News Briefs

CMNS Dean Named

A longtime professor of computer science and director of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies is the new dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.

After a six-month national search, Amitabh Varshney was appointed to lead the biggest college on campus, with more than 9,000 students. He recently completed a one-year term as the university’s interim vice president for research.

An expert in computer visualization, Varshney helped launch the Maryland Cybersecurity Center, the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science, the Corporate Partners in Computing program, and the Maryland Center for Women in Computing. With funding from the MPowering the State strategic partnership, Varshney established the Maryland Blended Reality Center with the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. He has also been co-leading an effort to launch an undergraduate major in immersive media design.

Move Over Metal, Here Comes Super Wood

From creating translucent window material to using it for solar desalination devices, UMD engineers continue to do surprising things with wood.

In a recent exploit, published in February in Nature, researchers reveal a way to make wood as strong as steel but one-sixth the weight. It could become a structural competitor not just for steel, but titanium alloy and carbon fiber, says Lingbiang Hu, associate professor of materials science and engineering and leader of the research team.

Researchers extracted lignin, which makes wood both rigid and brown, and compressed the remaining material at 150° F. The result was wood 10 times harder to break, says Teng Li, co-leader of the team and Samuel P. Langley Professor of mechanical engineering. To test it, they fired bullet-like projectiles that blew right through everyday wood, but were stopped by its treated cousin.

Reporting on Reforming

Students in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism published a 10-part investigative report detailing widespread problems in the Baltimore Police Department as it seeks to meet a federal mandate for reforms.

“Reforming the Force,” funded in part by a grant from the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State, includes reporting on efforts in the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s School of Social Work and UMD’s Department of Sociology, Institute for Computer Studies and Blended Reality Center to build trust between police and the public.

Articles produced in the “Urban Affairs Reporting” class focused on topics including the funding and timing challenges preventing the sweeping changes that a federal consent degree demands of the police department, which is confronting record levels of crime. Baltimore experienced its highest homicide rate ever in 2017, when 343 people were killed.

Other highlighted issues included outdated technology and the struggles of a civilian advisory board. Another story exposed police data so unreliable that it can’t be used to track possible racial profiling.

“Teams of students interviewed people on camera across the city to gauge residents’ reactions to police practices,” says Sandy Banisky, Abell Professor in Baltimore Journalism. “Those video stories showed how skeptical many Baltimoreans are that the department can change and how eager most of them are for a police force they can trust.”

The multimedia package of stories was distributed through the college’s Capital News Service and picked up across the mid-Atlantic.


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