This story is shared jointly with the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering newsroom.
Nga Lee (Sally) Ng, Love Family Professor with joint appointments in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, is AGU's 2023 Atmospheric Sciences Ascent Award recipient.
The Atmospheric Sciences Ascent Award is presented annually and recognizes excellence in research and leadership in the atmospheric and climate sciences from honorees between eight and 20 years of receiving their PhD.
Being selected as a Section Honoree is bestowed upon individuals for meritorious work or service toward the advancement and promotion of discovery and solution science. AGU, the world's largest Earth and space science association, annually recognizes a select number of individuals as part of its Honors and Recognition program.
The Atmospheric Sciences Section studies the physics, chemistry, and dynamics of the atmosphere. Ng received the Ascent Award for advancing the fundamental understanding of organic aerosol measurement, sources, chemistry, trends, and impacts in Earth’s atmosphere.
Ng earned her doctorate in Chemical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology and was a postdoctoral scientist at Aerodyne Research Inc. She joined Georgia Tech as an assistant professor in 2011.
Her research focuses on the understanding of the chemical mechanisms of aerosol formation and composition, as well as their health effects. Her group combines laboratory chamber studies and ambient field measurements to study aerosols using advanced mass spectrometry techniques.
Ng currently leads the establishment of the Atmospheric Science and Chemistry mEasurement NeTwork (ASCENT), a new comprehensive, high-time-resolution, long-term measurement network in the U.S. for the characterization of aerosol chemical composition and physical properties. Ng is the inaugural editor-in-chief of the American Chemical Society's (ACS) ACS ES&T Air, a new journal that will publish novel and globally relevant original research on all aspects of air quality sciences and engineering.
Honorees will be recognized at AGU23, which will convene more than 25,000 attendees from over 100 countries in San Francisco and online everywhere on 11-15 December 2023. This celebration is a chance for AGU’s community to recognize the outstanding work of our colleagues and be inspired by their accomplishments and stories.
Ng is joined in receiving AGU23 accolades by Georgia Tech School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences alumnus Vernon R. Morris (EAS PhD 1991), who receives this year's AGU Lifetime Achievement Award for Diversity and Inclusion.
Morris is professor and director of the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences at Arizona State University, and an atmospheric scientist who studies the chemical evolution of atmospheric particulate during transport and residence in the lower troposphere and its implications to aerobiology, climate, and cloud processes. He has guided the research for more than 150 students at the graduate, undergraduate, and high school levels, published over 75 refereed papers, book chapters, and the scientific publications, ranging from quantum chemistry to the aerosol processes in tropical Africa.
AGU (www.agu.org) is a global community supporting more than half a million advocates and professionals in the Earth and space sciences. Through broad and inclusive partnerships, we advance discovery and solution science that accelerate knowledge and create solutions that are ethical, unbiased and respectful of communities and their values. Our programs include serving as a scholarly publisher, convening virtual and in-person events and providing career support. We live our values in everything we do, such as our net zero energy renovated building in Washington, D.C. and our Ethics and Equity Center, which fosters a diverse and inclusive geoscience community to ensure responsible conduct.
But a study led by researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology has advanced understanding of both the chemical composition of PM2.5 and the reaction of alveolar cells of the lungs exposed to this pollution, highlighting the growing threat posed to human health.
Published in Environmental Science and Technology, the study shows that oxidized organic aerosols (OOA) are the most toxic type of organic aerosols in PM2.5.
“Oxidized organic aerosols are the most abundant type of organic aerosols worldwide,” said Nga Lee (Sally) Ng, Love Family Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “For example, when wildfire smoke reacts in the atmosphere, it generates OOA.”
As the researchers used advanced techniques such as mass spectrometry to analyze the chemical composition of PM2.5 in Atlanta, Georgia, they simultaneously measured the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in alveolar cells resulting from pollution exposure.
ROS are molecules that can cause oxidative stress and damage to our cells, potentially leading to various health problems, including cardiopulmonary diseases.
To understand the mechanisms behind PM2.5-induced oxidative stress, the researchers employed cellular assays, which allowed them to measure both chemically and biologically generated ROS.
The study revealed that highly unsaturated species containing carbon-oxygen double bonds and aromatic rings within OOA are major drivers of cellular ROS production, advancing understanding of the chemical features of ambient organic aerosols that make them toxic.
Wildfires Are Growing Source
As the contribution from fossil-fuel sources to organic aerosols formation has declined in the United States in recent decades due to reduction strategies, the relative importance of other sources has increased, said Fobang Liu, lead author of the study.
“For example, biomass burning is expected to become a more important source of OOA with the increasing trend of wildfires,” added Liu, a former postdoctoral researcher in Ng’s lab at Georgia Tech who is now an associate professor at Xi’an Jiaotong University in China.
A major chemical characteristic of OOA formed from biomass burning is the high fraction of oxygenated aromatic compounds. “Hence, this work highlights that organic aerosols can become more toxic in the future,” he said.
According to the researchers, their findings underscore the need for continued collaboration among the fields of atmospheric chemistry, toxicology, epidemiology, and biotechnology to tackle the global air pollution crisis.
“OOA are a surrogate of secondary organic aerosols. Secondary organic aerosols are ubiquitous and abundant in the atmosphere, we need to understand their sources and chemical processing when formulating effective strategies to mitigate PM2.5 health impacts,” said Professor Ng.
“Future work should continue to investigate the health impacts of different PM2.5 components, particularly secondary organic aerosols formed from precursors emitted during incomplete combustion processes of fossil and biomass fuels,” she said.
Different regions may have varying types of organic aerosols due to diverse emission sources and atmospheric conditions. Therefore, long-term measurement of organic aerosol types over a wide range of geographical areas will be important to advance understanding of health impacts, the researchers emphasized.
Such work is being conducted by the Atmospheric Science and Chemistry mEasurement NeTwork (ASCENT), a $12 million advanced aerosol measurement network of 12 sites around the United States that is led by Professor Ng.
CITATION: Fobang Liu, Taekyu Joo, Jenna C. Ditto, Maria G. Saavedra, Masayuki Takeuchi, Alexandra J. Boris, Yuhan Yang, Rodney J. Weber, Ann M. Dillner, Drew R. Gentner, Nga L. Ng., “Oxidized and unsaturated: key organic aerosol traits associated with cellular reactive oxygen species production in the southeastern United States,” Environmental Science and Technology, 10.1021/acs.est.3c03641, 2023]]>
A new study from Georgia Tech shows that fluids from the mantle in Alaska’s Shumagin Gap — an intersection of tectonic plates that has attracted researchers because of the lack of large seismic events — may provide new information about how those fluids could actually help generate earthquakes.
“One common thought is that fluids tend to decrease the chance of large earthquakes by decreasing friction along faults,” says Darcy Cordell, who worked on the research as a postdoctoral scientist in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech. “However, our paper suggests that it might not be such a simple story. It may still be the case that fluids help to inhibit the very largest earthquakes, those around magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale. However, the presence of fluids does not rule out relatively large earthquakes from occurring and, in fact, earthquakes may be more likely to rupture through fluid-rich, conditionally stable areas rather than dry, stable areas.”
Cordell, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta, is the lead author of a paper published in Nature Geosciences, “Forearc seismogenesis in a weakly coupled subduction zone influenced by slab mantle fluids.” (A subduction zone is the area where a collision between two of Earth's tectonic plates has happened, with one plate sinking underneath the other into the mantle. A forearc, meanwhile, is the area between an oceanic trench, or a depression in the seafloor, and a volcanic arc, such as a mountain range with volcanoes.)
Cordell’s co-author, Georgia Tech Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Assistant Professor Samer Naif, is joined by research team members from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, BlueGreen Geophysics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and Northern Arizona University. The National Science Foundation provided funding for the research.
The key to the ‘unlocked’ Shumagin Gap
The Shumagin Gap, a segment of tectonic plate boundary located near the Shumagin Islands that lie south of the Alaskan mainland, was considered to be at lower risk of earthquakes because the tectonic plates were thought to be “unlocked” — free of jagged edges that can strike each other and eventually “lock” up and build up stress that can cause earthquakes. But in July 2020, a megathrust quake — where plates violently collide, sending one sliding on top of the other — struck just east of the Gap. That was followed in October of that year with a strike-slip quake (with plates moving horizontally) right in the middle of the Gap.
“There are only a few such well documented seismic gaps along subduction zones globally,” says Naif. “We chose the Shumagin Gap and its neighboring segments for our study area for this reason. Our goal was to map the distribution of fluids in order to investigate how fluids might be impacting where earthquakes do and do not occur. When we collected the field data back in 2019, we had hypothesized abundant fluids in the Shumagin Gap to explain the lack of earthquakes. The fact that a pair of earthquakes occurred in this very region just one year later was certainly fortuitous.”
Prior to the research, most discussions about fluids being released from the mantle assumed that the waters were released after the tectonic slab had subducted to depths of more than 100 kilometers. “So instead of having slab mantle fluids released beneath the region where large earthquakes happen, it was thought the fluids would be released much further from the ocean trench,” Cordell says.
In the case of the Shumagin Gap quakes, that would be after the plate was subducted beneath the Alaska Peninsula. This is why slab mantle fluids were not considered to have much of a role in shallow, large earthquakes in the forearc, Cordell adds.
Mapping mantle fluids
Yet that theory was challenged when the team began to locate and map mantle fluid flows. Saline water conducts electricity easily, which allowed Cordell and Naif to use magnetotelluric geophysical methods, which rely on the Earth’s own magnetic and electric fields to produce images of the electrical conductivity underground at 100-kilometer depths. “This helps us locate where saline water is because it lights up bright red in our images,” Cordell says.
The scientists found that water from the plate mantle can indeed be released into the forearc region of the subduction zone, the area where most large earthquakes occur. “This has many implications for how we think about and model subduction zones on geological time scales, and not solely earthquake ruptures,” Cordell says.
Naif maintains that water does tend to lubricate faults, but the study suggests that the presence of water may have also allowed the July 2020 Shumagin earthquake to rupture through low friction portions of the fault. “One way in which this can occur is by dynamic weakening,” he explains — as the fault slips during an earthquake, it could lead to rapid shear heating caused by the slippage, and thermal expansion of the pore fluids (fluids inside spaces in rocks). “Both those actions could further reduce the friction and allow the earthquake to continue to propagate.”
Cordell says the fluids at the interface of the tectonic plates may not uniformly decrease earthquake risk in a simple relationship, “but instead a more complex interplay between fluids, and rupture may actually increase risk in some circumstances.”
Future subduction zone studies
Naif would like to see more mapping of the distribution of fluids for the Shumagin and nearby Semidi segments involved in the July 2020 earthquake. “Our study is along a single profile, and it is not clear whether fluids are present along the entire fault slip surface,” he says.
Naif also wants to see the research expanded “to explore other subduction zones around the world for similar deeply-sourced fluids, and where such fluids are discovered, how they influence seismicity.”
About Georgia Institute of Technology
The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is one of the top public research universities in the U.S., developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition. The Institute offers business, computing, design, engineering, liberal arts, and sciences degrees. Its more than 45,000 undergraduate and graduate students, representing 50 states and more than 148 countries, study at the main campus in Atlanta, at campuses in France and China, and through distance and online learning. As a leading technological university, Georgia Tech is an engine of economic development for Georgia, the Southeast, and the nation, conducting more than $1 billion in research annually for government, industry, and society.
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant numbers OCE-1654652 and OCE-1654619.
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston
While rarely in the news, these ice cage formations, known as methane clathrates, have garnered attention because of their potential to affect climate change. During offshore drilling, methane ice can get stuck in pipes, causing them to freeze and burst. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill is thought to have been caused by a buildup of methane clathrates.
But until now, the biological process behind how methane gas remains stable under the sea has been almost completely unknown. In a breakthrough study, a cross-disciplinary team of Georgia Tech researchers discovered a previously unknown class of bacterial proteins that play a crucial role in the formation and stability of methane clathrates.
A team led by Jennifer Glass, associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and Raquel Lieberman, professor and Sepcic-Pfeil Chair in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, showed that these novel bacterial proteins suppress the growth of methane clathrates as effectively as commercial chemicals currently used in drilling, but are non-toxic, eco-friendly, and scalable. Their study, funded by NASA, informs the search for life in the solar system, and could also increase the safety of transporting natural gas.
The research, published in the journal PNAS Nexus, underscores the importance of fundamental science in studying Earth’s natural biological systems and highlights the benefits of collaboration across disciplines.
“We wanted to understand how these formations were staying stable under the seafloor, and precisely what mechanisms were contributing to their stability,” Glass said. “This is something no one has done before.”
Sifting Through Sediment
The effort started with the team examining a sample of clay-like sediment that Glass acquired from the seafloor off the coast of Oregon.
Glass hypothesized that the sediment would contain proteins that influence the growth of methane clathrate, and that those proteins would resemble well-known antifreeze proteins in fish, which help them survive in cold environments.
But to confirm her hypothesis, Glass and her research team would first have to identify protein candidates out of millions of potential targets contained in the sediment. They would then need to make the proteins in the lab, though there was no understanding of how these proteins might behave. Also, no one had worked with these proteins before.
Glass approached Lieberman, whose lab studies the structure of proteins. The first step was to use DNA sequencing paired with bioinformatics to identify the genes of the proteins contained in the sediment. Dustin Huard, a researcher in Lieberman’s lab and first author of the paper, then prepared candidate proteins that could potentially bind to the methane clathrates. Huard used X-ray crystallography to determine the structure of the proteins.
Creating Seafloor Conditions in the Lab
Huard passed off the protein candidates to Abigail Johnson, a former Ph.D. student in Glass’ lab and co-first author on the paper, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Georgia. To test the proteins, Johnson formed methane clathrates herself by recreating the high pressure and low temperature of the seafloor in the lab. Johnson worked with Sheng Dai, an associate professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, to build a unique pressure chamber from scratch.
Johnson placed the proteins in the pressure vessel and adjusted the system to mimic the pressure and temperature conditions required for clathrate formation. By pressurizing the vessel with methane, Johnson forced methane into the droplet, which caused a methane clathrate structure to form.
She then measured the amount of gas that was consumed by the clathrate — an indicator of how quickly and how much clathrate formed — and did so in the presence of the proteins versus no proteins. Johnson found that with the clathrate-binding proteins, less gas was consumed, and the clathrates melted at higher temperatures.
Once the team validated that the proteins affect the formation and stability of methane clathrates, they used Huard's protein crystal structure to carry out molecular dynamics simulations with the help of James (JC) Gumbart, professor in the School of Physics. The simulations allowed the team to identify the specific site where the protein binds to the methane clathrate.
A Surprisingly Novel System
The study unveiled unexpected insights into the structure and function of the proteins. The researchers initially thought the part of the protein that was similar to fish antifreeze proteins would play a role in clathrate binding. Surprisingly, that part of the protein did not play a role, and a wholly different mechanism directed the interactions.
They found that the proteins do not bind to ice, but rather interact with the clathrate structure itself, directing its growth. Specifically, the part of the protein that had similar characteristics to antifreeze proteins was buried in the protein structure, and instead played a role in stabilizing the protein.
The researchers found that the proteins performed better at modifying methane clathrate than any of the antifreeze proteins that had been tested in the past. They also performed just as well as, if not better than, the toxic commercial clathrate inhibitors currently used in drilling that pose serious environmental threats.
Preventing clathrate formation in natural gas pipelines is a billion-dollar industry. If these biodegradable proteins could be used to prevent disastrous natural gas leaks, it would greatly reduce the risk of environmental damage.
“We were so lucky that this actually worked, because even though we chose these proteins based on their similarity to antifreeze proteins, they are completely different,” Johnson said. “They have a similar function in nature, but do so through a completely different biological system, and I think that really excites people.”
Methane clathrates likely exist throughout the solar system — on the subsurface of Mars, for example, and on icy moons in the outer solar system, such as Europa. The team’s findings indicate that if microbes exist on other planetary bodies, they might produce similar biomolecules to retain liquid water in channels in the clathrate that could sustain life.
“We’re still learning so much about the basic systems on our planet,” Huard said. “That’s one of the great things about Georgia Tech — different communities can come together to do really cool, unexpected science. I never thought I would be working on an astrobiology project, but here we are, and we’ve been very successful.”
Citation: Dustin J E Huard, et al. Molecular basis for inhibition of methane clathrate growth by a deep subsurface bacterial protein, PNAS Nexus, Volume 2, Issue 8, August 2023.
Funding: National Aeronautics & Space Administration, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund
Georgia Tech co-authors included Zixing Fan, Ph.D. student, and two undergraduates, Lydia Kenney (now a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University) and Manlin Xu (now a Ph.D. student in the MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program). Ran Drori, associate professor of chemistry at Yeshiva University, also contributed.]]>
The biology, neuroscience, and biochemistry undergraduates were enrolled in a special offering of the Cell and Molecular Biology Laboratory (BIOS 3451) as part of the Georgia Tech Biomolecular Engineering, Science, and Technology study abroad program in Lyon (BEST-Lyon). As it was the first time the lab was offered as part of the program, the instructors took the budding course as an opportunity to try something new, aiming to mesh the lab with the local culture surrounding them while abroad. And for Lyon, that meant incorporating silk.
Read more about the unique experience on the College of Sciences website.]]>
Georgia Tech undergraduates are invited to apply for the Biomolecular Engineering, Science, and Technology (BEST) Study Abroad Program in Lyon, France. The BEST-Lyon program combines study at Georgia Institute of Technology, the premier science and engineering institution in the southern U.S., with a summer experience at CPE-Lyon University, a university rich in history in the chemical sciences, engineering, and technology. Participants can explore the inventions of Louis Pasteur, Victor Grignard, Pierre and Marie Curie while studying in France's "second-city", Lyon.
The program is expected to run from mid-May to July, 2024. Learn more about education abroad and apply by February 15, 2024.]]>
Assistant Dean for Faculty Mentoring
Editor and Contact:
Director of Communications
College of Sciences at Georgia Tech
Neurosciences research holds enormous potential for wide-ranging health and societal impact, and Georgia Tech's culture of applied research and integrated interdisciplinary liberal arts scholarship is uniquely positioned to create the environment in which Neuro Next can become an international leader in the discovery, innovation, and translation in neuroscience and neurotechnology.
Guided by faculty members Christopher Rozell, professor and Julian T. Hightower Chair in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Simon Sponberg, Dunn Family Associate Professor of Physics and Biological Sciences; and Jennifer S. Singh, associate professor in the School of History and Sociology, the Neuro Next Initiative at Georgia Tech will lead the development of a community that supports collaborative research, unique educational initiatives, and public engagement in this critical field.
“Georgia Tech has a very strong, but decentralized, neuroscience community,” said Sponberg. “The Neuro Next Initiative really sprung from a lot of thoughtful input from dozens of people across many schools, colleges, and roles, which reflects how neuro interfaces so broadly. Our goal with this initiative is really to open a new front door to the neuro community here, to highlight the leadership that Georgia Tech is already taking in many areas of neuro-related research, and to create new ways to support our interdisciplinary work.” Aiming to foster a diverse and inclusive community that is passionate about shaping the frontiers of neuroscience and neurotechnology to better serve humanity, the initiative will launch in October.
“Neuroscience and neurotechnology have advanced dramatically in the last few years, making it clear that there are few endeavors that have as much potential societal impact as our study of the brain,” Rozell said. “Georgia Tech is uniquely positioned to build on its existing strengths to create an effort tailored to meet the scientific, technical, and social needs of these promising research trajectories. I'm excited that the Neuro Next Initiative represents the next step in creating that collaborative community.” By bringing together a diverse cohort of faculty experts from varied disciplines, members aim to create a holistic, integrative, and inclusive approach to neuroscience and neurotechnology that centers real human impact and broad accessibility.
Singh noted, “Neuro Next is an important and exciting initiative that is prioritizing the inclusion of a range disciplinary expertise, including social science, humanities, business, and the arts, to critically investigate how we can research and develop neurotechnologies that are accessible, responsible, and socially just. Building a collaborative neurocommunity that centers societal impacts from the start shares the commitment of Georgia Tech to developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition.”
The new Haley Fellows are:
Haley scholars receive a one-time merit award of up to $4,000 thanks to the generosity of the late Marion Peacock Haley. Haley’s estate established the creation of merit-based graduate fellowships at Georgia Tech in honor of her late husband, Herbert P. Haley (ME 1933). It is an award which may be held in conjunction with other funding, assistantships, or fellowships, if applicable.
Meet the Haley Fellows
Jessica Deutsch is a fifth-year Ph.D. student studying analytical chemistry. “One of the most intriguing aspects of analytical chemistry is that the field focuses on studying invisible things in order to make sense of the visible,” Deuthsch says. “I am researching a deadly coral disease that affects Florida and Caribbean reefs. I aim to provide insight into how this disease impacts the production of small molecules using a mass spectrometry-based approach, which can provide insight into how relationships between the coral animal, algae, and bacteria may be impacted by this disease.”
She wishes to thank Assistant Professor Neha Garg “for her mentorship and the opportunities she has provided that have enabled me to develop my research skills.”
Quynh Nguyen is a third-year Ph.D. student looking into phase- and shape-controlled synthesis of nanocrystals for catalysis and energy-related applications. “What fascinates me is the ability to manipulate matter at the nanoscale to drive sustainable advances,” Nguyen says. “This field places me at the exciting intersection of chemistry, materials science, and nanotechnology, aiming to address current challenges in sustainability and renewable energy.”
Nguyen’s Ph.D. advisor is Younan Xia, professor, Brock Family Chair and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Nanomedicine. “Xia's guidance and expertise have been instrumental in shaping my research focus and methodology. Beyond the lab, he has consistently encouraged me to pursue opportunities that contribute to both my academic and professional development, for which I am immensely grateful.”
Eliza Gazda, a fifth-year graduate scholar, is working in the field of multi-messenger particle astrophysics.
Gazda designed, tested, and integrated a telescope camera which was the payload on a scientific balloon launched in May. “The telescope launched is the first optical balloon of this type that operated at high altitudes over 30 kilometers,” Gazda says. “Our telescope observed radiative air showers from high energy cosmic rays and particles which travel across the Earth from extreme astrophysical objects like neutron stars and black holes. Once analyzed, this work will give us insight into high energy events that occur in space, and allow us to design and launch future similar telescopes.”
Gazda’s mentor is Associate Professor Nepomuk Otte, “who guided me in the past through a summer internship at Georgia Tech and inspired me to come back to work on my Ph.D. here. Not only has he taught me lab skills, but he helps me with my career goals, and guides me in exploring our research field, networking, and learning about various disciplines within the field.”
A fifth-year Ph.D. student, Sydney Popsuj is researching the gene Dkk3 and how it might regulate neurodevelopment and neurodegeneration in tunicates, close siblings to vertebrates. “This gene is implicated in Alzheimer's disease and dementia, but because it is hard to study in disease models, we don't have a strong grasp on the general functionality of the gene. I am using tunicates as a model system to study because they are biphasic, meaning they have both a larval and adult stage. This work is very exciting to me because it incorporates large scale evolutionary questions, while also having an impact on better understanding a gene that seems quite important to diseases and disorders.”
Popsuj thanks Georgia Tech faculty members Shuyi Nie, Joe LaChance, Patrick McGrath, Tim Cope, and Billie Swalla at the University of Washington “for pushing me to find new and exciting avenues into how to relate and generalize my work. These mentors have also encouraged me to expand outside my comfort zone in academics and to embrace new technologies and approaches that will hopefully further expand methods and protocols available to tunicate researchers.”
A third-year graduate scholar, Jose Luis Ramirez-Colón “has always been fascinated by the question of where we come from, and my time at Georgia Tech has been dedicated to using science as a tool to further explore this question.” His research focuses on exploring the organic inventory present in carbonaceous chondrites, meteorites that are like time capsules from the early days of the Solar System.
“Many organic classes present in all life as we know it, such as amino acids, sugars, and nucleobases, have been detected in these meteorites; therefore, there’s this idea that these meteorites might've delivered these essential building blocks to early Earth to kick-start life as we know it,” Ramirez-Colón says. His mission at Georgia Tech is to develop methods to detect, extract, and characterize those building blocks.
Ramirez-Colón wants to acknowledge “the remarkable contributions of my advisor and mentor, Christopher Carr, who has played a pivotal role in propelling my journey as an advancing Puerto Rican scientist. Carr not only granted me the freedom to pursue the questions that have always ignited my passion for science, but also equipped me with the essential tools and resources needed to conduct meaningful research.”
Sidney Scott-Sharoni is entering her fourth year of Ph.D. studies. An engineering psychology major, Scott-Sharoni focuses on “understanding how humans interact and conceptualize artificial intelligence devices,” she explains.
“Specifically, I investigate creative methods to convey information to calibrate users’ trust, and understand their psychological well-being, most often in automated vehicles,” Scott-Sharoni says. “I love my area of research because it combines the study of people with the study of innovative technology. I feel like I am researching the people of the future!”
Scott-Sharoni’s advisor, Professor Bruce Walker, “has significantly helped my personal and professional development as a researcher. I am very grateful for his continued mentorship throughout my graduate education.”
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston
Roman Grigoriev is mostly interested in the emergent behaviors in active matter systems made up of units on a molecular scale — tiny systems that convert stored energy into directed motion, consuming energy as they move and exert mechanical force.
“Active matter systems have garnered significant attention in physics, biology, and materials science due to their unique properties and potential applications,” Grigoriev, a professor in the School of Physics at Georgia Tech, explains.
“Researchers are exploring how active matter can be harnessed for tasks like designing new materials with tailored properties, understanding the behavior of biological organisms, and even developing new approaches to robotics and autonomous systems,” he says.
But that’s only possible if scientists learn how the microscopic units making up active matter interact, and whether they can affect these interactions and thereby the collective properties of active matter on the macroscopic scale.
Grigoriev and his research colleagues have found a potential first step by developing a new model of active matter that generated new insight into the physics of the problem. They detail their methods and results in a new study published in Science Advances, “Physically informed data-driven modeling of active nematics.”
School of Physics graduate researcher Matthew Golden is the study's lead author. Co-authors are graduate researcher Jyothishraj Nambisan and Alberto Fernandez-Nieves, professor in the Department of Condensed Matter Physics at the University of Barcelona and a former associate professor of Physics at Georgia Tech.
The research team focused on one of the most common examples of active matter, a suspension of self-propelled particles, such as bacteria or synthetic microswimmers, in a liquid medium. These particles cluster, swarm, and otherwise form dynamic patterns due to their ability to move and interact with each other.
“In our paper, we use data from an experimental system involving suspensions of microtubules, which provide structural support, shape, and organization to eukaryotic cells (any cell with a clearly defined nucleus),” Grigoriev explains.
Microtubules, as well as actin filaments and some bacteria, are examples of nematics, rod-like objects whose "heads" are indistinguishable from their "tails.”
The motion of microtubules is driven by molecular motors powered by a protein, kinesin, which consumes adenosine triphosphate (ATP) dissolved in the liquid to slide a pair of neighboring microtubules past one another. The researcher’s system used microtubules suspended between layers of oil and water, which restricted their movement to two dimensions.
“That makes it easier to visualize the microtubules and track their motion. By changing the kinesin or ATP concentrations, we could control the motion of the microtubules, making this experimental setup by far one of the most popular in the study of active nematics and even more generally, active matter,” Grigoriev said.
Getting a clearer picture of microtubular movements was just one discovery in the study.
Another was learning more about the relationships between the characteristic patterns describing the orientation and motion of nematic molecules on a macroscopic scale. Those patterns, or topological defects, determine how the nematics orient themselves at the oil-water interface, that is in two spatial dimensions.
“Understanding the relationship between the flow — the global property of the system, or the fluid — and the topological defects, which describe the local orientation of microtubules, is one of the key intellectual questions facing researchers in the field,” Grigoriev said. “One needs to correctly identify the dominant physical effects which control the interaction between the microtubules and the surrounding fluid.”
“And this is where the story gets interesting,” Grigoriev adds. “For over a decade, it was believed that the key physics were well understood, with a large number of theoretical and computational studies relying on a generally accepted first principles model” — that is, one based on established science — “that was originally derived for active nematics in three spatial dimensions.”
In the Georgia Tech model, though, the dynamics of active nematics — more specifically, the length and time scales of the emerging patterns — are controlled by a pair of physical constants describing those assumed dominant physical effects: the stiffness of the microtubules (their flexibility), and the activity describing the stress, or force, generated by the kinesin motors.
“Using a data-driven approach, we inferred the correct form of the model demonstrating that, for two-dimensional active nematics, the dominant physical effects are different from what was previously assumed,” Grigoriev says. “In particular, the time scale is set by the rate at which bundles of microtubules are stretched by kinesin.” It is this rate, rather than the stress, that is constant.
Grigoriev said the results of the study have important implications for understanding of active nematics and their emergent behaviors, explaining that they help rationalize a number of recent experimental results that were previously unexplained, such as how the density of topological defects scales with the concentration of kinesin and the viscosity of the fluid layers.
“More importantly, our results demonstrate the danger associated with traditional assumptions that established research communities often land on and have difficulty overcoming,” Grigoriev said. “While data-driven methods may have their own sources of bias, they offer a perspective which is different enough from more traditional approaches to become a valuable research tool in their own right.”
The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is one of the top public research universities in the U.S., developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition. The Institute offers business, computing, design, engineering, liberal arts, and sciences degrees. Its more than 45,000 undergraduate and graduate students, representing 50 states and more than 148 countries, study at the main campus in Atlanta, at campuses in France and China, and through distance and online learning. As a leading technological university, Georgia Tech is an engine of economic development for Georgia, the Southeast, and the nation, conducting more than $1 billion in research annually for government, industry, and society.
Funding: This study was funded by the National Science Foundation, grant no. CMMI-2028454. “Physically informed data-driven modeling of active nematics,” DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abq6120]]>
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston]]>
The Consulate General of France in Atlanta has announced that Berger has been awarded the Chevalier dans L'Ordre des Palmes Académiques for her “exceptional dedication and significant accomplishments in the field of science and education,” says Rami Abi Akl, French attaché for science and technology in Atlanta.
The Palmes Académiques is presented to French citizens and non-citizens who have made significant contributions to French education, science, and culture. The first Palmes Académiques was presented by Napoleon in 1808.
Berger’s “pioneering work in physics, particularly on graphene, has not only advanced scientific knowledge, but also served as an inspiration to others in her field,” Abi Akl says.
In addition to her research and classes at Georgia Tech, Berger is Director of Research at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), which has been home to 12 Nobel Prize and 10 Fields Medal winners. Berger’s affiliation is with the CNRS International Research Lab, with its main campus at Georgia Tech-Europe in Metz, France, and an affiliated lab at Georgia Tech’s Atlanta campus.
Approximately 50 colleagues from both countries have conducted collaborative research at both Georgia Tech campuses, thanks to Berger’s efforts.
“Her selection for this honor also reflects her remarkable impact on both the American and French scientific communities,” Abi Akl says. “Her collaborative efforts and contributions to scientific research have fostered strong ties between France and the United States, strengthening the bonds of scientific diplomacy.”
“A very big thank you to the French General Consulate in Atlanta for submitting my name for this distinctive honor,” Berger recently shared. “Among other funding agencies and foundations, I am particularly grateful to the French Embassy for their partnership grants that funded travel and helped collaboration between almost 60 faculty members, postdoctoral scholars, and students.”
“I also want to thank Georgia Tech and the School of Physics for their full support,” she added. “All that travel and dedicated lab work wouldn’t have happened without the love and support at home from my husband and our three sons.”
Berger was born in Paris, France, and received her Ph.D. from the Université Grenoble Alpes. She joined Georgia Tech in 2001, and she quickly established herself as a noted researcher of the electronic properties of graphene, a material with a flat, two-dimensional structure that is touted as a potential successor to silicon in computer processors.
Berger and School of Physics Regents’ Professor Walter de Heer are working on graphene discoveries that could lead to smaller, more energy-efficient processing that is expected to usher in a new era of quantum and high performance computing.
Walter de Heer welcomed Berger into his lab when she arrived at Georgia Tech, she says. “I want to thank him for being an incredible team leader in this adventure, for his continuous support, his insights, dedication and passion for science.”
Berger co-authored the first article demonstrating the two-dimensional properties of graphene and a possible electronics platform for the material. Berger, de Heer, and School of Physics Professor Phillip First also co-authored the first patent for graphene electronics in 2003.
She is the co-author of more than 200 publications in international journals. From 2014 to 2019, she was among the top one percent most cited researchers in physics.
Berger says she was given the letter by the General Consul of Atlanta announcing her award during an event at the Embassy. “I was so surprised by the nomination that I was fumbling trying to find my words. This was a great — and a bit embarrassing — moment at the same time.”
One of her good friends, Bill Moon, is a fellow Palmes Académiques winner for promoting French language instruction at private and public schools in Atlanta and Decatur. “He founded the International Community School in Clarkston, Georgia, a public charter elementary school serving the needs of U.S. and refugee families now living in DeKalb County, and he continues to be active in the service of communities,” Berger says. “To be awarded the same medal as Bill is an incredible honor.”]]>
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston
Teaching excellence was also honored through Georgia Tech Teaching Assistant Awards and special certificates during the Institute’s Teaching Assistant (TA) and Future Faculty Award ceremonies, also held on April 19, at the Exhibition Hall Midtown Ballroom.
Please join us in congratulating these special recipients across our College of Sciences community:
Established in 2021, the Provost’s Academic Excellence Award was created to recognize the remaining finalists of the Love Family Foundation Award (awarded this year to College of Design student Karis Wang). Each student is a graduating senior and represents the most outstanding scholastic record from their college. Finalists receive a $2,000 award, generously sponsored by the Love Family Foundation, and recognition at the annual Student Honors program.
One of this year’s recipients of the Provost’s Academic Excellence Award is Elena Cabrera, who is graduating from the School of Psychology. Cabrera conducted three years of research in the Adult Cognition Lab, earning her the College of Sciences Dean’s Scholarship and Early Research Award. She has also served as Psychology Association president and received two Tower Awards from the Office of Minority Educational Development. After graduation, Cabrera plans to pursue social and cultural psychological research on her path to becoming a psychology professor.
Other recipients include Arul Gupta from the Scheller College of Business, Kevin Li from the College of Computing, Jacob Young from the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, and Peter Lais from the College of Engineering. Read more.
This award was established in fall 2022 to honor one graduating student who best exemplifies the Honors Program during their time at Georgia Tech.
The first ever recipient of this award is Sarah Sorme, a graduating neuroscience major who has been active in the Honors Program. Sorme has had many leadership roles within the Honors Program during her time at Georgia Tech, including serving on two committees — the New Student Committee and the Community Outreach Committee — acting as a first-year retreat guide, and serving as editor of the Honors Program newsletter (The HyPe). She also served as co-director of the Honors Leadership Council and was instrumental in guiding the Program through the Covid-19 pandemic.
After graduation, Sarah wants to use her cognitive science knowledge and leadership experiences to develop human-centered technology to improve society.
Read more about Sorme.
This award is presented to an undergraduate student with demonstrated accomplishments at the interface of biology with either physics or mathematics. The award was established by a generous donation from alumnus Stephen E. Brossette in recognition of the many contributions of Roger M. Wartell to the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The 2023 winner, Julianne Tijani, is a physics major who has conducted research on the evolution of yeast, antibiotic-resistant infections, and cystic fibrosis. She has participated in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, and was recognized as a Petit Scholar. Julianne has also served as a teaching assistant in the School of Physics, a student assistant for the EXPLORE living learning community, and a medical scribe at Emory University Hospital.
This award was created by the endowment gift of Joyce E. Nickelson and John C. Sutherland to honor Joyce’s late mother, alumna A. Joyce Nickelson, and Sutherland. The scholarship, which recognizes excellence at the interface of mathematics and physics, is awarded to an undergraduate student who has jointly studied mathematics and physics, and who has engaged in scientific research.
Nickelson-Sutherland award winner Lance Lampert is completing degrees in physics and mathematics. He has been a research assistant at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, has taken part in the University of Michigan NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates program, and will be conducting research at the CERN particle accelerator facility in Switzerland this summer. He is also a leader in the Quantum Computing Association, maintains the web infrastructure for Georgia Tech’s student radio station WREK, and hosts a show on the channel.
This honor was created by alumna Cindy Bossart to recognize high academic achievement by a student in the College of Sciences who is a non-Georgia resident.
Veronika Vessigault is the 2022-3 recipient of this award and is a mathematics major with a minor in computational data analysis. She is currently taking graduate-level numerical linear algebra, and she studied in Hungary as part of the Budapest Semester in Mathematics. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics and an academic career. While at Tech, she volunteered close to 100 hours teaching high school and community college students and served as a teaching assistant in both the School of Mathematics and the College of Computing.
This honor was established by Maranee Phingbodhipakkiya to honor her father, his love for physics, and the sacrifices he made to assure that she would have the finest education. This award is made to a junior or senior in the College of Sciences based on academic merit.
The recipient of this award, Saima Firoj, is a biochemistry major who is also completing minors in Spanish and health and medical sciences. She has conducted research on the structure and aggregation patterns of membranes through cryo-electron microscopy to aid in drug development and delivery, and on the biochemical origins of life. She has also volunteered extensively in the medical field.
The College of Sciences presents this scholarship in honor of Robert “Bob” Pierotti, past dean of the College and founder of the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC). The award is made to top graduating seniors in the College who have excelled both academically and in research.
The three recipients of the 2022 Pierotti Award are Thiago Esslinger, Andrew Ji, and Lila Nassar.
Esslinger is majoring in both biochemistry and earth and atmospheric sciences. During his time as an undergraduate, Esslinger conducted research with Kim Cobb, former professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences who now serves as the director of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. His research aimed to investigate the influence of symbiont community composition on coral geochemical proxy records in the central equatorial Pacific. In addition, he has worked as a study abroad teaching assistant, and has received a President’s Undergraduate Research Award as well as the Sustainability Student Champions Award.
Ji is a biology major with a minor in computing and intelligence. He is a researcher in the School of Biological Sciences, where he works with Francesca Storici — professor and associate chair for Graduate Education in the School — to sequence the genome of a species of yeast. He also serves as a teaching assistant for the Bioethics and Integrative Genetics course, for which he was recognized as the School of Biological Sciences Undergraduate Teaching Assistant of the Year. Ji has also done considerable volunteer work in clinics and hospitals.
Nassar is a physics major with a concentration in the physics of living systems. Nassar has a broad set of research experiences with faculty Martin Mourigal and Jennifer Curtis in the School of Physics. Nassar has also served as the secretary and president of the Georgia Tech Society of Women in Physics. In summer 2021, Nassar also participated in the NSF REU program at Vanderbilt University.
Undergraduate research awards are made to students in the College of Sciences who have made strong contributions to research over a number of semesters. This year’s winners were Chelsea Bekemeier, Lydia Kenney, Dimitrios Kidonakis, and Evelyn Gardolinski.
Bekemeier is graduating from the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences with a concentration in meteorology. Bekemeier conducts research with Greg Huey, professor and chair of the School, and has contributed to controlled burning experiments in Fort Columbus, GA, as well as the Asian Summer Monsoon Chemical and CLimate Impact Project (ACCLIP) based in South Korea. She has also been dedicated to outreach endeavors, serving as a STEM educator for iFLY Indoor Skydiving and a Superheroes Club Educator at Awaken Education LLC.
Kenney is a biochemistry major who began working with Raquel Lieberman, professor and Sepcic-Pfiel Endowed Chair in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 2020. She was named a Beckman Scholar — a 15-month mentored research experience for exceptional undergraduate students in chemistry and biological sciences — in 2021, conducting metagenomics research on deep sea sediments to identify novel binding proteins. Throughout her work with Lieberman, Kenney has won the best poster competition at the 36th Annual Protein Society Symposium in San Francisco, CA, and co-authored a manuscript.
Kidonakis is a mathematics major who began research as a high schooler in 2018. Working with Joseph Rabinoff, associate professor at Duke University formerly in Georgia Tech’s the School of Mathematics, Kidonakis conducted a research project on arithmetic geometry which won the award for best project in mathematics at the Georgia Science and Engineering Fair. During his time at Tech, Kidonakis has also worked with School of Mathematics professors Igor Belegradek and Matt Baker.
Gardolinski is graduating from the Undergraduate Program in Neuroscience, and began doing research with Tim Cope, professor in the School of Biological Sciences, in 2020. Gardolinski conducted her research thesis with Cope, which aimed to develop a large data base on molecular mechanisms underlying signaling by specialized sensory receptors responsible for movement perception. She has also served as a teaching assistant, a peer advisor, and as the vice president of finance for Georgia Tech’s Red Cross Club.
This honor is provided by an endowment bequeathed by alumnus Larry O’Hara. It is presented to outstanding graduate students in the College of Sciences.
All of the 2023 winners have established a strong record of research with multiple publications in peer-reviewed journals, as well as multiple conference presentations:
Liu is currently studying structural graph theory, extremal combinatorics, and graph coloring with Xingxing Yu, a professor in the School of Mathematics and the director of Graduate Studies.
Pfennig’s research interests include theoretical and empirical population genetics of admixed populations. He currently works with Joseph Lachance, an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences, to examine admixture of modern humans with archaic hominins.
The College of Science had several winners among the 2023 Georgia Tech Teaching Assistant Awardees. The awards are presented annually by the Center for Teaching and Learning to celebrate the contributions to teaching excellence at Georgia Tech made by graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants:
Several students also won Teaching Assistant Awards at the school level:
Tech to Teaching Certificates are designed to prepare Georgia Tech graduate and postdoctoral associates for college teaching positions.
Through this certificate program, participants will develop a thorough understanding of the scholarship of teaching and learning, and will demonstrate their ability to apply these skills in the classroom.
The following College of Sciences students were awarded Tech to Teaching Certificates:
As a member institution in the CIRTL national network, Georgia Tech joins with 39 other universities on a mission to improve undergraduate education through the preparation of future faculty.
Participants in these certificate programs learn about how students learn, how differences among students affect their learning, evidence-based teaching and assessment practices, and teaching with technology.
Participants who complete these foundation-level learning outcomes through a combination of coursework, workshops, or online learning, receive the CIRTL Associate certificate.
The following College of Sciences students were awarded CIRTL Certificates:
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston
Director of Communications, College of Sciences
Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart have published a perspectives piece on the different tools used throughout the world that are aiding in the conservation of wildlife and biodiversity.
They highlight advances in technology, including both hardware and software, as well as frugal resources that are changing the way animals are protected. The research was published in the Journal of The Royal Society Interface in August.
“We are experiencing technological advancements of low-cost hardware, open-source software, machine learning, and more that can help with global conservation efforts,” said Andrew Schulz, postdoctoral researcher in the haptic intelligence department at Max Planck Institute and recent Ph.D. graduate from the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. “For researchers and people interested in learning about the ways conservation technology and tools are created, this piece serves as a starter guide to the field.”
In the article, the researchers presented five case studies of conservation tools, including open-source innovation, environmental DNA, computer vision, game theory and optimization, and frugal technology. Researchers also highlighted the importance of indigenous design in these conservation tool interventions and warned not to employ toxic practices, such as colonization of conservation or parasitic conservation. These practices take advantage of native lands, where conservationists refuse to work with local or indigenous populations and often do not cite or credit their help or expertise.
One case study looked at AudioMoth, a device that allows low-cost access to bioacoustics research. Recently, an AudioMoth was paired with an animal observation tower to track bird migrations over Georgia Tech’s campus. AudioMoth can also monitor aquatic environments, like coral colonies, to assist with species identification and habitat restoration. It’s used in a wide range of fields to monitor the biodiversity of a habitat or even help with the early detection of poachers to prevent wildlife decline.
“One of the best parts about this project was working with so many excellent researchers,” Schulz said. They included Suzanne Stathatos from Caltech and the project’s co-leaders, Cassie Shriver and Benjamin Seleb, from Georgia Tech’s quantitative biosciences Ph.D. program. “As early-career researchers working together, it is great to see that the conversations about conservation tool construction are growing and being led by outstanding Ph.D. students.”
At Georgia Tech, conservation tools are constantly being built and implemented. The Tech4Wildlife student organization is working to implement conservation tech solutions, including a rabies dispenser for our campus foxes, bird monitors in the EcoCommons, and forage feeders for Zoo Atlanta’s gorillas.
"I'm proud to see Cassie, Ben, and Andrew collaborating across fields and institutions to move conservation technology forward, and it inspires me about the future of conservation science,” said William Ratcliff, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences and director of the quantitative biosciences program.
CITATION: Conservation tools: the next generation of engineering–biology collaborations Andrew K. Schulz., Cassie Shriver, Suzanne Stathatos, and Benjamin Seleb et. Al, Journal of The Royal Society InterfaceVolume 20, Issue 205. Published:16 August 2023. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2023.0232]]>
While mammal extinctions are well-documented, very little research has explored the impact those losses had on the nuanced ways in which mammal communities interact with their environments. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are using a novel methodology to investigate how mammals’ ability to function in their environments has been threatened in the past, and what challenges they can expect to face in the future.
Jenny McGuire, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences and leader of the Spatial Ecology and Paleontology Lab, and Daniel Lauer, a graduate student, looked millions of years into the past, observing how and why eastern African herbivores’ relationships with their environments changed across space and time in the face of biodiversity loss. They used a novel approach to build models that show how specific mammal traits — like body mass and tooth shape — evolved with their changing environments over time, revealing the factors that caused the biodiversity losses and how the losses affected the functioning of mammal communities. Their method offers a new strategy for investigating the implications of changing ecologies and prioritizing conservation efforts toward helping mammal communities flourish in the future.
Their research paper was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Combing the Data
The researchers began by diving into a collection of data from 186 sites across eastern Africa. The data contained records of over 200 extinct and 48 modern herbivore species (including the African elephant, giraffe, and hippopotamus), showing where and when each species lived at a given point in time over the past 7.4 million years. The data showed that mammal biodiversity in eastern Africa began to decline around 5 million years ago. It also revealed that aspects of biodiversity decline happened at multiple points, and that extinctions coincided with environmental changes and the emergence of early humans. But McGuire and Lauer wanted to know more.
“We wondered what we would find if we investigated how the mammals’ physical traits changed as their environments changed over time, rather than just looking at patterns in their biodiversity,” Lauer said. “This is important because if a mammal species possesses traits that are well-suited to its environment, it’s better able to contribute to the functioning of that environment. But if that is not the case, environments may not function as well as they could.”
To paint a fuller picture, they needed to examine biodiversity from a different perspective. This required a fresh approach, which led them to adapting a methodology known as ecometrics.
Ecometrics is an approach that looks at the relationships between the environmental conditions where animal communities are found — such as weather and vegetation — and the animal’s functional traits, which are traits that affect its biological performance. The team chose to focus on three traits: body mass, tooth height, and loph count (the number of ridges on molars).
Each of these traits exhibits a relationship based on the degree to which an environment is dominated by grasses versus woody plants. For example, if a species has a taller tooth, it can more durably consume the abrasive grassy vegetation of grasslands. With a shorter tooth, a species is instead suited to consume softer, woody vegetation, like shrubs.
For each of the three traits, they built a model of trait-environment relationships. They used trait data to estimate what the surrounding vegetation was like in each mammal community over time, specifically the percentage of trees and shrubs versus grassland.
“Using our models, we were able to use information about the traits occurring within mammal communities to estimate how the surrounding vegetation looked,” Lauer said. “Because these communities existed at different points in time, this enabled us to observe how consistent the mammals’ relationships with their environments remained through time.”
Using their ecometric framework, the researchers uncovered a key difference between the mammal biodiversity declines that occurred before approximately 1.7 million years ago and those that occurred after. While biodiversity began declining around 5 million years ago, trait-environment relationships remained consistent despite that loss.
Their analysis demonstrated that earlier biodiversity losses were a result of species adapting to grassland environments or tracking their preferred environments across geographies. In short, those biodiversity losses didn't necessarily have any sort of negative impact on the ability of mammal communities to function properly in their environments.
But later, around 1.7 million years ago, when climates became more arid and variable and tree cover declined to below 35%, a major shift occurred. Rapid losses in the number and variety of species occurred, along with a significant disruption in trait-environment relationships. The researchers’ findings suggest that, unlike prior biodiversity losses, those occurring over the past 1.7 million years likely threatened the ability for many mammal species to function well in local environmental conditions.
“Our findings fascinated us, because we were able to differentiate between the different biodiversity losses that were happening and their implications,” Lauer said. “This work reinforces the idea that not all biodiversity losses are the same.”
Protecting the Vulnerable
Their findings have important implications for the types of environmental and climatic changes that could affect mammals going forward. In the past, when changes were gradual and wildlife were able to move freely on the landscape, they could readily adapt to these environmental conditions.
Now, fragmentation of wildlife habitats by fences, roadways, and cities has the potential to limit the ability of wildlife to adapt to the rapid environmental changes occurring today. That is exacerbated by both the fast pace and increasing variability of today’s climate, which puts animals at risk of losing their ability to function properly in their local environments.
Moving forward, the team’s analysis can shed light on which mammal communities should be prioritized for future conservation efforts. The study demonstrates that among all the communities that are experiencing biodiversity losses, priority should be given to those most at-risk — the communities for whom future biodiversity losses will profoundly affect their ability to function properly.
“By examining the past, we can get a remarkably clear understanding of how animals have responded to prior environmental changes,” McGuire said. “We plan to work with conservation practitioners to use our findings to develop well-informed strategies for conserving the most at-risk mammal communities.”
Co-authors include A. Michelle Lawing (Texas A&M University), Rachel A. Short (South Dakota State University), Fredrick K. Manthi (National Museums of Kenya), Johannes Müller (Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science), and Jason J. Head (University of Cambridge).
Citation: Lauer, D.A., Lawing, A.M., Short, R.A. et al. Disruption of trait-environment relationships in African megafauna occurred in the middle Pleistocene. Nat Commun 14, 4016 (2023).
Funding: This work was completed as part of a collaborative initiative from NSFDEB-NERC, with funding from NSF 2124836 to A.M.L., F.K.M., and J.M.; NSF 2124770 to J.L.M.; and NERC NE/W007576/1 to J.J.H. R.A.S. was supported by the NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology Program under grant DBI 2010680 and the USDA NIFA Hatch project SD00H787-23 (7004129 and 7004187). J.L.M. was also funded through NSF-CAREER and NSF 1945013.]]>
In response to rising global temperatures, many plants and animals are moving to higher elevations to survive in cooler temperatures. But a new study from the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) and Georgia Tech finds that for flying insects — including bees and moths — this escape route may have insurmountable issues that could mean their doom.
The research team examined more than 800 species of insects from around the world and discovered that many winged insects are moving to higher elevations much slower than their non-flying counterparts. This is because the thinner air at higher elevations provides less oxygen for species to use. Because flight requires more oxygen to generate energy for movement than other styles of movement, such as walking, these species are migrating more slowly.
The team’s findings were published in this week’s Nature Climate Change journal. Jesse Shaich, postbaccalaureate student at CU Denver, is also a member of the research team.
“When we think about where species will be able to live under climate change in the coming decades, we need to remember that animals are sensitive to more than just how hot or cold they are,” said CU Denver Assistant Professor of Integrated Biology Michael Moore, who led the study.
If flying insects’ native habitats get too warm too quickly, and they can’t find a suitable alternative or adapt in time, that will likely lead to their extinction. Beyond just being bad for the bugs themselves, loss of insects is bad news for humans as well. Most crop pollinators are the flying species the researchers expect to be vulnerable, and their extinction would be catastrophic to global food supply. Not only would this have implications for agriculture and food supply chains, but similar challenges are likely true for other species that need a lot of oxygen to live.
“Our earth’s biodiversity is rapidly declining, especially amongst insects. The global loss of insects will be ecologically catastrophic, so we urgently need to understand why and how this is happening,” said James Stroud, assistant professor of Biological Sciences at Georgia Tech.
To conserve as many species as possible, researchers need to grasp the full scope of challenges plants and animals face, whether they can overcome these challenges, and to predict the locations where they can survive. High elevation environments are also difficult for new species because of the scarcity of food, stronger winds, more extreme cold snaps, and increased ultraviolet radiation.
Moore concludes, “If we want to design effective conservation strategies, we must consider a broader range of environmental factors that species need to live.”
About Georgia Institute of Technology
The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is one of the top public research universities in the U.S., developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition. The Institute offers business, computing, design, engineering, liberal arts, and sciences degrees. Its more than 45,000 undergraduate and graduate students, representing 50 states and more than 148 countries, study at the main campus in Atlanta, at campuses in France and China, and through distance and online learning. As a leading technological university, Georgia Tech is an engine of economic development for Georgia, the Southeast, and the nation, conducting more than $1 billion in research annually for government, industry, and society.
About the University of Colorado Denver
The University of Colorado Denver is the state’s premier public urban research university and equity-serving institution. Globally connected and locally invested, CU Denver partners with future-focused learners and communities to design accessible, relevant, and transformative educational experiences for every stage of life and career. Across seven schools and colleges in the heart of downtown Denver, our leading faculty inspires and works alongside students to solve complex challenges through boundary-breaking innovation, impactful research, and creative work. As part of the state’s largest university system, CU Denver is a major contributor to the Colorado economy, with 2,000 employees and an annual economic impact of $800 million. For more information, visit ucdenver.edu.
Acknowledgments: Support was generously provided by the University of Colorado Denver (to M.P.M. and J.S.) and Washington University in St. Louis and the Georgia Institute of Technology (to J.T.S.). Conversations with J. de Mayo, J. Grady and A. Lenard and input from three reviewers improved this study.
Director of Public Relations & Integrated Media
University of Colorado Denver
+1 (303) 315-0283
The research, supported by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), will study whether or not the harmless bacteria can be successfully modified to carry snippets of a viral coat protein that could stimulate the desired response in mucosal membranes lining the gut. Beyond reducing influenza infection in the general population, improved protection against the flu could have a significant impact on the U.S. military, which wants to provide the best possible protection for its warfighters to reduce possible impacts on readiness and training from influenza outbreaks.
At Georgia Tech, the project is a collaboration between researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and the Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences. All of the research at Georgia Tech will be done using BSL-2 facilities designed for this type of study. The award does not include research on animals or humans.
“Ultimately, this could one day make vaccination programs much more effective,” said Michael Farrell, a GTRI principal research scientist. “This isn’t going to be a replacement for flu vaccines as they currently exist, but it could act as an adjuvant – something that’s done in addition to vaccination to increase the overall immune response. To benefit from it, you might take a pill like you do with probiotics now.”
Using Common Probiotic Bacteria as Vehicles
The project will focus on two common probiotic bacteria: Escherichia coli – a gram-negative bacterium better known as E. coli – and Lactococcus lactis, a gram-positive bacterium found in cheese, buttermilk, and other dairy food items. The researchers will attempt to coax the bacteria to express the influenza virus’ Hemagglutinin (HA) receptor protein on their outer cell surface. There, the protein would stimulate an antibody response in the gut mucosal membrane as it passes through the body’s gastrointestinal tract.
“We’re using some well-established probiotic bacteria that have been utilized for dozens of years, are well vetted and safe for humans,” said Brian Hammer, an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences who specializes in bacterial genetics. “Ultimately, the idea is to use these bacteria as a chassis to create living vaccines, since the body already tolerates them both well.”
Researchers at AFRL and Georgia Tech envision that a single pill or capsule would carry the bacteria into the gastrointestinal tract to provide the necessary antibody stimulation. The bacteria would be modified so they could not reproduce, preventing them from becoming part of the body’s gut microbiome – a diverse collection of bacteria that live in the body and help carry out specific functions, including metabolizing food and modulating the immune system.
“We know the human microbiome is intimately involved in human health and disease, influencing processes in ways that have both positive and negative outcomes for us,” said Richard Agans, senior research biological scientist at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM). “Recently, we have started to better understand how the microbiome communicates with our bodies and how we can identify, target, and promote the beneficial aspects. Currently, we are working to determine how to utilize these microbial communities to better protect our warfighters as well as the general public.”
Overcoming Challenges of Manipulating Bacteria
Hammer’s lab specializes in manipulating proteins of organisms such as bacteria and viruses to create novel fusions. Among the techniques available is the new CRISPR-Cas, the gene-editing technology that was the subject of a Nobel Prize in 2020, but other more traditional techniques may also be used to get the influenza surface protein where the researchers want it to be.
Among the challenges ahead is that adding a new component to bacterial organisms can be difficult.
“In general, bacteria have evolved with the genetic components they need to survive,” Farrell explained. “If you add something else, they may just kick it out. It’s very hard to find a neutral location in the bacterial genome where we can stably add new functionality. This is especially true for this effort, in which there will be no cointroduction of antimicrobial resistance markers.”
In addition, the probiotic bacteria strains that are widely used in research as model organisms, or “lab rats,” are adapted to living in laboratory conditions. This project, however, will use natural commensal strains that co-exist in humans. That approach may make it even more challenging to add the appropriate material for expressing the viral proteins on the bacteria cell surfaces, Hammer said.
“We used to perceive that genes could be shuffled around in the bacteria without much effect on them, but we’re learning now that location really matters,” he said. “One of the concerns is that tools that work on the ‘lab rat’ versions of these bacteria will not be as readily accepted by these commensals.”
As part of the project, the researchers will have to show that the addition of the protein doesn’t cause instability in the bacteria, and that the modified bacteria generate the correct response when exposed to human immune cells in culture.
Proof of Concept Could Lead to Broader Vaccine Therapies
Beyond its importance to the military, influenza was chosen to study this adjuvant approach because a number of vaccines exist for this virus, and they have been well studied over the years. If this approach works with influenza, the combination of pill and injection might be useful for vaccines against other respiratory viruses.
“If this is ultimately successful, it could be the first foray into showing that these vehicles, these probiotics, could potentially be scaled up for lots of different therapeutic uses,” said Hammer. “By customizing the cargo, this approach could be rapidly adapted to address new and emerging threats that may arise in the future.”
Project Provides Student Opportunity
The two-year project life was chosen because of the expected difficulty – and because another of its goals is to train a master’s degree student in the bacterial modification techniques being utilized.
The Georgia Tech researchers have chosen an underrepresented minority student who holds an undergraduate degree in biology from Kennesaw State University and has worked in a commercial DNA laboratory. Katrina Lancaster will begin work on this project during fall semester, collaborating with both Hammer and Farrell – and the students and other researchers in their labs.
“This student will have excellent opportunities, not only to learn the skills in the lab and take the coursework, but also to develop a rich network of connections, both in the School of Biological Sciences and at GTRI, that will be helpful in moving forward and advancing their career,” Hammer said. “It’s a really beautiful combination of components for this project.”
The project is funded through the AFRL’s Minority Leaders Research Collaboration Program (ML-RCP).
“Partnering with academic institutions, such as GTRI, presents great opportunities for our team to interact and work with top minds in these fields to develop better outcomes for everyone,” Agans said. “We are especially grateful for the opportunity to mentor and provide opportunities for underrepresented students with STEM aspirations. We are excited to work with GTRI in this endeavor and envision this being just the first step.”
USAFSAM is part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing.
Writer: John Toon (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Georgia Tech Research Institute
This story first appeared in the GTRI newsroom.]]>
A School of Biological Sciences postdoctoral scholar will have a chance to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) fill in the blanks in that knowledge, thanks to a two-year fellowship from the agency’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
Sarah Orr, who researches in Professor Michael Goodisman’s lab, receives the grant for her project proposal, “Effects of Pesticide Exposure on Developmental Genetics in Bumblebees.” The award is part of a new USDA/NIFA $11.6 million funding initiative for projects that promote healthy populations of animal pollinators in agricultural systems where reliance of crops on pollinators is increasing, but pollinator numbers are declining.
“I am honored and ecstatic to have received this prestigious postdoctoral fellowship from USDA,” Orr says. “It’s rewarding to see how my research can have important implications in agriculture broadly in the U.S. Being able to bring in my own funding and serve as the project director on a grant as a postdoc has also been exciting. It’s a brief glimpse into what it will be like to hopefully be a faculty member myself in the future.”
Orr knows that pesticides play an important role in agricultural production and human food supply. Her scientific goal is to help find a balance between the risks and benefits of pesticide use.
“My investigation into the genetic effects of pesticides is unique and somewhat novel,” she says. “Beyond traditional toxicological methods, my project will improve our understanding of how pesticides may affect the developmental genetics of bumblebees.”
Homing in on key pollinators
Bumblebees are social insects native to North America and important pollinators for food crops including tomatoes, blueberries, and eggplant. As with most social insects, bumblebees live in colonies made up of a single queen and hundreds of sterile workers. “This genetic structure provides a really interesting model to study integrated development,” Orr says.
Orr’s project will investigate how pesticides affect the integrated developmental processes of Bombus impatiens bumblebees by examining changes in gene expression. Orr’s research will attempt to determine if pesticides impact the ratio of males to females in bee colonies, and how pesticides affect morphological traits of both worker and queen bees.
Orr says that new chemicals are approved before science can fully explore all of the potential environmental impact from their use. “For example, a lot of my research will focus on sulfoxaflor, a relatively new pesticide on the market,” she says, “and scientists are continuing to discover negative consequences of sulfoxaflor on native bee populations.”
USDA/NIFA New Contract/Grant/Agreement No. 2023-67012-39886, Proposal No. 2022-09642, Effects of Pesticide Exposure on Developmental Genetics in Bumblebees
Initial Award Year: 2023
Investigator: S.E. Orr
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston
Celebrating “another banner year at Tech,” the president highlighted the Institute’s ever-growing impact in the state and around the globe. “We committed in our strategic plan to amplify our impact, and I can proudly say that our impact has never been greater,” he said. “And at a place like Tech, that’s really saying something. What we have done together is remarkable.”
The 3,800 members of the Class of 2027 include record numbers of first-generation students, women, and other traditionally underrepresented students, and brought the undergraduate population over 19,000 for the first time in the Institute’s history –– further cementing Tech’s place as the fastest-growing public university in the country over the last decade, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac.
Praised for its value to students, Tech earned a five-star ranking from Money magazine and the top spot on the Princeton Review’s list of Best Value Colleges for 2023.
“Our students pay less here than they would at most other leading research universities,” Cabrera said. “They graduate at one of the highest rates among public universities, and they land some of the best-paying jobs in the nation. The result is one of the highest returns on investment anywhere.”
With continued growth in the student population comes the need for faculty growth. Prioritizing instruction, the Institute saw a record number of new faculty hires, with 80 in the past year — a 5% growth of overall academic faculty.
Tech faculty won a historic $1.45 billion in research awards this past year, a 14% increase. The funding supports innovations in nuclear security, clean energy and carbon capture, artificial intelligence applications, and more.
“The discoveries, ideas, and inventions happening on our campus every day are truly delivering on our mission to improve the human condition,” Cabrera said.
The work being done across the Institute resulted in a $4.5 billion impact on Georgia’s economy in fiscal year 2022 — the largest among the 26 University System of Georgia member institutions.
“These numbers only measure the direct economic impact: jobs, expenditures, and investments. They do not capture the value of the startups that we incubate or the companies we help attract to the state, and that impact has a far deeper and longer-lasting effect on our state’s economy,” Cabrera said.
Emphasizing that Tech will continue to live out its values of “We thrive on diversity” and “We safeguard freedom of inquiry and expression,” Cabrera recommitted to building a diverse campus where students of all backgrounds feel welcome. The Institute will continue offering camps for K-12 students to learn about engineering, computing, and science; creating transfer pathway programs for students from other universities; and supporting dual degree programs with historically Black colleges.
Over the last decade, Tech has made progress in the number of Black students (9% of the incoming first-year class this year), women (43%), students from rural areas (13%), first-generation students whose parents did not graduate from college (15%), and other groups — with graduation and retention rates up across the board.
Expanding access to Tech remains a priority for leadership, with the stated goal of increasing the share of lower-income students to 15 to 20% by 2025. In pursuit of that goal, mandatory fees have been reduced by 22%, the G. Wayne Clough Georgia Tech Promise Program was recently expanded, and a new scholarship program, the Georgia Tech Val-Sal Scholarship, has been established. Under this initiative, Georgia high school valedictorians and salutatorians with demonstrated financial need will have automatic admission and qualify for up to $5,000 in financial aid annually.
Cabrera also discussed the importance of fostering a culture where students feel empowered to voice their opinions and embrace diverse points of view.
“Just as important as it is that we build an inclusive and diverse Georgia Tech, we must protect freedom of expression for every member of our community. We need to create a space where we are routinely exposed to new and different ideas, where we protect each other’s right to express our views, and where we cherish the practice of listening to one another with curiosity and respect,” he said.
Cabrera commended outgoing Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Archie Ervin, who is retiring at the end of the year, for his efforts during the past 13 years.
Touting the progress of the 2030 strategic plan, Cabrera noted that 20 initiatives are currently underway, including the recent launch of the Cultivate Well-Being Action and Transformation Roadmap With a Focus on Faculty and Staff — a follow-up to the student roadmap launched in 2022 — and the creation of the Division of Lifetime Learning.
As the Institute’s Transforming Tomorrow campaign continues, Cabrera detailed his travels to secure funding. “Campaign engagements have taken not just me, but the provost, the deans, and many others on the road, coast to coast, over the last several months. We have traveled tens of thousands of miles and met with hundreds of supporters, friends, and colleagues, and will continue those important discussions and visits,” he said.
Addressing the need for resources on campus, Cabrera celebrated the completion of several key campus construction projects and the ongoing work at Science Square, the George and Scheller Towers in Tech Square, and the new 850-bed, first-year residence hall set to open in 2026.
A partnership with the Georgia Tech Foundation will develop the Randall Brothers site, near the John Lewis Student Center, into what will be known as Arts Square — described by the president as a space that will “increase residential options, bring new amenities, and create the seed of a new district at the intersection of arts and technology.”
As the Yellow Jackets prepare to kick off the 2023 season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 1, Cabrera commended new Athletic Director J Batt and his staff for navigating a challenging year in collegiate athletics.
“We have invested in the program, recruited new coaches in football and men’s basketball, raised record amounts to support scholarships, and signed new sponsorships, including our biggest one to date with Hyundai Motor Company,” he said, referencing the historic partnership that awarded field naming rights at Bobby Dodd Stadium to the automaker, which has established a significant presence in the state.
For those who might be wondering, Cabrera reassured the audience, “The Ramblin’ Wreck is staying.”]]>
The third class of Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems (BBISS) Graduate Fellows has been selected.
The BBISS Graduate Fellows Program provides graduate students with enhanced training in sustainability, team science, and leadership in addition to their usual programs of study. Each 2-year fellowship is funded by a generous gift from Brook and Shawn Byers and is additionally guided by a Faculty Advisory Board. The students apply their skills and talents, working directly with their peers, faculty, and external partners on long-term, large team, sustainability relevant projects. They are also afforded opportunities to organize and host seminar series, develop their professional networks, publish papers, draft proposals, and develop additional skills critical to their professional success and future careers leading research teams.
The 2023 class of Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems Graduate Fellows are:
Additional information about the BBISS Graduate Fellows Program, and about the first class of BBISS Graduate Fellows is available at https://research.gatech.edu/sustainability/grad-fellows-program.]]>
Research Communications Program Manager
Interdisciplinary Research Institutes
Georgia Institute of Technology]]>
Tang is an associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech. She is joined by Crawford Elliott, associate professor at Georgia State University, on their proposal, “The occurrences of the rare earth elements in highly weathered sedimentary rocks, Georgia kaolins,” funded by the NSF Division of Earth Sciences.
All about REEs
REEs such as cerium, terbium, neodymium, and yttrium, are critical minerals used in many industrial technology components such as semiconductors, permanent magnets, and rechargeable batteries (smart phones, computers), phosphors (flat screen TVs, light-emitting diodes), and catalysts (fuel combustion, auto emissions controls, water purification). They impact a wide range of industries such as health care, transportation, power generation (including wind turbines), petroleum refining, and consumer electronics.
“With the increasing global demand for green and sustainable technologies, REE demand is projected to increase rapidly in the U.S. and globally,” Tang says. “Yet currently the domestic REE production is very low, and the U.S. relies heavily on imports. The combination of growing demand and high dependence on international supplies has prompted the U.S. to explore new resources and develop environmentally friendly extraction and processing technologies.”
Kaolin is a white, aluminosilicate clay mineral used in making paper, plastics, rubber, paints, and many other products. More than $1 billion worth of kaolin is mined from Georgia’s kaolin deposits every year, more than any other state.
Tang and Elliott say considerable amounts of the REEs have been found in the waste residues generated from Georgia kaolin mining.
“These occurrences have high REE contents and might add significantly to domestic resources,” Tang says. “By understanding the geological and geochemical processes controlling the occurrence and distribution of REEs in these weathered environments, we might be able to provide fundamental information for the identification of REE resources, and the design of efficient and green extraction technologies.”
“The new work with Dr. Tang has the potential to advance our fundamental understanding of the occurrences, mineralogical speciation, and distribution of the REEs in bauxite and kaolin ore,” Elliott says. “I am thrilled to be working with Dr. Tang on this project.”
The Department of Energy notes the 17 rare earth elements are found in highly weathered environments, such as the laterites, a type of soil and rock located in eastern and southeastern China, which currently comprises around 80 percent of the world’s REE reserves. To promote domestic production of REEs, the NSF sought proposals to explore natural unconventional element resources located in highly weathered sedimentary/regolith (loose rocky material covering bedrock) settings in the U.S. Georgia’s kaolin deposits and mines extend in the state from southwest to northeast, paralleling the state’s ‘fall line’ that separates the Piedmont Plateau from the coastal plains.
With the NSF grant, Tang and Elliott will find out more about the geochemical factors and processes controlling REE mobility, distribution, and fractionation (enrichment of light REE versus heavy REE) in these environments, which can provide the foundation to identify domestic resources, and for the rational design of extraction technologies.
The proposed work will also integrate research with education, combining student training with undergraduate education and research, as well as K-12 and community outreach emphasizing the participation of underrepresented groups in geological sciences.
The grant relates to Tang’s work at two Georgia Tech interdisciplinary research institutes dedicated to sustainability, energy, and climate: the Strategic Energy Institute and the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems (BBISS), where she is a co-lead with Hailong Chen, an associate professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering. Tang and Chen’s BBISS project is “Sustainable Resources for Clean Energy.” Tang also serves as an SEI/BBISS initiative lead on sustainable resources.
“The state of Georgia has already been experiencing rapid and exciting developments in the clean energy industry,” Tang says. “We hope to bridge an important link in this space. We hope to help identify and explore regional critical resources for clean energy development by both understanding the geological/geochemical fundamentals, and developing sustainable extraction technologies.”
Georgia Tech is also investing in the community outreach and social aspects of energy research, not just in science and engineering, Tang adds. “Collaboration with Georgia State University also gives exciting opportunities for the engagement with underrepresented student groups, especially in geological sciences, which will serve in the long term for workforce development.”
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston
“Being a mentor is my favorite part of my work,” said Shi. “I have learned so much about student psychology and my own psychology. As scientists, we can neglect the human experience it takes for us all to collaborate. I love thinking of new ways to improve the effectiveness of our communication so we all feel welcomed and valued in our scientific communities.”
In 2022, Shi started a mentorship group, FishStalkers, which grew from five to 20 members in just one semester. Shi’s mentees have been offered competitive co-ops and internships, awarded prestigious fellowships, presented at research symposiums, and more.
Shi provides her techniques for cultivating a positive and productive mentor-mentee connection.
Instill confidence in your mentees. “Student researchers have a lot of helpful ideas,” said Shi. “They attend courses where they learn about the newest software and theories while you are held up in the lab. You need to try and access this information, but it’s not going to happen if you do not instill the confidence in them that their idea is worth your time, and that it’s okay if the idea doesn’t work out because the contribution is valuable.”
Lower the standards you set for yourself. “Most Ph.D. students are perfectionists, and they will put a lot of pressure on themselves in terms of responsibility to a mentee,” said Shi. “You don’t need to be perfect. In fact, if you are perfect around your mentees, you will probably just intimidate them.”
According to Shi, this pressure can deter Ph.D. students from pursuing mentorship.
“A lot of people will place barriers on themselves that they do not know enough, or they don’t have enough ‘good work’ for a mentee,” said Shi. “You will make mistakes as a mentor. You and your mentees as people will solve these miscommunications or issues. This is normal and healthy.”
Humanize yourself. “Mentees often have an idealized perception of what a Ph.D. student is,” said Shi. “I will point out mistakes I have made in my work to students and encourage them to correct me if they have better information. I do not want to feel smart. I want to do good work and that requires criticism from other parties, including my mentees. Our goal is to increase the comfortability of the mentee while maintaining the professional boundary required of your role.”
Facilitate situations where the mentee is empowered. “The important thing I focus on with my students is cross-training,” said Shi. “If one mentee has studied a software, they now become responsible for training other mentees and me. It helps to be intentional in teaching your mentees that knowledge can come from anyone. I think putting knowledge into a hierarchy is overblown and only serves to preserve the status of people at the top rather than allowing for new ideas.”
Align mentor and mentee goals. “Goals should not conflict with one another, but this can happen if the mentor does not plan strategically,” said Shi. “The mentor needs to be transparent with what work the mentee needs to complete and the timeline. The mentor should inform the mentee of the amount of time the mentor has to assist the mentee and the appropriate method for contacting you when you need help. It is always best practice to be as specific with what you want rather than assume some ‘should know’ something.”
Shi has created a mentorship document that outlines her expectations for all new student researchers.
Communicate expectations. “We should communicate with each other the experience that we want from the relationship and work towards that goal,” said Shi. “You should align your students’ projects such that they are working towards something that advances your work. Sometimes, you will have motivated students who want to go off and do their own idea. That shows initiative in the student, but you should be direct with them that straying off into projects unrelated to your current research goals will mean that they will receive less oversight/feedback from you.”
Provide positive feedback. “A lot of us analytical types may forget that we should point out tasks that are proceeding well along with the things that are going up in flames,” said Shi. “Recognizing quality mentee work is vital to them reproducing that quality of work again. They need to know when they have met your standards.”
Provide critical feedback. “You will need to provide critical feedback to the mentee both on work and logistical miscommunications,” said Shi. “Do not shy away from this. If you are uncomfortable with discussing concerns on performance, this is normal, but by ignoring the issue you will deny the mentee from improving in this respect.”
Shi’s procedure for handling performance issues involves gathering the facts, detangling your emotions, defining the solution, and sending them a message.
For logistical, non-research issues, Shi recommends keeping records.
“There is a lot of front-loaded work in creating documentation of expectations, but it really pays off in terms of not dealing with day-to-day logistical questions.”
Understand the student researcher’s mindset. “Student researchers often feel insecure in navigating the lab equipment,” said Shi. “Sometimes, their perfectionism will cause them to ask you a lot of questions because they really want to impress you and do things correctly.”
In these situations, Shi advises mentors to protect their own time while reassuring the mentee in their work. Let them know that you appreciate their effort to do things correctly, but part of research is independence, or let them know that you are unavailable to answer their question and provide a timeline for when they can expect to hear from you.
Take the Tech to Teaching program and try your best! “I highly recommend this [Tech to Teaching] program to any Ph.D. student who has long-term goals of becoming a professor,” said Shi. “I want to emphasize something: you do not need formal training to be a mentor. If you are on the fence, try your best. You will learn the most about being a mentor by being a mentor. Listen to your mentee, balance your commitments, prioritize your time and goals, and you will be fine. There is the perception some people have that you need to mentor in a specific way. I do not agree with this mentality. I believe the scope of mentorship should be negotiated by the mentor and the mentee based on an alignment of goals.”]]>
The paper, published in Science Advances, “Contemporary Ice Sheet Thinning Drives Subglacial Groundwater Exfiltration with Potential Feedbacks on Glacier Flow,” is co-authored by Colin Meyer (Dartmouth), Matthew Siegfried (Colorado School of Mines), and Chloe Gustafson (USGS).
While there are pre-existing methods to understand subglacial flow, these techniques involve time-consuming computations. In contrast, Robel and Sim developed a simple equation, which can predict how fast exfiltration, the discharge of groundwater from aquifers under ice sheets, using satellite measurements of Antarctica from the last two decades.
“In mathematical parlance, you would say we have a closed form solution,” explains Robel, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “Previously, people would run a hydromechanical model, which would have to be applied at every point under Antarctica, and then run forward over a long time period.” Since the researchers’ new theory is a mathematically simple equation, rather than a model, “the entirety of our prediction can be done in a fraction of a second on a laptop,” Robel says.
Robel adds that while there is precedence for developing these kinds of theories for similar kinds of models, this theory is specific in that it is for the particular boundary conditions and other conditions that exist underneath ice sheets. “This is, to our knowledge, the first mathematically simple theory which describes the exfiltration and infiltration underneath ice sheets.”
“It's really nice whenever you can get a very simple model to describe a process — and then be able to predict what might happen, especially using the rich data that we have today. It’s incredible” adds Sim, a research scientist in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “Seeing the results was pretty surprising.”
One of the main arguments in the paper underscores the potentially large source of subglacial water — possibly up to double the amount previously thought — that could be affecting how quickly glacial ice flows and how quickly the ice melts at its base. Robel and Sim hope that the predictions made possible by this theory can be incorporated into ice sheet models that scientists use to predict future ice sheet change and sea level rise.
Aquifers are underground areas of porous rock or sediment rich in groundwater. “If you take weight off aquifers like there are under large parts of Antarctica, water will start flowing out of the sediment,” Robel explains, referencing a diagram Sim created. While this process, known as exfiltration, has been studied previously, focus has been on the long time scales of interglacial cycles, which cover tens of thousands of years.
There has been less work on modern ice sheets, especially on how quickly exfiltration might be occurring under the thinning parts of the current-day Antarctic ice sheet. However, using recent satellite data and their new theory, the team has been able to predict what exfiltration might look like under those modern ice sheets.
“There's a wide range of possible predictions,” Robel explains. “But within that range of predictions there is the very real possibility that groundwater may be flowing out of the aquifer at a speed that would make it a majority, or close to a majority of the water that is underneath the ice sheet.”
If those parameters are correct, that would mean there's twice as much water coming into the subglacial interface than previous estimates assumed.
Ice sheets act like a blanket, sitting over the warm earth and trapping heat on the bottom, away from Antarctica’s cold atmosphere — and this means that the warmest place in the Antarctic ice sheet is at the bottom of a sheet, not on the surface. As an ice sheet thins, the warmer underground water can exfiltrate more readily, and this heat gradient can accelerate the melting that an ice sheet experiences.
“When the atmosphere warms up, it takes tens of thousands of years for that signal to diffuse through an ice sheet of the size, of the thickness, of the Antarctic ice sheet,” Robel explains. “But this process of exfiltration is a response to the already-ongoing thinning of the ice sheet, and it's an immediate response right now.”
Beyond sea level rise, this additional exfiltration and melt has other implications. Some of the places of richest marine productivity in the world occur off the coast of Antarctica, and being able to better predict exfiltration and melt could help marine biologists better understand where marine productivity is occurring, and how it might change in the future.
Robel also hopes this work will open the doorway to more collaborations with groundwater hydrologists who may be able to apply their expertise to ice sheet dynamics, while Sim underscores the need for more fieldwork.
“Getting the experimentalists and observationalists interested in trying to help us better constrain some of the properties of these water-laden sediments — that would be very helpful,” Sim says. “That's our largest unknown at this point, and it heavily influences the results.”
“It's really interesting how there's a potential to draw heat from deeper in the system,” she adds. “There's quite a lot of water that could be drawing more heat out, and I think that there's a heat budget there that could be interesting to look at.”
Moving forward, collaboration will continue to be key. “I really enjoyed talking to Joyce (Sim) about these problems,” Rober says, “because Joyce is an expert on heat flow and porous flow in the Earth's interior, and those are problems that I had not worked on before. That was kind of a nice aspect of this collaboration. We were able to bridge these two areas that she works on and that I work on.”
Funding: This work was supported by startup funds from the Georgia Tech Research Corporation (A.A.R. and S.J.S.) and NASA grant 80NSSC21K0912 (M.R.S.). Alex Robel (A.A.R.) is also the recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER grant.]]>
About the photos: Images of Change
Glaciers are shrinking along western Antarctica, and NASA is documenting the melt. Explore and toggle satellite images with the NASA Earth Observatory.
Georgia Tech researchers were recently awarded $11.6 million from the NNSA to address this growing need — and to study and expand on existing models of transuranic chemistry, a branch of chemistry dedicated to studying elements with atomic numbers greater than that of uranium.
Led by School of Chemistry and Biochemistry Associate Professor Henry “Pete” La Pierre, the funding will serve to establish the Transuranic Chemistry Center of Excellence. Directed by La Pierre, the Center will house a collaborative network of five other universities and six national laboratories across the United States conducting both theoretical and applied research.
“Scientifically, actinides and transuranic elements present unique challenges to existing models of chemical bonding,” explains La Pierre. These elements are man-made radioactive metals, many of which are not available in large quantities. “There are amazing open-ended questions that are fundamental to our understanding of chemical bonding and activities, that serve to transform our knowledge of how the elements form bonds across the Periodic Table.”
Joining seven other universities, this funding comes to Georgia Tech as part of NNSA’s $100 million program establishing Stewardship Science Academic Alliances Centers of Excellence. A main goal of this program is to recruit, train, and educate the next generation of researchers in nuclear science and engineering.
“These cooperative agreements will allow NNSA to train the smartest and most skilled individuals while creating a direct pathway into our workforce with a diverse group of experts that can meet the evolving needs of the nuclear security enterprise,” said Kevin Greenaugh, Chief Science and Technology Officer for Defense Programs, in a recent press release.
“The science and engineering collaboration of this center is a true synergy,” says Martha Grover, professor and associate chair for Graduate Studies in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and one of the collaborators for the Center. Anna Erickson, Woodruff Professor and associate chair for Research in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, is another Georgia Tech collaborator. “This center provides a new example of the growing prominence of Georgia Tech in the nuclear field.”
“We are at core a synthetic inorganic chemistry group, which means we make new molecules and characterize them,” La Pierre explained. In his research as part of the Center, La Pierre will “be handling both radioactive and chemically reactive species to make new forms of matter.”
Characterizing new forms of matter is no easy task, requiring advanced techniques that allow scientists to envision and measure the properties of chemical bonds. Exposing the molecules to X-rays or neutrons and measuring how they scatter or diffract (depending on the experimental design), gives researchers insights into the chemical bonds that are formed.
Using a combination of these advanced techniques as well as theoretical models, La Pierre and the collaborators of the Center will be creating new molecules out of actinides and lanthanides — metallic elements on the bottom of the periodic table — and studying the details of their structures and behavior during chemical reactions. As these elements are not found naturally, the structures and properties of many of these compounds have never been studied before.
“We are creating systems that challenge existing bonding models, which we then have to go back and build new theoretical techniques in order to understand what we're seeing,” La Pierre explained. “So, this does push the forefront of our understanding of basic chemical model systems.”
To push those boundaries, scientists and engineers will be working together across the country — led by Georgia Tech.
“There are so many faculty at Georgia Tech working in nuclear science and technology,” says Grover. “This center gives me the opportunity to collaborate with Prof. La Pierre and Erickson for the first time, in the area of flow chemistry and separations.”
“I'm looking forward to working with some incredibly talented colleagues whom I don't normally get a chance to work with,” says La Pierre. “And now we have the opportunity to work together every week with fantastic students that I would never have met otherwise. That's the main draw for me.”]]>
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston
Director of Communications, College of Sciences
The University System of Georgia (USG) Board of Regents announced 12 first-time Georgia Tech appointments to Regents’ distinctions for 2023 and affirmed the renewal of existing distinctions for four esteemed faculty members.
Regents’ distinctions may be granted for a period of three years by the Board of Regents (BOR) to outstanding faculty members from Georgia Tech, Augusta University, Georgia State University, the University of Georgia, and, in special circumstances, other USG institutions. A Regents’ professor, researcher, or entrepreneur distinction is awarded only after unanimous recommendation from the president of the recipient’s university, their chief academic officer and dean, as well as three additional members of the faculty who are named by the university president. Approval by the chancellor and the BOR Committee on Academic Affairs is also required. These distinctions are given to those who make outstanding contributions to their respective institutions.
Georgia Tech faculty named as Regents’ Professors include:
Srinivas Aluru, Professor, School of Computational Science and Engineering, College of Computing
Rafael L. Bras, K. Harrison Brown Family Chair and Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering and Professor, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, College of Sciences
Thomas Orlando, Professor, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, College of Sciences
Frank T. Rothaermel, Russell and Nancy McDonough Chair in Business and Professor, Scheller College of Business
Jeffrey Skolnick (renewal), Mary and Maisie Gibson Chair, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Computational Systems Biology, and Professor, School of Biological Sciences, College of Sciences
Vigor Yang (renewal), Professor, School of Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering
Lisa Yaszek (renewal), Professor, School of Literature, Media, and Communication, Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts
Ellen Zegura (renewal), Stephen Fleming Chair in the College of Computing and Professor, School of Computer Science, College of Computing
Faculty named as Regents’ Researchers include:
Maribeth Coleman, Director of Research and Associate Director of Interactive Media, Institute for People and Technology
Douglas Denison, Laboratory Director, Advanced Concepts Laboratory, GTRI
Mehmet Talat Odman, Principal Research Engineer, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering
Linda Viney, Principal Research Engineer and Chief, Systems Integration Division, Applied Systems Laboratory, GTRI
Faculty named Regents’ Entrepreneurs — granted to outstanding full-time, tenured faculty members who have established reputations as successful innovators and who have taken their research into a commercial setting — include:
J. David Frost, Elizabeth and Bill Higginbotham Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering
Jennifer Olson Hasler, Professor, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering
Raghupathy Sivakumar, Vice President of Commercialization, Chief Commercialization Officer and Wayne J. Holman Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering
Todd Sulchek, a professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering within the College of Engineering, has been named a Regents’ Innovator.
“We are thrilled to have so many distinguished members of our community honored in this way by the Board of Regents of the USG,” said Steven W. McLaughlin, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “Georgia Tech is known for the strength of our academics, research, innovation, and the brilliant entrepreneurs who emerge from all corners of the Institute. We are deeply grateful for their contributions.”
To learn more about the requirements for USG Regents’ distinctions, visit the Board of Regents Policy Manual.
Faculty Communications Program Manager
Organizational, Academic, and Research Communications]]>
The bioproduction process would use three resources native to the red planet: carbon dioxide, sunlight, and frozen water. It would also include transporting two microbes to Mars. The first would be cyanobacteria (algae), which would take CO2 from the Martian atmosphere and use sunlight to create sugars. An engineered E. coli, which would be shipped from Earth, would convert those sugars into a Mars-specific propellant for rockets and other propulsion devices. The Martian propellant, which is called 2,3-butanediol, is currently in existence, can be created by E. coli, and, on Earth, is used to make polymers for production of rubber.
The process is outlined in a paper, “Designing the bioproduction of Martian rocket propellant via a biotechnology-enabled in situ resource utilization strategy,” published in the journal Nature Communications.
Rocket engines departing Mars are currently planned to be fueled by methane and liquid oxygen (LOX). Neither exist on the red planet, which means they would need to be transported from Earth to power a return spacecraft into Martian orbit. That transportation is expensive: ferrying the needed 30 tons of methane and LOX is estimated to cost around $8 billion. To reduce this cost, NASA has proposed using chemical catalysis to convert Martian carbon dioxide into LOX, though this still requires methane to be transported from Earth.
As an alternative, Georgia Tech researchers propose a biotechnology based in situ resource utilization (bio-ISRU) strategy that can produce both the propellant and LOX from CO2. The researchers say making the propellant on Mars using Martian resources could help reduce mission cost. Additionally, the bio-ISRU process generates 44 tons of excess clean oxygen that could be set aside to use for other purposes, such as supporting human colonization.
“Carbon dioxide is one of the only resources available on Mars. Knowing that biology is especially good at converting CO2 into useful products makes it a good fit for creating rocket fuel,” said Nick Kruyer, first author of the study and a recent Ph.D. recipient from Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE).
The paper outlines the process, which begins by ferrying plastic materials to Mars that would be assembled into photobioreactors occupying the size of four football fields. Cyanobacteria would grow in the reactors via photosynthesis (which requires carbon dioxide). Enzymes in a separate reactor would break down the cyanobacteria into sugars, which could be fed to the E. coli to produce the rocket propellant. The propellant would be separated from the E. coli fermentation broth using advanced separation methods.
The team’s research finds that the bio-ISRU strategy uses 32% less power (but weighs three times more) than the proposed chemically enabled strategy of shipping methane from Earth and producing oxygen via chemical catalysis.
Because the gravity on Mars is only a one-third of what is felt on Earth, the researchers were able to be creative as they thought of potential fuels.
“You need a lot less energy for lift-off on Mars, which gave us the flexibility to consider different chemicals that aren’t designed for rocket launch on Earth,” said Pamela Peralta-Yahya, a corresponding author of the study and an associate professor in the School of Chemistry & Biochemistry and ChBE who engineers microbes for the production of chemicals. “We started to consider ways to take advantage of the planet’s lower gravity and lack of oxygen to create solutions that aren’t relevant for Earth launches.”
“2,3-butanediol has been around for a long time, but we never thought about using it as a propellant. After analysis and preliminary experimental study, we realized that it is actually a good candidate,” said Wenting Sun, associate professor in the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, who works on fuels.
The Georgia Tech team spans campus. Chemists, chemical, mechanical, and aerospace engineers came together to develop the idea and process to create a viable Martian fuel. In addition to Kruyer, Peralta-Yahya, and Sun, the group included Caroline Genzale, a combustion expert and associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, and Matthew Realff, professor and David Wang Sr. Fellow in ChBE, who is an expert in process synthesis and design.
The team is now looking to perform the biological and materials optimization identified to reduce the weight of the bio-ISRU process and make it lighter than the proposed chemical process. For example, improving the speed at which cyanobacteria grows on Mars will reduce the size of the photobioreactor, significantly lowering the payload required to transport the equipment from Earth.
“We also need to perform experiments to demonstrate that cyanobacteria can be grown in Martian conditions,” said Realff, who works on algae-based process analysis. “We need to consider the difference in the solar spectrum on Mars both due to the distance from the Sun and lack of atmospheric filtering of the sunlight. High ultraviolet levels could damage the cyanobacteria.”
The Georgia Tech team emphasizes that acknowledging the differences between the two planets is pivotal to developing efficient technologies for the ISRU production of fuel, food, and chemicals on Mars. It’s why they’re addressing the biological and materials challenges in the study in an effort to contribute to goal of future human presence beyond Earth.
“The Peralta-Yahya lab excels at finding new and exciting applications for synthetic biology and biotechnology, tackling exciting problems in sustainability,” added Kruyer. “Application of biotechnology on Mars is a perfect way to make use of limited available resources with minimal starting materials.”
The research was supported by a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Award.
Citation: Kruyer, et al. “Designing the bioproduction of Martian rocket propellant via a biotechnology-enabled in situ resource utilization strategy” Nature Communications. 10.1038/s41467-021-26393-7.
About Georgia Tech
The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is a top 10 public research university developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition. The Institute offers business, computing, design, engineering, liberal arts, and sciences degrees. Its nearly 40,000 students, representing 50 states and 149 countries, study at the main campus in Atlanta, at campuses in France and China, and through distance and online learning. As a leading technological university, Georgia Tech is an engine of economic development for Georgia, the Southeast, and the nation, conducting more than $1 billion in research annually for government, industry, and society.
Launched in 2020, this annual program recognizes 40 alumni under the age of 40 who innovate their fields and positively impact the world.
The Alumni Association notes that they are “proud to celebrate this exceptional class of Jackets who have done the impossible; from furthering space exploration to revolutionizing healthcare, these individuals have made the Tech community exceptionally proud.”
Nominees, who must have completed at least one semester at Georgia Tech and be under the age of 40 as of June 30, 2023, were scored using a 25-point rubric by a committee of 24 faculty, staff, and volunteers who collectively represented all Georgia Tech colleges.
Learn more about the 2023 class on the Alumni Association’s website, or explore quick stats about the class here.
From making groundbreaking discoveries on Mars to revolutionizing healthcare, meet the four trailblazing Sciences alumni in the 2023 class:
Lead Microbiologist, Vaccine Immunology | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Stephen Crooke leads the Vaccine Immunology Team in the Vaccine Preventable Diseases Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where his team supports global and international disease surveillance and researches the development of new vaccines and diagnostics. He is a recipient of the Maurice R. Hilleman Early-Stage Career Investigator Award from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and he is also an investigator in the Center for Childhood Immunizations and Vaccines at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. In his free time, Crooke enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with his wife and young daughter.
Favorite Tech Memory: Watching the Jackets defeat UGA in Athens (in overtime, no less!) circa 2014 has to claim the top spot!
Principal Project Lead / Senior Scientist | McDonnell Genome Institute
Jasreet Hundal has revolutionized personalized medicine through her innovative work in computational genomics. After completing her master’s in bioinformatics at Georgia Tech, she joined the Genome Institute at Washington University, focusing on cancer genomics and researching neoantigens. Realizing her computational skills and passion for innovation, she pursued her doctoral degree and developed pVACtools, a computational suite that revolutionizes cancer treatment by predicting individualized neoantigens. Clinical trials across various tumor types now utilize pVACtools to design personalized cancer vaccines. Hundal’s expertise in computational analysis and her pioneering contributions to precision medicine have been widely recognized and published in top-tier scientific journals.
Favorite Tech Memory: Doing late night collaborative assignments in one of the oldest buildings—Cherry Emerson, where the biological sciences program was housed!
Assistant Professor | Rutgers University
Lujendra Ojha is a planetary scientist and assistant professor of planetary sciences at Rutgers University. He gained widespread recognition for his discovery of Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL) on Mars, which are seasonal features that may indicate the presence of liquid water on the planet. Ojha’s groundbreaking discovery led to numerous media appearances, including interviews with major news networks and an article in Rolling Stone magazine. He has since published numerous papers in prestigious scientific journals, including Science and Nature Communications. Ojha is committed to advancing our understanding of planetary evolution and the potential for habitability beyond Earth.
Favorite Tech Memory: Midtown Tavern, seminars in the Ford ES&T Building, followed by midnight dinner at Waffle House on 5th street.
Senior Technical Manager | Pillar Biosciences
Lavanya Rishishwar extracts meaningful and actionable insights from vast genomic datasets. Collaborating with federal and state government partners, he has contributed to outbreak investigations, developed infrastructure for laboratory preparedness, and pioneered scalable computational tools for the future. Through mentoring and training, he nurtures the next generation of scientists. Rishishwar’s dedication to translating genomics into real-world impact has earned him recognition and appreciation. His work exemplifies the tremendous potential bioinformatics holds in advancing our understanding of the biological world. Rishishwar received a bachelor’s of science in Bioinformatics from Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology.
Favorite Tech Memory: Walking onto the set of The Internship and being playfully scolded by Vince Vaughn for working late on a Friday night.]]>
Research Corporation for Science Advancement has chosen four accomplished researchers to receive its Cottrell Plus SEED (Singular Exceptional Endeavors of Discovery) Awards for 2023.
The competitive SEED Awards offer Cottrell Scholars the opportunity to start high-risk, high-reward new research or educational activities, granting $50,000 for research projects or $25,000 for educational projects. All of the 2023 awards are for research.
“These awards offer established teacher-scholars a chance to open up new lines of research,” said Senior Program Director Silvia Ronco. “Their creative new projects have the potential to generate some high-impact science.”
SEED accepts chemistry proposals from Cottrell Scholars in even-numbered years, and physics and astronomy proposals in odd-numbered years.
Since 1994, the Cottrell Scholar program has honored and helped to develop outstanding teacher-scholars who are recognized by their scientific communities for the quality and innovation of their research programs and their potential for academic leadership.
The SEED Award is among a suite of Cottrell Plus Awards offered to support Cottrell Scholars at various stages throughout their careers.
Recipients of RCSA’s 2023 SEED Awards are:
Tamara Bogdanović, CS 2016, Georgia Institute of Technology
Risk and Rewards: Pushing Boundaries with RMHD Simulations of Multimessenger Massive Black Hole Binaries
Henriette Elvang, CS 2013, University of Michigan
Pushing Boundaries: Unitarity and Coupling Renormalization
Mary Putman, CS 2007, Columbia University
Mapping Magnetic Fields with Atomic Filaments in Nearby Galaxies
Sergei Urazhdin, CS 2008, Emory University
Are Correlated Metals Failed Superconductors?
“Receiving the HHMI Gilliam award will allow me to conduct innovative research while building leadership and mentorship skills–all attributes that are necessary to become a better scientist,” said Peterson. “Ultimately, this will help me prepare for a career in academia as a professor.”
HHMI awards student-advisor pairs based on the student’s potential for scientific leadership and the advisor’s commitment to a culture of inclusion in academia.
“Through my academic journey at Virginia Tech, University of Kansas, and Georgia Tech, I have had wonderful mentors and colleagues, but I have had few Black faculty role models,” said Peterson. “It wasn’t until I worked with Brian Atkinson, an African American professor at the University of Kansas, that I even considered becoming a professor. That research experience put me on a path that led directly to Tech and underscored my commitment to outreach broadening participation in science. I am looking forward to being a part of the HHMI community and fostering leadership and mentorship skills that will help me succeed in my career in academia so I can be a role model for future generations of students.”
The program awards grants to dissertation advisors and encourages the grantee institution and the advisor to facilitate institutional changes to create environments that advance diversity and inclusion.
“As an advisor, I’m delighted to see Autumn’s work and leadership recognized this way,” said Ratcliff, an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences and co-director of the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Quantitative Biosciences at Georgia Tech. “This fellowship is also a huge opportunity for us to do cool science, become better scientists and mentors, and work to improve diversity and inclusion at Georgia Tech. I cannot wait to get to know the broader community of Gilliam Fellows and mentors who are passionate about science and social justice.”
As part of the Gilliam Award, the advisor will also complete a year-long culturally responsive mentorship skills development course.
“This fellowship provides key resources and professional opportunities that I think can make me a better advisor and can support our work on behalf of trainees from underrepresented groups at Georgia Tech more broadly,” said Ratcliff.
Fellows are required to participate in the Gilliam Annual Meeting, Gilliam Leadership Training course, and one HHMI Science Meeting per year in the second and third years of the fellowship award where there will be Gilliam-specific discussion sessions.
Learn more about the HHMI Gilliam Fellows program here.]]>
Compartmentalization is how all living systems are organized today — from proteins and small molecules sharing space in separate phases to dividing labor and specialized functions within and among cells.
Now, with $6 million in support from NASA, a team of researchers led by Georgia Tech’s Frank Rosenzweig will study the organizing principles of compartmentalization in a five-year project called Engine of Innovation: How Compartmentalization Drives Evolution of Novelty and Efficiency Across Scales.
It's one of seven new projects selected recently by NASA as part of its Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research (ICAR) program. ICAR is embedded among NASA’s five Astrobiology Research Coordination Networks (RCNs). Rosenzweig is co-lead for the RCN launched in 2022, LIFE: Early Cells to Multicellularity.
“We’re excited by the prospect of exploring this fundamental question through the interplay of theory and experiment,” said Rosenzweig, professor in the School of Biological Sciences, whose team of co-Investigators includes biochemists, geologists, cell biologists, and theoreticians from leading NASA research centers: Jeff Cameron, Shelley Copley, Alexis Templeton, and Boswell Wing from the University of Colorado Boulder; Josh Goldford and Victoria Orphan from California Institute of Technology; and John McCutcheon from Arizona State University. Collaborating with them is Chris Kempes, professor at the Santa Fe Institute.
Rosenzweig is also eager to eventually collaborate with existing ICAR teams, such as MUSE, led by the University of Wisconsin’s Betül Kaçar, a former Georgia Tech postdoctoral researcher, and newly selected teams, such as Retention of Habitable Atmospheres in Planetary Systems, led by Dave Brain at University of Colorado Boulder.
Meanwhile, he plans to build upon Georgia Tech’s outstanding reputation in astrobiology, where a cluster of researchers, such as Jen Glass, Nick Hud, Thom Orlando, Amanda Stockton, and Loren Williams, among others, is engaged in a diverse range of work supported by NASA.
“This is just the latest chapter in a long history of excellence in NASA research at Georgia Tech, one written by my colleagues across the Institute,” Rosenzweig said.]]>
With Tech leading the way, a new USG study finds that the system contributed a total of $20.1 billion to Georgia’s economy, up nearly $800 million from FY 2021.
“Georgia Tech is proud to be a public institution of the state of Georgia and to contribute to its prosperous economy,” said Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera. “Collectively, this report underscores the value of our state’s higher education system. We will continue to do our part to produce the talent, innovation, and economic development that drives our state forward.”
In the past fiscal year, USG accounted for 159,034 full- and part-time jobs –– the same employment impact statewide as Georgia’s top five employers combined. Tech directly supported 9,617 on-campus jobs in FY 2022 and an additional 20,666 jobs that exist due to institution-related spending.
The study, conducted by the Selig Center for Economic Growth, finds that each job created by USG generates two additional jobs in local communities.
In FY 2022, Tech received $375 million in state appropriations, providing a twelvefold return on investment to the state.
The USG study finds that graduates in the past fiscal year, including the 9,952 Tech graduates, will earn on average over $1 million more in their lifetime than they would have without their college degrees. The 71,731 total graduates are predicted to accumulate combined lifetime earnings of $183 billion.
“USG’s 26 public colleges and universities, individually and collectively, make a significant economic impact across the state, helping to put Georgians to work while spending money in local communities and helping their regional economies support Georgia’s growth,” USG Chancellor Sonny Perdue said. “At the same time, our graduates are the real winners with this million-dollar deal. We’re focused on continuing to help all our students be successful as they use their degrees to prepare themselves for their future prosperity.”
The full economic impact report and lifetime earnings reports are available on USG’s website.]]>
The Jefferson Science Fellowship Program engages American science, technology, engineering, and medical faculty in critical service to U.S. foreign policy and international development through a one-year agency assignment with the Department of State or U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Fellows return to their academic careers after a year of service, but remain available to the U.S. government as experienced consultants for short-term projects.
Lynch-Stieglitz researches the behavior of the Earth’s oceans and climate over the last 100,000 years. Work in this area has helped in understanding the full range of behavior possible for the ocean/climate system, and which parts of this system may be vulnerable to change in the future.
“I was very pleased to be named a Jefferson Fellow, and am particularly excited that I was matched to the Office of Global Change, which is responsible for implementing and managing U.S. international policy on climate change,” Lynch-Stieglitz says. “I hope to be able to use some of my expertise in the oceanic carbon cycle and the role of the ocean in climate change to the work of the office.
“The Jefferson Fellowship is also a unique opportunity for me to learn something new and do something completely different from my normal duties as a faculty member. I hope to enjoy the fast-paced environment at State, and learn a lot about U.S. and international climate policy and climate diplomacy.”
“Lynch-Stieglitz’s selection as a Jefferson Science Fellow is certainly an honor that recognizes her expertise in climate science,” says Greg Huey, professor and chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “However, more importantly she will bring her knowledge and experience to the State Department to address key climate-related challenges and promote sustainable solutions. I do regret losing her from campus for a year as we will miss her leadership.”
Over the past year, Lynch-Stieglitz has also served as ADVANCE Professor for the College of Sciences, one of six representing each Georgia Tech college. Supported by Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the ADVANCE Program builds and sustains an inter-college network of professors who are world-class researchers and role models to support the community and advancement of women and minorities in academia.
"She has left an indelible stamp in many areas, including reform of our hiring procedures and our curriculum," Huey adds.
Jennifer Curtis, professor in the School of Physics, will step into that role on July 1, 2023 as Lynch-Stieglitz travels to Washington, D.C. for the fellowship.
“It is bittersweet in that I have to relinquish the College of Sciences ADVANCE Professorship in order to take on this full-time position in Washington,” Lynch-Stieglitz says. “I really enjoyed getting to know more of the women faculty across the college, and representing their interests to the Institute. But I can’t imagine a better person to take this role forward than Jennifer Curtis. She will do wonderful things.”
Applying for a Jefferson Science Fellowship
The Jefferson Science Fellowships are open to tenured, or similarly ranked, faculty from U.S. institutions of higher learning who are U.S. citizens. After successfully obtaining a security clearance, selected Fellows spend one year on assignment at the U.S. Department of State or USAID serving as advisers on issues of foreign policy and international development. Assignments are tailored to the needs of the hosting office, while taking into account the Fellows’ interests and areas of expertise.
Learn more and apply here.]]>
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston
“But I didn’t realize the role that real estate can play in that,” said Lawler, general manager of BioSpark Labs – the collaborative, shared laboratory environment taking shape at Science Square at Georgia Tech.
Sitting adjacent to the Tech campus and formerly known as Technology Enterprise Park, Science Square is being reactivated and positioned as a life sciences research destination. The 18-acre site is abuzz with new construction, as an urban mixed-use development rises from the property.
Meanwhile, positioned literally on the ground floor of all this activity is BioSpark Labs, located in a former warehouse, fortuitously adjacent to the Global Center for Medical Innovation. It’s one of the newer best-kept secrets in the Georgia Tech research community.
BioSpark exists because the Georgia Tech Real Estate Office, led by Associate Vice President Tony Zivalich, recognized the need of this kind of lab space. Zivalich and his team have overseen the ideation, design, and funding of the facility, partnering with Georgia Advanced Technology Ventures, as well as the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, and the core facilities of the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.
“We are in the middle of a growing life sciences ecosystem, part of a larger vision in biotech research,” said Lawler, who was hired on to manage the space, bringing to the job a wealth of experience as a former research scientist and lab manager with a background in molecular and synthetic biology.
BioSpark was designed to be a launch pad for high-potential entrepreneurs. It provides a fully equipped and professionally operated wet lab, in addition to a clean room, meeting and office space, to its current roster of clients, five life sciences and biotech startup, a number certain to increase – because BioSpark is undergoing a dramatic expansion that will include 11 more labs (shared and private space), an autoclave room, equipment and storage rooms.
“We want to provide the necessary services and support that an early-stage company needs to begin lab operations on day one,” said Lawler, who has put together a facility with $1.7 million in lab equipment. “I understand our clients’ perspective, I understand researchers and their experiments, and their needs, because I have first-hand proficiency in that world. So, I can advocate on their behalf.”
CO2 incubators, a spectrophotometer, a biosafety cabinet, a fume hood, a -80° freezer, an inverted microscope, and the autoclave are among the wide range of apparatus. Plus, a virtual treasure trove of equipment is available to BioSpark clients off-site through the Core Facilities of the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience on the Georgia Tech campus.
“One of the unique things about us is, we’re agnostic,” Lawler said. “That is, our startups can come from anywhere. We have companies that have grown out of labs at Georgia State, Alabama State, Emory, and Georgia Tech. And we have interest from entrepreneurs from San Diego, who are considering relocating people from mature biotech markets to our space.”
Marvin Whiteley wants to help humans win the war against bacteria, and he has a plan, something he’s been cooking up for about 10 years, which has now manifested in his start-up company, SynthBiome, one of the five startups based at BioSpark Labs.
“We can discover a lot of antibiotics in the lab but translating them into the clinic has been a major challenge – antibiotic resistance is the main reason,” said Whiteley, professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Georgia Tech. “Something might work in a test tube easily enough and it might work in a mouse. But the thing is, bacteria know that mice are different - and and so bacteria act differently in mice than in humans.”
SynthBiome was built to help accelerate drug discovery. With that goal in mind, Whiteley and has team set out to develop a better, more effective preclinical model. “We basically learned to let the bacteria tell us what it’s like to be in a human,” Whiteley said. “So, we created a human environment in a test tube.”
Whiteley has said a desire to help people is foundational to his research. He wants to change how successful therapies are made. The same can be said for Dr. Pooja Tiwari, who launched her company, Arnav Biotech, to develop mRNA-based therapeutics and vaccines. Arnav Biotech also serves as a contract researcher and manufacturer, helping other researchers and companies interested in exploring mRNA in their work.
“There are only a handful of people who have deep knowledge of working in mRNA research, and this limits the access to it” said Tiwari, a former postdoctoral researcher at Georgia Tech and Emory. “We’d like to democratize access to mRNA-based therapeutics and vaccines by developing accessible and cost-effective mRNA therapeutics for global needs”.
Arnav – which has RNA right there in the name – in Sanskrit means ‘ocean.’ An ocean has no discernible borders, and Tiwari is working to build a biotech company that eliminates borders in equitable access to mRNA-based therapeutics and vaccines.
With this mission in mind, Arnav is developing mRNA-based, broad-spectrum antivirals as well as vaccines against pandemic potential viruses before the next pandemic hits. Arnav has recently entered in a collaboration with Sartorius BIA Separations, a company based on Slovenia, to advance their mRNA pipeline. While building its own mRNA therapeutics pipeline, Arnav is also helping other scientists explore mRNA as an alternative therapeutic and vaccine platform through its contract services.
“I think of the vaccine scientist who makes his medicine using proteins, but would like to explore the mRNA option,” Tiwari posits. “Maybe he doesn’t want to make the full jump into it. That’s where we come in, helping to drive interest in this field and help that scientist compare his traditional vaccines to see what mRNA vaccines looks like.”
She has all the equipment and instruments that she needs at BioSpark Labs and was one of the first start-ups to put down roots there. So far, it’s been the perfect partnership, Tiwari said, adding, “It kind of feels like BioSpark and Arnav are growing up together.”
These Faculty Early Career Development Awards are part of a five-year funding mechanism designed to help promising researchers establish a personal foundation for a lifetime of leadership in their field. The grants are NSF’s most prestigious funding for untenured assistant professors.
- Making Medicines: Vinayak Agarwal’s research into peptides, and their medicinal potential
- The Fundamental Questions: Jesse McDaniel’s new framework for predicting chemical reaction rates, leveraging computer modeling
- Chasing Chaos: Alex Blumenthal’s research in chaos, fluid dynamics
- Solving Infinite Problems: Anton Bernshteyn’s new, unified theory of descriptive combinatorics and distributed algorithms
- Gauging Glaciers: Alex Robel's new ice sheet modeling tool
One of the most exciting parts of the CAREER grants is that they support new faculty, who are often working at the frontier of their fields. “I am excited about the CAREER research because we are really focusing on fundamental questions that are central to all of chemistry,” says Jesse McDaniel (School of Chemistry and Biochemistry) about his project, which focuses on creating a new framework to predict the rates of chemical reactions, leveraging computer science.
Anton Bernshteyn’s (School of Mathematics) work in the recently emerged field of descriptive combinatorics is also on the cutting edge of discovery. “There’s this new communication between separate fields of math and computer science— this huge synergy right now— it’s incredibly exciting,” Bernshteyn explains. “Right now we’re only starting to glimpse what’s possible.”
Each award also includes a teaching and outreach component: Vinayak Agarwal (School of Chemistry and Biochemistry) plans to use his grant to not only investigate peptides, but also to train the next generation of leaders, emphasizing student inclusion from diverse backgrounds: “The training is broadly applicable,” says Agarwal. “It will prepare students to move forward in STEM – and especially graduate studies – but will also prepare them for industry careers, government and regulatory science, graduate studies, and more. This kind of background is applicable in all fields.”
Alex Blumenthal (School of Mathematics), who is investigating the intersection of chaos, turbulence– including fluid dynamics– mathematics, and computer-assisted proof, agrees. “There’s a whole lot of new stuff to do,” Blumenthal says. “There’s a growing community of people studying random dynamics, and a growing community of people doing computer proofs– it’s a great place for undergrads to have meaningful research experiences.”
Alex Robel (School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences), emphasizes the broad impacts of the CAREER grant projects. Robel is working to create a new ice sheet modeling tool, which will be accessible to anyone, and just require the use of a computer browser. “Ultimately,” Robel says, “this project will empower more people in the community to use these models and to use these models together with the observations that they're taking.”]]>
The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.]]>
Honolulu Highlights | ICML 2023
Students and faculty have been focused and energized in their efforts this week engaging with the international machine learning community at ICML. See some of those efforts, hear from students themselves in our video series, and read about their latest contributions in #AI.
Georgia Tech’s experts and larger research community are invested in a future where artificial intelligence (AI) solutions can benefit individuals and communities across our planet. Meet the machine learning maestros among Georgia Tech’s faculty at the International Conference on Machine Learning — July 23-29, 2023, in Honolulu — and learn about their work. The faculty in the main program are working with partners across many domains and industries to help invent powerful new ways for technology to benefit all our futures.
One of the experts in Honolulu is Wenjing Liao, an assistant professor in the School of Mathematics. In addition to machine learning, Liao's research interests include imaging, signal processing, and high dimensional data analysis.
Learn more about the Georgia Tech contingent at the ICML here. Read more about machine learning research at Georgia Tech here.]]>
The Simons Investigator award supports “outstanding theoretical scientists in their most productive years, when they are establishing creative new research directions, providing leadership to the field, and effectively mentoring junior scientists.”
Vempala is the Frederick Storey II Chair of Computing and Distinguished Professor in the School of Computer Science at Georgia Tech, with courtesy appointments in the School of Mathematics and H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
He will receive $150,000 per year for five years from the award, which could be renewed for another five years. Not constrained to any one project, the funding is meant to empower award recipients to push forward on any foundational challenges to computer science that are related to their interests.
For Vempala, who also serves as Director of the Algorithms, Combinatorics, and Optimization Program at Georgia Tech, these challenges have to do with geometry and randomness.
“Some of the most exciting problems in science are those related to efficient algorithms. Computer science really has uncovered fundamentally new questions but also provided novel perspectives on classical problems in mathematics,” Vempala said. “We are yet to understand extremely basic questions such as how best to solve linear systems and linear programs.”
Read the full story inn the School of Computer Science newsroom.
"The history of these honorees is the history of chemistry in the Southeast,” said M.G. Finn, chair of the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and James A. Carlos Family Chair for Pediatric Technology, at the dedication of three classrooms in the Molecular Science and Engineering Building.
As a result of the generous philanthropy of John Bryant, these rooms now honor three individuals whose work in the chemical industry is significant not only to Georgia Tech but to the country: Frank Mayo; Julius Clarence “J.C.” Shaw Sr., TEXT 1922; and Atif Dabdoub, Ph.D. CHEM 1976.
Faculty, friends, and staff who attended enjoyed remarks from Bryant and Finn celebrating the honorees and those who have supported their success in chemical research and education. One of Bryant’s hopes for the named spaces is that students will learn about Mayo, Shaw, and Dabdoub and become inspired to enter the field of chemistry when they graduate.
Bryant’s grandfather, Frank Mayo, attended Georgia Tech in 1922. As a young man, Bryant saw his grandfather “do nothing but work” throughout his life. Mayo was passionate about all sciences, with a special affinity for geology and chemistry. His bleach business, Farm and Industrial Chemical (which would later merge into Mayo Chemical), was a testament to Mayo’s love and knowledge of both chemistry and business.
Read more about the MOSE room dedications here.]]>
Lieberman, a professor and Sepcic Pfeil Endowed Chair in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and her Ph.D. student Gwen Thomas are celebrating recent research successes — including new funding from NIH. Both are also crediting new inclusive initiatives at Georgia Tech and within the broader national scientific community for supporting those successes.
Lieberman is grateful that she’s had so much time to study the protein, and advance the field’s knowledge of how it contributes to disease.
“I do consider it a feather in my cap to have succeeded in working on the molecular aspects of how this protein myocilin misfolds in the eye for as long as I have,” she said. “The project is a little like eating an artichoke. We are taking one leaf off at a time until we get to the heart of what‘s really going on.”
Lieberman has reapplied twice to continue working on myocilin misfolding. Through an incredibly competitive process, she has succeeded in securing renewals funds because of the progress she’s shown over the last 12 years. She has also secured supplemental funds tied to another passion beyond the mysteries of myocilin.
“As someone who is still often one of few women in a room full of men, I am very committed to the idea that we need as many different voices in science as possible, so that any group of scientists gathered reflects the makeup of our society,” she said.
The College of Sciences Center for the Promoting Inclusion and Equity in the Sciences (C-PIES) shared an NIH supplement opportunity that recognized excellence in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility mentorship, specifically for investigators who have a single award known as an RO1, as Lieberman does. Her new supplement is issued through the NIH’s National Eye Institute, who also funds her R01.
“I was awarded the maximum amount, the equivalent of an extra year of funding for my lab,” she said. “The award allows us to pursue some new research directions that are adjacent to our main project, things we would not be able to pursue without these funds.”
While Lieberman is charting those new research directions, Thomas, in Lieberman’s lab, recently gave a presentation at a major scientific conference in Boston this summer. Thomas’s achievements so far are tributes to her research skills, and are also supported by IDEI initiatives at Georgia Tech and through the American Chemical Society.
ACS Bridge adds new voices to science
Lieberman first met Thomas at a 2018 scientific conference, when the latter was an undergraduate at another school. “I remember we chatted at her undergraduate research poster that dealt with a coronavirus protein,” Lieberman said. “Boy, was she way ahead of her time!”
A year later, Thomas applied to be Lieberman’s research technician in her lab. “I've always dreamed of being a scientist and making an impact on the world, and now with the guidance of my mentor Raquel Lieberman, I am able to realize that dream,” Thomas said. “Since my time as an undergraduate, I have always wanted to study protein structure and function as it relates to infectious diseases.”
When the pandemic hit, Thomas volunteered to keep working on an in-home polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kit project. “She made a key protein ingredient in the final formulation, an RNAse inhibitor, all on her own — at all hours of day and night,” Lieberman said.
Thomas then decided to work on a master’s degree in chemistry at Georgia Tech while taking advantage of the American Chemical Society (ACS) Bridge program, which the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry joined in 2020. The Bridge program is designed to boost the number of chemistry Ph.D. degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities by offering resources and mentors.
ACS Bridge program mentors helped Thomas work on her thesis side project: the study of a plastic-degrading enzyme, LtPHBase. She published a paper detailing how she solved the structure of the enzyme, and that won her a “Best 2022 Paper” award from the Protein Society.
This past July, Thomas traveled to Boston, where she gave a presentation on her enzyme project at the Society’s annual meeting.
“Gwen has grown so much as a scientist over the past few years,” Lieberman said. “Gwen was amazing in Boston! I can’t wait to see how she flourishes now that she has matriculated into our Ph.D. program.”
The search for answers to childhood glaucoma continues
Thomas will also keep working with Lieberman with the myocilin research, which has yielded breakthroughs. “We have discovered the molecular level differences between disease-causing variants of myocilin and those that are benign,” she said. “That means if a new mutation in the gene encoding for myocilin is discovered, we can predict with decent confidence whether it is pathogenic or not, without any clinical data.”
Lieberman and her colleagues have also learned more details of how pathogenic variants cause disease, and have identified ways to interfere with that pathogenic process. “We have worked out the molecular structure of key parts of the myocilin protein, which give us new clues about what the protein is doing when it is not causing glaucoma — a mystery for more than 20 years,” she said.
That research won’t keep Lieberman’s from pursuing more inclusive success for Georgia Tech, including through her role as the inaugural chair of the Sepcic Pfeil Ph.D. Faculty Endowment Fund, designed to increase the number of women in chemistry in the School. The Fund is established by Kelly Sepcic Pfeil, a chemistry alumna and College of Sciences Advisory Board member. Lieberman has also served as the first chair of the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry DEI Committee.
For Lieberman, it’s a new year of adding new voices to the School — and one more year of research progress and support. “With any luck it will continue past 2025, with another renewal.”
For Thomas, it signals the start of a rewarding career in chemistry research. “If I were to tell my younger self about all the opportunities that I have access to now, she wouldn't believe me,” Thomas said. “The Protein Society has been a great avenue for me to meet other junior scientists and get their perspectives on how our generation can shape the world. I am really looking forward to sharing my science.”]]>
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston]]>
It’s rare to find a program that matches MBA and Ph.D. students together to help bring business ideas to life while offering credit towards a degree. TI:GER (Technology Innovation Generating Economic Results) is just such a program, providing hands-on experience in innovation and entrepreneurship, including work with actual ventures.
The program, housed within the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business, allows Full-time and Evening MBA students to earn a STEM concentration and allows Georgia Tech Ph.D. students from the Colleges of Computing, Engineering, and Sciences to apply their credit hours towards their minor.
We sat down with Paige Cruver, MBA ’22, senior strategy consultant at Accenture, and former TI:GER student to hear how her experience in the program changed the trajectory of her career.
What was your concentration/degree?
TI:GER was my only 'concentration,' if you will. Scheller offers a great range of concentrations for focused learning, but I was only interested in the TI:GER program.
How did you find out about the TI:GER program?
I found out about the TI:GER program through an alumnus. When I was still weighing my options for business school, I connected with at least one alum and one current student who mentioned the TI:GER program and all of the cool things they were doing. When I decided to attend Georgia Tech, the TI:GER program was one of the first things I looked into as I planned my workload.
What made you decide to enroll in the program?
I enrolled in the program because I was interested in pivoting industries and functions, and I purposely sought out experiences that were uniquely different from the ones I'd had in my professional career. The TI:GER curriculum was new to me and seemed like it would offer hands-on experience with emerging products and companies. I also appreciated that the classes within the program were limited to those of us in the program.
Did you already have an idea/product/invention you wanted to work on within the program? If so, what was it?
While I was open to working with various companies and products, my specific interest was in healthcare and life sciences. Having previously earned my master’s in public health, but with work experience in an unrelated industry, I was keen to find my way back into that space. During my first semester in the TI:GER program, I was matched with a medical device company, which was a great match for my interests. I later worked with a retail technology company, which was a great experience as well.
When you finished the program, did you have a product ready to go to market?
My experience with the retail technology company did have a product ready to go to market. They'd been working with smaller companies on smaller contracts and were looking for ways to scale. It was fascinating to be able to see their previous success and help them translate that into insights to pursue their next opportunity.
If you were an MBA, what were your major responsibilities?
My major responsibilities as an Evening MBA student in TI:GER was conducting market research to build a competitive landscape; analyzing the data gathered from the research to provide insights to the client; helping with the pitch deck, if requested; and keeping an impartial mind when evaluating the various options the company could pursue.
If you were an MBA, what would be your major takeaways from being in the program?
My major takeaway as an MBA student in TI:GER is that things can change instantly. Companies are well served to keep some level of nimbleness in their approach to their business. Additionally, making sure the voice of the customer is reflected within and throughout the decision-making process can help mitigate the risk of a poor product-market fit in the future.
Can you describe how your experience enhanced your career after graduating?
TI:GER was a great way to build my resume with practical experience, and many of my experiences with TI:GER were woven throughout how I answered those common behavioral interview questions a potential employer asks. Oftentimes, the interviewer has never heard of a program like TI:GER, so I use it as a way to demonstrate that I'm not afraid to try new things and to take calculated risks.
Would you recommend the program to others? If so, why?
I'd ABSOLUTELY recommend the TI:GER program to others. If, like me, you're looking to do something different from what you were doing previously, or if the program’s curriculum piques your interest, let me be the one to help you make the decision!
I had a positive experience with the faculty, curriculum, and member organizations (Hello, CDL-Atlanta!), and the program’s structure is unlike most other programs at Scheller. I'd venture that anyone attending an MBA program is an overachiever - you may as well keep the trend going and apply for the TI:GER program.
Learn more about the TI:GER program here.]]>
Now, Zhigang Peng, a professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech and graduate students Phuc Mach and Chang Ding, alongside researchers at the Scientific and Technological Research Institution of Türkiye (TÜBİTAK) and researchers at the University of Missouri, are using small seismic sensors to better understand just how, why, and when these earthquakes are occurring.
Funded by an NSF RAPID grant, the project is unique in that it aims to actively respond to the crisis while it’s still happening. National Science Foundation (NSF) Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grants are used when there is a severe urgency with regard to availability of or access to data, facilities or specialized equipment, including quick-response research on natural or anthropogenic disasters and other similar unanticipated events.
In an effort to better map the aftershocks of the earthquake event — which can occur weeks or months after the main event — the team placed approximately 120 small sensors, called nodes, in the East Anatolian fault region this past May. Their deployment continues through the summer.
It’s the first time sensors like this have been deployed in Turkey, says Peng.
“These sensors are unique in that they can be placed easily and efficiently," he explains. "With internal batteries that can work up to one month when fully charged, they’re buried in the ground and can be deployed within minutes, while most other seismic sensors need solar panels or other power sources and take much longer time and space to deploy.” Each node is about the size of a 2-liter soda bottle, and can measure ground movement in three directions.
“The primary reason we’re deploying these sensors quickly following the two mainshocks is to study the physical mechanisms of how earthquakes trigger each,” Peng adds. Mainshocks are the largest earthquake in a sequence. “We’ll use advanced techniques such as machine learning to detect and locate thousands of small aftershocks recorded by this network. These newly identified events can provide new important clues on how aftershocks evolve in space and time, and what drives foreshocks that occur before large events.”
The team will also use the detected aftershocks to illuminate active faults where three tectonic plates come together — a region known as the Maraş Triple Junction. “We plan to use the aftershock locations and the seismic waves from recorded events to image subsurface structures where large damaging earthquakes occur,” says Mach, the Georgia Tech graduate researcher. This will help scientists better understand why sometimes faults ‘creep’ without any large events, while in other cases faults lock and then violently release elastic energy, creating powerful earthquakes.
Getting high-resolution data of the fault structures is another priority. “The fault line ruptured in the first magnitude 7.8 event has a bend in it, where earthquake activity typically terminates, but the earthquake rupture moved through this bend, which is highly unusual,” Peng says. By deploying additional ultra-dense arrays of sensors in their upcoming trip this summer, the team hopes to help researchers ‘see’ the bend under the Earth’s surface, allowing them to better understand how fault properties control earthquake rupture propagation.
The team also aims to learn more about the relationship between the two main shocks that recently rocked Turkey, sometimes called doublet events. Doublet events can happen when the initial earthquake triggers a secondary earthquake by adding extra stress loading. While in this instance, the doublet may have taken place only 9 hours after the initial event, these secondary earthquakes have been known to take place days, months, or even years after the initial one — a famous example being the sequence of earthquakes that spanned 60 years in the North Anatolian fault region in Northern Turkey.
“Clearly the two main shocks in 2023 are related, but it is still not clear how to explain the time delays,” says Peng. The team plans to work with their collaborators at TÜBİTAK to re-analyze seismic and other types of geophysical data right before and after those two main shocks in order to better understand the triggering mechanisms.
“In our most recent trip in southern Türkiye, we saw numerous buildings that were partially damaged during the mainshock, and many people will have to live in temporary shelters for years during the rebuilding process,” Peng adds. “While we cannot stop earthquakes from happening in tectonically active regions, we hope that our seismic deployment and subsequent research on earthquake triggering and fault imaging can improve our ability to predict what will happen next — before and after a big one — and could save countless lives.”
“The concept of mental health is a euphemism,” explains Tiffiny Hughes-Troutman, a professor of practice in the School of Psychology and a licensed psychologist. “Often people use the term ‘mental health’ as a catch-all phrase when they're really talking about mental illness. But mental illness and mental health are actually discrete and dichotomous terms. Good health is indicated by positive emotions and productive functioning, not just the absence of illness.”
With a new minor in the Science of Mental Health and Well-Being in the School of Psychology, Hughes-Troutman is hoping to balance the conversation. Launching this fall, the minor will work to give students practical tools to build mental wellness and gain the ability to conceptualize mental health, well-being, and other constructs firmly grounded in neuroscience.
“It’s critical that we create a psychologically safe atmosphere in the classroom, the lab, and other spaces so that students have opportunities to connect with others and build resilience and other key skills,” says Hughes-Troutman. “I view this new minor as a really great opportunity not only to infuse content about health and well-being into the curriculum for students, but also, it’s a pivotal step that students can take to foster a greater sense of health and well-being for themselves. Through this minor, we aim to help students cope with pressures and stress, and ensure that they understand the relation between increased well-being, higher productivity, enhanced learning, and a stronger sense of connectedness and purpose.”
“As we aim to instill students with a wide range of fundamental knowledge and skills that can benefit them throughout their lives,” says Tansu Celikel, professor and chair in the School of Psychology, “this minor will be of interest to all students across the Institute.”
Cultivating well-being is a key component of Georgia Tech’s strategic plan. With courses like Flourishing: Strategies for Well-Being and Resilience (APPH 1060) and Resilience Building Strategies 4801/8801, bringing wellness into the curriculum has been a vital step toward that goal across the Institute.
“We have excellent courses that span topics fundamental to human well-being offered on campus, and this new minor gives students another option on a rich menu,” said Hughes-Troutman. “Unique elements of this minor include a focus on the distinct psychological processes and neural mechanisms of well-being. Psychological science plays a distinct role in improving the human condition for individuals and communities on many levels; students who take our courses will be exposed to the latest research and practice innovations.”
The minor will debut Neuroscience of Mental Health: Research and Practice (PSYC 3803), a new course co-taught by Celikel and Hughes-Troutman. In the course, Hughes-Troutman says, “we're taking a deep dive into what happens in the brain, practical applications to enhance well-being, and other ways that students can increase positive affective states such as joy and happiness while minimizing stress.”
That course will be linked with a Vertically Integrated Project (VIP) team led by Celikel and Hughes-Troutman that will give students hands-on experience assessing and building mental health and wellness. “Well-Being VIP students will work with students in the class using survey and biosensing data to give them accurate data and monitoring of their mental health,” says Hughes-Troutman. “They’ll use apps and other e-tools to measure their levels of mindfulness, help them meditate, and reach their goals related to focus, attention, and relaxation. By the end of the class, students will have developed a portfolio that allows them to reflect upon and document a cadre of skills and experiences.”
Students in the minor will also choose 12 credits of other courses offered as part of the program, including Science of Stress, Anxiety, and Happiness (PSYC 3000), Mindfulness: Science and Practice (PSYC 3005), Health Psychology (PSYC 3009), and many more exploring the neuroscience and psychology of mental health.
“The Science of Mental Health and Well-Being curriculum highlights the importance of a comprehensive approach that considers both psychological and neurological factors maintaining mental well-being,” adds Celikel, the School of Psychology chair. “A deeper appreciation for the complexities of mental health conditions and their underlying mechanisms will help to reduce stigma and drive research and innovation in the field.”
The minor is open to all students across Georgia Tech, though Hughes-Troutman and Celikel are hopeful that psychology, neuroscience, and pre-health students will take particular interest in the program.
“When I think about students going to medical school or entering clinical programs in particular, there is a need to take an inclusive and holistic approach to health so that they can attend to the mind, body, and spirit of their clients and patients,” says Hughes-Troutman. “So many medical models ignore the concept of wellness when solely focusing on eradicating illness and this can lead to an unfortunate disconnect.”
“These are skills that pre-health, public health, counseling, and clinical students are going to learn very early,” she says. “I think that will augment their education and their future careers as they provide excellent care to clients and patients as well as help themselves.”
“The degree to which we can provide education about health and well-being,” Hughes-Troutman adds, “that we can get students excited about those concepts, and that we can contribute to the greater good of our community at Georgia Tech so students are equipped with the skills to help themselves and others — it's just fantastic.”
The minor is officially launching this fall and is currently accepting enrollment. To learn more about the minor, visit the School of Psychology website or contact Tiffiny Hughes-Troutman at email@example.com.]]>
“Tom was patient, good humored and had a ready smile,” shares Angus Wilkinson, associate chair and professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry with a joint appointment in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech. “He made many contributions to our School.”
A graduate of St. Anselm's College and the University of Notre Dame, for 38 years Professor Moran taught chemistry and led a research lab in physical chemistry and mass spectrometry at Georgia Tech before retiring from the Institute and joining his wife, Joan, in helping incoming professors find new homes as a real estate team.
During his tenure at Tech, Moran wrote more than 100 scientific articles, was awarded a dozen grants and three patents, and advised and advocated for a cohort of undergraduate and graduate students — the highlight of his career.
“Tom was an excellent teacher and had a knack for helping students to fulfill their potential,” Wilkinson added. “It was common for his undergraduate research students to publish papers with him.”
Thomas F. Moran, obituary from The Atlanta Journal Constitution:
It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Thomas Francis Moran, 86, of Atlanta, GA, a beloved professor and devoted husband, father, and grandfather.
Born on December 11, 1936, in Manchester, NH, he was the son of Francis Leo Moran and Mamie (Morin) Moran. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Joan (Belliveau) Moran; four loving children, Dorothy, Michael, Linda, and Mary; seven precious grandchildren, Joshua, Ashley, Jordan, Alexandra, Caleb, Anna, Christina; and many additional relatives and friends. After graduating from Bishop Bradley High School in Manchester, NH, Thomas then earned a B.S. degree in Chemistry from St. Anslem's College and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Notre Dame, where he was an Atomic Energy Commission Graduate Fellow.
He then became a post-doctorate research associate and an associate scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Thomas followed his passion for research, teaching and advising in 1966 when he began his career as a professor of chemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. He spent 38 years as a much loved and dedicated professor, working in his lab with his expertise in physical chemistry and mass spectrometry. Writing over 100 scientific articles, receiving 12 grants/contracts and 3 patents, it was the highlight of his career to advise and advocate for his graduate and PhD students.
After retiring from Georgia Tech, Thomas and Joan decided to take on a new challenge and become a real estate team. They worked with Prudential and Berkshire Hathaway for a combined 13 years. They enjoyed helping incoming professors to Georgia Tech find their new homes.
Thomas was a loving father who worked hard and sacrificed for his family. He loved playing games with his children including cards, board games and checkers (at which he was impossible to beat). He loved museums, music, scholarly articles and being outside. He was a man of faith and was active for many years in the [Immaculate Heart of Mary Church] parish. Thomas lived his life to the fullest and will be dearly missed.
Memorial service details: The family will receive friends at A.S. Turner & Sons Funeral Home Friday evening, July 28, 2023, from 4:00 until 8:00. A service will then be held Saturday July 29, 2023, at 1:00 PM at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church with a reception immediately following.
A total of 21 projects from all six Georgia Tech colleges will reach an estimated 22,500 students. The collaborative effort is focused on a key goal of the Institute’s Sustainability Next Task Force: to produce graduates who are committed to making a positive difference in their communities, their organizations, and the world.
“The overall goal is that all of our students understand the societal context for their work, as well as the scientific, environmental, economic, and social aspects of sustainability,” says Jennifer Leavey, assistant dean for Faculty Mentoring for the College of Sciences and co-chair of Sustainability Next.
Leavey and Rebecca Watts-Hull, assistant director of Faculty Development for Sustainability Education in the Center for Teaching and Learning, served as liaisons for the Undergraduate Sustainability Education Committee, which judged the proposals.
Leavey also coordinates College of Sciences educational programs related to science and sustainability, including the Georgia Tech Urban Honey Bee Project and the Living Building Science Vertically Integrated Project Team.
Leavey said the UN SDGs — which ask world citizens and their governments to consider ambitious solutions to longstanding problems such as hunger, poverty, climate damage, inequality, and lack of quality healthcare — are clear and compelling. “These are things we want for a better world,” she shared. “Every field has some connection to them. And it's just a very easy framework to get behind and understand. I would love it if all Georgia Tech graduates could leave feeling well versed in that understanding, and how their work connects to it.”
The Sustainable Education Committee chose projects that impacted the greatest number of students, including classes that are required for all Georgia Tech undergraduates.
Learn more about the College of Sciences’ six selected proposals:
On April 27, the Undergraduate Sustainability Education Committee hosted a Jamboree, which featured faculty from each Georgia Tech college that won grants — making brief presentations, and engaging in networking discussions.
“For the College of Sciences, it's really exciting to see the connection between different disciplines,” Leavey said. “We’ve been doing work on climate and the environment for a long time, but to see the connection with sustainability work at other colleges at Georgia Tech is very gratifying.”]]>
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia has approved two new specific degrees within the School: Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS) and Solid Earth and Planetary Sciences (SEP). Regents also approved Environmental Science (ENVS) as an interdisciplinary College of Sciences degree between the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and the School of Biological Sciences. The existing Earth and Atmospheric Sciences B.S. degree will sunset in two years for new students.
“We are really excited to be able to offer this new interdisciplinary undergraduate degree program in Environmental Science,” said Jean Lynch-Stieglitz, ADVANCE Professor in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS). “While it was developed jointly between the Schools of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Biological Sciences, it brings together Georgia Tech’s broad expertise and course offerings related to the Earth’s environment from across the Institute.”
“We are excited to see these new programs develop,” added Andrew Newman, professor and the School’s undergraduate coordinator, “as these degrees highlight the quantitative and computational skills of Georgia Tech students, and align better with their interests in global understanding of problems related to environmental impact and sustainability, natural hazards and landscape development, as well as planetary evolution, habitability, and exploration.”
“Students looking for specific types of programs will also be more understanding of what their program offers,” Newman said. “Under our current degree, a student interested in ocean science, planetary science, and environmental chemistry all would be looking at the same degree that doesn’t define their interests. Now, having programs with those interests in their name, and described well on the upcoming webpage, will greatly increase their interest in our program.”
Newman also shared that, in Fall 2021, the School surveyed current EAS undergraduate students and recent alumni for feedback and thoughts on the potential degrees. Responses from the community highlighted that the plan for transitioning the existing major could not only help new students hone their academic and career plans, but also help them communicate beyond EAS about their chosen major.
“These degrees make it more clear what the student is studying,” shared one student. “Before, people would ask what my major ‘even is’ and what kinds of jobs I could get with it. I think the new majors make it more clear.”
“Finally, Planetary Science!” said another student. “This degree would go well with a Physics or AE (Aerospace Engineering) certificate or dual degree.”
The expanded undergraduate degree offerings are designed to continue Georgia Tech’s reputation for academic rigor — and also reflect trends in student interests, as well as current and forecasted needs in the job marketplace.
“A key aspect of the new Environmental Science degree program will be its flexibility,” said Lynch-Stieglitz. “Students will be able to focus their study to support their interests and career goals whether those be in conservation, climate change, or environmental health. We’ve also left space in their program to encourage participation in especially impactful experiences such as study abroad and research projects. Georgia Tech students are fantastic — well prepared, diverse, smart, hard-working, and passionate. This flexible approach will allow them to become the broadly educated leaders who will envision the solutions to environmental problems that are so urgently needed.”
More on the new undergraduate degrees and what they will require:
AOS uses the current Meteorology track as its foundation and will include aspects of Atmospheric Sciences, Oceanography and Climate Sciences.
EAS will continue to offer courses needed for American Meteorological Society (AMS) certifications as well as those required for eligibility for National Weather Service meteorology jobs.
Some courses will be reduced and others added (e.g. the existing course Physics of Weather will now be formally required instead of Earth Processes; the National Weather Service Practical Internship course in partnership with NWS Peachtree City will continue).
The AOS degree is designed to take advantage of Atlanta as a “hotspot” for major meteorological organizations including The Weather Channel, CNN, local stations in a top 10 TV market, and the National Weather Service (NWS) Peachtree City, Georgia office. The degree also builds on Georgia Tech’s existing expertise in Atmospheric Chemistry, Oceanography, Climate Dynamics, Paleoclimatology and Paleoceanography, and meteorological research.
AOS degree recipients looking for jobs or graduate research can target the energy sector, insurance risk modeling, broadcast meteorology, consulting, data analytics, aviation, military, and K-12 education, among other positions.
ENVS was developed by a joint committee involving EAS and the School of Biological Sciences.
ENVS requires core content in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, Earth sciences, and public policy.
Upper level coursework allows students to customize their program of study based on interest.
Students will complete a capstone research project that integrates the knowledge they have gained through the program.
This degree takes advantage of Georgia Tech’s expertise in Environmental Chemistry, climate science, marine science, Aquatic Chemical Ecology, microbial dynamics, and Environmental Policy. Newman added that there is a critical emerging market need for scientists with expertise in the Earth’s environmental systems.
The ENVS degree will provide a strong base for students pursuing graduate programs and careers in environmental policy, environmental law, medicine, and other master’s and Ph.D. programs in environmentally related disciplines.
SEP builds on the existing Earth Science track to include Planetary Sciences.
There is an opportunity to reduce some courses.
Some courses will now be required (e.g. Physics II, Physics of Planets, Introduction to Geophysics).
According to an SEP prospectus, “the degree will support Georgia Tech’s mission to develop leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition, through developing holistically minded students that can put human development in context of the environment for which we live, including resource availability, hazards that affect sustainability, and our exploratory nature to understand our place on the planet and solar system.”
Career and graduate opportunities include energy sector positions, NASA, NOAA, U.S. Geological Survey, environmental remediation, hazard assessment and data analytics.
Learn more, contact EAS Undergraduate Advising, and apply:
EAS Undergraduate Program Contacts:
Editor and Media Contact:
Director of Communications
College of Sciences at Georgia Tech
Atlanta is seeing some of the worst air quality in the nation, and the culprit is actually thousands of miles away.
More than 900 wildfires blazing in Canada are creating smoke and dust particles that are being carried by the jet stream all the way down to the Deep South. Georgia Tech scientists and researchers are watching closely.
Wildfires themselves aren’t uncommon. But what is different and, at times, dangerous is the number of particles in the air.
“It is unusual to experience high concentrations of smoke aerosols within the contiguous U.S. such as what we have been observing recently,” said Zachary Handlos, meteorologist and senior academic professional in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech.
Fine particulate matter (also known as PM2.5) levels exceeded 55 micrograms per cubic meter of air south of Atlanta. This is the reason for the recent air quality alerts, which indicated that the air quality in metro Atlanta sat in the orange zone Monday and Tuesday, meaning the air has been potentially hazardous for the most at-risk people.
Older persons, pregnant women, young children, and anyone with preexisting health conditions are among the most vulnerable populations. However, anyone can be affected by poor air quality.
PM2.5 is fine enough to penetrate deep into the lungs,” said Talat Odman, principal research engineer and air quality expert from the Georgia Tech School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Both Odman and Handlos say an N95 mask can be a big help in filtering out this particulate matter. Read more.
The entire ocean is connected. Species like coral can be similar in entirely different parts of the ocean because those waters share characteristics like salinity, temperature, and nutrients. But how did this shared DNA travel in the first place? Currents connect ecosystems, and understanding their flow could help to rebuild other ecosystems. That’s the focus of the research from School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Professor Annalisa Bracco.
“Corals spread through larvae, which are transported by ocean currents. This is something that naturally happens and is, in the case of corals, definitely quite beneficial,” Bracco said. “If the coral gets bleached and dies, other coral DNA can come in the form of larvae and recolonize the territory.”
Bracco’s research is about more than just following these currents. She also determines how they could be used to rejuvenate weakened or destroyed ecosystems. Marine protected areas in the Gulf of Mexico could be expanded to deliver more flora and fauna larvae to repopulate stressed or damaged areas.
“We need to preserve ecosystems that are diverse, but also well connected, so they can transfer that diversity if something happens in another place,” Bracco said. Read more.
Retreating glaciers and the animals who live on them have become highly visible symbols of climate change. They are also a key to predicting its future. Alex Robel, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, uses computational modeling to better understand how ice reacts to climate change and how, in turn, that causes global sea level to rise. His research group creates equations to explain how ice not only responds to climate change, but also how it flows, fractures, and melts.
“Unlike other fields, we don't have the standard set of equations that describe how ice sheets and glaciers work,” Robel said. “We use high-performance computing to simulate real glaciers on Antarctica and Greenland and try to understand how they have changed in the past and predict how they will change in the future.”
Not all ice is created the same. While sea ice freezes over a few feet of the top of the ocean in wintertime, glaciers are formed by the accumulation and compression of snow on land over long periods of time to depths of hundreds, even thousands, of feet. When enough accumulates, ice can start to flow like honey under its own weight and then is considered an ice sheet.
Developing these equations must account for how glaciers and ice sheets are exposed to the volatile climate system — and measuring conditions at the bottom of a glacier is no easy task. The field comes with a lot of inherent uncertainty that Robel’s group must plan for. Read more.
Writer and Media Contact:
Tess Malone | firstname.lastname@example.org
But the bacteria can sometimes change their behavior and enter the bloodstream, causing chronic localized infections to become acute and potentially fatal. Despite decades of studying the transition in lab environments, how and why the switch happens in humans has remained unknown.
STEM careers are still male dominated, with 19% of bachelor's degrees in engineering awarded to women, and 3% to minority women. STEM Gems is shining a light on successful women working in these fields and providing young girls with encouragement and practical advice as they navigate their own paths. Campers spent the week learning about a variety of careers in STEM, engaging in hands-on activities, touring labs at Georgia Tech, and interacting with leading female engineering professors. They even learned about the college admissions process and bonded through workshops and group discussions on topics such as risk-taking and the importance of a growth mindset.
"The thing I was most interested in this week was the lab tours," said Darshika Domma, a STEM Gem and first-year student at Lambert High School. "We saw what it's really like in the research labs, what it looks like, what they do there. I got to learn a lot more about how STEM is applied to real life."
Nithya Neelagiri, a sophomore at South Forsyth, heard about STEM Gems from her younger sister. "I'm already interested in chemical engineering and thought the camp would be a great way to gain some experience," she said. One of her favorite activities was a probability game played with marbles. "At that point, I had already really bonded with my teammates, so we had a lot of fun doing the math together." Several other campers shared how fascinated they were with a lab tour that featured research being done on rat brains and the potential biomedical applications for humans. The girls' excitement at the end of the week is a testament to the camp's inspiring mission — and the bright futures ahead of them.
Highlights by the numbers:
50 energetic girls.
44 world-changing careers in STEM.
20 eye-opening lab tours.
12 hands-on activities.
7 exceptional women in STEM facilitators. 6 leading female engineering professors.
Group photo: Malcolm Davie Photography]]>
In those cases, a delivery system must bind with the drug and then release it precisely where and when it will be most effective. However, the same system doesn’t work for every drug — for example, the methods used for capturing and releasing a small-molecule medication won’t work if you want to deliver a biologic drug.
That’s where OZ-Link hopes to make a significant impact.
“What’s unique about our technology is that, whether the carrier system is an antibody, nanoparticle, polymer, or hydrogel, it connects to whatever the drug is,” said Kasie Collins, CEO and co-founder of OZ-Link, a startup company growing in the lab of Georgia Tech researcher M.G. Finn, professor, chair, and James A. Carlos Family Chair for Pediatric Technology in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Our technology is designed to be compatible with both small molecules and biologics.”
The early-stage company is working to demonstrate that its system can provide sustained, extended release in ways that can be varied from days to weeks. Small-molecule drugs (the most common drugs on the market) and biologics (the fastest emerging class of drugs) can both benefit from this type of delivery, but in different ways and over different time frames, depending on the target.
Currently, there is nothing on the market capable of doing that effectively, and drug manufacturers large and small are intrigued by the notion of such precise biocompatible delivery. Based on the feedback that OZ-Link has received from its potential client base, the company is at work now on its next phase of research and development.
“We’re in the process of developing our first preclinical prototype, featuring our programmable drug delivery system for the extended release of protein therapeutics,” said Collins, whose team has entered a new partnership that will help the fledgling company focus on developing its technology.
OZ-Link was notified recently that it had been selected for commercialization support and funding through the Biolocity Fund for 2023-24. Biolocity, based in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, is a philanthropic program that supports early-stage medical technologies from both campuses.
In addition to CEO Collins, OZ-Link’s founding leadership team includes Steve Seo, chief operating officer; Jasmine Hwang, chief scientific officer; and Wenting Shi, a Ph.D. candidate whose dissertation research plays a critical role in the further development of the Oz-Link technology. All are members or affiliates of the Finn lab.
They recently participated in Biolocity U, a program that provides business and legal counseling, lectures, internship opportunities, and other tools for startups. After making a final pitch, they were selected for funding.
“We had just finished doing customer discovery at a local conference when we got the news about Biolocity, which was so important. It allows us to do critical feasibility studies, which are necessary for follow-on funding efforts,” Collins said. “Additionally, it allows the team to work on OZ-Link research and development full time.”
The company also was part of the inaugural cohort that completed the Nucleate Activator program in Atlanta last semester. This program supports next generation bioentrepreneurs with mentorship, workshops, networking, and a pitch competition. OZ-Link won the Regional High Impact Culture Award, which recognizes cutting-edge scientific ideas with the greatest positive impact on society.
The foundation of the company is right there in its name, which comes from the chemical structures in OZ-Link’s technology: ozanorbornadiene (also called OND) and azanorbornadiene (ZND) molecules. “We use this small-molecule technology as a means of linking the therapeutic cargo to a drug delivery system,” Collins said.
The company is in the process of developing its first viable product, which would deliver injectable protein drugs. But that’s just the beginning.
“The technology is at a nascent stage now, but our feasibility data will help us secure co-development partnerships down the road,” Collins said. “Such partnerships would give us an opportunity to broaden our scope and demonstrate that we can deliver different types of drugs in an efficient, programmable manner.”]]>
Behind the 2023 projections is a balancing act of rising oceanic temperatures and the onset of the climate phenomenon El Niño, explains Susan Lozier, dean and Betsy Middleton and John Clark Sutherland Chair in the College of Sciences. The waters of the tropical Atlantic Ocean are currently 1 – 3°C above average, which would typically signify the potential for more intense activity, but the wind shear associated with El Niño acts as a deterrent for hurricane formation.
But what could happen when the shield of El Niño isn't present to counteract the rising temperatures in the tropical Atlantic?
"Climate change is leading to warmer surface temperatures. We know that will lead to more intense hurricanes, but we don't know if it will necessarily lead to more hurricanes. As climate change progresses, we are interested in understanding how weather patterns will be disrupted, including those related to hurricane formation and pathways," said Lozier, who recently served as president of the American Geophysical Union.
She further explained that the increased intensity is a result of the warm waters releasing additional energy into the storm as it forms. This consequence of climate change could present problems for the Tech campus and the city of Atlanta due to the risk of torrential rainfall. According to the National Weather Service, flooding has proven to be the deadliest hazard associated with hurricanes over the past decade.
"When people think about hurricanes, they generally think about damaging winds. Winds are damaging, but increasingly, the most damaging part of a hurricane is the immense amount of moisture they carry," Lozier said, reflecting on the 2017 landfall of Hurricane Harvey. "An area like Atlanta could be affected by heavy rainfall associated with the path of a hurricane. The winds will have mostly died down by the time a storm reaches Atlanta, but as the climate warms, warmer air holds more moisture, and because of that, the expectation is that there will be more rainfall associated with hurricanes and tropical storms.”
Fueling the rising temperatures in the world's oceans is an increase in carbon emissions, and simply curtailing them may not be a solution.
"The private and public sectors are increasingly looking at actively removing carbon from the atmosphere because we are unlikely to limit global warming simply by curtailing emissions. Active carbon drawdown from the atmosphere and the ocean are active areas of research right now,” Lozier said.
Tech researchers are at the forefront of this effort, highlighted by a partnership between the Institute, the Georgia Aquarium, and Ocean Visions — the Center for Ocean-Climate Solutions. Lozier represents the Institute as a partnership lead at the center, where the primary focus is the design and delivery of scalable and equitable ocean-based solutions to reduce the effects of climate change and build climate-resilient marine ecosystems and coastal communities.
Associate Professor Chris Reinhard is exploring how coastal ecosystem restoration can permanently capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it becomes buried in sediments on the seafloor. The overall process of removing carbon from the air can be costly. To combat that, a team of researchers in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering is developing a traditional direct air capture system that is cheaper to operate and more efficient. Helping to craft policy and research climate solutions, Marilyn Brown, Regents’ Professor and the Brook Byers Professor of Sustainable Systems in the School of Public Policy, serves on the leadership council of Drawdown Georgia.
A certain level of unpredictability will always exist when dealing with natural disasters, but understanding humans’ role in controlling climate change could be a key factor in our ability to accurately assess the threat of developing storms.]]>
Effective July 1, 2023, the current SLS team will establish a new center, the Center for Sustainable Communities Research and Education (CSCRE), under the VPIR. The Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems (BBISS), which is serving as a hub for coordinating Georgia Tech’s Sustainability Next Strategic Plan initiative, will serve as the administrative home for the new center.
CSCRE will collaborate with the sustainability cluster of the Interdisciplinary Research Institutes (IRIs), including BBISS, the Strategic Energy Institute (SEI), and the Renewable Bioproducts Institute (RBI), as well as Infrastructure and Sustainability, another key Sustainability Next hub, to enhance Georgia Tech’s competitiveness in applying for grants that require meaningful community partnerships as a key component of their research and education plans. It will also continue to support sustainable communities education, in close collaboration with the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), OUE, and Education and Learning, to assure the continuity of SLS’s signature programs.
Established as Georgia Tech’s last QEP, Serve-Learn-Sustain launched in 2016 as a unit in OUE and concluded its official QEP work in 2021. Georgia Tech earned a commendation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges in 2021 for the “exceptional execution” of the 2016 QEP, citing, among other things, that the program “inspired a closer dialogue among faculty regarding research and instructional practices, and thus serves as a model of how a QEP can transform an academic culture.”
To continue advancing and scaling undergraduate service learning and community engagement as a high-impact practice, OUE will establish a new service learning team, as a priority that supports the Transformative Teaching and Learning ISP initiative. Institutionalizing the service-learning functions of SLS within OUE and aligning it with other high impact practices - such as undergraduate research, student innovation programs, first-year seminars, co-op and internships, and learning communities - will position these programs to work collectively in support of the development of Georgia Tech’s next QEP, which will begin in 2025.
Thank you to the SLS staff and to everyone who has collaborated with and supported the work that SLS has spearheaded to make Georgia Tech a better place for our students, our faculty and staff, and our surrounding communities. We look forward to continuing to advance this work, together.]]>
This year, the personal finance brand and website, formerly a monthly publication, revamped its college ranking system into a star-tier list, naming Georgia Tech one of 34 institutions nationwide to its new 5-star category. Instead of ranking institutions from highest performing to lowest, Money gave colleges and universities a rating between 2 1/2 and 5 stars.
Money praised the Institute, saying, “Georgia Tech gets results: The school has a graduation rate of 89%, and students go on to earn median salaries of around $96,000 a decade after enrolling, according to the federal College Scorecard.”
To compile the ratings, Money evaluated 736 institutions on 26 factors that span three categories: quality, affordability, and outcomes. The new approach is intended to offer a better window into the variety and diversity of high-value colleges and universities across the country.
The rating is a continuation of Georgia Tech’s reputation for being a good return on investment. Last month, The Princeton Review ranked Tech as the No. 1 best value public university in the country. In its “Best Value Colleges for 2023” report, the educational services company ranked a total of 209 schools, 74 of which were public institutions.]]>
Our Milky Way galaxy is an awe-inspiring feature of the night sky, viewable with the naked eye as a horizon-to-horizon hazy band of stars. Now, for the first time, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory has produced an image of the Milky Way using neutrinos — tiny, ghostlike astronomical messengers.
In an article to be published June 30, 2023, in the journal Science, the IceCube Collaboration, an international group of over 350 scientists, presents evidence of high-energy neutrino emission from the Milky Way.
The detected high-energy neutrinos hold energies millions to billions of times higher than those produced by the fusion reactions that power stars.
IceCube was built and is operated with National Science Foundation (NSF) funding and additional support from the fourteen countries that host institutional members of the IceCube Collaboration. IceCube Observatory searches for signs of high-energy neutrinos originating from our galaxy and beyond, out to the farthest reaches of the universe.
A cubic-kilometer neutrino detector operating at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station observes these high-energy neutrinos, explains Ignacio Taboada, spokesperson for IceCube and a physics professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. “IceCube is truly unique,” Taboada says. “Built deep in Antarctic ice, its over 5,000 light sensors search for the flashes of blue light — Cherenkov radiation produced by neutrinos in the upper atmosphere, the Milky Way, and deep into the cosmos.”
“What's intriguing is that, unlike the case for light of any wavelength, in neutrinos, the universe outshines the nearby sources in our own galaxy," says Francis Halzen, a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and principal investigator of IceCube.
"As is so often the case, significant breakthroughs in science are enabled by advances in technology," says Denise Caldwell, director of NSF's Physics Division. "The capabilities provided by the highly sensitive IceCube detector, coupled with new data analysis tools, have given us an entirely new view of our galaxy — one that had only been hinted at before. As these capabilities continue to be refined, we can look forward to watching this picture emerge with ever-increasing resolution, potentially revealing hidden features of our galaxy never before seen by humanity."
Interactions between cosmic rays — high-energy protons and heavier nuclei, also produced in our galaxy, and galactic gas and dust inevitably produce both gamma rays and neutrinos. Given the observation of gamma rays from the galactic plane, the Milky Way was expected to be a source of high-energy neutrinos.
“A neutrino counterpart has now been measured, thus confirming what we know about our galaxy and cosmic ray sources,” says Steve Sclafani, a physics Ph.D. student at Drexel University, IceCube member, and co-lead analyzer.
The search focused on the southern sky, where the bulk of neutrino emission from the galactic plane is expected near the center of our galaxy. However, until now, the background of muons and neutrinos produced by cosmic-ray interactions with the Earth’s atmosphere posed significant challenges.
To overcome them, IceCube collaborators at Drexel University developed analyses that select for "cascade" events, or neutrino interactions in the ice that result in roughly spherical showers of light. Because the deposited energy from cascade events starts within the instrumented volume, contamination of atmospheric muons and neutrinos is reduced. Ultimately, the higher purity of the cascade events gave a better sensitivity to astrophysical neutrinos from the southern sky.
However, the final breakthrough came from the implementation of machine learning methods, developed by IceCube collaborators at TU Dortmund University, that improve the identification of cascades produced by neutrinos as well as their direction and energy reconstruction. The observation of neutrinos from the Milky Way is a hallmark of the emerging critical value that machine learning provides in data analysis and event reconstruction in IceCube.
“The improved methods allowed us to retain over an order of magnitude more neutrino events with better angular reconstruction, resulting in an analysis that is three times more sensitive than the previous search,” says IceCube member, TU Dortmund physics Ph.D. student, and co-lead analyzer Mirco Hünnefeld.
The dataset used in the study included 60,000 neutrinos spanning 10 years of IceCube data, 30 times as many events as the selection used in a previous analysis of the galactic plane using cascade events. These neutrinos were compared to previously published prediction maps of locations in the sky where the galaxy was expected to shine in neutrinos.
The maps included one made from extrapolating Fermi Large Area Telescope gamma-ray observations of the Milky Way and two alternative maps identified as KRA-gamma by the group of theorists who produced them.
“This long-awaited detection of cosmic ray-interactions in the galaxy is also a wonderful example of what can be achieved when modern methods of knowledge discovery in machine learning are consistently applied.” says Wolfgang Rhode, professor of physics at TU Dortmund University, IceCube member, and Hünnefeld’s advisor.
The power of machine learning offers great future potential, bringing other observations closer within reach.
“The strong evidence for the Milky Way as a source of high-energy neutrinos has survived rigorous tests by the collaboration,” says Taboada, the IceCube spokesperson. “Now, the next step is to identify specific sources within the galaxy.”
These and other questions will be addressed in planned follow-up analyses by IceCube.
“Observing our own galaxy for the first time using particles instead of light is a huge step,” says Naoko Kurahashi Neilson, professor of physics at Drexel University, IceCube member, and Sclafani’s advisor. “As neutrino astronomy evolves, we will get a new lens with which to observe the universe.”
About IceCube Neutrino Observatory
The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is funded and operated primarily through an award from the National Science Foundation to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The IceCube Collaboration, with over 350 scientists in 58 institutions from around the world, runs an extensive scientific program that has established the foundations of neutrino astronomy. IceCube’s research efforts, including critical contributions to the detector operation, are funded by agencies in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, including NSF. IceCube construction was also funded with significant contributions from the National Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS & FWO) in Belgium; the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) in Germany; the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, and the Swedish Research Council in Sweden; and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Fund.
About Georgia Institute of Technology
The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is one of the top public research universities in the U.S., developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition. The Institute offers business, computing, design, engineering, liberal arts, and sciences degrees. Its more than 45,000 undergraduate and graduate students, representing 50 states and more than 148 countries, study at the main campus in Atlanta, at campuses in France and China, and through distance and online learning. As a leading technological university, Georgia Tech is an engine of economic development for Georgia, the Southeast, and the nation, conducting more than $1 billion in research annually for government, industry, and society.
Francis Halzen, IceCube Principal Investigator
Vilas Research Professor and Gregory Breit Distinguished Professor of Physics
Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Ignacio Taboada, IceCube Spokesperson
Professor of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology
Georgia Institute of Technology
Director of Communications, College of Sciences
NSF Media Affairs
Improving these models is critical: while melting ice sheets and glaciers are top contributors to sea level rise, there are still large uncertainties in sea level projections at 2100 and beyond.
“Part of the problem is that the way that many models have been coded in the past has not been conducive to using these kinds of tools,” Robel, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, explains. “It's just very labor-intensive to set up these data assimilation tools — it usually involves someone refactoring the code over several years.”
“Our goal is to provide a tool that anyone in the field can use very easily without a lot of labor at the front end,” Robel says. “This project is really focused around developing the computational tools to make it easier for people who use ice sheet models to incorporate or inform them with the widest possible range of measurements from the ground, aircraft and satellites.”
Now, a $780,000 NSF CAREER grant will help him to do so.
The National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award is a five-year funding mechanism designed to help promising researchers establish a personal foundation for a lifetime of leadership in their field. Known as CAREER awards, the grants are NSF’s most prestigious funding for untenured assistant professors.
“Ultimately,” Robel says, “this project will empower more people in the community to use these models and to use these models together with the observations that they're taking.”
“Largely, what models do right now is they look at one point in time, and they try their best — at that one point in time — to get the model to match some types of observations as closely as possible,” Robel explains. “From there, they let the computer model simulate what it thinks that ice sheet will do in the future.”
In doing so, the models often assume that the ice sheet starts in a state of balance, and that it is neither gaining nor losing ice at the start of the simulation. The problem with this approach is that ice sheets dynamically change, responding to past events — even ones that have happened centuries ago. “We know from models and from decades of theory that the natural response time scale of thick ice sheets is hundreds to thousands of years,” Robel adds.
By informing models with historical records, observations, and measurements, Robel hopes to improve their accuracy. “We have observations being made by satellites, aircraft, and field expeditions,” says Robel. “We also have historical accounts, and can go even further back in time by looking at geological observations or ice cores. These can tell us about the long history of ice sheets and how they've changed over hundreds or thousands of years.”
Robel’s team plans to use a set of techniques called data assimilation to adjust, or ‘nudge’, models. “These data assimilation techniques have been around for a really long time,” Robel explains. “For example, they’re critical to weather forecasting: every weather forecast that you see on your phone was ultimately the product of a weather model that used data assimilation to take many observations and apply them to a model simulation.”
“The next part of the project is going to be incorporating this data assimilation capability into a cloud-based computational ice sheet model,” Robel says. “We are planning to build an open source software package in Python that can use this sort of data assimilation method with any kind of ice sheet model.”
Robel hopes it will expand accessibility. “Currently, it's very labor-intensive to set up these data assimilation tools, and while groups have done it, it usually involves someone re-coding and refactoring the code over several years.”
Robel’s team will then apply their software package to a widely used model, which now has an online, browser-based version. “The reason why that is particularly useful is because the place where this model is running is also one of the largest community repositories for data in our field,” Robel says.
Called Ghub, this relatively new repository is designed to be a community-wide place for sharing data on glaciers and ice sheets. “Since this is also a place where the model is living, by adding this capability to this cloud-based model, we'll be able to directly use the data that's already living in the same place that the model is,” Robel explains.
Users won’t need to download data, or have a high-speed computer to access and use the data or model. Researchers collecting data will be able to upload their data to the repository, and immediately see the impact of their observations on future ice sheet melt simulations. Field researchers could use the model to optimize their long-term research plans by seeing where collecting new data might be most critical for refining predictions.
“We really think that it is critical for everyone who's doing modeling of ice sheets to be doing this transient data simulation to make sure that our simulations across the field are all doing the best possible job to reproduce and match observations,” Robel says. While in the past, the time and labor involved in setting up the tools has been a barrier, “developing this particular tool will allow us to bring transient data assimilation to essentially the whole field.”
The broad applications and user-base expands beyond the scientific community, and Robel is already developing a K-12 curriculum on sea level rise, in partnership with Georgia Tech CEISMC Researcher Jayma Koval. “The students analyze data from real tide gauges and use them to learn about statistics, while also learning about sea level rise using real data,” he explains.
Because the curriculum matches with state standards, teachers can download the curriculum, which is available for free online in partnership with the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA), and incorporate it into their preexisting lesson plans. “We worked with SECOORA to pilot a middle school curriculum in Atlanta and Savannah, and one of the things that we saw was that there are a lot of teachers outside of middle school who are requesting and downloading the curriculum because they want to teach their students about sea level rise, in particular in coastal areas,” Robel adds.
In Georgia, there is a data science class that exists in many high schools that is part of the computer science standards for the state. “Now, we are partnering with a high school teacher to develop a second standards-aligned curriculum that is meant to be taught ideally in a data science class, computer class or statistics class,” Robel says. “It can be taught as a module within that class and it will be the more advanced version of the middle school sea level curriculum.”
The curriculum will guide students through using data analysis tools and coding in order to analyze real sea level data sets, while learning the science behind what causes variations and sea level, what causes sea level rise, and how to predict sea level changes.
“That gets students to think about computational modeling and how computational modeling is an important part of their lives, whether it's to get a weather forecast or play a computer game,” Robel adds. “Our goal is to get students to imagine how all these things are combined, while thinking about the way that we project future sea level rise.”
Contact: Jess Hunt-Ralston]]>
As an AI-powered university, Georgia Tech is embracing AI throughout the Institute, incorporating it into academic programs and research to assist and amplify human intelligence in all areas of work. The vision of AI Hub at Georgia Tech is to advance AI through discovery, interdisciplinary research, responsible deployment, and next-generation education to build a sustainable future.
“Georgia Tech’s integrated capabilities in the area of AI, machine learning, engineering, and interdisciplinary research are highly valuable to industry, government, and education,” said Chaouki Abdallah, executive vice president for research at Georgia Tech. “By bringing together researchers from across campus, we can harness our collective expertise in AI to work towards a common goal to become the leading university for AI research and application.”
Co-led by faculty members Irfan Essa and Larry Heck, AI Hub at Georgia Tech will lead in developing new paths in educating and training the next generation of the AI workforce. Additionally, it will serve as a dedicated space for decision makers and other stakeholders to access best-in-class resources to guide them through the complexities of commercializing and deploying AI.
“Georgia Tech is well positioned to pursue meaningful opportunities in AI by focusing our collective capabilities across campus not only in AI research but also in the integration and application of AI solutions,” said Larry Heck, interim co-director of AI Hub at Georgia Tech, GRA Eminent Scholar, Rhesa S. Farmer, Jr., Advanced Computing Concepts Chair, co-executive director of ML@GT, and professor with a joint appointment in the Schools of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Interactive Computing.
Georgia Tech has been actively engaged in AI research and education for decades, with more than 350 faculty working in fundamental and applied AI-related research across all six colleges, Georgia Tech Research Institute, and the majority of interdisciplinary research institutes and centers. The Institute has a strong foundation and advantage in AI, as the leading engineering university with an applied, solutions-focused approach. It was also the first public university to launch a computer science school.
“The discipline of AI has a deep history at Georgia Tech, and we continue to serve as leaders in many areas of AI research and education,” said Irfan Essa, interim co-director of AI Hub at Georgia Tech, distinguished professor, senior associate dean in the College of Computing, and co-executive director of ML@GT. “At present, we are seeing unprecedented growth in AI and responsible deployment is top of mind for many. AI Hub at Georgia Tech will bring all areas of AI under one umbrella to provide structure and governance as the Institute continues to lead and innovate in the discipline of AI, with the related disciplines of machine learning, robotics, and data science."
To become involved in AI Hub at Georgia Tech, contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.]]>
Recipients are selected based on their exceptional achievements and potential for future success in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Qutob is joined by fellow Georgia Tech undergraduate students Jim James, Maeve Janecka, Velin "Venny" Kojouharov, and Dawei Liu in receiving the honor.
As a Leddy Family Dean's Scholar at Georgia Tech, Qutob’s physics research focuses on gravitational wave data analysis with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), specifically parameter estimation optimization for the high signal-to-noise ratio regime.
Qutob says that her mentors, Associate Dean for Research in the College of Sciences and Physics Professor Laura Cadonati and Postdoctoral Fellow Meg Millhouse, have been instrumental during her time at LIGO.
"Their guidance and patience have cultivated an environment where I can thrive and reach my full research potential. I wouldn't be where I am today without them," she said.
Qutob also took advantage of Georgia Tech’s Prestigious Fellowships Advising for support through the application process.
"Karen Mura and Shannon Dobranski were instrumental in the success of my Goldwater application," she added. "They were available to proofread my application materials, answer questions, and offer suggestions at every stage of the application process."
Qutob hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in astrophysics and conduct research on dark matter's influence on the formation of galaxies.
“I am so proud of the accomplishments and successes of these students," Mura said. "They worked diligently on their Goldwater applications, which required several short answer essays and a three-page research essay. In addition, this marks the first time that Georgia Tech has had five recipients – the largest number of recipients allowed by Goldwater. Each institution is allowed to nominate four applicants and a fifth applicant if they are a transfer student for the national competition per year."
Learn more about the latest Georgia Tech Goldwater Scholars.
The Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to serve as a living memorial to honor the lifetime work of Senator Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years in the U.S. Senate.
By providing scholarships to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering, the Goldwater Foundation is helping ensure that the U.S. is producing the number of highly-qualified professionals the Nation needs in these critical fields.
Over its 30-year history, Goldwater Scholarships have been awarded to thousands of undergraduates, many of whom have gone on to win other prestigious awards like the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Fellowship, Rhodes Scholarship, Churchill Scholarship and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship that support our Scholars’ graduate school work.
Today, Goldwater alumni can be found conducting research that is helping defend the United States, finding cures for catastrophic diseases and teaching future generations of scientists, mathematicians and engineers.
Students interested in the Goldwater Scholarship, or any nationally or internationally competitive award, can follow up by scheduling an appointment with Karen Mura on AdvisorLink.
Pre-Graduate and Pre-Professional Advising is part of the Office of Undergraduate Education (OUE). Learn more about OUE by following @gtoue on social media.
Marketing Communications Manager
Office of Undergraduate Education at Georgia Tech
Mantle melts are buoyant and typically float toward the surface — think underwater volcanoes that erupt to form strings of islands. But Naif’s imaging instead showed a clear slice of semi-molten rock: low-degree partial melts, still sandwiched at the base of the plate some 37 miles beneath the ocean floor.
Then, the observation provided an explanation for how tectonic plates can gradually slide, lubricated by partial melting. The study also “raised several questions about why magma is stored in a thin channel — and where the magma originated from,” says Naif, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology.
Fellow researchers went on to share competing interpretations for the cause of the channel — including studies that argued against magma being needed to explain the observation.
So Naif went straight to the source.
“I basically went on a multiyear hunt, akin to a Sherlock Holmes detective story, looking for clues of mantle magmas that we first observed in the 2013 Nature study,” he says. “This involved piecing together evidence from several independent sources, including geophysical, geochemical, and geological (direct seafloor sampling) data.”
Now, the results of that search are detailed in a new Science Advances article, “Episodic intraplate magmatism fed by a long-lived melt channel of distal plume origin”, authored by Naif and researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey at Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center, Northern Arizona University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and GNS Science of Lower Hutt, New Zealand.
A relatively young oceanic plate — some 23 million years old — the Cocos Plate traces down the western coast of Central America, veering west to the Pacific Plate, then north to meet the North American Plate off the Pacific coast of Mexico.
Sliding between these two plates caused the devastating 1985 Mexico City earthquake and the 2017 Chiapas earthquake, while similar subduction between the Cocos and Caribbean plates resulted in the 1992 Nicaragua tsunami and earthquake, and the 2001 El Salvador earthquakes.
Scientists study the edges of these oceanic plates to understand the history and formation of volcanic chains — and to help researchers and agencies better prepare for future earthquakes and volcanic activity.
It’s in this active area that Naif and fellow researchers recently set out to document a series of magmatic intrusions just beneath the seafloor, in the same area that the team first detected the channel of magma back in 2013.
For the new study, the team combined geophysical, geochemical, and seafloor drilling results with seismic reflection data, a technique used to image layers of sediments and rocks below the surface. “It helps us to see the geology where we cannot see it with our own eyes,” Naif explains.
First, the researchers observed an abundance of widespread intraplate magmatism. “Volcanism where it is not expected,” Naif says, “basically away from plate boundaries: subduction zones and mid-ocean ridges.”
Think Hawaii, where “a mantle plume of hot, rising material melts during its ascent, and then forms the Hawaii volcanic chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean,” just as with the Cocos Plate, where the team imaged the volcanism fed by magma at the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary — the base of the sliding tectonic plates.
“Below it is the convecting mantle,” Naif adds. “The tectonic plates are moving around on Earth's surface because they are sliding on the asthenosphere below them.”
The researchers also found that this channel below the lithosphere is regionally extensive — over 100,000 square kilometers — and is a “long-lived feature that originated from the Galápagos Plume,” a mantle plume that formed the volcanic Galápagos islands, supplying melt for a series of volcanic events across the past 20 million years, and persisting today.
Importantly, the new study also suggests that these plume-fed melt channels may be widespread and long-lived sources for intraplate magmatism itself — as well as for mantle metasomatism, which happens when Earth’s mantle reacts with fluids to form a suite of minerals from the original rocks.
“This confirms that magma was there in the past — and some of it leaked through the mantle and erupted near the seafloor,” Naif says, “in the form of sill intrusions and seamounts: basically volcanoes located on the seafloor.”
The work also provides compelling supporting evidence that magma could still be stored in the channel. “More surprising is that the erupted magma has a chemical fingerprint that links its source to the Galápagos mantle plume.”
“We learned that the magma channel has been around for at least 20 million years, and on occasion some of that magma leaks to the seafloor where it erupts volcanically,” Naif adds.
The team’s identified source of the magma, the Galápagos Plume, “is more than 1,000 kilometers away from where we detected this volcanism. It is not clear how magma can stay around in the mantle for such a long time, only to leak out episodically.”
The evidence that the team compiled is “really quite subtle and requires a detailed and careful study of a suite of seafloor observations to connect the dots,” Naif says. “Basically, the signs of such volcanism, while they are quite clear here, also require high resolution data and several different types of data to be able to detect such subtle seafloor features.”
So, “if we can see such subtle clues of volcanism here,” Naif explains, “it means a similar, careful analysis of high resolution data in other parts of the seafloor may lead to similar discoveries of volcanism elsewhere, caused by other mantle plumes.”
“There are numerous mantle plumes dotted across the planet. There are also numerous seamounts — at least 100,000 of them! — covering the seafloor, and it is anyone’s guess how many of them formed in the middle of the tectonic plates because of magma sourced from distant mantle plumes that leaked to the surface.”
Naif looks forward to continuing that search, from seafloor to asthenosphere.
Funding: National Science Foundation: OCE-0625178, U.S. Science Support Program
Citation: DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.add3761
About Georgia Tech
The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is one of the top public research universities in the U.S., developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition.
The Institute offers business, computing, design, engineering, liberal arts, and sciences degrees. Its more than 45,000 undergraduate and graduate students, representing 50 states and more than 148 countries, study at the main campus in Atlanta, at campuses in France and China, and through distance and online learning.
As a leading technological university, Georgia Tech is an engine of economic development for Georgia, the Southeast, and the nation, conducting more than $1 billion in research annually for government, industry, and society.]]>
“The Curci Foundation funds research that’s just emerging, that’s on the edge,” Sponberg says. “Part of the goal is to develop fundamental knowledge that will seed all sorts of future research.”
Cheung’s research has the potential to improve medical treatments — including many cancer treatments — and also to help create plants that are more resilient to climate change, which could help feed communities of the future.
Sponberg’s research into agile movement also has medical applications — potentially changing the way we approach physical therapy for degenerative diseases — as well as a number of other applications, including building better robots.
Read the full story on the College of Sciences website.]]>
Curtis will serve as one of six ADVANCE Professors, one for each college at Georgia Tech. Her appointment is effective July 1, 2023.
“It is an honor,” Curtis says. “Having personally benefited from ADVANCE initiatives, I am grateful for the opportunity to build on my predecessors' work and to contribute to the well-being of all faculty at Georgia Tech. I look forward to partnering with the current ADVANCE professors, the College’s Center for Promoting Inclusion and Equity in the Sciences (C-PIES), and Georgia Tech leadership.
“Jennifer has been a strong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion for many years, and I am confident she will bring that advocacy to this new role,” says Susan Lozier, Dean of the College of Sciences, Betsy Middleton and John Clark Sutherland Chair and Professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “In this role, Jennifer will work with ADVANCE professors from the other five colleges to advance Georgia Tech’s mission and will play an integral role in the College of Sciences Center for Promoting Inclusion and Equity in the Sciences. For my part, I look forward to a close partnership with her in the months and years ahead.”
"Jennifer has been a true champion of diversity and inclusion at Georgia Tech,” adds Feryal Özel, professor and chair in the School of Physics. “She has been working tirelessly toward providing education and career opportunities as well as a welcoming environment for everyone who is interested in physics and the sciences. I am looking forward to seeing all the exciting things she will do with her ADVANCE professorship."
Jean Lynch-Stieglitz, professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, has served as the College’s ADVANCE Professor since 2022. Lynch-Stieglitz is among nine Jefferson Science Fellows selected this year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to build STEM expertise in the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“This announcement also gives me the opportunity to thank Jean for her service as our ADVANCE professor over the past year,” added Lozier. “As a reminder, Jean’s term in this role was limited since she accepted a prestigious Jefferson Fellowship that will take her to the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. next year.”
Lynch-Stieglitz will be joined in that fellowship by Olga Shemyakina, associate professor in the School of Economics at Georgia Tech.
“As the College of Sciences ADVANCE professor, there are three areas where I will focus my attention,” Curtis says. “The first area is the continued support for College women and minority faculty, including non-tenure track faculty members. A second area unique to my interests — and an extension of my ongoing work — is to collaborate closely with C-PIES to identify accelerated solutions to increase the diversity of our faculty at Georgia Tech.”
Curtis adds, “The third area that I will pursue is at the Institute level in coordination and collaboration with the other Georgia Tech ADVANCE professors: I will leverage the experience and wisdom of my colleagues to guide my efforts in the College of Sciences and to support and lead Institute-wide ADVANCE initiatives.”
Supported by Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Georgia Tech’s ADVANCE Program builds and sustains an inter-college network of professors who are world-class researchers and role models to support the community and advancement of women and minorities in academia by “advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion, advising campus leadership on policy and structure, increasing awareness and reducing the impact of implicit bias, and making data-driven recommendations for faculty retention, advancement, and satisfaction.”
About Jennifer Curtis
Since 2016, Curtis has served as director or co-director of the School of Physics’ Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, funded by the National Science Foundation, which focuses on broadening participation in physics and strengthening ties with the Atlanta University Consortium (AUC), which includes Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University. At least 10 REU students have since entered graduate programs at Georgia Tech.
Working with Morehouse leadership, Curtis has arranged for College of Sciences faculty to present once a month in Morehouse’s weekly research seminar series. Curtis and School of Physics undergraduate Julianne Tijani are a Georgia Tech chapter of the National Society of Black Physicists.
Curtis’ research is primarily focused on the physics of cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix interactions, in particular within the context of glycobiology (the study of sugar chains in nature) and immunobiology.
Her lab’s newest projects focus on questions of collective and single cell migration in vitro and in vivo; immunophage therapy — an immunoengineering approach — that uses combined defense of immune cells plus viruses (phage) to overcome bacterial infections; and the study of the molecular biophysics and biomaterials applications of hyaluronan synthase, an enzyme. Learn more.]]>
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston]]>
The ENVS degree will provide a strong foundation in the basic sciences, requiring core content in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, earth sciences, and environmental policy. Flexible electives in upper-level coursework will allow students to customize their program of study to their interest and career goals.
A launch event for the degree program will take place at the Kendeda Building on the afternoon of Friday, August 25, 2023.
“The new degree will prepare students to be future leaders who are well-versed on how the Earth's systems can be influenced by human activity and contribute to human well-being,” says Greg Huey, professor and chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “Graduates will be positioned to be leaders in industry, academia, education, and communication to create innovative solutions to the most significant environmental challenges of our time.”
Two faculty members in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS) and a faculty member in the School of Biological Sciences will serve as inaugural leadership: Jennifer Glass, associate professor, is program director; Samantha Wilson, academic professional, is director of Undergraduate Studies; and Linda Green, senior academic professional in the School of Biological Sciences, is director of Experiential Learning.
The foundational science classes in this new degree will be complemented by courses in Public Policy and City Planning, including Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Environmental Policy and Politics, before opening up and providing students with flexibility in course options to better fit their career paths and interests.
“Past EAS students have been interested in careers related to environmental consulting, environmental law, and continuing their studies in graduate school,” Wilson says. “The variety of environmental career paths was the driver behind allowing students to diversify their options within the degree.”
“This degree will give Georgia Tech students a unique opportunity to customize their environmental science program of study to their interests and career goals in science, policy, public service, non-profit, government, industry, academia, or beyond,” adds Glass. “We are committed to building an academic community in ENVS that values student leadership, diversity, inclusion, equity, accessibility, and belonging.”
Hands-on learning opportunities will include field station experiences and field trip excursions, study abroad programs, and internships, Green says. “This major sustains the Institute’s strategic plan to lead by example, champion innovation, and connect globally — particularly in an area so critical as addressing Earth’s environmental issues.”
Glass added that the Schools of Chemistry, Biological Sciences, and Earth and Atmospheric Sciences are currently revamping several classes to meet United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Students will advance to be global leaders of environmental solutions that draw upon the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and incorporate awareness of environmental justice issues.
“We can’t wait for August to celebrate the ENVS launch with our incoming and current students,” Glass says.
More information on the Environment Science (ENVS) degree:
General information: email@example.com
Curriculum and enrollment: firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-curricular initiatives: email@example.com
Learn more: Three new EAS undergraduate degrees
Beginning Summer 2023, prospective and current Georgia Tech students will have three new Bachelor of Science degrees to choose from in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. The expanded undergraduate offerings target a wider range of job and research opportunities — from academia to analytics, NASA to NOAA, meteorology to marine science, climate and earth science, to policy, law, consulting, sustainability, and beyond.
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia has approved two new specific degrees within the School: Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences (AOS) and Solid Earth and Planetary Sciences (SEP). Regents also approved Environmental Science (ENVS) as an interdisciplinary College of Sciences degree between the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and the School of Biological Sciences. The existing Earth and Atmospheric Sciences B.S. degree will sunset in two years for new students. Learn more.]]>
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston
“In this new role,” Chang says, “I am looking forward to learning about how our faculty are leading and excelling across the College of Sciences. My hope is to support each school in recruiting the best faculty possible, to increase the diversity of our ranks, and to help our faculty succeed at Georgia Tech.”
The associate dean for Faculty is responsible for developing, implementing, and assessing programs that enhance the instructional, research, and career opportunities for faculty. Key areas of responsibility include faculty hiring, mentoring of faculty, faculty retention, promotion, and tenure; and diversity, equity, and inclusion at the faculty level.
“Because of his service to Biological Sciences as the associate chair for Faculty Development over the past six years, Young-Hui will bring a wealth of experience to this new position,” says Susan Lozier, dean of the College of Sciences, Betsy Middleton and John Clark Sutherland Chair, and professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS). “He impressed the search committee and me with his commitment to faculty excellence, support and advancement.
“I am grateful to Greg Huey, chair of EAS, for chairing the search committee and to Jennifer Leavey, Wing Li, and Lewis Wheaton for serving on the committee. Thanks also to Juliet Dawson-Dyce for providing administrative support to the committee,” Lozier added.
“I was really humbled, and [am] honored to be taking on this role,” Chang says. “I see it as an opportunity to support my colleagues in the College and give back to the Institute that has supported me through my own academic journey.
“In my role as associate chair for Faculty Development in Biological Sciences, I was able to see how exceptional our faculty are,” he added, “from the ones dedicated to teaching and serving our students, to those on the leading edge in their respective fields of research — and how I could use my position to support their individual professional goals.”
The College’s inaugural associate dean for Faculty, Matt Baker, appointed 2018, is one of 39 researchers around the country named to the 2023 Class of Simons Fellows. Baker, a professor in the School of Mathematics, will use the fellowship and a Georgia Tech Faculty Development Grant for a sabbatical in 2023-2024.
“We will soon have a proper send-off to thank Matt Baker for his service over the past five years, but I would be remiss if I did not also take this opportunity to thank him for his many contributions to the College,” Lozier says.
About Young-Hui Chang
Chang is the director of the Comparative Neuromechanics Laboratory in the School of Biological Sciences, where he also currently serves as a professor and as associate chair for Faculty Development.
His research program focuses on trying to understand how animals move through and interact with their environment. He integrates approaches and techniques from both biomechanics and neurophysiology to study both passive mechanical and active neural mechanisms that control limbed locomotion in humans and other vertebrates.]]>
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston
Two prominent origin-of-life chemists have published a new hypothesis for how the first sugars—which were necessary for life to evolve—arose on the early Earth.
In a paper that appeared on April 13, 2023, in the journal Chem, the chemists from Scripps Research and the Georgia Institute of Technology propose that key sugars needed for making early life forms could have emerged from reactions involving glyoxylate (C2HO3–), a relatively simple chemical that plausibly existed on the Earth before life evolved.
“We show that our new hypothesis has key advantages over the more traditional view that early sugars arose from the chemical formaldehyde,” says Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Chemistry at Scripps Research.
Krishnamurthy’s co-author was Charles Liotta, Ph.D., Regents' Professor Emeritus at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Chemistry and Biochemistry with a joint appointment in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
Origin-of-life chemists seek to explain how the basic molecular building blocks and reactions necessary for life could have arisen from the simple chemicals that were likely present on the “prebiotic” Earth. The overarching aim of the field is to answer the fundamental question of how our living planet came to be. But its discoveries also can inform—and have informed—many other fields, from atmospheric science and geology to synthetic biology and the search for life on other planets.
The three major classes of biological molecule whose availability needs to be explained by origin-of-life chemistry are: the amino acids that make up proteins, the nucleobases that make up the “letters” of DNA and RNA, and the sugars (also called carbohydrates) that are found throughout biology, including in the twisted backbone structure of DNA and RNA. According to the prevailing theories, amino acids probably arose from ammonia (NH3), while nucleobases arose from hydrogen cyanide (HCN).
The origin of sugars has been less clear. Many scientists believe the first sugars came from reactions involving formaldehyde (CH2O), but this theory has some drawbacks.
“The formaldehyde reactions proposed by this theory are quite messy—they have uncontrolled side reactions and other drawbacks due to formaldehyde’s high reactivity under the envisioned early-Earth conditions,” Liotta says.
The chemists’ proposed alternative is a “glyoxylose reaction” scenario in which glyoxylate first reacts with itself, forming a close cousin of formaldehyde known as glycolaldehyde. The researchers suggest that glyoxylate, glycolaldehyde, their byproducts and other simple compounds could have continued to react with one another, ultimately yielding simple sugars and other products—without the drawbacks of formaldehyde-based reactions.
Glyoxylate already has a prominent role in origin-of-life chemistry theories. Swiss chemist Albert Eschenmoser proposed in 2007 that a form of it might have been the source for multiple original biomolecules. Krishnamurthy and Furman University chemist Greg Springsteen, Ph.D., also suggested in a 2020 Nature Chemistry paper that glyoxylate could have helped initiate a primordial version of the modern (tricarboxylic acid) TCA cycle, a basic metabolic process found in most life forms on Earth.
Krishnamurthy and his team are currently working to demonstrate in the laboratory that the glyoxylose reaction scenario could indeed have yielded the first sugars.
“Such a demonstration would expand the role of glyoxylate as a versatile molecule in prebiotic chemistry and further stimulate the search for its own origin on the prebiotic Earth,” Krishnamurthy says.
The chemists are also looking into potential commercial applications of reactions that make glyoxylate, since these effectively consume CO2 and thus can be used to reduce CO2 levels, either locally in industrial settings or globally to combat global warming.
The study, “The Potential of Glyoxylate as a Prebiotic Source Molecule and a Reactant in Protometabolic Pathways – The Glyoxylose Reaction,” was supported by the NASA Exobiology Program NNH20ZA001N-EXO (20-EXO-0006) and by the National Science Foundation and the NASA Astrobiology Program under the Center for Chemical Evolution (CHE-1504217).
“Everyone has had a mother at some point in their life,” says Ragan, who is a faculty member and academic professional in the School of Biological Sciences and the director of Outreach for the Undergraduate Program in Neuroscience at Tech. “We may all develop different diseases [later in life], but we've all had a mother.”
Ragan, who directs the Molecular Mechanisms of Mothering and Anxiety (MOMMA) Lab, is particularly interested in studying how the events of pregnancy and early parenthood may affect the mental health of both mothers and children.
“Mental health is one of those things that’s not always as obvious as other physical ailments. If you break your arm, you go to the doctor. If you have a heart attack, you would go to the doctor. But when you're feeling depressed or anxious, sometimes you don't always go and seek help,” Ragan explains. “We need better markers of mental health — if we can find some of those neurobiological markers, maybe that can help identify who's at risk.”
And after years of studying it, Ragan is about to become a parent herself, finding that “you can do as much research as you want, and you’re still going to find things that surprise you.”
“I'm interested in the neurobiology of parental behavior — or what's going on in the brain when someone becomes a parent — and I focus on mothers,” Ragan says. One of her big interests is in postpartum anxiety.
“What happens with postpartum anxiety is that it just seems typical to most people. Of course, I’m going to worry about my kid, right? That's how they survive. But it becomes an issue when it's prolonged.
To better understand anxious mothers, Ragan studies animals. “The challenge with using non-human animals is we can't ask them, ‘how are you feeling today?’ But we have these other proxy measures.” By measuring how the animals respond to spaces that either induce anxiety (like a maze, high off the ground) or calm it (like a dark, enclosed space), Ragan can gain insights into their mental health
Throughout her career, Ragan has examined how things like exposure to certain medications or skin-to-skin contact impacts behavioral and neurobiological markers of anxiety in both maternal and postnatal rodents. One such project examined obsessive-compulsive behaviors in maternal rats and their offspring.
“Postpartum OCD is things like constantly checking to see if the baby's breathing, which again, plenty of parents do. But will you not leave the house because you're worried something's going to happen?”
Exposing rodents to clomipramine — an antidepressant commonly prescribed to treat OCD in humans — shortly after birth has been shown to induce OCD-like behaviors in rodents (like repetitively poking their heads in and out of holes in an enclosure) later in life. “But people had done this work only in male rats,” Ragan says.
When she studied the effects of this exposure on the behavior of maternal rats, they exhibited the same OCD-like behaviors that had been observed in male rats. Ragan says they were also “different in their nursing behaviors. Overall, the amount of time [spent nursing] was the same as the controls, but when it should have been at its highest — it was kind of shifted.”
For the past year, Harika Kosaraju, an undergraduate studying neuroscience at Georgia Tech, has been following up on Ragan’s behavioral research. Kosaraju will dive deeper into this work in the fall, where she’ll be looking at how those conditions impact serotonin — a neurotransmitter commonly decreased with OCD — in decision-making areas of the brain, as well as how the molecular machinery cells use to produce serotonin are affected.
“I was initially really attracted to Dr. Ragan's projects because of this population that they were addressing, that I hadn't seen addressed in a lot of research,” says Kosaraju. “Focusing on a population that doesn't have a lot of research is so important — especially because of the stresses and risks of pregnancy and childbirth in the postpartum period.”
Ragan’s husband Zachary Grieb, who is a Medical Science Liaison with Amneal Pharmaceuticals, also studied the neurobiology of parenthood, focusing primarily on the interplay between oxytocin and parenthood. The two met as trainees at Michigan State University, and after years of collaborating on their parenthood research, Grieb and Ragan will soon begin their own journey in parenthood.
“One of the things I remember [Christina] saying when we were dating was ‘I have to have a baby — I mean, we study this!’,” Grieb says.
“Exactly!” Ragan replied. “We have to put theory into practice. But you can research for years and years and years, and nothing can really prepare you for a child,” Ragan says.
“I think one of the things I’ve appreciated more about this process is how everything begins with the mother,” Grieb added. “Gestation — the mother and her experiences — those are [the baby’s] initial paths.
And while that may sound overwhelming, both Ragan and Grieb have some related advice for new parents.
“The newborn brain is as plastic as it ever will be — you have the most cells you’ll ever have,” Grieb says. “One of the problems with having all this information and research is we can be overwhelmed by it. And it's great that we have this information — but know that kids can be incredibly resilient.”
When it comes to mental health, Ragan adds that “if you have any concerns at all that you may be feeling anxious or depressed — especially if you haven’t experienced that before — definitely tell your physician because they can tell you different strategies to cope with it. Early detection is the best kind of treatment.”]]>
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston
Director of Communications, College of Sciences
The award from the pharmaceutical company recognizes graduate students and postdoctoral scholars for their chemical science research across a range of subdisciplines — computational, analytical, medicinal, biological and synthetic chemistry.
“I was very elated by the news of the award,” Dominic says. “Along with this is the opportunity to network with other members of the Merck award committee, the larger Merck community, past award winners, and members of my award cohort. As someone who is interested in an industry career within the pharma and biotech spaces, the award offers an invaluable opportunity to get help and support for my professional aspirations, especially from URMs (underrepresented minorities) like me who are building successful industry careers.”
In addition to working with mentors, the Merck Award researchers will present their work at an award symposium, where a diverse team of Merck scientists will designate winners. Judges will consider both the potential for scientific pioneering and innovation, and how the awardees can help fellow underrepresented scientists in the future.
At Georgia Tech, Dominic researches biochemistry and chemical biology in the lab of Associate Professor Amit Reddi, where he is focused on an essential bio-molecule called heme, the pigment that makes blood red.
“It is important in supporting many life processes and is involved, directly or indirectly, in medically relevant conditions such as cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disorders and pathogenic infections,” Dominic says. “While we know quite a bit about heme on the cellular level, much is still not understood, and filling in those gaps will be pertinent for developing therapeutics and diagnostics for heme-related pathologies. My specific interest is in the development of biological tools to image heme and thereby improve our understanding of its cellular homeostasis.”
Dominic received his bachelor’s in Biochemistry at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and earned his master’s in Toxicology at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.
Earlier this year, Dominic also won a 2023 Summer Research Experience Award through the Center for Promoting Inclusion and Equity in the Sciences (C-PIES).
Dominic was also a poster competition winner at the 2023 Career Research Innovation and Development Conference — a collaboration between the Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA) and the Graduate Career Development Team from the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate and Postdoctoral Education at Georgia Tech. Both that award and the C-PIES honor include funding for research-related travel.
As a younger student, Dominic says he developed an interest in chemistry, biology, math, and economics, crediting his advisor, Amit Reddi, with being his most impactful mentor so far.
“Scientifically, he has guided me towards independent, data-driven thought and encouraged me to confidently challenge current paradigms in order to push the boundaries of our knowledge,” Dominic says. “Professionally, he has helped me significantly improve my communication skills, encouraged networking opportunities, regularly shared career development resources, and is always willing to support my aspirations with his time and energy.”]]>
Fermented foods like kimchi have been an integral part of Korean cuisine for thousands of years. Since ancient times, Korean chefs have used onggi — traditional handmade clay jars — to ferment kimchi. Today, most kimchi is made through mass fermentation in glass, steel, or plastic containers, but it has long been claimed that the highest quality kimchi is fermented in onggi.
Kimchi purists now have scientific validation, thanks to recent research from David Hu, professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Biological Sciences at Georgia Tech, and Soohwan Kim, a second-year Ph.D. student in Hu’s lab.
In a combined experimental and theoretical study, Hu and Kim measured carbon dioxide levels in onggi during kimchi fermentation and developed a mathematical model to show how the gas was generated and moved through the onggi’s porous walls. By bringing the study of fluid mechanics to bear on an ancient technology, their research highlights the work of artisans and provides the missing link for how the traditional earthenware allows for high quality kimchi.
Their research was published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
“We wanted to find the ‘secret sauce’ for how onggi make kimchi taste so good,” Hu said. “So, we measured how the gases evolved while kimchi fermented inside the onggi — something no one had done before.”
The porous structure of these earthenware vessels mimics the loose soil where lactic acid bacteria — known for their healthy probiotic nature — are found. While previous studies have shown that kimchi fermented in onggi has more lactic acid bacteria, no one knew exactly how the phenomenon is connected to the unique material properties of the container.
First, Kim obtained a traditional, handmade onggi jar from an artisan in his hometown in Jeju, South Korea, a region famous for onggi. Back at Georgia Tech, Hu and Kim first tested the permeability of the onggi by observing how water evaporated through the container over time.
Next, they installed carbon dioxide and pressure sensors into both the onggi and a typical, hermetically sealed glass jar. They prepared their own salted cabbage and placed it in both containers. They then used the sensors to measure and compare the change in carbon dioxide — a signature of fermentation.
Hu and Kim also developed a mathematical model based on the porosity of the onggi. The model allowed them to infer the generation rate of carbon dioxide, since the onggi lets carbon dioxide out gradually.
They concluded that the onggi’s porous walls permitted the carbon dioxide to escape the container, which accelerated the speed of fermentation. The onggi’s porosity also functioned as a “safety valve,” resulting in a slower increase in carbon dioxide levels than the glass jar while blocking the entry of external particles. Their data revealed that the carbon dioxide level in onggi was less than half of that in glass containers.
They also found that the beneficial bacteria in the onggi-made kimchi proliferated 26% more than in the glass counterpart. In the glass jar, the lactic acid bacteria became suffocated by their own carbon dioxide in the closed glass container. It turns out that, because the onggi releases carbon dioxide in small rates, the lactic acid bacteria are happier and reproduce more.
“Onggi were designed without modern knowledge of chemistry, microbiology, or fluid mechanics, but they work remarkably well,” Kim said. “It’s very interesting to get these new insights into ancient technology through the lens of fluid dynamics.”
Onggi’s semiporous nature is unique compared to other forms of earthenware. A clay container that leaks, but only slightly, is not easy to make. Terra cotta containers, for example, quickly leak water.
“It's amazing that, for thousands of years, people have been building these special containers out of dirt, but in many ways, they are very high tech,” Hu said. “We discovered that the right amount of porosity enables kimchi to ferment faster, and these onggi provide that.”
Kim said that some artisans still use ancient methods when making onggi, but their numbers are decreasing. Now, the market is flooded with inauthentic versions of the vessels.
“We hope this study draws attention to this traditional artisan work and inspires energy-efficient methods for fermenting and storing foods,” he said. “Also, the onggi are quite beautiful.”
Citation: Kim Soohwan and Hu David L. Onggi’s permeability to carbon dioxide accelerates kimchi fermentation. J. R. Soc. Interface. 2023.
This material was supported by the Woodruff Faculty fellowship and the NSF Physics of Living Systems student network.]]>
CLEVER is the successor to Orlando’s pioneering REVEALS (Radiation Effects on Volatiles and Exploration of Asteroids and Lunar Surfaces) center, and both are part of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) program.
REVEALS and CLEVER look ahead to the return of humans to the moon for sustained periods — a key part of NASA’s plan for space exploration in the coming decade. Volatiles such as water, molecular oxygen, methane, and hydrogen are crucial to supporting human activity on the moon. Dust is also important since the space-weathered particles can pose health effects to astronauts and hazards to the technology and hardware.
The interdisciplinary group of researchers supported by CLEVER will study how the solar wind and micrometeorites produce volatiles, research how ice and dust behave in the lunar environment, develop new materials to deal with potential dust buildup, and invent new analysis tools to support the upcoming crewed missions of the Artemis program.
“The resources and knowledge that CLEVER will produce will be useful for the sustainable presence of humans on the moon,” Orlando says. “We have the correct mix of fundamental science and exploration — real, fundamental, ground-truth measurements; very good theory/modeling; and engineering — an easy mix with Georgia Tech and outside partners.”
Orlando adds that CLEVER adopts a unique perspective on the challenges of understanding how to operate on Earth’s moon. “The atomic and molecular view of processes with angstrom distances and femtosecond time scales can help unravel what is happening on planetary spatial scales and geological time frames,” he says. “We can also translate our knowledge into materials, devices, and technology pretty quickly, and this is necessary if we want to help the Artemis astronauts.”
CLEVER includes investigators from Georgia Tech, University of Georgia, the Florida Space Institute, University of Hawaii, Auburn University, Space Sciences Institute, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, NASA Ames, NASA Kennedy Space Center, and partners in Italy and Germany. In addition to pursuing a blend of fundamental science and mission support, CLEVER will also emphasize the research and career development of students and young investigators, another important goal of the SSERVI system.
Writer: M.G. Finn
Art: Brice Zimmerman]]>
The decline in emissions comes against a 10% expansion in the state’s economy, showing the potential for reducing emissions while pursuing economic growth, according to the team.
However, the team’s data also show a stark increase in transportation-related emissions, which now exceed pre-pandemic levels and has become the state’s largest source of climate pollution, according to Marilyn Brown, Regents’ Professor and Brook Byers Professor of Sustainable Systems in the School of Public Policy and the principal investigator on the Drawdown Georgia research team.
“While not all of the numbers are trending in the right direction, these data clearly show significant improvements in many sectors of our economy and also highlight where we have the greatest opportunities, namely transportation,” Brown said.
Track Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Your County
The report shows that while emissions from the electricity sector declined more than 15% between 2017 and 2021, transportation sources including cars and trucks put out 4% more climate-warming emissions in 2021 than five years earlier. Emissions from diesel vehicles spiked 16.1%, likely due to increased demand for delivery services driven by online shopping.
Emissions from Georgia’s agricultural and food sector fell by 7.1% during the study period while the average individual carbon footprint of Georgians declined from 22,092 pounds to 20,253 pounds.
“Based on the collaborations we’re a part of, we’re confident this is only the beginning of Georgia’s carbon reduction trend,” John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, said in a news release on the findings.
The foundation is a primary funder of Drawdown Georgia.
Brown leads the research team, which spans several Georgia colleges and universities. She is an internationally known climate policy researcher who has dedicated most of her career to helping solve the climate crisis.
The analysis is based on data from the first-of-its-kind Drawdown Georgia Emissions Tracker, which aggregates information from federal Energy Department, Transportation Department, and Environmental Protection Agency reports. The tracker was produced by a team of scientists led by William Drummond in the School of City and Regional Planning.
For a more detailed analysis of the findings, visit the Drawdown Georgia blog.]]>
A team of Georgia Tech researchers has built an automatic feeding machine for gorillas at Zoo Atlanta that allows the primates to more naturally forage for food. Their ForageFeeder replaces the zoo’s previous feeding protocols, which had staff deliver food to the habitat at set times and locations.
With the new machine, feeding times can be set for different intervals every day. This encourages the gorillas’ natural feeding behavior, giving them additional random foraging opportunities throughout the day.
"This is a great example of how technology can positively influence animal welfare," says David Hu, Faculty Advisor of the project. "Zoo Atlanta is a local, nonprofit institution, and it was great to see Georgia Tech students learning by doing. Technology has been improving human lives for years, and now it’s the gorillas’ turn."
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery
By Alan Bradley, Bantam Books, 2010
“If you are a fan of precocious, nerdy children and British murder mysteries, you’ll love amateur chemist/detective Flavia de Luce. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the first in a mystery series driven by Flavia’s unrelenting curiosity and resourcefulness. She is a 10-year-old MacGyver studying poisons in her crumbling English ancestral home in the 1950s, freely ranging around the countryside, stalking alleged murderers, and narrowly avoiding scrapes. If you like this one, you’ll be pleased to know there are several more in the series and they just get better.”
—Kelley Broome, corporate relations manager, Jones MBA Center, Scheller College of Business
The Ministry for the Future
By Kim Stanley Robinson, Orbit Books, 2020
“The Ministry for the Future, a climate fiction — or “cli-fi” — novel, is relevant to today’s landscape of record-breaking droughts and heat waves, record breaking precipitation and flooding, wildfires and powerful storms — clear reminders that climate challenges are real. Set in the near future, the story places you in the center of an organization created by the Paris Climate Agreement to work on behalf of future generations. A thriller, social science commentary, and detailed scientific case study, The Ministry for the Future is an engaging and satisfying work of science fiction sure to broaden readers’ understanding of the effects of climate change and the options available to us to today to alter its impact.”
—Daren Hubbard, vice president of Information Technology and chief information officer
100 Poems to Break Your Heart
By Edward Hirsch, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021
“Edward Hirsch’s 100 Poems to Break Your Heart is an anthology of selected poems that span from the 19th century to the present and includes poems originally written in English, as well as translations of poems from many other languages, such as Greek, French, Spanish, Russian, Yiddish, and German. Each poem is accompanied by Hirsch’s accessible commentary. He is among our top thinkers and critics of poetry, and his insights into the poems get right to the emotional core of each piece. Don’t let the title of the book fool you — while many of the poems in this collection might deal with grief or sadness, this book is anything but a downer. These 100 essential poems, as Hirsch says, ‘make us feel less alone and more connected.’ That’s what good poems do.”
—Travis Denton, associate director, Poetry@Tech, and editor, Terminus Magazine
The Summer Place
By Jennifer Weiner, Simon and Schuster, 2022
“There is a house with feelings and memories held by its family. There is a global pandemic, as well as uncomfortable family arrangements, an engagement, and lots of ‘Wait, what?’ Find a nice seat out in the sun or a comfy chair to read this joy by Jennifer Weiner. She wrote this book after reading an article about houses having feelings and holding our memories. She took that article and brought it to life. One of the main characters in this novel is the house which wants to protect the family. Grab a comfortable spot and a notebook, because you will definitely need it. Enjoy one of my favorite novels of the last three years.”
—Lauren Morton, academic program manager, Clark Scholars and Dean’s Scholars Program, College of Engineering
Mad Honey: A Novel
By Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan, Ballantine Books, 2022
“This novel follows Olivia McAfee and Lily Campanello on their life journey of starting over. Through a series of suspenseful events and stories, the two find themselves connected as Lily falls in love with Olivia’s son, Asher. One day, Olivia’s world is rocked when she receives a phone call that Lily is dead and Asher is being questioned. The story follows both of their lived experiences, uncovering secrets and stories untold, an unforgettable love story, and the power of family. I could not put this book down and loved the emotions that it led me through as I learned what their stories held.”
—Tim Edmonds-King, learning consultant, Workplace Learning and Professional Development, Georgia Tech Professional Education
An Assassin in Utopia: The True Story of a Nineteenth-Century Sex Cult and a President’s Murder
By Susan Wels, Pegasus Crime, 2023
“Susan Wels tells a gripping story about the assassination of President James A. Garfield in 1881, but the book is about so much more. It is a sweeping exploration of Victorian America, including major intellectual currents, the minutiae of political parties and schemes, and colorful, larger than life characters. Wels examines one of many 19th-century utopian settlements — Oneida, in upstate New York, which was organized around principles of free love and gender equality, but in practice would prove disturbing to both Victorian and modern eyes — and a delusional resident who sought to save the Republican Party by killing a president. It’s every bit as engrossing as a novel.”
—Stacy Braukman, senior writer and editor, Institute Communications
By Cristina Garcia, Knopf, 2003
“This novel follows a family through four generations, but it is not a wealthy family, not one of the privileged elites. It is an ordinary family — or ‘ordinary’ for each time period, just people like millions of their contemporaries. The story spans from the mid-19th century to the late 20th century, and it begins with a man being duped into enslavement. While a portion of the story takes place in the United States, most of it is set in Cuba and in China. The book is detailed, yet moves quickly, showing some of the ways humans hurt each other and some of the ways we help each other. It can be a bit depressing to notice the ties to human depravity, but the strands of common human goodness and the demonstrations of resilience are what I am left with at the end of this lyrical and slightly magical book.”
—Amy Bass Henry, executive director, Office of International Education
By Thomas Mullen, 37INK/ATRIA, 2016
“This is a murder mystery that tells the story of two of the first eight black police officers hired, due to political pressure, by the Atlanta Police Department in the sweltering heat of the summer of 1948. The two are investigating the murder of a woman, and they suspect a fellow officer may be the culprit. This work of historical fiction is a must-read for those living in the city. Mullen takes you back in time with his vivid imagery and attention to detail, to a world that was not so long ago.”
—DeMarco Williams, digital project manager, Georgia Tech Professional Education
The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations
By Daniel Yergin, Penguin Random House, 2020
“If you’re looking for the best roundup yet of the critical factors weighing on the international energy industry but don’t want to feel like you’re slogging through an oil company’s earnings report, consider Daniel Yergin’s The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations. The book is a very accessible update to his 1991 best-seller The Prize, which won its own prize, a Pulitzer. The New Map gives economist-historian Yergin a chance to check in on the U.S., China, Russia, and the Middle East, and how the rise of shale oil production, a climate crisis, a pandemic, and volatile geopolitics have caused tectonic shifts within the industry, which Yergin has tracked since the mid-1970s. He uses the latest data, science, and technological advances to help readers navigate The New Map for oil and gas in the 21st century.”
—Renay San Miguel, communications officer, College of Sciences]]>
“I’m proud that we’ve been able to not only avoid increases in tuition and fees over the past four years, but have actually reduced them by $1,100, which is unheard of in higher education,” said Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera. “We’ve been able to do this thanks to increases in state appropriations, enrollment growth, and the dedication of faculty and staff who constantly find innovative ways to get the job done, serve more students, and deliver the highest value to students in the nation. Georgia Tech is regularly cited among the best values for higher education in the nation — students pay less to go to school and get higher paying jobs when they’re done. It is my hope that Georgia Tech can continue to grow in the future, and I look forward to working with state officials to ensuring that we can continue to do so.”
State appropriations for FY24 include approximately $11 million for the $2,000 cost-of-living adjustment for full-time, eligible employees. The majority of pay adjustments will be completed in July.
“Georgia Tech remains strong, as demonstrated by our talented students, our growing undergraduate and graduate enrollment, and our incredible staff and faculty,” said Interim Executive Vice President for Administration and Finance and Interim Chief Business Officer Mike Shannon. “The approved funding will enable us to continue to advance our instructional, research, and service missions.”
Additional details regarding the FY24 budget and how it will affect the Georgia Tech community will be provided in the coming weeks as information becomes available.
So how did Williams, a self-professed data nerd, go from lab and field research analyzing air quality, to building a career in the software industry? By leveraging the programming languages she learned visualizing data, Williams transitioned into software engineering, vaulting up the career ladder inside industry giants Oracle and Salesforce over a 25+ year career.
Now, her current position is Group Vice President of Design and Product Experience for San Francisco-based New Relic, which provides cloud-based tools that monitor all the software and technologies used in a platform, website, or mobile app.
“Many people have asked, why didn't I just major in computer science?” said Williams, the keynote speaker for this spring’s College of Sciences Student and Alumni Leadership Dinner. “I know how I learn — it's being connected to and loving what I am learning about. So my path, I felt, was easier because I learned computer science through my love of earth sciences. Because I cared about that domain, it was easier to pick up the programming languages we were using to model data.”
That is also part of her message to more than three dozen students scattered across the College of Sciences who attended the Leadership Dinner. While Williams made the jump from a career in earth sciences to internet technology, she shared with students that what she learned as an EAS major was foundational in her software career path.
And the analytical and problem solving skills she learned in a lab — along with preparing presentations, public speaking, technical writing, experimentation, and strategic thinking — were transferable to fields within internet technology, she said.
At the Leadership Dinner, Williams also shared how presentation and storytelling skills are a key component of landing customers and investors. “Convincing people to support abstract ideas is a lot of what we do,” she said, “you're most successful in software by understanding where the puck is going.
“There's often a calculated leap that you take — understanding trends of where the industry is going,” Williams added. “And then you have to convince the people around you that there's this opportunity over here, which they may not understand, or they may not necessarily subscribe to. We use a lot of proof-of-concept and vision work to try to tell a story.”
At the Leadership Dinner, several College of Sciences alumni also joined Williams for “speed networking” rounds with the students. One of them was Christa Sobon (M.S. PSYCH ‘96), a member of the College of Sciences Advisory Board and a program manager in Manheim Digital for Cox Automotive, where she leads IT and process change implementations.
“All of her (Williams’) points were incredibly salient,” Sobon said. “What I told a lot of my students was just, as a Tech student, so many of the skills that you get here are transferable and applicable in the business world. As a College of Sciences student, of course you also just get some of those more pure research skills that really are transferable — even though on the surface they might not at first glance appear to be that way, but they really are.”
And of course, the world needs more scientists, Sobon added. “Pure research work is wonderful. And we need pure researchers — I love them,” she said. “But also she was just showing them the myriad of possibilities of things that they could do.”
Williams reiterated that point for the students, listing the wide range of educational backgrounds of people she has hired into design, research, and engineering roles over the last 10 years. Their skills ran the gamut from bioinformatics and architecture to oceanography and law.
“It’s in your best interest to understand the fields that you want to go into,” Williams added. “If you have a background that doesn't quite map to what the typical pedigree is, then you have to be able to communicate how what you've learned, and what you've done, maps to what their needs are. If you're successful in doing that, then you'll be successful in making a transition.”
John Currier, a second-year neuroscience undergraduate major, was receptive to Williams’ message. “You know, you might find that you really liked something or you really don't. But when these opportunities come up, it's: How can you best adapt to make it to your advantage?,” he said. “It’s having those core skills — and then being able to use them for what you want to do — or for something that might come up out of nowhere.”
The Spring Student Alumni Leadership Dinner is part of a series of career education-oriented events hosted by the College of Sciences in partnership with the Georgia Tech Career Center.
The events include Under The Scope, focusing on preparations for joining the workforce; Dinner With An Employer, which this spring has featured Sherwin Williams and WellStar Health Care; and CoSx Talks, lectures on lessons learned from College of Sciences alumni. More information is available by contacting James Stringfellow, College of Sciences Career Educator: 404-894-1923, firstname.lastname@example.org, Georgia Tech Career Center.]]>
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston
The SDGs were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They address the world’s most monumental challenges, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, and peace and justice. Some of the objectives are improved industry, innovation, and infrastructure; affordable and clean energy; and sustainable cities and communities. The SDGs appear by name in the Institute’s strategic plan as long-term goals that should guide teaching, research, and operations.
SDG Action and Awareness Week 2023 will focus primarily on SDG13: Climate Action and intersecting SDGs. Georgia Tech strives to be a leader in climate action across the Institute in operations, education, research, and economic development, and the development of a comprehensive Climate Action Plan is underway. President Ángel Cabrera encourages the Tech community to participate in virtual and in-person climate action events throughout the week.
On Thursday, March 9, at 8:30 a.m., Cabrera will convene a panel of faculty to discuss climate action. Joining him will be: Marilyn Brown, Regents’ Professor and the Brook Byers Professor of Sustainable Systems in the School of Public Policy; Andrea Calmon, assistant professor in the Scheller College of Business and faculty fellow in the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems; Tim Liewen, Regents’ Professor, David S. Lewis Chair, and executive director of the Strategic Energy Institute; and Brian Stone, professor in the School of City and Regional Planning and director of the Urban Climate Lab.
The panel is a hybrid event, with remote or in-person participation (at the Scholars Event Network Theater in Price Gilbert Library). RSVP here.
Other events during the week include a Green Cleaning DIY Workshop through the Office of Sustainability, a Social Impact Careers Alumni Panel through the Alumni Association, a Community Market through Auxiliary Services, a session on How to Afford Study Abroad and SDG Interactive Art Hours through the Office of International Education, a Seminar on Race and Gender through the Black Feminist Think Tank and the School of History and Sociology, two micro-workshops on aligning course objectives with the SDGs through the Center for Teaching and Learning and Serve-Learn-Sustain, a Corporate Carbon Accounting panel through Scheller College of Business, an information session and ice cream social through the EcoCar Vertically Integrated Project team, and a Climate Action Plan Stakeholder Engagement Session through the Office of Sustainability. View a listing of the week’s events for details and registration.
SDG Action and Awareness Week is part of a larger global effort through the University Global Coalition (UGC), which Cabrera chairs and helped found. The UGC is comprised of higher education leaders from around the world who work to advance the SDGs through education, research, service, and campus operations.
SDG Action and Awareness Week is an annual event occurring in early March. To collaborate next year, contact Drew Cutright, Office of Strategic Consulting.]]>
Five members of the inaugural Staff Advisory Council will continue to serve through the spring 2023 semester.
The College of Sciences Staff Advisory Council’s mission is to represent and advocate for the diverse community of staff within the College, interacting directly with the Dean of the College. The Council serves as a liaison between the staff and College leadership, providing an avenue for a significant contribution of staff expertise. The Council aims to use these perspectives to provide recommendations to the Dean, as well as to inform leadership members within each independent school regarding staff matters.
Please join us in welcoming the new CoS Staff Advisory Council members, and in hearing why they want to serve:
Shaun Ashley, faculty support coordinator, School of Physics:
I am dedicated to working with my colleagues to create a truly holistic work-life balance for our staff, the Institute, and beyond. Highlighting and encouraging staff engagement is key to building healthy, successful, collaborative teams within the individual schools and the College of Sciences. I believe my positive attitude, experience, and commitment to community outreach at Georgia Tech, along with my proven ability to connect with culturally diverse staff will contribute to the shared staff council’s goals.
Danny Hardawar, IT engineer, Academic and Research Computing Services (ARCS):
I would love to serve as a Staff Advisory Council member to see how the Institute supports its staff behind the scenes. If I could also advocate and help other staff have their voices heard, I would love to do that as well.
Verene Lancaster, faculty support coordinator, School of Biological Sciences:
I believe in the Institute’s mission and vision. Making meaningful connections is important to me. I also want to become an advocate for staff, and use my knowledge and professional skills to support the growth and success of projects and initiatives of the CoS Staff Advisory Council.
Alison Ackie Morain, administrative manager, Human Resources and Faculty Affairs, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences:
The College of Sciences Staff Advisory Council has done a tremendous job of being a voice for staff issues. Collectively, we can bring together ideas and successes from each school and spotlight areas of opportunities for all our staff. As a result, we can achieve tremendous success coming together. It would be an honor for me to represent the staff to advance issues important to staff and to educate and participate in the development of staff programs. I believe staff members are the Institute’s greatest asset. I appreciate this nomination and would be honored to serve on the CoS Staff Advisory Council.
Rayshma Pereira, administrative manager I, School of Mathematics:
This is a great opportunity to be a part of building the culture we want to see at Georgia Tech. Since I’m also new to Tech, it gives me a chance to grow with the community as well.
Tikica Platt, administrative manager II, School of Psychology:
I am happy to serve as a Staff Advisory Council member in order to do what I can to propel the staff experience forward in a way that is necessary, and even revolutionary.
Anthony Yeboah, lab designer, Facilities, College of Sciences:
My goal of serving on the Staff Advisory Council emanates from the need to promote departmental collaboration. Such collaboration is critical for the individual and holistic development of our staff members. In my previous position, I had the opportunity to play different roles within committees and councils and have developed a background of logistic and procedural experience in organizing functions and providing constructive input. I am certain that I will be a strong team player and advocate for the Council and its programs and outreach.
Platt will serve as the new Staff Advisory Council Chair, with Yeboah and Ashley as co-vice chairs.
The five members of the first Council cohort who will remain through the end of the spring semester are Chung Kim, academic program coordinator, School of Biological Sciences; Gary Longstreet, academic program manager, School of Physics; Chinetta Pettaway, research administrative manager, School of Mathematics; Renay San Miguel,communications officer with the College; and Council Chair Kathy Sims, development assistant with the College of Sciences who is also on the CoS Task Force on Racial Equity and the Employee Engagement Leadership Council.
The Council schedules informational meetings every month for staff and College of Sciences Dean Susan Lozier, with some of those meetings tied to themes such as Black History Month or Men’s Health Month. The Council also arranges for events such as Staff Appreciation Day.
The Council began meeting in Fall 2020. Then, members met with staff remotely and worked with Dean Lozier on arranging virtual visits from the Institute’s Human Resources staff, health professionals, and faculty researching the pandemic to provide the latest information on Covid–19. The Council also hosted mental health and wellness talks to meet with staff during the unprecedented nature of the pandemic.]]>
Despite the progress in healthcare over the last century, resulting in longer life expectancy and better disease survival outcomes, significant disparities between various population groups remain a major global health issue.
A new study by Georgia Institute of Technology researchers in the open-access journal PLOS Global Health probes ethnic health disparities and mortality risk factors in the United Kingdom. Their work points to mortality risk factors that are group-specific, but modifiable, supporting the notion of targeted interventions that could lead to greater health equity.
“Different ethnic groups show very different levels of disease-specific mortality along with distinct mortality risk factors,” said I. King Jordan, professor in the School of Biological Sciences, and principal investigator on the study. “Unfortunately, when it comes to health, ethnicity still matters.”
Both environmental and genetic factors, and the interaction between them over time, have been cited as main contributors of health disparities. Closing the gap will require a long-term, complex series of solutions.
“Taking a one-size fits all approach to healthcare will only exacerbate the very health disparities that already disproportionately burden ethnic minorities,” said Jordan, whose collaborators on the study were lead author Kara Keun Lee, as well as Emily Norris, Lavanya Rishishwar, Andrew Conley, and John McDonald, emeritus professor in the School of Biological Sciences and founding director of Georgia Tech’s Integrated Cancer Research Center.
The work was done in collaboration with, and with support from, the NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) and Leonardo Mariño-Ramírez, a researcher working on epidemiology and genetics research at NIMHD’s Division of Intramural Research (DIR).
The research team analyzed data on 490,610 Asian, Black, and White participants from the UK Biobank, a study that enrolled 500,000 people in the UK aged 40 to 69 between 2006 and 2010. The UK Biobank includes data spanning physical measures, lifestyle, blood and urine biomarkers, imaging, genetic, and linked medical and death registry records.
Certain causes of mortality were more common among the different ethnic groups: Asian individuals had the highest mortality from ischemic heart disease, while individuals in the Black community had the highest mortality from COVID-19, and White individuals had the highest mortality from cancers of respiratory/intrathoracic organs.
In addition, some preexisting medical conditions and biomarkers showed specific associations with ethnicity and mortality. Mental health diagnoses, for instance, were a major risk factor for mortality in the Asian group, whereas parasitic diseases and C-reactive protein (CRP) serum levels were associated with higher mortality in the Black group.
“These results underscore the importance of population-specific studies that can help decompose health disparities and inform targeted interventions towards, shrinking the health disparity gap,” said Jordan, who praised Lee’s approach to the study, “which highlights the importance of considering individuals’ self-reported identity as it relates to their health outcomes, disease risks, and exposures.”
For future work, the team plans to look at racial and ethnic health disparities in the US, in collaboration with the NIMHD.
CITATION: Kara Keun Lee, Emily T. Norris, Lavanya Rishishwar, Andrew B. Conley, Leonardo Mariño-Ramírez, John F. McDonald, and I. King Jordan. “Ethnic disparities in mortality and group-specific risk factors in the UK Biobank.” doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgph.0001560
The Rising Stars award, begun in 2013, is presented to APS members in the early stages of their careers. The designation recognizes researchers whose innovative work has already advanced the field and signals great potential for their continued contributions.
“I feel heartened and grateful to be nominated for this recognition, let alone be among the outstanding awardees,” French said. “It is an honor to be recognized for my work, and to know that others see great potential in my contributions. I am excited to fulfill that trajectory as we continue to tackle questions about managing our work, family, and health needs.”
French is one of the few industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologists on this year’s Rising Stars list. I/O psychology researchers conduct scientific studies on a wide range of topics facing organizations and workplaces, including recruitment, skill acquisition and training, job behavior and performance, and workforce aging and diversity. Learn more about I/O psychology in the School of Psychology here.
"Our I/O psychology program has a distinguished history of excellence and is an intellectual powerhouse,” said Tansu Celikel, professor and chair of the School of Psychology. “Kim is a great example of our academicians who will shape the future of work psychology. She is not only a rising superstar in work psychology, but also an outstanding educator and mentor. "
About Kimberly French
French is the principal investigator of the Work Family Health Lab. Her research focuses on how people manage work and family, “and how this juggling act impacts individual and family health,” French said. “I focus particularly on physical and physiological health, as well as underrepresented and vulnerable populations, such as single mothers and shift workers. The ultimate goal is to build work-family policies and practices at work and at home that foster psychological, physical, and social health for all.”
French joined Georgia Tech in January 2018. She received her M.S. from California State University, San Bernardino, and her Ph.D. from the University of South Florida.
About Georgia Tech
The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is a top 10 public research university developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition. The Institute offers business, computing, design, engineering, liberal arts, and sciences degrees. Its nearly 44,000 students representing 50 states and 149 countries, study at the main campus in Atlanta, at campuses in France and China, and through distance and online learning. As a leading technological university, Georgia Tech is an engine of economic development for Georgia, the Southeast, and the nation, conducting more than $1 billion in research annually for government, industry, and society.]]>
“I'm very honored to be selected as this year's recipient of the Herty Medal,” Sherrill said. “This is one of the oldest awards given by the American Chemical Society, named after Charles H. Herty, who founded several chemistry-related industries in the Southeast in the early 20th century. I've met many wonderful chemists through the ACS, and it's a delight to receive this recognition from such a great organization.”
The Herty Award has been presented for more than 75 years to honor outstanding work by a chemist in the Southeast. The award recognizes research, education, and service activities in the Southeast, which covers both a large geographic territory and many academic and industrial organizations.
M.G. Finn, professor, chair, and James A. Carlos Family Chair for Pediatric Technology in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech, adds that the Herty Medal is one of the most prestigious honors in the “very active” community of local chapters of the American Chemical Society.
“Sherrill has been extraordinarily successful, and extraordinarily generous with his time and expertise,” Finn said. “Indeed, his entire professional life resonates with the concept of service, from the development of computational chemistry tools that everyone can use, to service as editor of a major journal, to leadership at the local and national levels of our professional society. He is a chemist’s chemist, and everyone else’s chemist, too.”
Sherrill has long been an active member of the ACS, both nationally and in the Georgia Section. In 2017, he received the ACS Outreach Volunteer of the Year Award for his work with K-12 teachers during National Chemistry Week.
Sherill will formally receive his Charles H. Herty Award — a solid gold medallion — at the 89th Herty Award Celebration in September. He is also set to serve as a keynote speaker at the Annual Herty Medalist Undergraduate Research Symposium (HMURS).
David Sherrill is the associate director of Georgia Tech’s Institute for Data Engineering and Science, which coordinates efforts in data science and high-performance computing. His research involves the development and application of theoretical methods and algorithms in computational quantum chemistry, and he is the lead principal investigator for the Psi4 open-source quantum chemistry software package. Sherrill is also the director of the Sherrill Group lab.
Sherrill’s recent research continues his career-long investigation into how molecules interact with each other, but it now involves computational techniques such as machine learning. “Intermolecular interactions control everything from the structure of biomolecules like DNA, to the energetics of organic crystals,” he explains.
“In collaboration with Bristol Myers Squibb, we've been developing models based on machine learning, and these models are nearly as accurate as rigorous quantum mechanics, but they are much faster. Our quantum-based software can only model a small portion of a drug's interaction with a protein — perhaps 500 atoms at most, and the computation takes days. With our machine learning model, we can compute the drug interacting with the entire protein in only seconds. We are very excited about the possibilities opened up by such a fast and accurate model.”
Sherrill is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, and ACS. He serves as an associate editor of the Journal of Chemical Physics and was recently elected to the board of the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists.]]>
CREATE-X is a faculty-led, student-focused initiative geared toward instilling entrepreneurial confidence in Georgia Tech students through the creation of startups. Students in the program can take courses and participate in workshops to build business skills, build prototypes, and receive mentorship, funding, and in-kind services to support launching their own startup during the program’s summer incubator, Startup Launch.
Prior to joining the CREATE-X team, Saxena spent more than 20 years building and guiding multiple startup companies, working as a development engineer and an early-stage venture capitalist, and publishing several research papers on cardiovascular fluid mechanics and mechanical heart valves.
At Georgia Tech, his alma mater, Saxena studied mechanical engineering. He then earned a European master’s degree from the Von Karman Institute for fluid dynamics and an MBA from Emory University.
Now that he’s the director of CREATE-X, Saxena wants to continue expanding awareness of the programs benefits to as many students as he can.
“My passion for the program has only grown since I joined the team,” Saxena said. “Our students have the skills and creativity to build startups, and I want them to know that CREATE-X will not only help them take their ideas to market, but also instill an entrepreneurial mindset and confidence which will be a lifelong skill for them.”
Since CREATE-X began, more than 5,000 students have been involved, crossing 38 majors.
Saxena said it’s been an honor to be a part of so many students’ entrepreneurial journey. Even after students graduate, Saxena still takes the time to give them advice and connect them to others in the Atlanta business community. That dedication to mentorship has also translated to the students who participate in the program. Founders continually reach out to Saxena to get involved with coaching students and helping the program where they can.
Saxena said he wants to continue building connections across campus and beyond, harnessing the wealth of knowledge, experience, skills and resources of Georgia Tech to help students be successful, regardless of their career pathway after graduation. He also wants to encourage those students that doubt they can create startups to try entrepreneurship as students, when the opportunity cost for them can be significantly lower.
“CREATE-X is rapidly growing, launching more than 350 startups since we began in 2014. Rahul has a proven track record of success at CREATE-X, and I’m confident that his continued leadership will foster even more growth,” Raghupathy “Siva” Sivakumar, vice president of the Office of Commercialization at Georgia Tech. “He has a firm grasp on what students need to gain entrepreneurial confidence and launch successful startups, the dedication to go out on campus and connect with students and other stakeholders, and he has a broad skill set to tackle the challenges of overseeing one of our nation’s largest student entrepreneurship platforms. We couldn’t have picked a better champion for our program.”]]>
There are times when John McDonald, emeritus professor in the School of Biological Sciences and founding director of Georgia Tech’s Integrated Cancer Research Center, is asked to share his special insight into cancer.
“Over the years, I’ve gotten calls from non-scientist friends and others who have been diagnosed with cancer, and they call me to get more details on what’s going on, and what options are available,” said McDonald, also a former chief scientific officer with the Atlanta-based Ovarian Cancer Institute.
That’s the primary motivation why McDonald wrote A Patient's Guide to Cancer: Understanding the Causes and Treatments of a Complex Disease, which was published by Raven Press LLC (Atlanta) and is now available at Amazon or Barnes and Noble in paperback and ebook editions. The book describes in non-technical language the processes that cause cancer, and details on how recent advances and experimental treatments are offering hope for patients and their families.
A book for the proactive patient
McDonald said he couldn’t go into detail for every type of cancer, but provides a generally applicable background for the disease. For those who want more information, he provides links to other resources, including videos, that provide more detail on specific types of cancer. “There’s not much out there in one place for patients who want to understand the underlying causes of cancer, and the spectrum of therapies currently available,” he said.
McDonald, who was honored in January by the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education (CORE) as one of “Today’s Innovators,” also didn’t want A Patient’s Guide to Cancer to be a lengthy book, and it checks in at only 86 pages.
McDonald believes that when patients talk to their physicians about cancer treatments, they should ideally have a basic understanding of the underlying cause of their cancer, as well as a general awareness of the range of therapies currently available, and what may be coming down the road in the future.
“My book is specifically designed to provide newly diagnosed cancer patients who are not scientists with this kind of background information, empowering them to play a more informed role in the selection of appropriate treatments for their disease”.
The current experimental treatment landscape; McDonald’s 2023 research goals
McDonald’s own cancer research has led to two related startup companies, co-founded with School of Biological Sciences colleagues.
McDonald is working with postdoctoral researcher Nick Housley on using nanoparticles to deliver powerful drugs to cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue. The other company, founded in collaboration with Jeffrey Skolnick, Regents' Professor, Mary and Maisie Gibson Chair & Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Computational Systems Biology, uses machine learning to create personalized diagnostic tools for ovarian cancer.
He and his lab team are also preparing to submit a research paper that builds off their 2021 study on gene network interactions that could provide new chemotherapy targets for breast cancer. That paper focuses on the three major subtypes of breast cancer. McDonald and his colleagues will also soon submit another study detailing genetic changes that happen with the onset and progression of ovarian cancer.
When it comes to current experimental treatments, McDonald says he’s especially excited about the potential of cancer immunotherapy, which uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. But he writes in A Patient’s Guide to Cancer that because these drugs are also delivered systemically, healthy tissues can also be affected, potentially leading to autoimmunity or the self-destruction of our normal cells.
“In the future, I believe many of the negative side-effects currently associated with the system-wide delivery of cancer drugs will be averted by the use of nanoparticles designed to target therapies specifically to tumors”.
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston, Communications Director
College of Sciences
“This new technology will make it much faster and more cost-effective to diagnose these infections,” said Mike Farrell, a Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) principal research scientist who is leading the project. “You would obtain a sample, put it into a device, diagnose the underlying pathogen, and be able to provide a treatment. This could be a huge leap forward in rapidly diagnosing these diseases where sophisticated laboratory testing isn’t available.”
Funded by DARPA’s Detect It with Gene Editing Technologies (DIGET) program, the project – known as Tactical Rapid Pathogen Identification and Diagnostic Ensemble (TRIAgE) – also includes researchers from Emory University and two private sector companies. The goal will be to detect 10 different pathogens with each device.
Detection Reaction Begins with CRISPR Cas13a Enzyme
Detection of a pathogen will begin with exposure of a patient sample to the CRISPR Cas13a enzyme with guide proteins containing RNA genetic sequences from the targeted pathogens. If a genetic sequence in the device matches a sequence in the patient sample, the enzyme will begin breaking down the targeted RNA.
Development of the CRISPR Cas13a component of the project will be led by Phil Santangelo, a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University and one of the team’s collaborators. CRISPR Cas13a differs from Cas9 technology, which has become known for its ability to edit DNA, which Cas13A will not do.
Once the Cas13a enzyme breaks down the pathogen RNA, that will trigger additional reactions to amplify the signal and create a visible blue line in the device within 15 minutes.
Synthetic Biology Workflow Signals Pathogen Presence
“We will be assembling a synthetic biology workflow that takes an initial signal created by CRISPR-based nucleic acid detection and amplifies it using the same cell-free synthetic biology approaches we have used to create sensors for detecting small molecules and metals: turning on genes that create a visual readout so that expensive instruments, and even electricity, are unnecessary,” explained Mark Styczynski, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and another team collaborator.
“As part of the DIGET project, we will be leveraging my group’s expertise in minimal-equipment diagnostics,” he added. “The biological ‘parts’ we develop can be reused to transduce signals for the detection of essentially any nucleic acid sequence.”
Another Georgia Tech researcher, I. King Jordan, professor and director of the Bioinformatics Graduate Program in the School of Biological Sciences, will mine the genomes of the targeted pathogens for optimal Cas13a target sequences as well as the corresponding Cas13a RNA guide sequences.
Devices Must be Both Sensitive and Specific
Beyond specifically identifying the pathogen or pathogens causing an infection, the diagnostic devices being developed must also be very sensitive – able to detect as few as 10 copies of the target pathogen in a sample. “A major technological challenge is achieving the level of signal amplification within the device’s synthetic biology circuit to reach the needed level of sensitivity,” Farrell said.
The ability to detect 10 different pathogens with a single lateral-flow assay is an ambitious goal for a device that depends on a synthetic biology circuit and is designed for use in the field, he added. Lateral-flow assays commonly used in home or point-of-care medical tests operate by applying a liquid sample to a pad containing reactive molecules. The molecules may create visible positive or negative reactions, depending on the design.
“You just put the sample on the device and it does its thing,” Farrell said. “If the target pathogen is present, a line turns blue and you can see it with your eye.”
Early Diagnosis Can be Life-Saving
Sepsis is an infection of the bloodstream by any of a number of different bacteria. These bacteria can originate from a lower respiratory infection, kidney or bladder infection, digestive system breakdown, catheter site, wound, or burn. Sepsis results in a severe and persistent inflammatory response that can lead to disrupted blood flow, tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
“It’s important to identify the specific bacteria causing the sepsis because that informs the type of antimicrobial therapy that’s needed,” said Farrell. “The sooner you can identify the underlying pathogen, the faster you can provide the proper medical care, and the more likely it is that the patient will survive. Current laboratory-based diagnostic methods can take between 24 and 72 hours, and that is just too long.”
Improving diagnostics for sepsis and respiratory diseases will have applications to both the military and civilian worlds, particularly in locations without easy access to laboratory testing.
“Wounded soldiers in the field are very susceptible to sepsis blood infections, and common respiratory diseases can affect troop readiness, so from a military standpoint, having this rapid diagnostic test would be very significant,” Farrell said. “In low-resource environments, being able to diagnose these diseases with a single test would be huge as well. Being able to identify the underlying bacteria behind sepsis more quickly could save a lot of lives.”
Beyond the university researchers, the project includes Global Access Diagnostics, a manufacturer of lateral-flow devices, and Ginkgo Bioworks, which manufactures proteins essential to the diagnostics.
The five-phase project is expected to last for four years and will conclude with field validation and a transition to manufacturing. The devices will need to win FDA approval before they can be used, so there is a significant regulatory review aspect to the project, Farrell said.
Approved for Public Release, Distribution Unlimited
Writer: John Toon
Georgia Tech Research Institute
The Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) is the nonprofit, applied research division of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). Founded in 1934 as the Engineering Experiment Station, GTRI has grown to more than 2,900 employees, supporting eight laboratories in over 20 locations around the country and performing more than $800 million of problem-solving research annually for government and industry. GTRI's renowned researchers combine science, engineering, economics, policy, and technical expertise to solve complex problems for the U.S. federal government, state, and industry.]]>
Ten finalists (pictured left) were selected to receive a stipend to travel to a domestic or international conference or workshop to present their research work.
“The Krish Roy Travel award allowed me to participate in my first conference of my graduate school career." said Parisa Keshavarz-Joud. "I had the opportunity to present a poster on my research at the Physical Virology Gordon Research Conference in January 2023 and interact with experts in the field. This experience broadened my knowledge of the field and helped me in developing new ideas about the next steps of my project.”
Elijah Holland used his award in January to attend the Fibronectin Gordon Research Conference in Ventura, California. In expressing gratitude for the award, Holland shared that he was able to meet leaders in the cell adhesion field and gave his first oral research presentation, titled "Mechanotransduction at Focal Adhesions: Interplay among Force, FAs, and YAP."
Fourth-year ChemE PhD student Hyun Jee Lee plans to use the award to her support her first experience at an international seminar and conference, where she will present her research and connect with other researchers around the world. Lee's research focus is developing microfluidic tools to study cellular and molecular mechanisms in small organisms. "I'm particularly interested in investigating brain activity changes associated with learning in C. elegans." Lee explained. "I'm very grateful to have received the award."
Awardees (pictured from top left to right):
John Cox, Graduate Research Assistant, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Yarelis Gonzalez-Vargas, Graduate Student, Biomedical Engineering
Travis Rotterman, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, Biological Sciences
Wenting Shi, Graduate Research Assistant, Chemistry and Biochemistry
Kamisha Hill, Graduate Research Assistant, Chemistry and Biochemistry
Paris Keshavarz-Joud, Graduate Research Assistant, Chemistry and Biochemistry
Elijah Holland, Graduate Research Assistant, Mechanical Engineering
Hun Jee Lee, Graduate Student, Chemical Engineering
Maeve Janecka, Undergraduate Student, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Sunny (Chao-yi) Lu, Graduate Research Assistant, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering]]>
Ten finalists (pictured left) were selected to receive a stipend to travel to a domestic or international conference or workshop to present their research work.
Research Communications Program Manager, IBB
About the Talk
The event is part of the School of Physics “Inquiring Minds” public lecture series, and will be held at the Ferst Center for the Arts. The talk is free and open to campus and the Atlanta community, and no RSVP is required. Refreshments begin at 4:30, and the lecture will start at 5 p.m. ET.
“The multiple industrial and agricultural revolutions have transformed the world,” Chu recently shared in an abstract for the lecture. “However, an unintended consequence of this progress is that we are changing the climate of our planet. In addition to the climate risks, we will need to provide enough clean energy, water, and food for a more prosperous world that may grow to 11 billion by 2100.”
The talk will discuss the significant technical challenges and potential solutions that could provide better paths to a more sustainable future. “How we transition from where we are now to where we need to be within 50 years is arguably the most pressing set of issues that science, innovation, and public policy have to address,” Chu added.
The event’s faculty host is Daniel Goldman, Dunn Family Professor in the School of Physics at Georgia Tech.
About Steven Chu
Steven Chu is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics and a professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology in the Medical School at Stanford University.
Chu served as the 12th U.S. Secretary of Energy from January 2009 until the end of April 2013. As the first scientist to hold a U.S. Cabinet position and the longest serving Energy Secretary, Chu led several initiatives including ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy), the Energy Innovation Hubs, and was personally tasked by President Obama to assist in the Deepwater Horizon oil leak.
In the spring of 2010, Chu was the keynote speaker for the Georgia Tech Ph.D. and Master's Commencement Ceremony.
Prior to his cabinet post, Chu was director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he was active in pursuit of alternative and renewable energy technologies, and a professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford, where he helped launch Bio-X, a multi-disciplinary institute combining the physical and biological sciences with medicine and engineering. Previously he also served as head of the Quantum Electronics Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories.
He is the co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to laser cooling and atom trapping. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Pontifical Academy Sciences, and of seven foreign academies. He formerly served as president, and then chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Chu earned an A.B. degree in mathematics and a B.S. degree in physics from the University of Rochester, and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, as well as 35 honorary degrees.
He has published over 280 papers in atomic and polymer physics, biophysics, biology, bio-imaging, batteries, and other energy technologies. He holds 15 patents, and an additional 15 patent disclosures or filings since 2015.
Released on April 25, the 2023-2024 U.S. News Best Graduate School Rankings features all six College of Sciences schools among its best science schools for graduate studies:
The 2023-2024 rankings of doctoral programs in the sciences are based solely on the results of surveys sent by U.S. News to academic officials in fall 2022 and early 2023 in chemistry, earth science, mathematics, physics, and computer science (which is part of the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, see here). Surveys for biological sciences, statistics and biostatistics were sent to academic officials in fall 2021 and early 2022.
Georgia Tech College of Sciences rankings
Biological Sciences retains its No. 37 rank from 2022, in a nine-way tie with Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Brown University, Carnegie Mellon University, Dartmouth College, Indiana University-Bloomington, Ohio State University, University of Utah, and UT Health MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Chemistry and Biochemistry rises by one spot to No. 20, tied with Johns Hopkins University, Ohio State University, and University of California (UC)-San Diego.
Earth and Atmospheric Sciences ranks No. 33 (ranked No. 28 in 2022, No. 38 in 2019) in a tie with Ohio State University, University of Oregon, University of Southern California, Virginia Tech, and Washington University in St. Louis.
Mathematics advances by one to No. 20, tied with Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University, UC-San Diego, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Maryland-College Park, and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
Physics rises by seven to No. 21, in a tie with Northwestern University, Pennsylvania State University-University Park, Rice University, Stony Brook University-SUNY, UC-San Diego, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Psychology retains its No. 39 rank from 2022 in a tie with Arizona State University, Michigan State University, Stony Brook University-SUNY, University of Florida, University of Iowa, and University of Pittsburgh.
U.S. News previously ranked graduate science programs in their 2022 Best Graduate Schools Edition, published in March 2022. Current rankings for Biological Sciences and Psychology were part of those 2022 rankings.
Among specialty science graduate programs at Georgia Tech, Analytical Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, and Theoretical Chemistry all rank in the top 20.
In Mathematics specialty graduate programs, Discrete Mathematics and Combinatorics remains the top 5, while Analysis ties for No. 20, and Applied Math ties for No. 16. Uniquely organized across the Colleges of Sciences, Computing, and Engineering, the Institute’s Algorithms, Combinatorics, and Optimization program kept its No. 5 spot from last spring.
Chemistry specialty graduate programs
Mathematics specialty graduate programs
Fellow colleges across Georgia Tech