All posts by Campus Talk

No small threat

Viruses causing epidemic vector-borne diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes.
Viruses causing epidemic vector-borne diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes.
How’s this for an unnerving statistic? Infectious diseases kill more people worldwide than any other single cause – that’s according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A dengue outbreak in Hawai‘i in 2001 and a global resurgence of vector-borne and zoonotic infectious diseases, nearly all originating in Asia, led to the establishment of the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research in 2003. The Center and its activities are generously supported by institutional funds and a grant from the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program, of the National Center for Research Resources, of the National Institutes of Health.

Hawai‘i’s strategic location as a prominent international port and its geographic proximity and strong ties to institutions within Asia and the Pacific provide a unique setting from which to monitor the emergence and spread of newly recognized infectious diseases and to investigate outbreaks of well-known microbial infections of regional concern and global importance. The Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research is among a handful of research facilities in the world exploring this resurgence.

Richard Yanagihara, Director of the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research.
Richard Yanagihara, Director of the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research.
Said Richard Yanagihara, Director of the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research, “Infectious diseases are among the most urgent public health and economic problems facing the Asia-Pacific region in the new millennium. In recent years, microbes newly emerging in Asia have caused major epidemics, resulting in significant loss of human lives and devastating economic consequences worldwide.”

Although the myriad factors responsible for the alarming global resurgence of infectious diseases are not fully understood, demographic and societal changes are likely contributors. That is, the unprecedented population growth since World War II has been one of the principal driving forces behind uncontrolled urbanization. Also, the rapid movements of people, animals (and their endo- and ecto-parasites) and commodities via jumbo jets and high-speed trains, along with the insidious breakdown of the public health infrastructure and the misplaced emphasis on curative rather than preventive medicine, have all contributed to the regional and worldwide resurgence of infectious diseases.

The NIH-funded center is a pillar program that draws on the complementary strengths and multidisciplinary expertise within the John A. Burns School of Medicine and the College of Natural Sciences. Because the prevention and control of infectious diseases demand expertise from more than a single discipline, the new center is anchored by the tenets of multi- and trans-disciplinary research, comprising elements of epidemiology and public health, community and family medicine, biobehavioral health, bioinformatics and biostatistics, and microbiology and immunology.

The Center’s overall vision is to become a regional translational science center of research excellence for new, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. And its mission is to develop and deploy improved rapid diagnostics, effective low-cost treatments and affordable vaccines for tropical infectious diseases, which disproportionately affect underserved ethnic minority and disadvantaged communities in the Asia-Pacific region.

For more information, visit:

Biocontainment suite for research on vector-borne and zoonotic viruses.
Biocontainment suite for research on vector-borne and zoonotic viruses.

Leading diverse cancer research

Since cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, the research undertaken by the University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center is even more critical and compelling.  One of the Center’s largest and most ethnically diverse research projects is the Multiethnic Cohort Study (MEC), which follows more than 215,000 men and women primarily of African-American, Japanese, Latino, Native Hawaiian and Caucasian origin, including more than 70,000 Asians and Pacific Islanders living in Hawai‘i.

Funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1993, the MEC is being conducted at the Center and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. The ethnic diversity of Hawai‘i and California has made it possible to develop this large study with its unique representation of minority populations.

Established to examine lifestyle risk factors, especially diet and nutrition, as well as genetic susceptibility (an inherited tendency to react more strongly to particular exposures) in relation to the causation of cancer, every cohort member completed a specially designed, self-administered, 26-page baseline questionnaire on entry to the MEC Study (between 1993-1996). The questionnaire included an extensive quantitative diet history as well as background information and medical, medication, physical activity and female reproductive histories.

In addition to the baseline questionnaire, a four-page questionnaire was sent in 1999-2001 and another 26-page questionnaire was sent in 2003-2008 to gather additional information. Biological specimens (mainly blood and urine samples) were collected from selected members of the cohort, starting in 1996, but the main collection took place from 2001-2006. These specimens enable the research team to study dietary components measured in blood and urine in relation to cancer risk, and also the interaction between genetic susceptibility and diet.  Biological specimens on more than 70,000 cohort participants are being stored in special low temperature freezers in Hawai‘i and California.

The study will test many different hypotheses related to diet and other factors in order to determine why different ethnic groups have different risks of developing cancer and other chronic diseases. Some of the study’s goals are to improve understanding of ethnic/racial differences in cancer occurrence and bring important benefits to Hawai‘i and the Asia Pacific region, with the hopes of preventing cancer and other chronic diseases in the populations of the U.S. and rest of the world.

Dr. Larry Kolonel

Said principal investigator Dr. Larry Kolonel, “No other study of this type encompasses such diverse ethnic populations.  As a result, we are an essential participant in many national and international scientific collaborations that seek to understand how diet and genetics contribute to cancer causation, and how the knowledge we are gaining will help reduce the burden of cancer in Hawaii and globally.”

For more information on the MEC study, visit

Solving an image problem

A close-up view of the small, custom-developed marker that is placed on the body in the revolutionary system that allows MRI machines to compensate for a patient’s slight movement.  Photo courtesy of The Queen’s Medical Center.
A close-up view of the small, custom-developed marker that is placed on the body in the revolutionary system that allows MRI machines to compensate for a patient’s slight movement. Photo courtesy of The Queen’s Medical Center.
Anyone who’s ever had a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan knows the daunting procedure.  The patient must lie completely still in a tomb-like MRI chamber for up to 45 minutes while the head or body is scanned for medical diagnostic purposes.  But what if the patient is a fidgety young child, or someone writhing in pain from an injury or disease, or an elderly person suffering from dementia?  In those instances, holding completely motionless in the MRI machine—even for five minutes—is difficult if not impossible. 

The challenges associated with undergoing this demanding procedure range from the medical to economic to humanistic.  If a lot of movement occurs during MRI scans, the images become so blurry that they are not interpretable by radiologists, meaning patients must return the next day to undergo sedation or full anesthesia before trying the process again.  With the cost of an MRI billed at approximately $1,000 an hour, all of those degraded, unacceptable images result in U.S. hospitals chalking up more than $1 billion annually in lost revenues.  And families fret when their loved ones, especially keiki and the elderly, are traumatized by the claustrophobic, frightening process of an MRI, or must undergo full anesthesia and its accompanying risk of complications in order to lie completely still.

Now Dr. Thomas Ernst, a physicist at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and his research associates in the U.S. and Germany have invented a revolutionary system to allow MRI machines to compensate for a patient’s slight movement—making the procedure less intimidating and more effective in diagnosing medical problems.

Ernst heads up JABSOM’s Neuroscience and Magnetic Resonance Imaging Research Program, whose advanced 3-Tesla MRI scanner was funded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a White House Office, and is located at The Queen’s Medical Center near downtown Honolulu.  The prototype is eliciting impressive early results and raves, especially from the specialists charged with reading MRI scans, whose resolutions are so high at 1 millimeter or 1/20th of an inch that it takes very little motion for the images to become degraded.  

“This is important to radiologists, because they say the patients who need the scans the most are the patients who move the most,” explains Ernst.  “These are the young or the elderly, or those who have head trauma, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors—so it doesn’t help to tell them not to move, because they just don’t understand the instructions or are in pain.” 

Ernst’s team, part of a joint venture with The Queen’s Medical Center, has developed a novel technique in which a small, custom-developed marker is placed on the body.  This marker is read by a camera that tracks movement in real time at 100 snapshots per second and then relays that information back into the scanner.  “So, as you move, the scanner locks itself on the marker, and the result is that the MRI scan has no blurring,” says Ernst. 

Not having to lie absolutely still is welcomed by patients, and means that tykes as young as three to four years of age can lay in the MRI scanner while watching kiddie movies through little binoculars and earphones, and may be entertained in the MRI chamber for as long as 30-45 minutes without sedation or anesthesia.  “It’s a good thing, especially for the children,” says Ernst, who believes the new marker technique will be ready for commercialization within a few years.  “Plus, if you can make technology less expensive, you make it more accessible—which means more people can benefit from an MRI.”   

Team members include researchers from UH Mānoa (including his physician wife at JABSOM, Dr. Linda Chang), the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii, University of Wisconsin, Medical College of Wisconsin, and Universities of Freiburg and Magdeburg in Germany.  Together, they are solving an image problem that can save lives.

For more information on the Neuroscience and Magnetic Resonance Imaging Research Program, contact Ernst at or see the website at

Top photo: Dr. Thomas Ernst of JABSOM poses with a young patient at the advanced 3-Tesla MRI scanner at The Queen’s Medical Center. Photo courtesy of The Queen’s Medical Center.

Joining doctors and nurses


Joint training of nursing and medical students at JABSOM's Kaka'ako campus.

The first-ever, joint training of UH Mānoa nursing and medical students was a distinct hit with students.

Comments during a talk-story session included a nursing student saying she learned, “Doctors are people, too, not just super-human robots who know everything!” A medical student then explained that MD students sometimes feel intimidated around nurses. “There’s different levels of knowledge,” said the MD student. “There’s going to be certain things we know the nurses won’t know, and things the nurses know that we don’t. We will benefit from taking turns, covering for each other and teaching each other to have an improved understanding that will help the patient.“

The new joint curriculum between the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) and the School of Nursing & Dental Hygiene emphasizes that both doctors and nurses need to “speak the same language” to better care for their patients. The entire first year class of 66 medical students and 56 brand-new nursing students gathered for a half-day session on interprofessional communication, led by a JABSOM physician/educator and a nursing professor.

Held at JABSOM’s Kaka’ako campus, the September 2 session was the first of a series of planned educational activities to bring the students of both schools together. 

“These students are in their first semester of health care professions study at UH Mānoa, and the intent is to have them learn each others roles at the beginning of their careers to bring an interdisciplinary approach to patient care,” said Stephanie Marshall, the nursing school’s Director of Community Partnerships.

The Institute of Medicine has estimated that the number of annual deaths in hospitals due to medical errors or “preventable adverse events” exceed the number of deaths attributable to motor vehicle accidents (43,458), breast cancer (42,297) or AIDS (16,516), according to JABSOM’s Dr. Damon Sakai, Director of the Office of Medical Education. “Many medical errors begin with poor communication. This is supported by research analyzing the chain of events that occur when mistakes are made,” he added.

“The partnership between the nursing and medical schools is one concrete way to reduce the potential for deadly errors,” said UH Mānoa Chancellor Dr. Virginia Hinshaw.

“I strive as Chancellor to fulfill our university’s goal of serving as a multi-cultural global experience in a Hawaiian place of learning,” Hinshaw said. “No programs better epitomize this ideal than the John A. Burns School of Medicine and our School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene. I can see in your faces our multi-cultural society – our mission is to provide you with training and community service programs that expose you to a multitude of international experiences, so that we produce physicians and nurses who are equipped and devoted to improving the health and well-being of Hawai’i and the Pacific.”

“Mahalo to all of you for dedicating yourselves to careers in health care,” Hinshaw told the students. “No other field more directly impacts the well-being of our families and loved ones in Hawai’i and beyond – and nothing would make me prouder than to place my own future welfare in the care of outstanding health professionals like you,” she said.

Top photo: Nursing and medical students in a small-group “breakout” session on communication.

Seizing earthquake risk exploration

Greg Moore in front of model of D/V Chikyu at JAMSTEC. Photo by John Suppe.

The year was 1944.  The place: Tonankai, near the south coast of western Honshu.  The event: A historic 8.1 magnitude earthquake that killed at least 1,200 people and destroyed more than 73,000 homes.  This catastrophic event spurred scientists to research why part of the seafloor near the southwest coast of Japan is particularly prone to generating devastating tsunamis. 

The Nankai Trough, located south of Honshu, Japan, is in a subduction zone also known as an area where two tectonic plates are colliding, pushing one plate down below the other. The grinding of one plate over the other in subduction zone leads to some of the world’s largest earthquakes. To date, the Nankai Trough subduction zone may be the most studied subduction zone in the world.   

At UH Mānoa, leading the Nankai Trough Seismogenic Zone Experiment (NanTroSEIZE) is Marine Geophysics Professor Gregory Moore.   NanTroSEIZE is a large international effort using many kinds of oceanographic studies to understand the region within the Nankai Trough that has a 2,000 year recorded history of very large earthquakes and tsunamis.  The behavior of the Nankai Trough is very similar to regions off Sumatra and northeast Honshu where recent devastating earthquakes have occurred, and is also similar to the region offshore of Oregon and Washington where scientists expect a very large earthquake to occur in the future.

The project has characterized the region and local structure of the rocks and sediments with this zone.  Thus far, the international group has used a new Japanese drilling ship to drill several holes and obtain samples from the upper mile below the seafloor. The current phase involves drilling a deep hole into the region to a depth of about 4.5 miles below the seafloor, which is 1.5 miles deep (so the total depth below the sea surface is about 6 miles).  

“We will characterize the physical properties of the rocks within the zone that generates earthquakes and will leave a system of instruments that will continuously monitor the temperature, pressure and stress around the borehole to try to understand how the rocks are being deformed during the time leading up to the next large earthquake,” noted Moore.

Moore has been involved since 1987 in characterizing the features of this submarine region, including leading a project with a petroleum industry ship that collected 3-dimensional seismic reflection data around their current drilling area in 2006 (3D seismic data is a very large CAT scan).  

He joined the first drilling expedition in 2007 with D/V Chikyu in the NanTroSEIZE area, and has been involved in preparation for the subsequent drilling expeditions and in analyzing the data from those expeditions.  Stage 2 of NanTroSEIZE took place during June-October 2009, and Stage 3 began in 2010 and is scheduled to continue in 2012. Moore plans to participate in one or two of the upcoming deep drilling expeditions.   

The work offshore Japan is part of a regional early-warning system that gives the Japanese a few minutes warning of approaching earthquake waves and tsunamis.  According to Moore, such instrumentation has not yet been deployed around the United States, but their work will help this development.     

Further related UH Mānoa research projects include a Tohoku University colleague arriving from Japan to study correlating earthquake locations with features observed on seismic reflection records  for six weeks and two of Moore’s graduate students participating in a Japanese research expedition to help make images of the region of the March 2011 earthquake off Tohoku.    

The findings from the NanTroSEIZE experiment will help to explain what causes these types of earthquakes, how to better effectively plan for their occurrence, and to help scientists assess the risk of giant tsunamis in other regions of the world. In essence, it’s earth-shaking research.

Top photo: Petroleum industry ship used to collect 3D seismic data.

Mining the deep blue sea

In today’s progressively developing world, consumption of energy and materials is at an all-time high, prompting an increase in demand for minerals, metals and fossil fuels. The high cost and infrastructure associated with mining these vast deposits often hamper efforts to obtain these valuable resources. According to the Society of Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration, almost 3/4 of the global mineral resources are in, or under, the sea and are virtually undeveloped.

At the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), faculty members Drs. Gary McMurtry and John Wiltshire have been studying marine minerals in different capacities over the course of 30 plus years. McMurtry is an associate professor in the Department of Oceanography and Wiltshire is associate chairman of the Department of Ocean and Resources Engineering in the Department of Ocean and Resources Engineering (ORE). SOEST is a leading institution of multidisciplinary research and education on the ocean, earth and atmosphere. Within SOEST, ORE’s mission is to educate top quality ocean and resource engineers to meet the needs of Hawai‘i, the nation and the engineering profession, as well as conduct and disseminate research in the field of Ocean and Resources Engineering.

While Wiltshire’s expertise lies in marine mineral deposits, marine mining and processing, submersible technology and one of McMurtry’s areas of expertise is in marine mineral formation and resources, they have jointly taught classes on marine mineral resources engineering and mineral and energy resources of the sea.  The marine mineral resources engineering course familiarizes students with the mineral resources of the ocean and the engineering challenges faced to exploit them.  The course in mineral and energy resources of the sea exposes students to the various types of marine minerals, mode of formation and its geological and economic importance.

Three major marine mineral deposits from L-R: sulfide, nodule, manganese crust.

There are three major marine mineral deposits: sulfides, nodules and crusts.  Sulfides, usually found in shallow water anywhere from 800-2,500 meters deep, are rich in gold, silver, lead and zinc.  Nodules are rich in copper, nickel, cobalt and manganese and are found in deep waters.  Crusts are rich in platinum, cobalt, nickel and manganese.

Another type of deep-sea element being studied at UH Mānoa is rare earth elements, which ironically, are not all that rare and are considered to be relatively abundant. The recent discovery of huge deposits of rare earth elements found in the deep sea near Hawai‘i presents an array of possibilities.  That is, if countries are willing to shell out millions or billions of dollars to mine them.  Rare earth elements are most commonly found in hybrid cars, photovoltaic panels, cell phone batteries and used in semiconductor industries.

McMurtry, who has studied rare earth elements since the 1980’s, notes that deep below 5,000 meters of water, the deposits are loaded with rare earth metals, which are sometimes also rich in phosphorites. Phosphate rock is most often utilized in the agricultural industry.  Almost all fertilizers contain marine phosphate, which when added to soil, provides crucial nutrients essential for plant growth. 

China is currently the leader in producing the world’s supply of rare earth elements from its mineral deposits. In fact, according to the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration, in July 2011, China surpassed current U.S. capabilities to explore mineral resources on the ocean floor by sending a submersible to over 5,000 meters, which equates to over 70 percent of the ocean floor. China’s funding and existing infrastructure enable them to dominate the world market.

Much of SOEST’s research into ocean mineralization takes place through the Hawai‘i Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) of which Wiltshire is the director.  HURL is one of six national laboratories comprising the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Undersea Research Program.  Its mission is to study deep water marine processes in the Pacific Ocean.

HURL operates two deep diving (2,000 m) submersibles, the PISCES IV and PISCES V, and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The ROV and submersibles operate off the 225-foot research vessel, Kaimikai-O-Kanaloa, obtained for the university and largely supported by HURL. The submersibles, ROV and their mothership conduct a wide range of engineering and science research activities focusing on deep-sea geology and ecosystems and their contribution to global climatic and ecosystem changes. In addition, many students in the ORE program find thesis projects, financial support and advisors studying various aspects of the dynamics of submersible and ROV operations as well as new instrumentation, control and equipment applications. Future HURL research projects include the geology and biology of emerging and subsiding islands, marine product and fishery assessments, and processes of submarine mineral accumulations on seamounts, volcanoes, and islands.

The Department of ORE also maintains research facilities at Kewalo Basin and Snug Harbor for field work and in-ocean experiments. The field research facilities support study of ocean and coastal structures and materials, wave dynamics and sediment transport.

UH Mānoa continues to be a leading force– conducting and sharing research in the field of Ocean and Resources Engineering, as well as serving as the “go-to” source for national and international colleagues through opportunities such as seminars, conferences, consulting, work with government agencies and professional societies.

For more information, visit:  

Top photo: HURL Pisces submersible

Marine Mineral Deposits Worldwide. Source: Underwater Mining Institute.

Testing tsunami loads

Yuriy Mikhaylov

Civil and environmental engineering doctoral student Yuriy Mikhaylov’s research on tsunami-resistant structures is now more important than ever given the destruction of this year’s devastating tsunami and earthquake in Japan.  

Mikhaylov first became interested in design of structures during his undergraduate studies at UH Mānoa. At first, his interest was in structural dynamics and how the structures behaved under seismic loading.  However, after expressing interest in graduate school, Professor Dr. Ian Robertson persuaded Mikhaylov to pursue work on tsunami loading on coastal structures. 

“I found this proposal interesting because it meant that I would not have to spend countless hours in a laboratory analyzing strings of numbers that may or may not be useful,” recalled Mikhaylov.

Mikhaylov’s research involves the design of six prototypical buildings, per the International Building Code 2006, in several locations of varying seismicity and soil types. The buildings will be subjected to tsunami loads in modeling studies that consider eight kinds of forces, including height and velocity of waves and debris damming, to analyze the behavior of the structures.  The idea is to find out how tsunami-resistant the structures are per the current building code, and if they aren’t, then research what else is required to ensure that they are.

Said Mikhaylov, “It’s an unusual opportunity in the doctoral program to work on a topic that a layman can understand.  I feel lucky to be involved in this project because I am not only studying something that is interesting to me, but am also learning valuable design experience.”

The parameters required for calculating tsunami loads, such as water height and velocity, are not measured or recorded anywhere; however, with advanced technology, the March 2011 tsunami in Japan has left lots of video footage and physical evidence. 

Currently, Robertson and Mikhaylov are analyzing some of this evidence to get a better understanding of what happened to the structures in Japan during the tsunami. Their research will provide a snapshot of what can be expected if a similar event were to occur on the west coast of the United States.  By having a clearer understanding, a set of guidelines for tsunami-resistant designs can be established and incorporated into building codes to help ensure that everyone is better prepared if and when the next tsunami comes.

Mikhaylov received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UH Mānoa and is currently working as a structural designer for Baldridge and Associates Structural Engineering. In his spare time, he plays violin for the University of Hawai‘i Symphony and at various functions statewide.


People spending the night in the subway on March 11, 2011, in Tokyo, Japan, after a destructive 9.0 earthquake hit off the northeastern coast of Japan.
People spending the night in the subway on March 11, 2011, in Tokyo, Japan, after a destructive 9.0 earthquake hit off the northeastern coast of Japan.

Top photo: Tsunami from the March 11 Japan earthquake causes severe damage to a small craft in Maalea Harbor in Maui.

Trash talk, or charting marine debris

Snapshots from the model projections for the trajectory of the floating tsunami debris. Red indicates highest debris concentration, light purple, least.

When a huge tsunami triggered by the 9.0 Tohoku earthquake on March 11, 2001, destroyed coastal towns near Sendai in Japan—washing houses and cars into the swirling sea—the amount of marine debris generated from the catastrophic event was comparable to a full-year input from the entire North Pacific. Projections of where this debris might head have been made by Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s International Pacific Research Center.  Their research is now a central part of a multiagency effort, led by the Environmental Protection Agency, to respond to issues arising from the tsunami-generated debris.

Maximenko has developed a model based on the behavior of drifting buoys deployed over years in the ocean for scientific purposes.  Model simulations suggest that the majority of land- and sea-based debris, which survive multi-year travel in the North Pacific, drifts toward an area between Hawai‘i and California. The pattern of time-averaged surface currents in this “patch” corresponds to a large spiraling vortex, rotating clockwise. The model predicts that the debris will spread eastward from the Japan Coast in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

In a year, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument will see pieces washing up on its shores; in two years, the remaining Hawaiian Islands will see some effects; in three years, the plume will reach the U.S. West Coast, dumping debris on Californian beaches and the beaches of British Columbia, Alaska and Baja California. The debris will then drift into the famous North Pacific Garbage Patch, where it will wander around and break into smaller and smaller pieces. In five years, Hawai‘i shores can expect to see another barrage of debris that is stronger and longer-lasting than the first one. Much of the debris leaving the North Pacific Garbage Patch ends up on Hawai‘i’s reefs and beaches.

Even before the March 11 tsunami, the world ocean was a dump for rubbish flowing in from rivers, washed off beaches, and jettisoned from oil and gas platforms and from fishing, tourist and merchant vessels.  Marine debris has become a serious problem for marine ecosystems, fisheries and shipping.

Maximenko’s long-standing work on ocean currents and transports predicted that there are five major regions in the world ocean where debris collects if it is not washed up on shores or sinks to the ocean bottom, deteriorates, or is ingested by marine organisms. These regions turn out to be “garbage patches.” The North Pacific Garbage Patch was recognized in the late 1990’s, the North Atlantic Patch was fixed some years ago, and the South Atlantic, South Indian Ocean, and South Pacific patches have just been found, guided by the map of Maximenko’s model that shows where floating marine debris should collect.

These model projections will help guide clean-up and tracking operations. Tracking will be important in determining what happens to different materials in the tsunami debris, for example, how the composition of the debris plume changes with time, and how the winds and currents separate objects drifting at different speeds.

To view a simulation of the debris from the March 11 tsunami, click on the animation link. For more information, visit:

Top photo: The mass of debris stretches for miles off the Honshu Coast. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Linking genomes to biomes

New technologies such as the autonomous underwater sea glider collect data on microbial activities. Photo courtesy of Mālamalama.

It may be one of the “newer kids on the block,” but the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) in UH Mānoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology has already established itself as a leader in designing and conducting novel research. C-MORE is one of only 17 National Science Foundation-sponsored Science and Technology Centers across the nation, and the first to focus on microbes.

Established in 2006, C-MORE facilitates additional comprehensive understanding of the biological and ecological diversity of marine microorganisms, ranging from the genetic basis of marine microbial biogeochemistry including the metabolic regulation and environmental controls of gene expression, to the processes that underpin the fluxes of carbon, related bioelements and energy in the marine environment.

C-MORE Hale, the newest research facility to join C-MORE, was dedicated in 2010 and houses 30,000 square feet of state-of-the-art scientific equipment that will be used in conjunction with an existing modern fleet of research vessels to study the vital role that marine microbes play in sustaining planetary habitability.  The merger of the new land-based laboratory with world-class sea-going support vessels will help position UH Mānoa on the world map as a leader in oceanographic research.

As a global research information center working across disciplines, C-MORE brings together teams of experts—scientists, educators and community members—who usually have little opportunity to interact, facilitating the creation and dissemination of a new understanding of the critically important role of marine microbes in global habitability. Research at C-MORE is organized around four interconnected themes: (Theme I) microbial biodiversity, (Theme II) metabolism and C-N-P-energy flow, (Theme III) remote and continuous sensing and links to climate variability, and (Theme IV) ecosystem modeling, simulation and prediction, with the primary mission of linking genomes to biomes.

Another integral component of C-MORE is its implementation of educational and outreach programs. Educational programs focus on pre-college curriculum enhancements, in service teacher training and formal undergraduate/graduate and post-doctoral programs to prepare the next generation of microbial oceanographers. C-MORE also has plans to maintain creative outreach programs to help diffuse the new knowledge gained into society at large including policymakers. All of C-MORE’s activities will be dispersed among five partner institutions: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, University of California at Santa Cruz and Oregon State University.

For more information on C-MORE, visit:

Top photo: Exterior shot of C-MORE Hale

Jonas Umlauft: Soaring on Court and in the Classroom

By: Eric R. Matsunaga,  Marketing and Public Affairs Director, College of Engineering

On any given night at a UH Warrior men’s volleyball match, it quickly becomes evident that the player wearing the number 10 jersey possesses a special skill set and mastery of the game with thunderous, high-flying spikes. In fact, for the second consecutive season, Jonas Umlauft was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American First Team and for the second consecutive year, led the nation in kills.

What is unknown to most is that Umlauft is equally as talented in the classroom as an electrical engineering major. His dominance on-court is matched in the classroom as Umlauft carries a current GPA of 3.93 in what is traditionally known as the most difficult area in engineering. In fact, he has already taken junior level classes and may be able to complete his undergraduate degree in three and a half years.

What is refreshing about Umlauft is that he does not fit the mold of the stereotypical athlete. After a stellar four-year career in volleyball at Landschulheim Kempfenhausen High School in Stamberg, Germany, including winning the 2008 German National Championship, Umlauft could have easily transitioned to a successful professional career in Europe. Instead, he chose to come to the United States and to the UH Mānoa to study electrical engineering.

“I came to the U.S. to combine academics and athletics as a way to challenge my brain, which would not have been possible had I stayed,” said Umlauft. “Playing professionally is still an option after I graduate, but it’s not my favorite thing to pursue.”

What Umlauft would like to purse is a career in electrical engineering back in Germany, where he left a lot of broken items and gadgets around his parents’ home in Stadtbergen. He credits his early interest in engineering to a fascination with disassembling things. Luckily for the Umlauft household, his father Juergan was an electrical engineer and could piece together the results of his son’s curiosity.

“I had a lot of fun taking things apart to see how they worked, but after I reassembled them, they wouldn’t work,” he said. “I was tired of breaking things, so I decided to learn how things worked.”

His need to understand how things work, combined with his hobby of flying radio controlled model airplanes, led Umlauft to electrical engineering.

“I usually bought assembled sets, so there was not much to modify in terms of the aerodynamics,” he said. “So for optimization purposes, I focused on the electrical components like the engine, controller and receiver.”

“For me, design is the most interesting part of EE because you have the most freedom to solve a problem ‘your way,’” he added. “You have a lot of variables to take into account and you see what tradeoffs engineers in the real world are facing.”

For Umlauft, the key to success on the court and in the classroom, despite the rigors of practice, matches and travel, is to approach classes with the same mindset of treating every drill in practice as though it were the championship match.

Electrical Engineering Assistant Professor Aaron Ohta, one of Umlauft’s instructors, is impressed by his conscientiousness. “Although he must adhere to a tough physical training schedule, and travels frequently for road games, he has still managed to complete all of his assignments,” said Ohta. “In class, he is attentive, and asks questions that demonstrate his ability to quickly grasp concepts in a difficult subject like electrical circuits.”