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New Study Predicts Variation in Illness Severity

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New Study Predicts Variation in Illness Severity


 UM News

UM researcher explains the basis of the Weibull distribution and finds applications in human health and across scientific fields

dose-response functionCORAL GABLES, Fla. (June 23, 2015) – Many of us are familiar with bell-shaped curves that show the distributions of school grades, annual rainfall, and many other quantities. This ubiquitous distribution results when many points for individual non-correlated quantities are added to produce an outcome.

Interestingly, a very differently shaped, highly skewed pattern, often called a power law distribution, is also ubiquitous and often considered a signature of complex systems. But its origin has never been adequately explained.

A new study shows that when individual random quantities, such as reactions in the body, are correlated, and multiplied, the process gives rise to the highly skewed pattern known as the Weibull distribution, and it can be used to describe and predict the pattern of illness severity across a population exposed to different chemicals.

The correlated multiplicative model can potentially explain many types of results in a wide range of areas, and thus lead to better predictions of many types of risk, including human health risk.

“The insight is new and cuts across scientific fields,” said James D. Englehardt, professor of Environmental Engineering at the College of Engineering and author of the study. “The correlated multiplicative, or first-order kinetic, model can explain many different processes, ranging from mortality rates to distributions of incomes, material released into the environment during oil spills, explosions and natural disasters to the magnitudes of solar flares, among many other quantities.”

The Weibull distribution is similar to a power law, which has been observed to describe many aspects of complex systems. But according to the study, the Weibull distribution is superior in explaining these systems.

“In the case of a power law probability distribution, the probability of an outcome size occurring is proportional to a power of the size,” Englehardt said. “However, as a probability distribution, it must necessarily break down at one or both extremes, otherwise over the range zero to infinity there would be a total probability of all possible outcomes greater than one,” he said. “A Weibull distribution does not have this problem,” he said. “It can fit the full range of observed data, and the paper shows it to have better ‘goodness-of-fit’ to illness severity data, and to be predicted theoretically in many complex systems.”

Previous studies have not generally used the Weibull form in place of the power law to describe complex systems, in part because the sizes of the individual multiplicative causes of complex systems outcomes are not often known, and in part because some of these systems are not often analyzed numerically. For instance, illness severities are described by clinical findings, which are generally sets of observed symptoms leading to a yes/no diagnosis.

“Another more technical reason is that the ‘first-order kinetic model,’ used in economics, chemistry, biology, and pathology to describe how many quantities grow or decay over time, has not been recognized to describe the sizes of outcomes of many complex systems, and has not been generally recognized as equivalent to a multiplicative model, and the incremental multipliers of that model have not generally been recognized as correlated and exponentially distributed, though it is known that products of perfectly correlated exponential random variables are Weibull,” Englehardt said.

The study, titled “Distributions of Autocorrelated First-Order Kinetic Outcomes: Illness Severity,” is published in the online journal PLOS ONE. Currently, Englehardt is working on a general dose-response function for chemicals and chemical mixtures, based on the Weibull illness severity distribution that may greatly improve our ability to predict the risk of illness resulting from exposure to extremely low doses of chemicals that we experience in our daily lives.

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Junior Receives 2015 Newman Civic Fellows Award

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Junior Receives 2015 Newman Civic Fellows Award


UM News

Civic Scholar 2015 - 1

UM President Donna E. Shalala presents the 2015 Newman Civic Fellows Award to Natasha Koermer, with, at left, Andrew Wiemer, director of the Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development, and, at right, Robin Bachin, assistant provost for civic and community engagement.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 7, 2015)—Natasha Koermer, a biomedical engineering student who is minoring in public health and Spanish, has received the 2015 Newman Civic Fellows Award for her extraordinary leadership, civic engagement, and commitment to creating sustainable solutions to global engineering and health issues.

Koermer received the award, which the national organization Campus Compact bestows on the next generation of public problem solvers and civic leaders, from UM President Donna E. Shalala, who lauded Koermer for implementing numerous projects in the community, including a local urban sustainable gardening initiative, an outreach program to inspire high school students to pursue service-based careers in STEM disciplines, and the U’s first 5K Run/Walk for Water to raise awareness about the importance of clean water for all communities.

As if those accomplishments weren’t enough, Koermer is also president of the University’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders, for which she led the fundraising for and the implementation of a $25,000 sewage system in Las Mercedes, Ecuador, and a research assistant at the School of Nursing and Health Studies, where she works closely with faculty to collect data for a study on intimate partner violence across Miami-Dade County. Her group’s research was selected for multiple conferences, including the Nursing Network on Violence Against Women International 2015 and Futures Without Violence.

“She is an incredibly bright, civically engaged student and will no doubt continue to bridge the gap between cutting-edge research and its practical application in solving real-world issues,” said Robin Bachin, assistant provost for civic and community engagement.

Offering her congratulations to Koermer in a ceremony in her office on April 28, Shalala was not surprised to learn the junior would not be resting over the break. She is headed to another service project for the summer, this time in South Africa’s Limpopo Province to assist in the Water, Society, and Health Research Experience for Undergraduates funded by the National Science Foundation.

Presented annually by Campus Compact, the Newman Civic Fellows Award honors inspiring student leaders who invest their time and energies in finding solutions for challenges facing communities throughout the country.

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Graduate School Honors Students, Faculty, and Staff

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Graduate School Honors Students, Faculty, and Staff


Graduate students from the College of Engineering join M. Brian Blake, (second from right) vice provost of academic affairs and dean of the Graduate School, as he presents the College of Engineering's Nurcin Celick with the 2014-2015 Faculty Mentor of the Year Award.

Graduate students from the College of Engineering join M. Brian Blake, (second from right) vice provost of academic affairs and dean of the Graduate School, as he presents the College of Engineering’s Nurcin Celik with the 2014-2015 Faculty Mentor of the Year Award.

Special to UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 14, 2015)— The Graduate School recognized its top graduate students, faculty, and staff at the 2014-2015 Graduate Awards Ceremony, including the Miller School’s Sandra Lemmon as the Outstanding Graduate Program Director and the College of Engineering’s Nurcin Celik as Faculty Mentor of the Year.

Noting that the ceremony, held April 10 on the Moss Terrace at the Student Activities Center, allows the UM community to celebrate the work of all of its graduate students, faculty, and staff, M. Brian Blake, vice provost for academic affairs and dean of the Graduate School, congratulated all of the 60-plus nominees “for their accomplishments that continually enhance graduate education at the University.”

In addition to Lemmon, professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology and director of the M.D./Ph.D. Program, and Celik, assistant professor of industrial engineering, seven other individuals from multiple disciplines and all three campuses were honored in the categories of Graduate Student Exemplar, Outstanding Graduate Research Assistant, and Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant. They are:

Qinghua Yang, School of Communication
Outstanding Research Assistant

Aristotelis E. Thanos, College of Engineering
Outstanding Research Assistant

Youaraj Uprety, College of Arts and Sciences
Outstanding Teaching Assistant

Patrice E. Fenton, School of Education and Human Development
Outstanding Teaching Assistant

Alisa Be, College of Arts and Sciences
Outstanding Teaching Assistant

Xiaoran Shi, College of Engineering
Graduate Student Exemplar

Raul Velarde, College of Engineering
Graduate Student Exemplar

View more pictures from the ceremony on Facebook.

 

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At UM, Girls See Engineering Isn’t Just For Boys

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At UM, Girls See Engineering Isn’t Just For Boys


By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

girl-engineering-day-2

Kelsey Kleinhans, a Ph.D. biomedical engineering student, explains her research to a group of high school girls attending UM’s Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 26, 2015) – For Dasia Gibson it was the banana that shattered into more than a dozen pieces after being dipped in liquid nitrogen. For Danica Forestal it was watching her uncle delete a virus from a PC. And for Saige Drecksler it was the memorial service she attended for the astronauts of the doomed Challenger and Columbia space shuttle missions.

While each high school girl had a different story to tell of what ignited their passion for engineering, it was the common goal of learning more about the field’s many academic and career opportunities that brought them together Thursday for Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day on the University of Miami campus.

More than 220 teenage girls from 18 Miami-Dade public and private high schools attended the daylong event, touring UM College of Engineering labs, learning about the research being conducted by some of UM’s female engineering students, and putting their problem-solving skills to the test in a series of brain-twisting exercises.

“Engineering is still a male-dominated field,” said UM biomedical engineering major Stacie Arechavala, who, as the high school outreach coordinator for the UM chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, organized Thursday’s event. “We’re helping these girls learn about a fascinating field that can positively affect lives and change the world.”

Arechavala, who became interested in biomedical engineering after two of her friends suffered traumatic brain injuries in high school, noted that the College of Engineering’s 28 percent female enrollment rate is far above the national average of 15 percent. But she would still like to see those numbers grow.

“Girls need role models,” she said.

The youngsters at UM’s Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day had plenty of role models on Thursday. Doctoral student Kelsey Kleinhans gave groups of high school girls a tour of her biomedical engineering lab, explaining how she is conducting experiments with pig tissue to learn more about the repair and prevention of injuries in humans.

Ann Zapala, a sophomore biomedical engineering major from Chicago, taught the girls about the efficiency of assembly line production, having them perform an experiment that showed they could produce more origami-style figurines by using the widely used manufacturing process as opposed to one worker assembling the figures alone.

The high school students also competed in a contest to see which team could build the longest and strongest bridge out of K’NEX construction toys.

Drecksler, a student at Coral Park Senior High School, came away from the event even more determined to achieve her dream of becoming an aerospace engineer. Said the high schooler: “My goal is to make space travel a reality for everyone.”

Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day was part of Engineers Week at the College of Engineering, with other events including a Simulation Boot Camp, concrete canoe demonstration, entrepreneurs forum, and more.

 

 

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UM Trustee Appointed to National Panel on Airport Scanners

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UM Trustee Appointed to National Panel on Airport Scanners


UM News

Edward Dauer

Dr. Edward A. Dauer

CORAL GABLES, FLA. (February 6, 2015)—University of Miami Trustee and triple alumnus Dr. Edward A. Dauer, a distinguished diagnostic radiologist in the community and research associate professor of biomedical engineering, radiology, and family medicine at UM, has been appointed to the National Academy of Sciences’ special advisory panel on the safety of ultrasound scanners used to screen passengers in airports across the nation.

As a member of the scientific committee on the millimeter wave machines, Dauer, the director of radiology at Florida Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, will review how the Department of Homeland Security and equipment manufacturers estimate the level of non-ionizing millimeter wave radiation exposures that air travelers are exposed to when scanned by the advanced imaging technology. These screening machines are in use at approximately 160 airports across the nation. Unlike x-ray scanners, which use ionizing radiation that can break bonds in living cells, millimeter wave machines use low-energy, non-ionizing, radio frequency waves to detect weapons, explosives, or other hidden objects.

Appointed by Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council, the committee is also charged with evaluating whether traveler and operator exposures to non-ionizing radiation meet health and safety standards, and whether the design, and the operating and maintenance procedures for ultrasound machines are appropriate for preventing over exposure.

“It is encouraging that an independent panel of scientists and researchers will be able to study and evaluate objective scientific data to assess the safety of this imaging technology and to protect the traveling public,” Dauer said.

James Tien, Distinguished Professor and Dean of the College of Engineering, said he immediately thought of recommending Dauer for the expert panel when he learned about the upcoming study of millimeter wave screeners. “As both an engineer and a medical doctor, he is uniquely qualified to be a member of the study committee,” Tien said. “Obviously, NAS President Dr. Ralph Cicerone was equally impressed with Dr. Dauer’s qualifications.”

Chaired by Kathryn V. Logan, the principal research engineer emerita at Georgia Institute of Technology and an adjunct professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, the 14-member panel’s report is due next year.

Dauer, the first undergraduate at UM to study biomedical engineering, earned his Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering in 1972, his medical degree in 1975, and his master’s in biomedical engineering in 2001. His current academic work at UM includes medical physiology, unified medical sciences, radiation physics, and radiation biology. He established the new research lab in scanning electron microscopy at the College of Engineering and is working on electron microscopy analysis of biomedical devices and tissue engineering. He also served on the Florida State Board of Medicine, the state’s licensing board for physicians, for 11 years, including two terms as chairman.

Dauer has served as a member of the UM Board of Trustees since 1996 and is currently a member of the Executive Committee. He was a member of UM’s President’s Council and of the Medical Dean Leadership Cabinet, and is an active member of the Miller School of Medicine Admissions Committee.

A member of Iron Arrow since 1996, he received the School of Medicine Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2000 and the Henry King Stanford Alumnus of the Year Award in 2001 for his ongoing dedication to the University.

Over the years, he and his family have been generous donors to the University, supporting the Richter Library, the Convocation Center, Athletics, the College of Engineering, the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing and Health Studies, and student scholarships.

 

 

 

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