News Archives: April, 2017

University of Vermont in The Chronicle of Higher Ed: Not Another Lecture

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It’s the archetypal image of a higher ed classroom – an expert holding forth at the front of a room.

But mounting evidence suggests that active learning methods, those that feature collaboration, simulation, small-group sessions and “flipped classrooms,” actually produce better results for students, both in terms of test scores and information retention.

Nowhere are the stakes higher for better training than in the medical classroom.

That’s why the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine has a goal to replace traditional lectures with active learning within three years. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, it’s the most aggressive push of any medical school toward that format.

We know that these efforts improve outcomes,” says William Jeffries, Ph.D., senior associate dean for medical education at the college, “and that’s what we’re really focusing on.”

A 2014 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences determined that active learning reduced course failure rates by about one-third.

The college is accomplishing this shift thanks to the support of Robert Larner, M.D., a 1942 alumnus and longtime donor to the college. Even though the traditional lecture was a hallmark of his training, when he heard about the college’s plans to increase active learning, he pledged several major gifts – including the largest endowment in the school’s history – to help meet that ambition. His support over the past 30-plus years, worth about $100 million, has supported new and retooled classrooms, technology and faculty training.

Dr. Larner fell in love with that idea,” Jeffries says. “He was essentially willing to give us a huge legacy to support that endeavor.”

With active learning, students spend class time working in teams on exercises or case studies that require them to apply their knowledge. Lectures don’t really vanish, but instead become homework.

The engagement takes place in the classroom,” says William Raszka, M.D., professor of pediatrics and director of the Attacks and Defenses course. “When the students are engaged, they do a terrific job.”

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UAB creates triple-threat cancer-fighting polymer capsules for guided drug delivery

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Chemists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have designed triple-threat cancer-fighting polymer capsules that bring the promise of guided drug delivery closer to preclinical testing.

Infographic depicting guided drug delivery microcapsules developed by UAB researchersThese multilayer capsules show three traits that have been difficult to achieve in a single entity. They have good imaging contrast that allows detection with low-power ultrasound, they can stably and efficiently encapsulate the cancer drug doxorubicin, and both a low- and higher-power dose of ultrasound can trigger the release of that cargo.

These three features create a guided drug delivery system to target solid tumors. Therapeutic efficacy can be further improved through surface modifications to boost targeting capabilities. Diagnostic low-power ultrasound then could visualize the nanocapsules as they concentrated in a tumor, and therapeutic higher-dose ultrasound would release the drug at ground zero, sparing the rest of the body from dose-limiting toxicity.

This precise control of when and where doxorubicin or other cancer drugs are released could offer a noninvasive alternative to cancer surgery or systemic chemotherapy, the UAB researchers report in the journal ACS Nano, which has an impact factor of 13.3.

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LSU mechanical engineering professor receives Danek Award

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Mechanical engineering professor Michael Khonsari was honored with the Danek Award for his commitment to research at the Experimental Program to Stimulate Research’s 2017 Coalition of States Conference.

The Danek Award is named after Joseph Danek, who serves in Washington D.C. as the executive director of the EPSCoR Foundation and senior vice president of the Implementation Group, Inc. This award has only been given out twice since it was created in 2016.

Khonsari currently serves as the project director for EPSCoR for Louisiana and the associate commissioner for sponsored programs at the Louisiana Board of Regents. He has helped to develop a science and technology plan for the state and foster faculty collaboration on research projects.

I’ve been very lucky to be able orchestrate what people are doing and putting my two cents together to win [awards],” Khonsari said.

Currently, EPSCoR has a five-year plan and a $20 million grant grant for research provided the National Science Foundation. Their emphasis is on manufacturing and materials. This involves 3-D printing, and Khonsari said there is now a centralized user’s facility for these printers along with other devices in Patrick F. Taylor Hall.

In the second year second year of this five-year plan, there are several research questions to be addressed regarding manufacturing and materials. Khonsari said there are many scientific issues that need to be resolved involving the types of materials used in these printers and discovering the issues that arise with the use of these devices.

There are two research thrusts – one is 3-D printing, the other is doing a lot of investigation of very, very tiny devices that could perform really well,” Khonsari said. “Just imagine having a credit card sized heat exchanger to remove heat. One of the biggest problems with laptops, or computers in general, was that they couldn’t remove heat. Chips generate a lot of power, so somehow you have to remove that heat, or else everything blows up.”

Khonsari said he hopes to see a growth in the development of the Manufacturing Central User Facility, bring the manufacturing and materials industry to the state and collaborate with the industry. Khonsari said he wants Louisiana to be known for the manufacturing of devices such as 3-D printers.

That’s the ultimate goal: to land a national center of excellence here which in Louisiana we don’t have one right now in science and engineering,” Khonsari said. “That’s what we’re after.”

EPSCoR was developed in 1978 by the NSF to allow states that lacked funding to send in proposals and compete for research grants. Louisiana became an EPSCoR state in 1987 and has become a model state for EPSCoR because of the program’s success.

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