial and verbal tasks and whether any advantages extend to long-term memory. If proven, those advantages could represent an intervention option to explore for people with cognitive challenges.”
Read more on this story here.
Walsh team’s research findings challenge phenotypic plasticity model in water flea
Matthew Walsh
A new study from UT Arlington biologists examining non-genetic changes in water flea development suggests something human parents have known for years – ensuring a future generation’s success often means sacrifice.
Matthew Walsh, an assistant professor of biology, and his team looked at a phenomenon called “phenotypic plasticity” in the Daphnia abigua, or water flea. Phenotypic plasticity is when an organism changes its trait expressions or physical characteristics, or those of its offspring, because of external factors. In Daphnia, that can mean a generation speeding up its own physical maturation in response to a predator threat or speeding the maturation of its offspring.
Current theory says similar conditions will favor phenotype changes within and across generations of organisms. Walsh’s experiment, which involved about 25 lineages of Daphnia, contradicts that thought.
“The surprising aspect of our research is, they couldn’t do both,” said Walsh, who is lead author on a paper published November in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Read more on this story here.
Mohanty team publishes latest findings in optogenetic stimulation, laser beam optics
A UT Arlington physics team is using their expertise in the field of optics and photonics to advance new methods in areas such as mapping the neural circuitry of the brain and guiding neurons to potentially repair damage in the body.
Samarendra Mohanty, an assistant professor of physics, leads the Biophysics and Physiology Lab in the College of Science. He is co-author on two papers published recently. In one published by the online journal PLOS ONE November 10, researchers in Mohanty’s lab described using a method called “two-photon optogenetic stimulation” to carry out in-depth optogenetic stimulation of brain neurons in mouse models – a first in vivo, or in the body, example of the technology.
The second paper was published by Nature Scientific Reports in November and details how scientists used weakly-focused, near infrared laser beams to guide axons to form loops on itself, termed as self-fasciculation, in the lab. Axons are the shafts of neurons, on the tips of which connections are made with other neurons or cells.
Read more on this story here.
Hunt named to peer review panel which will examine EPA Technical Approach Document
Andrew Hunt, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, is one of 12 experts named to serve on a national panel to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s Technical Approach Document, titled Approach for Estimating Exposures and Incremental Health Effects from Lead due to Renovation, Repair, and Painting Activities in Public and Commercial Buildings.
“Before any change in federal regulations, the EPA takes the validation of any approach it uses to evaluate human health exposures very seriously by employing this type of peer review,” Hunt said. “To be on a panel of such experts, that includes a MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ recipient, is a privilege.”
The expert peer reviewers come from a variety of academic and industrial fields and underwent a rigorous screening process. Candidates were evaluated against the selection criteria described in the Federal Register (Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OPPT-2010-0173-0206).
“This is an important public service and a mark of Dr. Hunt’s esteem in this community,” interim Dean of Science James Grover said.
The panel will convene for a peer-review meeting January 13-14 at the Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. The meeting will be devoted to discussion and deliberation of issues identified by the peer reviewers regarding EPA’s Technical Approach Document. The meeting is open to the public; those wishing to attend should register here.
Science Week brings alumni, students and faculty together in celebration of science
Evelyn Wang explains her research to the audience during an Open Mic event in the Chemistry & Physics Building lobby held as part of Science Week on November 3.
The College of Science held its annual Science Week celebration the week of November 3-7, bringing alumni, students and faculty together for a series of lectures, Q&A panels and special events.
The main focus of the week is to bring the College’s accomplished alumni back to campus and let them interact with students, who can gain tremendously from hearing about the alums’ experiences. It also gives alumni the chance to see some of the great things today’s students are doing in the classroom and the lab.
“This was our biggest and best Science Week ever,” said Ashley Purgason, assistant dean for undergraduate research and student advancement. “We had a variety of events and had a large number of our wonderful alumni come back to campus to share their expertise and knowledge with our students.”
Events included lectures by alumni and faculty; open mic sessions where students present their research and answer questions from their peers; Q&A panels featuring alumni and professionals in the medical and environmental science fields; a mock Senate hearing with alumni and special guests serving as “senators” while students presented their cases why genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should or should not be regulated; workshops where undergraduates learned about research opportunities and how to apply for them; and a spirit photo contest with prize giveaways.
For a gallery of Science Week photos, visit the College of Science Facebook page here.
UT Arlington team promotes physics to K-12 students at Aviation & Transportation Expo
Physics team members included, from right to left, Nilakshi Veerabathina, Andrea Marlar, Dominic Kotzer, Craig Anderson and Ryan Alexander Clark.
A team of UT Arlington physics students, led by Nilakshi Veerabathina, assistant professor in practice, entertained and educated K-12 students at the 11th annual Aviation & Transportation Career Expo at DFW International Airport. on October 24.
The Expo, sponsored by DFW Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration, American Airlines and Tarrant County College and held in the American Airlines hangar, brought over 3,300 K-12 students, teachers and administrators from about 60 schools across North Texas together to learn about aviation, transportation and science in general. UT Arlington was one of more than 30 organizations representing the industry, government and academia and has participated in every expo since the event began in 2004.
In the last eleven years UT Arlington has served more than 32,000 K-12 schoolchildren through this event. This year’s team from UT Arlington included physics faculty, staff, and undergraduate physics students and Society of Physics Students (SPS) members.
Physics activities included demonstrations associated with liquid nitrogen; mechanical electrical generators, and microwave oven to create spark discharges and mild shocks; wheels and rotating stools for moment of inertia and gyros; and squeaky magnets to explain electric and magnetic fields. Students and teachers were also presented brochures and other materials from Department of Physics, the College of Science, the UT Arlington Planetarium and University admissions office.
Learn more about the Aviation & Transportation Career Expo here.
Mydlarz discusses problems facing corals during PUBlic Knowledge talk in Fort Worth
Laura Mydlarz, associate professor of biology, gave a talk titled “Dead Heat: Can Corals Win the Race Against Rising Temperature and Disease?” on December 2 as part of the PUBlic Knowledge series sponsored by the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.
Mydlarz’s talk, held at the Live Oak Music Hall in Fort Worth, focused on corals and the problems they face from disease and rising ocean temperatures. A Q&A session followed her presentation.
Rising ocean temperatures in the Caribbean and elsewhere have negatively affected the algae which many corals depend on for essential nutrients by photosynthesis, particularly carbon. The algae also give color to the corals and without the algae, many Caribbean corals have turned white, a phenomenon called coral bleaching. Making the situation worse, a variety of diseases have affected already-weakened corals, killing many. The loss of coral reefs threatens ocean biodiversity worldwide.
Learn more about Mydlarz’s research with corals here.

Weilmuenster quoted in Morning News story on tougher math standards in Texas schools
Jacqueline Weilmuenster, a master teacher of mathematics in UT Arlington’s UTeach program, was quoted in a Dallas Morning News story on November 15 about frustrations with implementation of new statewide K-12 math standards.
“Teachers are finding it difficult to do two or three years of instruction without leaving students behind. Many tell me they're spending a few days on topics they've previously spent weeks to develop,” Weilmuenster said.
The state of Texas approved new standards in math curriculum in 2012 and the standards went into effect this fall. The reviews are mixed so far, the story says, but many teachers, administrators and parents are raising concerns that the new guidelines are leaving too many students behind. Members of the State Board of Education say they are open to suggestions for ways to improve the system.
Read the story here.

Maverick Science magazine is available in print, online
The 2013-14 edition of Maverick Science Magazine includes College of Science highlights from the past year and features in-depth looks at some of the College’s out-standing faculty, students and alumni.
The magazine’s online version can be shared via social media, is downloadable and is compatible with smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops. Print copies of the magazine are available in the Dean’s office (Life Science Building Room 206) or in Life Science Building Room 112.
Read the online version here.