Skip to main content
University at Buffalo

UB Today

A publication of the University at Buffalo Alumni Association

Fall 2013





Join the Alumni Association

UBAA on Facebook

To stop receiving the print version and read UB Today online, > click here

To view a virtual version of the print magazine > click here. To view the PDF version of this issue > click here


Luna greets her visitors at Buffalo Zoo.

Research News

Up close with Kali & Luna

For several months, Jackie Heatwole, a UB master’s student in biological sciences, has been observing the Buffalo Zoo’s fluffy white cubs. One morning, she stood outside the polar bear exhibit taking notes while the cubs, named Kali and Luna, wrestled with floating toys in their swimming hole. They emerged back onto land, smudging their bright white coats with mud, chasing each other around. As Heatwole kept watch, a school kid standing nearby made his own observation. “They’re playing tag!” he shouted.

story imageGraduate student Jackie Heatwole records Luna’s behavior as well as that of fellow cub Kali.

Luna is a female born at the zoo, while Kali is a male who came to Buffalo in May after a hunter shot his mom in the Alaskan wilderness. Heatwole has been tracking their behavior to better understand polar bear development, as well as how the two bears differ from one another, given their divergent histories.

“Luna has really brought Kali out of his shell,” Heatwole says. “Compared to when he first came, he’s a different animal. And Luna was raised by humans, so she has to learn how to be a bear and socialize with bears, and Kali is helping her with that.”

To have a wild bear and a zoo-born bear of the same age in the same place is a rare occurrence, says Charlotte Lindqvist, Heatwole’s adviser and assistant professor of biological sciences. So Lindqvist was thrilled when a colleague forwarded her a message from zoo curator Jerry Aquilina asking if any local researchers had students interested in conducting observations. “This is a very unique opportunity,” Lindqvist says. “It doesn’t happen very often.”

Academic News

Academic News

story image

The average amount of debt for UB students who incur debt is $17,449, and more than half of UB students graduate without debt, according to U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” guide. The magazine ranked UB among the top 10 universities nationwide for graduating students with the least debt. At national universities with the “most debt,” students graduate with a debt range of $35,228 to $43,727.

Research News

Solar cells may offer power on the go

Illustration: Eric Hanson

Imagine hiking an isolated stretch of the Appalachian Trail. You fear you’re lost. The trail map isn’t helping. And the battery in your smartphone, with its GPS unit, is dead. “Man,” you nervously say to yourself, “I wish I could charge my phone.” Being stuck in a remote area with limited or no access to electricity is more common than you might think. Just ask a soldier, a lumberjack or an angler. It’ll soon be less common, however, because researchers are developing energy-harvesting solar cells that can be sewn into clothing, backpacks and other materials.

“They work like conventional solar cells but, because they are flexible, like paper, we can affix them to many surfaces,” says Qiaoqiang Gan, assistant professor of electrical engineering. “With flexible solar cells, we can provide soldiers, hikers and other people on-the-go with a means to power their electronic devices.”

Before that happens, researchers must find a way to make flexible solar cells more efficient and less expensive to manufacture. Gan is tackling the problem with help from a team of UB researchers and graduate students.

Thin-film solar cells now used in industry are easy to install and lightweight, and they can be rolled onto rooftops like a carpet is rolled onto a floor. Made of silicon and other inorganic materials, they’re generally more costly to manufacture than conventional solar panels. On the other hand, liquid-based solar cells—the type Gan is working on—are a kind of thin-film solar cell. But because they come in liquid form, they can be affixed to a greater variety of surfaces.

“Unlike what’s available today, liquid-based solar cells are not rigid. They’re flexible, like paper,” Gan reiterates. “As a result, they can be fabricated over large areas, potentially becoming as inexpensive as paint.” The reference to paint does not include a price point but rather the idea that liquid solar cells could one day be applied to surfaces as easily as paint is to walls.

The main reason liquid-based solar cells aren’t yet for sale is that they don’t produce enough power to make them competitive with other solar panels. Gan is working to change that, using an assortment of high-powered computers, lasers and other gadgets to devise ways to incorporate tiny bits of metal into solar cells. The metal, when placed next to the solar cells, should help them convert more sunlight into electricity.

So far, he has conducted computer simulations that suggest the nanostructure will significantly boost the solar cell’s power conversion. Gan will work with Alexander N. Cartwright, UB professor of electrical engineering and biomedical engineering, and vice president for research and economic development, to combine the metal and the solar cell. The results, he says with a grin, should be electrifying.

UB People

Professor honored as Nigerian chief

Before the installation, Phil Stevens sits with HRM Oba Yakubu Babalola, the traditional ruler of Esie (left) and the traditional ruler of a neighboring town, one of many invited for the event.

Being installed as a Nigerian chief in an elaborate ceremony in December in the Yoruba town of Esie was a high point of his career, says UB anthropologist Phillips Stevens Jr. But that was just the beginning: Stevens learned after the installation ceremony that a research center will be built in the town and named for him. “This is a double honor,” Stevens said not long after he returned from Nigeria. “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.”

Both honors recognize Stevens’ work in the 1960s preserving the stone images of Esie, Africa’s largest and most mysterious collection of stone carvings. His work, part of his duties during a stint with the Peace Corps, put Esie on the map and sparked an economic boon for the town.

Stevens, associate professor of anthropology, was one of 17 people installed as chiefs by the traditional ruler of the town, HRM Oba Yakubu Babalola, as part of his 25th anniversary celebration. Stevens received the chieftaincy title “The Erewumi of Esie Kingdom”; Erewumi roughly translates to “the images and I get along well.” “Erewumi” is inscribed in gold beads on his chieftain cap.

The Phillips Stevens Jr. Center for Esie Studies will be the center of further research on the soapstone figures he helped repair and document.

University News

Shake, rattle and not much roll

Early results from an earthquake simulation test suggest that cold-formed-steel buildings may be able to withstand major earthquakes. Researchers from The Johns Hopkins University, who led the experiment Aug. 16 at UB’s Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory, programmed the shake tables to mimic ground forces felt during 1994’s catastrophic earthquake in Northridge, Calif. During the test, the shake tables violently jolted the building back and forth, causing cracks to interior and exterior walls. But the building, based on preliminary analysis, withstood the quake’s forces.

Research News

The Perfect Pour

Hong Luo doesn’t drink beer himself—he’s allergic to alcohol. But Luo, chair of the physics department, knows all about the secrets of pouring a smooth brew. That’s because it’s just basic physics.

Cans with significantly wider mouths or two holes—which some brands are newly marketing—really do cut down on foam and awkward glugging, Luo says. The first concept to understand is atmospheric pressure. In a nutshell, the atmosphere of the Earth—all the air molecules floating around us—exerts a force that pushes on objects.

What does this have to do with drinking beer? As liquid exits a can, it leaves behind a vacuum—a totally empty space in which you won’t find anything, not even air molecules.“Once you create this vacuum, the atmospheric pressure is going to push air in,” Luo says. “It’s a dramatic effect: Each time you drink, you create a small vacuum, and the atmosphere responds by pushing air in.” A super-wide hole or a second hole placed some distance away from the first enables this pressure equalization to occur without obstructing the beer leaving the can.

As such, when it comes to getting an unbubbly pour, today’s single-hole, pop-top beer cans may be inferior to old-time counterparts that required consumers to punch a hole on each side of a smooth lid—one for drinking, the other for taking in air.

Campus News

A sudsy start to the new school year

Students try out their improvised moves in a foam dance pit designed for maximum fun during opening weekend held in August. This year’s Welcome Back Bash also offered music, food, prizes and a “Texas hold ’em” poker game. Late Night UB, which offers alcohol-free entertainment such as tie-dye bingo and “cosmic golf” during the semester, was the event sponsor.

Research News

Rediscovering an area landmark

Hull House, on Genesee Street in Lancaster, N.Y., is the oldest substantial stone dwelling in Erie County.

One of Western New York’s most significant historic sites was the setting for excavations undertaken this summer by the Department of Anthropology’s Archaeological Survey. The work was part of an ongoing search for outbuildings at the Hull Family Home and Farmstead (c. 1810) in Lancaster. As part of the effort by the Hull House Foundation to restore the farmstead to its original composition, archaeologists led by Ryan Austin, research analyst with the Archaeological Survey, are working to locate the remains of the property’s outbuildings, which are expected to include a threshing barn, well, animal pens, privy and possibly an outside oven and smoke house. A room that may have served as a root cellar recently was unearthed.

The archaeologists are assisted by a professional landscape architect and a historical research consultant who are studying other homes and farms of the period to determine the type, size and approximate location of the buildings.

“We’ve found fragments of brick, nails, early pottery and ceramics, early glass, and recently a bone-handled fork and a portion of a teapot handle,” says Douglas Perrelli, director of the Archaeological Survey.

“With additional land and restoration of the farm buildings, the Hull Farmstead will represent life on the early Niagara Frontier in a manner that is accurate and can offer visitors the opportunity to get a feel for the experience of the Hull family,” says Gary Costello, Hull House Foundation president.

UB People

Fresh food focus

Tyler Manley, mobile market director for MAPPhoto: Harry Scull Jr,/Buffalo News

Tyler Manley, BA ’10, grew up on a sheep farm, worked as a cook and urban farmer, and studied philosophy at UB. Today he is mobile market director for the nonprofit Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) in Buffalo. “Not only are we creating a local food system, growing food right in the city, we’re changing how people think about food,” Manley says. The farm—the equivalent of 11½ city lots—is home to a rain-catching system and 41 hens. More than 75 varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown on the grounds and in a pair of greenhouse sheds, one of which is aquaponic and contains 25,000 tilapia. “We sell the fish to the community, alive and whole,” Manley says. “Because we can’t sell on public property, we sell on private property and make partnerships with these sites.”

THE FARM: MAP’s farm, the equivalent of 11½ city lots and situated across the street from a park and alongside a vacant house, is home to:

Academic News

100th Birthday College of Arts and Sciences

Happy 100th anniversary to the College of Arts and Sciences. Events are planned throughout the fall, including lectures by cosmologist Rocky Kolb and psychologist Daniel Schacter. More at



UB in the News

UB professor discusses how to avoid identity theft and fraud

10/23/2017 An article in WalletHub concerning which states are most vulnerable to identity theft and fraud, and how to avoid being hacked, quotes UB computer science professor Shambhu Upadhyaya.

UB medical school's move downtown and its potential to improve health care in the city

10/19/2017 In a segment on Capitol Pressroom , Michael Cain, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, was interviewed about the construction of the school?s new building downtown and the 25 percent increase in enrollment in the school this year to help address the regional and national physician shortage.

Residents and fellows among bright spots in dynamic WNY health care

10/7/2017 An article in the Buffalo News titled "Doctor Reinforcements" provides an in-depth look at how UB's medical residents and fellows boost health care in Western New York.

More of UB in the News