The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

4 months ago

Cognitive neuroscientist to lead Alabama Life Research Institute at University of Alabama

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

After a national search, a noteworthy researcher in cognitive neuroscience will lead the Alabama Life Research Institute as executive director.

As the first full-time head of ALRI, Dr. Sharlene D. Newman will provide a coherent vision for collaborative life research that embraces the full range of disciplines represented on campus while strengthening the University of Alabama’s research portfolio and profile.

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“Life research is a signature research theme at UA and needs teams from across campus to address major opportunities and challenges,” said Dr. Kevin Whitaker, UA executive vice president and provost. “Dr. Newman has demonstrated the ability to bring together and lead cross-disciplinary teams, so we are so pleased she will be joining us.”

ALRI was established two years ago to serve as a focal point for interdisciplinary bio-psychosocial research that seeks to investigate the human condition at all levels, from the molecular to the environmental. An umbrella organization, ALRI facilitates collaboration across campus with other institutions, government agencies, community-based organization and the health care and biotechnology industries.

“We firmly believe Dr. Newman has the vision, experience and skill set to be highly successful as the executive director of the Alabama Life Research Institute,” said Dr. Russell J. Mumper, UA vice president for research and economic development. “We will fully support her vision to ensure leading-edge research into the human condition thrives at the university.”

A native of Abbeville, Alabama, Newman comes to UA after more than 14 years at Indiana University, where she was a Class of 1948 Herman B. Wells Endowed Professor in psychological and brain sciences as well as associate vice provost for undergraduate education.

“I see a great opportunity for the ALRI to make a significant impact on the health and well-being of the state of Alabama, and to become a leader in life science research by leveraging the expertise present in multiple departments across campus,” Newman said.

Newman’s research focuses on understanding human brain functioning using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. Her work examines language processing, executive function and problem solving, substance addictions, psychopathology and MRI methodology.

She has helped clarify functional distinctions between brain regions involved in sentence comprehension, strengthening earlier interpretations of the functional roles assigned to different brain regions and providing strong empirical support for a particular theoretical model of sentence comprehension.

Among the first scientists to use neuroimaging to study complex language function, Newman is a founding member of the IU Imaging Research Facility and later served as its director, where she developed collaborations investigating schizophrenia, the impact of cannabis and other substances on brain function, and concussions and brain health.

She later became the director of the Program in Neuroscience within IU’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Newman also chaired the Diversity Advancement Committee in her department, initiating regular gatherings for the department’s minority students to discuss concerns and opportunities.

During her time in Indiana, she collaborated across campus with clinical scientists in her own department along with researchers in speech and hearing sciences, vision science, the media school and second language studies.

Newman earned her master’s and doctorate in biomedical engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham after finishing her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Vanderbilt University.

After graduating from UAB in 1999, she worked as a postdoctoral associate and adjunct assistant professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University until 2004. She joined IU that year as an assistant professor, becoming associate professor in 2011 and a full professor in 2017. She was tapped as an associate vice provost in 2016.

At UA, Newman holds a joint academic appointment in the department of psychology along with the department of electrical and computer engineering.

She replaces Dr. John E. Lochman, Saxon professor emeritus in psychology, who served as interim executive director.

“We are grateful to Dr. Lochman for his strong leadership of ALRI and moving life research forward at UA,” Mumper said. “He and the search committee accomplished outstanding work in identifying superb candidates and helping UA land the very best leader for life research.”

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

University of Alabama researchers uncover critical insights into bacterial immune systems

(University of Alabama/Contributed)

Researchers at the University of Alabama discovered how a common skin bacteria wards off viruses by leveraging cellular processes normally not considered part of any immune system.

This discovery constitutes another milestone in understanding how to harness bacterial viruses to combat antibiotic-resistant infections.

An immune system in Staphylococcus bacteria UA researchers studied does not function on its own. Instead, it collaborates with other enzymes inside the cell to mount an effective defense against viral infection, according to a paper published in the journal eLife.

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Dr. Asma Hatoum-Aslan, UA assistant professor of biological sciences, and one of her graduate students, Lucy Chou-Zheng, are co-authors on the paper.

“There are a lot of far-reaching consequences of the work,” Hatoum-Aslan said. “This basic research provides first glimpses of how an important bacterial defensive system mobilizes other parts of the cell in times of need.”

The human body hosts all sorts of bacteria and the viruses that attack them, called phages. There is limited knowledge about what transpires between phages and their bacterial hosts within the microbiome.

Some phages are lethal to their hosts and constitute attractive candidates that might one day supplement or replace antibiotics. However, bacterial defenses threaten to undermine the effectiveness of phage-based antimicrobials.

“Since phages are being explored as alternatives to conventional antibiotics, it is essential to understand precisely how bacterial immune systems work and interact with their immediate environment, especially in pathogenic bacteria,” Hatoum-Aslan said. “In addition, detailed molecular-level studies of this sort usually provide fertile grounds for the conception and development of new biotechnologies.“

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

EPA grant to University of Alabama team assists in understanding wastewater issues in rural Alabama

(University of Alabama/Contributed)

Researchers from the University of Alabama are shedding light on the issue of raw sewage draining into waterways of the state’s Black Belt region, a problem garnering international attention.

With a grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, UA researchers from environmental engineering and geology will build a model to quantify the extent of untreated raw sewage discharges from homes throughout five counties in the Black Belt, an economically depressed region in the state named for its dark, rich soil.

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“Basically, the big issue with rural wastewater that we see in Alabama is the confluence of impermeable soil and rural poverty,” said Dr. Mark Elliott, UA associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering. “The fact is, though, the scope of that problem is not well understood.”

The situation has brought the attention of the United Nations, which sent an official to examine straight pipe drainage in 2017. There has also been national and international reporting on the conditions as studies have shown diseases and parasites common in tropical areas, and once thought contained in the United States, are appearing in the Black Belt.

Much of the country can dispose of household wastewater safely, either into a sewer system that leads to a treatment plant or into a septic system that uses engineering and natural geology to filter out contaminants before reaching the groundwater.

The Black Belt, an area of 17 counties across southwest Alabama, is often different. Underneath the topsoil is clay and chalk, which holds water. This can cause a backup of a septic system and risk sending untreated wastewater into the streams, lakes, rivers and groundwater nearby.

Added to the soil challenge, the Black Belt is a poverty-stricken area of the country, especially outside its small towns. Many find it difficult to afford advanced septic systems needed for the soil, instead using a straight pipe running from the home to some other part of the property to drain untreated wastewater.

A 2017 survey by Elliott’s group in Wilcox County conservatively estimated that 60 percent of homes drain wastewater without treatment. Elliott said it is possible more than 500,000 gallons of raw sewage enter the rivers and streams in Wilcox County each day.

Site surveys are expensive and time-consuming, so the full extent of straight pipe drainage in the region is largely unknown.

“Not knowing the scope of the problem prevents any sort of estimate of how much it costs to fix the problem or the benefits of fixing the problem,” Elliott said.

Aaron Blackwell, a graduate student in Elliott’s lab, leads the work of making maps to predict the risk of homes using straight pipe drainage. The maps combine geological information of the soil, property values from the county government and population density to show areas where there is greater risk of homes discharging untreated waste through straight pipes.

“Based on a just a few publicly available data sets, we can come up with decent estimates of where these straight pipes are located and how much wastewater is being discharged untreated to the environment,” Elliott said. “This is an important step.”

The maps can show areas where intervention could be effective, such as clusters of homes outside a town that could share a simple treatment system, he said.

The $15,000 grant to UA comes through EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet, or P3, program. Research teams receive funding to develop sustainable technologies to help solve environmental and public health challenges. The P3 competition challenges students to research, develop and design innovative projects that address a myriad of environmental protection and public health issues.

UA’s team is in the first phase of the program, and it will attend the TechConnect World Innovation Conference and Expo in Boston in June to showcase its research. The team can then apply for a second-phase grant for funding up to $100,000 to further the project design.

Other members of the team include Dr. Joseph Weber, UA professor of geological sciences; Dr. Sagy Cohen, UA associate professor of geological sciences, and Rebecca Greenberg, a UA graduate student studying geology.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

EPA grant to University of Alabama team assists in understanding wastewater issues in rural Alabama

University of Alabama graduate student Aaron Blackwell, left, works with fellow graduate student Parnab Dason on an earlier project studying straight pipe drainage. (University of Alabama)

Researchers from the University of Alabama are shedding light on the issue of raw sewage draining into waterways of the state’s Black Belt region, a problem garnering international attention.

With a grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, UA researchers from environmental engineering and geology will build a model to quantify the extent of untreated raw sewage discharges from homes throughout five counties in the Black Belt, an economically depressed region in the state named for its dark, rich soil.

“Basically, the big issue with rural wastewater that we see in Alabama is the confluence of impermeable soil and rural poverty,” said Dr. Mark Elliott, UA associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering. “The fact is, though, the scope of that problem is not well understood.”

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The situation has brought the attention of the United Nations, which sent an official to examine straight pipe drainage in 2017. There has also been national and international reporting on the conditions as studies have shown diseases and parasites common in tropical areas, and once thought contained in the United States, are appearing in the Black Belt.

Much of the country can dispose of household wastewater safely, either into a sewer system that leads to a treatment plant or into a septic system that uses engineering and natural geology to filter out contaminants before reaching the groundwater.

The Black Belt, an area of 17 counties across southwest Alabama, is often different. Underneath the topsoil is clay and chalk, which holds water. This can cause a backup of a septic system and risk sending untreated wastewater into the streams, lakes, rivers and groundwater nearby.

Added to the soil challenge, the Black Belt is a poverty-stricken area of the country, especially outside its small towns. Many find it difficult to afford advanced septic systems needed for the soil, instead using a straight pipe running from the home to some other part of the property to drain untreated wastewater.

A 2017 survey by Elliott’s group in Wilcox County conservatively estimated that 60 percent of homes drain wastewater without treatment. Elliott said it is possible more than 500,000 gallons of raw sewage enter the rivers and streams in Wilcox County each day.

Site surveys are expensive and time-consuming, so the full extent of straight pipe drainage in the region is largely unknown.

“Not knowing the scope of the problem prevents any sort of estimate of how much it costs to fix the problem or the benefits of fixing the problem,” Elliott said.

Aaron Blackwell, a graduate student in Elliott’s lab, leads the work of making maps to predict the risk of homes using straight pipe drainage. The maps combine geological information of the soil, property values from the county government and population density to show areas where there is greater risk of homes discharging untreated waste through straight pipes.

“Based on a just a few publicly available data sets, we can come up with decent estimates of where these straight pipes are located and how much wastewater is being discharged untreated to the environment,” Elliott said. “This is an important step.”

The maps can show areas where intervention could be effective, such as clusters of homes outside a town that could share a simple treatment system, he said.

The $15,000 grant to UA comes through EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet, or P3, program. Research teams receive funding to develop sustainable technologies to help solve environmental and public health challenges. The P3 competition challenges students to research, develop and design innovative projects that address a myriad of environmental protection and public health issues.

UA’s team is in the first phase of the program, and it will attend the TechConnect World Innovation Conference and Expo in Boston in June to showcase its research. The team can then apply for a second-phase grant for funding up to $100,000 to further the project design.

Other members of the team include Dr. Joseph Weber, UA professor of geological sciences; Dr. Sagy Cohen, UA associate professor of geological sciences, and Rebecca Greenberg, a UA graduate student studying geology.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 months ago

In frigid Greenland, University of Alabama engineering student helps understand climate

(Joshua Nunn)

Joshua Nunn had never been outside the United States before graduate school. In fact, he’d never flown in a plane. That all changed on a visit to Greenland, a journey that included a flight on a C-130 military plane.

That’s a long way from his hometown of Talladega. And the weather differences during Greenland’s “summer,” as it’s technically called, and Alabama’s are vast, too. While people sweltered in Alabama’s heat, it never warmed above freezing for the two weeks Nunn and two other researchers from the University of Alabama worked in Greenland.

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“The whole experience was a lot of fun,” Nunn said. “It was a great opportunity and great experience. I would go again if I could.”

He was there to help drag a one-of-a-kind radar across the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream. Developed and built by UA professors and students, the radar helps scientists unveil ancient climate history and provides perspectives on improving climate models.

The team included Nunn, graduate student Christopher Simpson and Dr. Stephen J. Yan, who specializes in ultra-wideband radar and antenna research.

The radar is 1,000 times more sensitive than the current state-of-the-art radar used to image glaciers, operating at a higher power with a bigger, yet lighter, antenna than similar radars for ice sounding, said Yan. The research team was the first to use a radar to image the bottom 10 percent of the ice stream, which is about 1.7 miles deep, Yan said. These results will contribute to developing satellite missions to completely map Greenland and Antarctic ice.

Nunn grew up in Talladega and graduated from Victory Christian High School in Pell City, coming to UA to study electrical engineering. After earning his bachelor’s degree in December 2017, he stayed at UA to get a master’s in electrical engineering.

Nunn worked on the radar technology under Yan before the trip, and while in Greenland he used his knowledge to troubleshoot issues and back up data from the radar.

“I helped make sure the radar didn’t break,” Nunn said. “I learned how these missions generally go and learned how field work is conducted.”

The team stayed on top of the ice stream at a camp housing scientists studying its flow into the ocean. In the middle of white ice, Nunn and the UA team hunkered down at night in a tent with electricity supplied by a generator. Still, one morning, Nunn awoke to find frozen water in a cup beside his bed.

The team had internet with Netflix and could call home, too. In a common area under a domed structure, there was space for a kitchen, meals, shower and laundry. An on-site chef served up some of the best food Nunn had ever eaten.

It was an international team of scientists and engineers, but everyone spoke English, Nunn said.

“It was good to work with folks from another country,” he said. “Everyone should go, if they get a chance.”

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

University of Alabama wins fourth straight championship — in robotics

(University of Alabama)

Make it four in a row.

University of Alabama students who competed in a NASA robotics contest came away with the top prize again, making it four straight years for the team from UA to win.

Alabama Astrobotics took the top prize at the NASA Robotic Mining Competition, besting student teams from more than 50 other institutions in the challenge to build a robot capable of navigating and excavating simulated Martian soil, or regolith.

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Made up of about 65 students from across eight disciplines including engineering and computer science, Alabama Astrobotics is the only team to win more than once in the nine-year history of the NASA contest, placing first in 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017 and, now, 2018.

“Our team is just like a football team, you have seniors who graduate at the end and you have new people coming in at the beginning, so every year it’s a completely different team,” said team lead and electrical engineering student Max Eastepp. “For us to be successful this year says a lot for this team and says a lot for how we adapt to new challenges each year.”

Eastepp, a native of New Orleans, said teamwork is critical as students worked from July through the contest this month to design the robot and tackle the new problem NASA presented this year.

Contest organizers revised the rules and rubrics this year to reflect the discovery that water ice is prevalent throughout the Red Planet. The challenge is to mine the precious icy regolith, simulated with gravel in the contest, since water ice will provide oxygen, water and fuel for future off-world colonists.

What that meant for the contest, though, is no points were awarded to teams for digging the top foot of regolith. Teams earned points for collecting the gravel 12 inches below the surface.

UA’s robot mined more of the gravel than any other team in the contest, with many teams failing to mine any gravel.

Also, Alabama Astrobotics was the only team with a robot that competed entirely autonomously, meaning the robot used computer programming to guide itself, mine and deposit the soil and gravel without any directions from students during the contest.

The team placed first in five of nine categories: mining, autonomy, systems engineering paper, efficient use of communications power and outreach reports. In all, the students won $11,000 for use on next year’s robot.

Dr. Kenneth Ricks, team adviser and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, said the team’s consistent success comes from a culture of sticking to a plan – meeting deadlines, testing thoroughly before competition and paying attention to detail.

“We know what needs to be done and when it needs to be done,” he said. “If our students buy into that process, they know they will have opportunities to be successful.”

The team received funding from the Alabama Space Grant Consortium, NASA, DyneticsFitz-Thors EngineeringCrank N Chrome and the university.

(Courtesy of University of Alabama)

1 year ago

UA Study — State crash data shows seat belt use critical in saving lives

(State Farm/Flickr)

Those involved in auto crashes while not wearing seat belts are 40 times more likely to die than those who buckle up, according to an analysis of state crash records from the past five years.

For the study, University of Alabama researchers at the Center for Advanced Public Safety examined crash records from 2013 through 2017 provided by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, or ALEA.

Crash records showed about one out of every 25 unrestrained motorists involved in a crash will suffer a fatal injury, but only about one out of every 1,000 restrained motorists involved in a crash will have a fatal injury. This means that people are 40 times more likely to be killed without restraints.

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One reason for this is those ejected from vehicles during crashes have 50 times the death rate as those who remain in the vehicles, and the probability of being thrown from vehicles increases about 337 times for those not restrained.

“There is no doubt that seat belts are the most effective way of reducing the chances of getting killed in a crash,” said Dr. David Brown, a research associate at CAPS who led the study. “The chances of avoiding a crash altogether that involves injury over your driving lifetime is very low, so these are not just hypothetical or extreme examples. They are real life-and-death probabilities.”

Along with an increased chance of dying in a crash if unrestrained, there is an increased chance of serious injury. About one in seven unrestrained motorists involved in a crash will sustain a serious injury, while only about one in 50 properly restrained motorists will have a serious injury.

The chances of serious injury for those unrestrained increase by more than a factor of seven. For those who buckle up, nine out of 10 are not injured during a crash.

Some of the other interesting factors include driver and passenger demographics and other correlations:

–Those between the ages 17 and 36 are unrestrained significantly more than average.
–Males are about twice as likely to be unrestrained as females.
–If all back-seat occupants were properly restrained, it would result in an estimated saving of 62 lives per year in Alabama.
–Unrestrained drivers are about 2.5 times more likely to have their crashes in the rural areas than in the cities.

Brown said there are many things drivers should do to prevent severe traffic crashes in addition to the use of seatbelts. They include, in the order of ability to prevent fatal crashes:

–Slowing down, as the probability of fatality doubles for every 10 mph increase.
–Pulling over to a safe stopping point until distractions, such as cell phones, are resolved.
–Never driving or riding with anyone who has had any alcohol or who has taken any mind-altering drugs, even if prescribed.
–Anticipating and avoiding bad weather, especially when coupled with darkness.
–Watching for deer if traveling just after dark and slowing down.
–Driving defensively to reduce risk by putting distance between others vehicles, staying out of the blind spots of large trucks and letting aggressive drivers pass.

(Courtesy of the University of Alabama)