$300 million University of Florida College of Engineering transformation begins with $50 million naming gift

October 1, 2015
UF College of Engineering

UF is proud to announce: The Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering

Dr. Herbert Wertheim and the Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation have committed $50 million to launch a $300 million public and private investment in the University of Florida’s College of Engineering.

The Wertheim gift, the largest cash gift in UF’s history, is the cornerstone of a fund-raising initiative that will pool funds from the university, the state of Florida, and private donors to revolutionize engineering education and research at the UF College of Engineering.

The college will now become the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. The Wertheims’ $50 million gift is the catalyst for the largest expansion in the 105-year history of UF Engineering. The transformation will fund additional faculty, several state-of-the-art facilities and enhancements in engineering education delivery. The goal is inspiring engineers to seek humanitarian solutions in an effort to re-imagine the way we live today and into the future.

“It’s befitting to name the college in honor of someone who exemplifies what we call ‘the New Engineer,’” said Cammy Abernathy, dean of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. “Herbie is the future of engineering. He’s innovative, entrepreneurial and a service-oriented leader.”

“The transformation made possible by the Wertheim investment signals UF engineering’s remarkable determination to become one of the leading programs in the world,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “It raises the stature of both the engineering college and the university. This transformation will further accelerate social and economic development in the state of Florida and the nation.”

Wertheim and his wife, Nicole, have a philanthropic reach that stretches across the globe. Together they strive to make a measured impact on people’s daily lives. From their work with many nonprofits to the dedicated efforts and resources toward university advancement with Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing, the Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation has made a significant impact since 1976. With this gift, the Wertheim Family, including daughters Erica Wertheim Zohar and Vanessa Von Wertheim, will have contributed more than $100 million to Florida’s public universities and colleges.

At least two high-tech facilities are planned for the college at UF, including the 80,000-square-foot Engineering Innovation building, which will also be named in Wertheim’s honor. The innovation building is scheduled for groundbreaking in spring 2016. It will be located at the heart of the UF campus and designed to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration.

“UF is joining the ranks of the world’s best universities, and having a world-class engineering college is one of the keys to that success. This strategic gift is one giant step in getting there and sustaining engineering leadership in the world,” said Steve Scott, chair of the UF Board of Trustees. “The Wertheims’ investment in the college and university continues their insight in the future of mankind. This gift dramatically increases UF’s ability to impact the lives of people around the world through innovative teaching and research.”

What people are saying about the Wertheims and the gift

State University System Chancellor Marshall M. Criser, III: “With this gift, the Wertheims have created an unparalleled opportunity to reimagine how we prepare students for a field that improves the lives of each and every Floridian. This is what our State University System is all about: coming together as Floridians to prepare our students and our state for a growing economy based on science and technology. The Wertheims exemplify the spirit of that partnership.”

Santa Fe College President Jackson Sasser:

“Santa Fe College is inspired by the Wertheim’s’ investment in this great university and superior engineering school and we know that many transformative opportunities will result for students in the Gator Engineering @ Santa Fe program.”

Susan Davenport, President/CEO, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce:

“The $50 Million gift to the University of Florida’s College of Engineering underscores growing recognition of what many in Greater Gainesville and the State of Florida already know: The College of Engineering is a vital partner in growing Greater Gainesville’s global presence.

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce is leading the economic development strategy that is transforming this region into a global hub of talent, innovation and opportunity. The UF College of Engineering has consistently advanced this vision through its world-class research that produces cutting-edge inventions at twice the national average, as well as its role in proliferating business startups and producing a pipeline of top-tier talent.

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and Council for Economic Outreach look forward with anticipation to our continued partnership with the College of Engineering as it leverages this investment to advance the engineering education renaissance that is propelling its graduates—and the companies that hire them—to new levels of opportunity.”’

Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy: “Gainesville is increasingly recognized as a place for technology companies flourish. This gift enhances the university’s potential to improve quality of life throughout our city.”  

Alachua County Commission Chair Charles “Chuck” Chestnut: “Strengthening UF’s College of Engineering will further Alachua County’s reputation as a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship. I’m grateful that the Wertheims chose to make their investment here.” 

Global Impact

For space plant experts, “The Martian” is more science than fiction

October 1, 2015
Alisson Clark
space plants, The Martian

When you study space plants for a living, you don’t expect to see yourself reflected in a blockbuster movie. But with the release of “The Martian,” University of Florida researchers Robert Ferl and Anna-Lisa Paul have a big-screen avatar in the title character, a space botanist marooned on Mars.

Here, the minds behind UF’s Space Plants Lab talk about weightlessness, heroic nerds, and why Matt Damon might want to switch to sweet potatoes.

Will you be able to enjoy the movie, or will you be busy checking it for accuracy?

RF: I have no problem enjoying a movie that is 90 percent accurate — 50 percent accurate, even. The celebration for us is that a scientist is the protagonist. The nerd of the group is the hero! For us, the notion of a hit movie celebrating the idea that science can figure it out is just really satisfying.

What are your hopes for the movie?

ALP:  I hope it shows people that science can be an adventure. We try to get that concept across, but listening to a bunch of scientists in a room — even if they are wearing flight suits — isn’t the same as seeing it on the big screen.  

RF: We’ve been weightless, we’ve been on fighter jets, we’ve been to the Arctic to a mockup of a Mars colony, we have experiments on the International Space Station being tended by astronauts. I’m glad to see a movie where the hero faces a problem and says he’s going to “science the s#!t out of it.” That’s what we do every day. Science is cool.

When Matt Damon’s character is left behind on Mars, he survives by planting potatoes. Would that be your choice for a Mars farm?

ALP: There are other crops that are easier to grow and give you a higher return on food value. Sweet potatoes can be more robust and grow in more adverse environments, and they give more complex nutrition back. There are also some really useful plants in the legume family that have a high fat, protein and carbohydrate content. Super-dwarf wheat would also be a good option. Space plant scientists have identified a nice handful of candidate crops for extraterrestrial colonies.

What has surprised you most in what you’ve learned growing plants off-Earth?

RF: Every plant, every microbe, every person on the surface of the Earth has lived its entire evolutionary history in this terrestrial biosphere. So to take people or plants off the surface of the Earth and have them survive at all? that’s the biggest surprise. We can do this. That means that the solar system really is available to us. 

ALP: We’re also seeing that plants can survive at extremely low atmospheric pressures. At a fifth or even a tenth of Earth’s pressure, plants will grow great. That means we could have a Mars greenhouse with pressures much lower than those on Earth, which would use less resources. It also means that a breach probably wouldn’t kill the plants. We know they can recover from temporary exposure to that kind of atmosphere. 

plants growing in space 

When people think about growing plants in space, they think about food. But that’s just part of their purpose, right?  

RF: The major source of oxygen on Earth is plants, and the same is true in a small biosphere like a space capsule or Martian colony. Plants produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. Plants would be an excellent carbon-dioxide scrubber for your life support system. They would clean both your air and water. 

ALP: Plants take everything we get rid of and give it back to us clean.

RF: If you pee into the ground, plants will take that moisture and release clean water into the atmosphere. There is a good reason why plant systems are used to reclaim water on the earth, and would do so on Mars.

ALP: They could also help us pull nutrients out of the Martian soil that we couldn’t otherwise get. 

You accompany some of your plants on zero-gravity flights to see how they respond. Do you still get excited about it, or is weightlessness all in a day’s work?

ALP: I’m always excited. It’s something you never get jaded about. 

Why did you choose arabidopsis — a type of mustard — for your experiments?

ALP: It’s the model organism for this kind of research — the fruit fly of the plant world. It’s small, easy to grow and the genome is completely sequenced, so we can bring all of modern molecular biology to the task of understanding what’s happening. 

plants growing in space

You’ve been putting plants in space since 1999. How much closer are we to understanding what we need to know to grow plants off-planet?

RF: We basically know. We know we can successfully grow plants in zero gravity. We can grow them in space ships and planetary colonies. We can grow them in the rocky soils at meteor-impact craters on the earth where the landscape is similar to the moon or Mars. We’re already there for the most part. But we need to get even better at it to count on space agriculture for survival.

What’s left to discover?

ALP: We don’t know about potential toxins in the Martian soil or how much water it would take to leach Martian dirt to a level where plants could survive and use the soil. We can only estimate from the soil analyzed by the rovers. We also don’t know the long-term effects of reduced gravity on plant growth, but suspect they’d be just fine with the 1/3 gravity of Mars.  

RF: There’s also the issue of what would change if we found microbes on Mars. Because of our desire to protect any Martian ecology, would we even be allowed to go if we found life there? But if you sent me and Anna-Lisa to Mars and told us we had to live off what we could grow, we could do it. We really could. You could do it too.

ALP: But we’d rather you send us.

Science & Wellness

UF alum Thaddeus Bullard gives back for the Gator Good

October 2, 2015
Steve Orlando
Gator Good, philanthropy, Titus O\'Neil, WWE

University of Florida football Hall of Famer Thaddeus Bullard, aka WWE Superstar Titus O'Neil, spent Friday morning visiting guests and helping to provide meals at St. Francis House, which serves the homeless in Gainesville.

The visit was part of Bullard’s challenge to The Gator Nation to commit 3,000 hours of volunteer time, and the challenge is part of the Gator Good, a UF campaign that focuses on the university’s impact beyond campus. As of Oct. 2, The Gator Nation had far exceeded Bullard’s challenge, pledging nearly 6,800 volunteer hours.

Campus Life

Peeking into our galaxy’s stellar nursery

October 5, 2015
Gigi Marino

UF astronomy team offers an unprecedented view into the places stars are born

Astronomers have long turned their telescopes, be they on satellites in space or observatories on Earth, to the wide swaths of interstellar medium to get a look at the formation and birth of stars. However, the images produced over the last 50 years look more like weather maps showing storm systems instead of glittering bursts of light that the untrained observer might expect of a “star map.” That is, until now.

Led by University of Florida astronomer Peter Barnes and Erik Muller at the National Astronomy Observatory of Japan, a team of international researchers has just released the most comprehensive images anyone has ever seen of the Milky Way’s cold interstellar gas clouds where new stars and solar systems are being born.

“These images tell us amazing new things about the Milky Way’s star-forming clouds,” said Peter Barnes. “For example, they show that we have probably underestimated the amount of material in these clouds by a factor of two or three. This has important consequences for how we measure the star formation activity, not only throughout the Milky Way, but also for all other galaxies beyond. Additionally, it gives us important new insights into the circumstances of the birth of our own solar system, such as the overall temperature, density and mass distribution in these clouds.”

The complexity of the images was made possible because of the telescope used for the study, the Mopra radio telescope located in Australia. The mapping survey itself is called “ThrUMMS,” which stands for the Three-mm Ultimate Mopra Milky Way Survey. The interstellar clouds that this survey targeted are so cold that they are made up molecules of hydrogen, rather than much warmer clouds where the hydrogen may be atomic or ionized.

“Only the molecular clouds are cold enough to allow gravity to collect material to form stars, but in fact, they are so cold that the hydrogen itself is undetectable by telescopes,” said Barnes.

The Mopra telescope was critical to the project’s success, because it can map several molecules at once, such as carbon monoxide and cyanogen, which act as tracers for the otherwise hard-to-see hydrogen. Simultaneously mapping multiple tracers allows astronomers to deduce the conditions in these clouds much more reliably and efficiently than if they had to map them separately.

The worldwide ThrUMMS team includes astronomers from the U.S., Japan, Australia, the U.K., Canada and several other countries. The survey is published in the Oct. 5, 2015 issue of Astrophysical Journal.

“We are working on several follow-up projects with the Mopra data,” said Barnes. “We continue to be enthused and inspired by these extraordinary images.”

Science & Wellness

Study finds link between dengue epidemics and high temperatures during strong El Niño season

October 5, 2015
Evan Barton
dengue, Emerging Pathogens Institute

Epidemics of dengue are linked to high temperatures brought by the El Niño weather phenomenon, a University of Florida scientist working with an international team of researchers has found.

Epidemics of dengue are linked to high temperatures brought by the El Niño weather phenomenon, a University of Florida scientist working with an international team of researchers has found.

The findings are particularly timely as the most intense El Niño in nearly two decades is emerging in the Pacific, raising the concern that a major increase in cases of dengue will occur throughout Southeast Asian countries early next year.  

The results of the study appear in today’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

UF biology professor Derek Cummings, who joined the Emerging Pathogens Institute this summer from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is the senior author of the study.  He and his colleagues found that an increase in dengue incidence swept through eight countries of Southeast Asia in 1997 and 1998 during a historically intense El Niño weather event.

“Dengue infects large numbers of people across the tropics each year, but incidence can vary dramatically from year to year in any setting,” Cummings said.  “During years of large incidence, the number of people requiring hospitalization and care can overwhelm health systems.  If we can understand the factors that contribute to these increases, we can prepare for them and act to mitigate the impact of the disease.”

The dengue virus is transmitted by mosquitoes in the tropics and subtropics. Each year an estimated 390 million infections occur globally.  Though there is no specific pharmaceutical treatment, supportive therapy can greatly improve outcomes.  A number of vaccine candidates are in development but none are currently licensed.

In addition to the finding that increased temperature results in increased incidence across the region, the study also found that urban areas act as dengue epidemic “pacemakers,” giving rise to traveling waves of large epidemics moving to nearby rural areas.  Traveling waves were found to emerge from multiple urban centers across Southeast Asia.

Cummings worked with researchers from each of the affected countries and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh to compile 18 years of monthly dengue surveillance reports on a total of 3.5 million reported cases. 

“The synchronization of incidence across such a large area, spanning thousands of kilometers, is really striking,” Cummings said.  “It suggests that continued multi-country coordination of surveillance for dengue is critical to understanding patterns in each individual country.” 

The international team involved scientists from 18 institutions around the world, including the Ministries of Health in each study country and long-time collaborators of Dr. Cummings, Donald S. Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and Willem G. van Panhuis, assistant professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health.

“This study will contribute toward a better understanding of the cyclical nature of dengue,” said co-author Lam Sai Kit, a professor at the University of Malaya in Malaysia. “Based on the extensive data analyzed and the conclusions reached, it will help to improve early-warning systems for impending large outbreaks in the region. Now that the new El Niño has started, these findings will help us prepare for a worst-case scenario, and immediate measures can be taken to counter its effect in the next few months.”

This research was funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant 49276 and the National Institutes of Health National Institute of General Medical Sciences grant 5U54GM088491.

Global Impact

American Physical Society honors UF professor

October 9, 2015
UF News

Distinguished Professor David Tanner has been awarded the 2016 Frank Isakson Prize for Optical Effects in Solids. Tanner shares the prize with Dirk Van der Marel of the University of Geneva.

The Isakson prize is awarded biennially by the American Physical Society "to recognize outstanding optical research that leads to breakthroughs in the condensed matter sciences."

Specifically, the APS recognized Tanner for “insightful experiments and analyses on a wide variety of quantum solids with strong electronic correlations in general, and cuprate superconductors in particular, using optical spectroscopy.”

The award will be formally presented at a ceremony in Baltimore on March 14 during the course of the APS March Meeting. Tanner will also talk about his work at the same meeting.

For more information, please contact Kevin Ingersent at ingersent@ufl.edu.

Campus Life

Looking for Fort Caroline with Robert Thunen

October 7, 2015
UF News

Fort Caroline was a 1564 French attempt led by Rene de Laudonniere to establish a French territorial claim in Florida and provide a safe haven for persecuted Huguenots. The colony was destroyed and most of the colonists slaughtered by the Spanish commander Pedro Menendez only a year later in 1565 but the Spanish occupied the site as San Mateo for another four years.

Robert Thunen, associate professor of anthropology at the University of North Florida, will describe the ongoing research to identify the Fort Caroline location during a lecture in Pugh Hall, Room 170 at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 8.

The research is based on written records as well as village archaeological sites of the regional Mocama-speaking Timucuan people during the early European contact period.

Thunen's interests focus on Southeastern U.S. prehistory, pre-Columbian mounds and other geometric earthworks. At UNF, he has become one of the preeminent researchers on the founding and location of Fort Caroline.

The lecture is free and open to the public. To learn more, please visit the Facebook page of the Archaeological Institute of America Gainesville Society or visit http://www.pinterest.com/aiagainesville.

Campus Life

John Lewis to visit UF in celebration of 50th anniversary of Voting Rights Act

October 12, 2015
Desirae Lee
John Lewis, civil rights, speech, Voting Rights Act

Voting-rights activist and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) will deliver a public address Oct. 16 at the University Auditorium at 7 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public and will be streamed live.

In 1963, Rep. Lewis was nationally recognized as one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and was named Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Rep. Lewis was a keynote speaker along side Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington. Lewis is known for organizing the march from Selma to Montgomery known as “Bloody Sunday” which helped to expedite the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

A roundtable discussion on the Voting Rights Act – moderated by UF political science professor Dan Smith and including UF political science professor Michael McDonald, author Ari Berman, journalist Brentin Mock, and Miami-based attorney Lida Rodriguez-Taseff – precedes the speech at 4 p.m.

The University Auditorium box office will open at 5 p.m. on the day of the event. Tickets will guarantee a seat until 6:45 p.m., then seats will be filled on a first come, first served basis. The top two floors of the parking garage on Museum Road and Newell Drive are reserved for this event and will open at 4:30 p.m.

Campus Life

UF researchers learn how to keep pathogens, pests from traveling with grain

October 12, 2015
Brad Buck

University of Florida researchers say new research can help grain handlers and grain inspectors find key locations for pathogens and pests along rail routes in the United States and Australia.

The new knowledge could help make the food supply safer and address stored grain problems that cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

In a new analysis in the journal BioScience, researchers with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or UF/IFAS evaluated how wheat moved along rail networks in the United States and Australia. Through their analysis, they identified U.S. states that are particularly important for sampling and managing insect and fungal problems as they move through the networks, said Karen Garrett, a UF plant pathology professor with the Emerging Pathogens Institute and senior author of the study. 

“The movement of pests and pathogens can be especially important when there are quarantines against the movement of particular species, or when pesticide-resistant insects invade new areas and make management more difficult,” said Garrett, who began work earlier this year in the UF Institute for Sustainable Food Systems.

Researchers examined important locations, including hubs that are linked to many other locations and bridges that link separate parts of the network together, Garrett said. 

North Dakota, Illinois, Kansas, and Nebraska have key roles as hubs that link directly to many other states.  These states also have key roles as bridges linking separate parts of the country, as do Colorado and Idaho.

The analysis also revealed differences between U.S. and Australian systems.

“This innovative research to understand how effectively the world’s food networks function and how they can be improved addresses one of our core missions for ISFS,” said Jim Anderson, professor of food and resource economics in UF/IFAS and director of the ISFS. “This work can have real impact.” 

Pests and fungi can damage grain and leave it unusable, Garrett said.

“In addition to this waste, some fungi associated with wheat produce toxins that are significant health risks if grain contaminated with them is not removed efficiently,” she said. These toxins, known as “mycotoxins,” pose an important health risk if they are not detected effectively and removed. The movement of quarantined pathogens or pests, or the movement of pesticide-resistant pests, poses a risk to stored grain systems in the locations to which the grain is being shipped -- and to the crops growing nearby for some species, Garrett said.

Mycotoxin contamination in U.S. grain has been estimated to cost more than $900 million a year in the U.S., Garrett said.

The central U.S. is a major wheat-producing area, and wheat can move in multiple directions toward processing centers or American ports for export. In Australia, wheat production tends to move more directly toward the coast for export, and as a result, the internal system is simpler and in some ways easier to manage for pests, Garrett said.

UF researchers are applying this type of network analysis to other post-harvest networks and crop epidemics so they can identify key locations for detecting and managing the spread of pests and pathogens.

“We are evaluating crop seed systems in several developing countries to identify system strengths and weaknesses for managing diseases of potato, sweet potato, cassava, banana and yam,” Garrett said, describing other work with UF postdoctoral scientist John Hernandez Nopsa, first author of the current study. “We are also studying epidemic networks for diseases such as soybean rust in the U.S., to guide strategies for sampling and mitigation.”

The current study can be found at http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/65/10/985.full.pdf+html.

Global Impact

UF students mark anniversary of Million Man March in D.C.

October 14, 2015
Desirae Lee

Desirae Lee, a sophomore journalism major, shares her thoughts on a journey she calls “an immense wake-up call, as well as a source of hope.”

‌This weekend I got the chance to attend the Million Man March 20th Anniversary: Justice or Else March on Capitol Hill with an amazing group of my peers from the University of Florida. Students represented a variety of organizations on campus including Black Student Union, Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures and Progressive Black Men Incorporated. Black Affaris director Veleashia Smith and program director P.J. Jones coordinated the three-day trip.

I was filled with excitement just to finally be Washington, D.C. The diversity of the city and the attendees was extremely refreshing. I felt a sense of belonging, and a sense of home even though I had never set foot anywhere near the D.C. metropolis.

On Friday we toured Howard University, the United States Capitol Building, visited the monuments of the National Mall and met with U.S. Representative Corrine Brown, a Gator from my hometown of Jacksonville. The group presented Brown with an orange and blue quilt representing her time spent in Gainesville.

Brown spoke on the importance of finding and maintaining a relationship with mentors and mentees. She also encouraged the students to always make the most of their lives by saying; “When you are born, you get a birth certificate, and when you die you get a death certificate. But that little dash in between is what you have done to make this a better place.”

Saturday started with a sunrise breakfast for the students and staff followed by a thought-provoking bus ride conversation to Capitol Hill. Smith made it a priority to keep students focused on the purpose of their journey, posing questions such as, “What are some of the civil rights issues that are happening in America?” and “In what ways can we make a difference?”

Attending this historic event was an immense wake-up call, as well as a source of hope. The march was a platform for several prominent figures including Sharon Cooper, the sister of Sandra Bland, Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, and leader of the Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan.

The original march was Inspired and led by Farrakhan in 1995. More than a million black men gathered in Washington, D.C., to declare their right to justice. The purpose then was for black men to take responsibility for their own actions and to help develop their own communities.

panoramic of the march attendees during speech

The minister called together the anniversary celebration and helped to organize the entire event. Farrakhan was once again the keynote speaker in the same place, for the same reasons. It was as if he were in some kind of deja vu time capsule from two decades prior, but with even more controversial issues to cover.

Students watched attentively as Farrakhan delivered his two-hour speech. He spoke on points such as women’s rights, the importance of historical education, and sacrifice: “What good is it to be alive and to continue to see people suffering? There must come a time when we say enough is enough. I am willing to do whatever it takes to bring about that change.”

We often forget how important we are as individuals, but it is the individual that makes up the masses. It is the single, solitary voice of one person in combination with millions that creates the rumbling chants of unity. I am now fully aware of my personal responsibilities and I can draw from this experience as a focal point for inspiration.

Throughout the trip, we were able to learn in a new environment, bond and rejuvenate our understanding of the social justice movement. I personally regained an intellectual focus on history, and was submerged in a healthy display of black excellence.

A motif that lingered over the crowd and throughout the speeches made was the emphasis placed on education of self and others, as well as creating an action plan. We all have different stories and qualities about ourselves that can contribute to the justice movement.

After the march, second year political science major Khyra Keely said; “I am excited to take this knowledge and experience back to Gainesville to start creating change in our own community, hopefully inspiring others all over to do the same.”

We must awaken whatever it is that excites us about movements such as this. Whether it be starting and hosting conversations which help to educate, or actually putting together and presenting speeches. For me, it is being able to capture and share personal experiences with the masses. I can only hope my words and images generate the feelings that I have been exposed to. 

It was an honor to capture the people that were part of this historic event.

Campus Life

The heartbeat of campus

October 28, 2015
Desirae Lee

Passing through Turlington Plaza can be nothing short of hectic. It is not uncommon to see several rows of promotional tables, students handing out flyers, and two or three campus tours all happening at once.

Flash mobs, sit-in protests, viral videos and performances all occur in this space.  

Freshman students often find the hustle and bustle of this great student courtyard to be overwhelming for their first few months on campus. But over time, many students come to appreciate Turlington as a hub for information, community and school spirit. They also learn how to dodge bikers that swerve through the crowds.

As the school year picks up pace, Turlington Plaza continues to be the central organ of the university.

Campus Life

In space, not all muscles are created equal

October 14, 2015
Alisson Clark
space, exercise, health and human performance, physiology

Muscles waste away when they’re not used, right? Turns out, it’s not that simple.

Elisabeth Barton, a physiology professor in the University of Florida College of Health and Human Performance, studies how muscles react to reduced load. Her latest discovery comes from an unlikely source: mice in space.

After two weeks of weightlessness in space, mice lost muscle mass in their legs, but not their cheeks. That makes sense, since they were still using their cheek muscles to chew. But when the space mice were fed a liquid diet that didn’t require chewing, their cheek muscles still fared better than their leg muscles.

This suggests that the different responses of these two groups of muscles may provide clues to tackling lack of use clinically,” Barton explained.

The implications go beyond staying fit in space: Anyone confined to a hospital bed (or an office chair, for that matter) has a vested interest in maintaining their muscle mass. Understanding the set points for muscle loss in different parts of the body could also improve training regimens and inform how we deal with muscle loss from disease and aging. 

Global Impact

Herbert Wertheim uses family’s philanthropy to spur collaboration between Florida’s two major research universities

October 15, 2015
UF News

South Florida optometric physician and philanthropist Dr. Herbert Wertheim, a Horatio Alger Medal recipient, has become one of the most important supporters and financial contributors to Florida’s public universities. In doing so he hopes to spur closer collaboration between these institutions, magnifying the societal benefit to Florida and the nation.

“Both Florida International University and the University of Florida are powerhouses in their own right,” said Dr. Wertheim, a UF alumnus and donor. In addition to his UF ties, he has served FIU for three decades as a two-term trustee, foundation chairman, and chairman of the successful College of Medicine initiative. “Part of what I hope to accomplish with our family’s philanthropic commitments is to inspire further institutional collaboration, as history has shown that more great things can be successfully accomplished utilizing team effort. No one person or institution can have all the assets needed to solve today’s ever-increasing, complex problems.” 

UF announced Oct. 1 that it was naming its College of Engineering in honor of Dr. Wertheim’s extraordinary accomplishments and his family’s financial commitment of $50 million to the engineering college, launching a $300 million public and private investment in engineering education and research. Dr. Wertheim’s name also graces the medical school at FIU, the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. In addition, the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences at FIU is named in honor of his wife, Nicole Wertheim. FIU also has the Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Performing Arts Center and the Wertheim Conservatory. 

In total, Dr. Wertheim and the Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation has contributed more than $100 million to public higher education in Florida. 

FIU and UF engineering faculty and researchers have a history of working together on large research projects that have an impact on Florida. For example, in September, the National Science Foundation announced grants totaling more than $8 million to both institutions to research ways to make homes and businesses more resistant to hurricane winds. The grants came with the designation of “Experimental Facility” at each university, which makes Florida the go-to place to research, develop and test wind-resistant technologies. 

Similarly, other groups of scientists at FIU and UF are collaborating on projects in fields that range from agriculture, energy and sea level rise to biomedicine. Some of the schools’ biomedical collaborations involve neural interfaces of ventilatory control, computational modeling of brain stimulation, and stimulation of visceral organs.  

“Interdisciplinary research proposals that involve colleagues from multiple institutions tend to be very successful,” said FIU College of Engineering Interim Dean Ranu Jung, herself a biomedical engineer involved in some of the joint efforts with UF. “We welcome the opportunity to work with UF faculty who can complement our strengths.” 

This type of collaboration is precisely the kind that captures the imagination of Dr. Wertheim, an inventor and entrepreneur who made his fortune developing therapeutic optical technology for lenses that protect the eye from damaging sun rays and other neurologic abnormalities.  

“I’m a big believer in preventive medicine and the power of technology to improve people’s lives and in particular their health,” Dr. Wertheim said. “UF and FIU are educational and research-oriented institutions uniquely positioned to have a huge impact on society’s well-being.” 

Cammy Abernathy, dean of the UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, said the collaboration opportunities with FIU will benefit not only both schools, but people across the state and the nation, and around the world. 

“Our partnership with FIU provides a unique opportunity to complement not only our work in sustainability and technology,” Abernathy said, “but also promotes our current advances in health care which we see as a critical step to enhance our way of life.”

Global Impact

Ancient fossils reveal humans were greater threat than climate change to Caribbean wildlife

October 19, 2015
Stephenie Livingston
climate change, extinction, Bahamas, Florida Museum of Natural History

Nearly 100 fossil species pulled from a flooded cave in the Bahamas reveal a true story of persistence against all odds — at least until the time humans stepped foot on the islands.

University of Florida researchers say the discovery, detailed in a study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows many human activities pose a threat to the future of island biodiversity, with modern human-driven climate change not necessarily the most alarming. A new $375,000 National Science Foundation grant will allow further exploration of caves on Caribbean islands beginning in December.

Thirty-nine of the species discussed in the new study no longer exist on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. Of those, 17 species of birds likely fell victim to changes in climate and rising sea levels around the end of the ice age, about 10,000 years ago. Twenty-two other species of reptiles, birds and mammals persisted through those dramatic environmental changes only to vanish when humans first arrived on the island 1,000 years ago.

Exploring why some species were more flexible than others in the face of climate and human-driven changes could alter the way we think about conservation and restoration of species today, when scientists fear activities like habitat alteration and the introduction of invasive species could pose the greatest risk to island species, said lead author Dave Steadman, ornithology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

“What we see today is just a small snapshot of how species have existed for millions of years,” Steadman said. “The species that existed on Abaco up until people arrived were survivors. They withstood a variety of environmental changes, but some could not adapt quickly or drastically enough to what happened when people showed up.

“So, there must be different mechanisms driving these two types of extinctions. What is it about people that so many island species could not adapt to? That’s what we want to find out.”

Steadman and colleagues, including plant ecologist Janet Franklin with Arizona State University, will attempt to answer that question later this year when they return to the Bahamas to further explore caves on Caribbean islands and expand our picture of which species were lost when humans arrived versus those that survived even though their environment was not always stable.

For species that were lost at the end of the ice age, climate change, habitat change and rising seas, with resulting smaller islands, may have caused their populations to become too small to remain genetically viable, resulting in inbreeding, Steadman said. A January 2015 study co-authored by Steadman found the Caribbean’s first humans depleted species as small as bats on Abaco. The new study shows several other species that endured until human arrival were lost to activities such as hunting and starting wildfires, he said.

Hayley Singleton, UF master’s student and study co-author, said the new research shows how quickly humans can drastically alter habitats. Unlike during the ice age, modern climate change and other human-driven changes often go hand in hand, she said. 

“When humans change habitats at a rate that local species cannot keep up with, that can very quickly result in the losses,” Singleton said. “Likewise, even small climate changes can affect migration and significantly impact habitats. So, you can have the perfect storm where climate and human-driven changes are occurring at the same time, like we’re seeing in places around the world today.”

Future research will explore whether there are fundamental genetic differences between the Bahamian species that persisted and those that were lost when humans arrived. In other words, scientists want to know if there’s a genetic basis for adaptability, Steadman said.

“The answer could help us predict what animals will be affected most by a changing climate and humans,” he said.

Science & Wellness

Architect and artist seeks to please the eye and satisfy the soul

October 19, 2015
UF News

Kenneth Treister will discuss his new book “The Fusion of Architecture & Art: The Judaic Work of Kenneth Treister” from 6-7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 27 in Smathers Library (East), Room 100.

The talk will be followed by a reception, book signing and tours of the Judaica Suite from 7-8 p.m. 
In this rare view of six projects, the award-winning architect and artist Treister will discuss the importance of uniting architecture and art to create beautiful sacred spaces. His poetic sensibility combines with the vastness of his creative vision to produce exceptional works that will draw those interested in architecture to a new level of appreciating architectural beauty. 

The impressive photographic skills of architectural photographer Laszlo Regos highlight the new book, whose foreword was by the world-renowned scholar and author Rabbi Yitz Greenberg.

Beginning with the award-winning Gumenick Chapel at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, Treister sets his mission "to design a building that not only encloses a sacred space but is a total work of art that lifts the human spirit." A stately foyer leads into the contemplative hush of the central chapel where natural light flows in through stunning Belgian-cast glass windows, protecting and guarding the sacred Torah.

Treister's determination to please not only the eye, but to satisfy our human longing for a home for our deepest emotions, can be seen in this dazzling array of his original designs. From the Gumenick Chapel to his restoration of Temple Emanu-El's domed sanctuary where, as Treister says, "a powerful silence should be sensed, a whisper that you are entering a holy space," along with the hand-carved mahogany murals at Beth David Congregation and the synagogue at Miami's Jewish Home for the Aged, to the University of Florida's Judaica Suite at the Smathers Libraries, visitors are immersed in an architecture of beauty. 

For more information, please contact Barbara Hood at bhood@ufl.edu or 352-273-2505.

Campus Life

“The Drowsy Chaperone” will keep things lively through October 25

October 19, 2015
Paul Bernard

The UF School of Theatre + Dance presents its fall musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a Tony Award-winning musical comedy with book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, and direction and musical staging by professor Tony Mata. The show runs until Oct. 25 in the Constans Theatre located in the Nadine McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion on UF’s campus.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” takes place in the apartment of a shut-in Broadway afficionado where an old recording of the fictional 1920s musical classic of the same name comes to life through the imagination of its listener and brings the whole audience along for the ride. This play pays tribute—and pokes more than a little fun—at the liveliness and spectacle of the early 20th-century American musical genre, featuring stock characters, comedy gags and a plot that ties up a little too neatly, but that leaves the audience doubled over and perhaps a little less “blue” than when they arrived.

Premiering at the Rivoli in Toronto in 1998 and making its Broadway debut in 2006, “The Drowsy Chaperone” celebrates the musical form and is so unashamedly irreverant at the same time that people just fall in love with it,” says Mata. “The musical is a very specific art form and, at the same time, pokes fun at all the devices that we use in musicals to make these well-oiled machines that people love without even knowing that they have this formula.” A short behind-the-scenes look at the UF School of Theatre + Dance’s production can be viewed here.

Performance times are 7:30 p.m. October 20-24, and at 2 p.m. October 25. Tickets are $13 for UF students, $15 for UF faculty/staff and senior citizens, and $18 for the general public.

Mata has directed past School of Theatre + Dance productions as “Sweeney Todd,” Guys and Dolls” and “Chicago,” and is being honored in October at the Library of Congress for his documentary film, “Theatre of Rice and Beans,” a retrospective look at New York Latino theatre.

For more information, please contact Leah Spellman at lspellman@arts.ufl.edu or 352-273-1489.

Campus Life

Our shark expert envisions Jaws 19: This time it’s wireless

October 21, 2015
Alisson Clark
Back to the Future Day, sharks, Florida Museum of Natural History

Hollywood hasn’t yet given us the “Jaws 19” movie promised in “Back to the Future 2,” so we challenged University of Florida shark expert George Burgess to come up with a plot. His treatment is part action-adventure, part suspense and part “Austin Powers” — in short, a blockbuster.

“By the nineteenth movie, they will have run out of all the things that approximated reality a long time ago, so this would be fantasy, but something topical but people could relate to. Something that’s high-profile today is putting satellite tags on sharks to follow their movements. A group could be putting these tags on great white sharks, but unbeknownst to the public, they’re able to use it to control the shark. This nefarious group is now telling white sharks what to do so they can hold an area for ransom. It becomes an intrigue about how we have to catch this shark so we can get the satellite tag off of it. Some people will say you can't harm the shark because it’s an endangered species, but others will say we’ve got to kill this thing right away. In the meantime, an independent marine biologist — à la “Jaws” — goes out on his own to catch it just long enough to take the tag out so he can save the world and the animal at the same time. The big showdown is where the military has their machine guns ready to shoot it and the marine biologist in his khakis and his beard has to be the hero.”

We asked Burgess what role he might like to play. 

“I think it would be logical for me to be the bearded scientist.”

Works for us.

Society & Culture

Five ways UF is making a better future

October 21, 2015
Alisson Clark
Back to the Future Day

We might not have the flying cars we envisioned for the year 2015 — but all over campus, University of Florida researchers are working toward a future filled with more health, happiness and hovercraft. Here are just a few examples.

1. Two breakthroughs have put UF Health researchers closer to ending Type I diabetes. UF studies published this year revealed a four-drug mixture that reverses diabetes in mice and a vaccine that prevented mice from developing the disease.

2. Gator engineers have invented a hovercraft that makes its own fuel out of air. Subrata Roy’s Wingless Electromagnetic Air Vehicle uses electrodes to ionize the air around it, turning into plasma that it uses for propulsion.   

3. Young Futurist Kiona Elliott has already made it to the White House with her work toward creating a stable water supply in developing nations. Through STEAM Academy, the student group she created at UF, the horticulture major is leading students across all majors in addressing food insecurity, natural-disaster relief and other global issues.

4. With the support of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, researchers across campus are working toward better ways to fight Parkinson's disease, including gene therapy, deep-brain stimulation, strength training and identifying biomarkers for diagnosis and treatment. 

5. Scientists at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are discovering how to make our future tomatoes and blueberries tastier and developing ways to protect crops like citrus and avocados from disease. That’s good news for our taste buds and our agriculture industry. 

Global Impact

It’s Open Enrollment time again. Do you know what your benefits are?

October 21, 2015
UF news

Each year, Open Enrollment provides UF faculty and staff an opportunity to evaluate current benefits to determine if adjustments are needed for the new plan year.

This year’s Open Enrollment period began Oct. 19 and runs through Friday, Nov. 6, at 6 p.m. Changes made during Open Enrollment will take effect January 1, 2016. The Benefits Office will be closed on Nov. 6 for the Homecoming holiday. So, employees are encouraged to submit their enrollment selections prior that date in case assistance is needed from the Benefits staff.

Employees should plan to complete elections early. All State of Florida plan changes must be made online using the People First portal.  UFSelect and GatorCare changes must be completed online using the myUFL portal. Instruction guides and a tutorial detailing how to complete online enrollments may be found on the Benefits Enrollment section of the HRS website. Employees should also note that moving from a state plan to a UF plan, or vice versa, will require two transactions—one in People First and one in myUFL. Prior to finalizing elections, plans should be carefully reviewed to avoid duplicate coverage. For example, participation in both a state health plan and a GatorCare health plan is not permitted. 

OPS/other temporary employees’ time worked is measured during the Open Enrollment measurement period (10/3/14 to 10/2/15). Those who work an average of 30 hours per week will be eligible to enroll in state plans, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

To learn more about your plans, you can attend the annual Benefits Fair at the Touchdown Terrace in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 28.  Insurance and retirement vendors will be on hand to explain the available plans. Additionally, free flu shots will be available to employees with a UF Gator1 ID and insurance card.

Changes for Plan Year 2016

  • Employees enrolled in basic life insurance may cover their legal spouse and eligible children under the new State of Florida dependent spouse and child life insurance plan.
  • Employee rates for the state’s basic and optional life insurance plans are decreasing for 2016. More information, including the new premium rates, can be found online here:  State Life Insurance and Premium Changes

Remember, all Open Enrollment changes to state-sponsored, GatorCare and/or UFSelect plans must be completed by 6 p.m. on Nov. 6.

Please visit HRS’s Open Enrollment webpage for more details on plan changes for 2016, employee eligibility, enrollment and more.  If you have general questions, please call 352-392-2477 or email benefits@ufl.edu.

Campus Life

Florida Museum part of four-day
global biodiversity effort

October 21, 2015
Maria Espinoza

Area residents will have the opportunity to help make biological collections accessible online during a free event Oct. 24 at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

The event, which lasts from 10 a.m. to noon at Powell Hall, is part of the Worldwide Engagement for Digitizing Biocollections project, also known as WeDigBio. Participants will take part in a citizen science project to help convert some of the billions of records in analog form into digital format to advance scientific research.

The Smithsonian Institution, Museum National d' Histoire Naturelle, Paris, Australian Museum and Florida State University among others are organizing similar events during the four-day effort Oct. 22-25 to accelerate the rate of digital data creation for millions of specimens and species worldwide.

Florida Museum associate curator and project coordinator Robert Guralnick said the event is an opportunity to involve the global community of citizen scientists with the major challenge of documenting the state’s regional biodiversity.

“Every specimen in a museum has been kept for a good reason and tells a story,” Guralnick said. “WeDigBio helps each of those stories to be unlocked from paper and brought to digital life.”

Participants at the Florida Museum event ages 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult. University of Florida Herbarium specimens are now available for transcription at www.notesfromnature.org. For more information about the WeDigBio event, please visit www.wedigbio.org.

Campus Life

Researcher finds key clues about "betel nut" addiction that plagues millions worldwide

October 21, 2015
Doug Bennett

For hundreds of millions of people around the world, chewing betel nut produces a cheap, quick high but also raises the risk of addiction and oral cancer. Now, new findings by a University of Florida Health researcher reveal how the nut’s psychoactive chemical works in the brain and suggest that an addiction treatment may already exist.

The betel nut, a seed of the areca palm, is grown and used throughout India, parts of China and much of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and most of the Pacific islands. Chewing the betel quid -- a mixture of areca nut, spices and slaked lime wrapped in betel vine leaves -- has been a cultural tradition in those regions for centuries. In small doses, it creates a sense of euphoria and alertness. Prolonged use can create addiction and the World Health Organization classifies the betel nut as a carcinogen.

Findings published today (Oct. 21) in the journal PLOS One show that the nut’s active ingredient, arecoline, acts on the same receptor proteins in the brain as nicotine. This raises the possibility that prescription drugs now used to break nicotine dependence could also be effective against betel nut addiction, said Roger L. Papke, Ph.D., a professor in the UF College of Medicine department of pharmacology and therapeutics.

“Without knowing why people become dependent, there was no way to help them get over the dependence. This provides a new avenue toward treating the addiction,” Papke said.

The implications of learning more about the nature of betel nut addiction are vast: One estimate puts the number of regular users at 200 million to 600 million, and betel nut is widely regarded as the world’s fourth most-used stimulant after caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.

Papke’s initial idea to study the activity of the betel nut and its active ingredient arecoline started with writing rather than science. Papke, who has authored a book about the history of firearms development, was studying a Bornean headhunter’s sword. He wondered whether its psychedelic carvings were influenced by betel nut use.

That propelled Papke into the lab, where he started studying arecoline’s effect on particular protein molecules in the brain. The molecules included the nicotinic receptors which play central roles in nicotine addiction.

To determine whether arecoline acts on the same addiction-causing receptor, Papke used ovarian cells from a frog injected with human genes so that they mimic the nicotinic receptors found in a human brain. After applying areca nut extract, the results suggested that it activated the same receptor as nicotine, and did so in a way that could affect a person’s behavior.

“That showed a commonality between the dependence mechanism for betel nut use and the dependence mechanism for smokers,” he said.

It also raised another intriguing question: If betel nuts and nicotine work on the same receptors in the human brain, could the drugs now used for nicotine addiction be useful for betel nut dependence? Perhaps so, Papke said.

The most effective anti-smoking drugs, varenicline, which is sold under the trade name Chantix, and cytisine, work on receptors that are responsible for creating nicotine addiction. Those same receptors appear to be involved in betel nut addiction, raising the possibility that anti-smoking drugs could help betel nut users, according to the research findings.

“This is the first time that there’s even a potential avenue for treating this dependence, which exists in probably hundreds of millions of people,” Papke said.

Next, Papke said he would like to find collaborators to do a psychological survey of betel nut users and identify people who want help quitting. He also wants the findings to get more attention among groups with international reach, such as the World Health Organization. Yet that raises a conundrum: Countries with the most betel nut users don’t have significant resources for scientific research. Nations with the money for research don’t have many betel nut users, Papke said.

“It’s not a problem that’s going to go away. We have a discovery and we need to realize the potential of the discovery to better the human condition,” he said.

The research was supported by National Institutes of Health grant GM57481.

Science & Wellness

Deep-sea bacteria could help neutralize greenhouse gas, researchers find

October 22, 2015
Doug Bennett

A type of bacteria plucked from the bottom of the ocean could be put to work neutralizing large amounts of industrial carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, a group of University of Florida researchers has found.

Carbon dioxide, a major contributor to the buildup of atmospheric greenhouse gases, can be captured and neutralized in a process known as sequestration. Most atmospheric carbon dioxide is produced from fossil fuel combustion, a waste known as flue gas. But converting the carbon dioxide into a harmless compound requires a durable, heat-tolerant enzyme. That’s where the bacterium studied by UF Health researchers comes into play. The bacterium -- Thiomicrospira crunogena -- produces carbonic anhydrase, an enzyme that helps remove carbon dioxide in organisms.

So what makes the deep-sea bacterium so attractive? It lives near hydrothermal vents, so the enzyme it produces is accustomed to high temperatures. That’s exactly what’s needed for the enzyme to work during the process of reducing industrial carbon dioxide, said Robert McKenna, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the UF College of Medicine, a part of UF Health.

“This little critter has evolved to deal with those extreme temperature and pressure problems. It has already adapted to some of the conditions it would face in an industrial setting,” he said.
The findings by the McKenna group, which included graduate research assistants Brian Mahon and Avni Bhatt, were published recently in the journals Acta Crystallographica D: Biological Crystallography and Chemical Engineering Science.

The chemistry of sequestering works this way: The enzyme, carbonic anhydrase, catalyzes a chemical reaction between carbon dioxide and water. The carbon dioxide interacts with the enzyme, converting the greenhouse gas into bicarbonate. The bicarbonate can then be further processed into products such as baking soda and chalk.

In an industrial setting, the UF researchers believe the carbonic anhydrase could be captured this way: The carbonic anhydrase would be immobilized with solvent inside a reactor vessel that serves as a large purification column. Flue gas would be passed through the solvent, with the carbonic anhydrase converting the carbon dioxide into bicarbonate.

Neutralizing industrial quantities of carbon dioxide can require a significant amount of carbonic anhydrase, so McKenna’s group found a way to produce the enzyme without repeatedly harvesting it from the sea floor. The enzyme can be produced in a laboratory using a genetically engineered version of the common E. coli bacteria. So far, the UF Health researchers have produced several milligrams of the carbonic anhydrase, though Bhatt said much larger quantities would be needed to neutralize carbon dioxide on an industrial scale.

That’s just one of the challenges researchers face before the enzyme could be put to use against carbon dioxide in real-world settings. While it has good heat tolerance, the enzyme studied by McKenna’s team isn’t particularly efficient.

“You want it to do the reaction faster and more efficiently,” Bhatt said. “The fact that it has such a high thermal stability makes it a good candidate for further study.”

Ideally, Bhatt said, more research will produce a variant of the enzyme that is both heat-tolerant and fast-acting enough that it can be used in industrial settings. Next, they want to study ways to increase the enzyme’s stability and longevity, which are important issues to be addressed before the enzyme could be put into widespread industrial use.

While carbonic anhydrase’s ability to neutralize carbon dioxide has been widely studied by McKenna and other scientists around the world for some time, finding the best enzyme and putting it to work in an efficient and affordable carbon sequestration system has been challenging. Still, McKenna said he is encouraged by the prospect of discoveries that could ultimately benefit the planet.

“It shows that it’s physically possible to take known enzymes such as carbonic anhydrase and utilize them to pull carbon dioxide out of flue gas,” he said.

The study was funded by grant GM25154 from the National Institutes of Health and grant NSF-MCB-0643713 from the National Science Foundation.

Science & Wellness

Go behind the scenes of the School of
Art + Art History at Art Bash

October 22, 2015
UF news

The visual arts come to life at Art Bash 2015, an annual celebration featuring a wide array of projects by UF art and art history students. The UF School of Art + Art History welcomes members of the campus and surrounding communities for the event on Friday, Oct. 30 from 5-8 p.m. in UF’s Fine Arts Complex.

Art Bash offers an inside look at the SA+AH and showcases the school’s scope of disciplines—intimate drawings, ceramic works of art, vibrant graphic design, sculpture, experimental photographs, interactive art and technology projects, prints, paintings, art history and art education displays, and more.

This fun, free event encourages discussion between students and the community and introduces potential students to the school’s facilities and diverse programs. Attendees are encouraged to participate in the demonstrations, exhibitions and interactive projects from the school’s academic and studio areas.

Art Bash 2015 will feature inflatable artworks from the students of Workshop for Art Research and Practice, or WARP, the school’s nationally recognized foundations course, HOT Clay’s Raku Firing, printmaking demonstrations, offerings for sale and free takeaways from student associations. Visitors can also enjoy music in the courtyard.

To learn more about this year’s event, please visit www.arts.ufl.edu/calendar.

Campus Life

Talents of UF dance students will be
in the spotlight in “It Happened in College”

October 22, 2015
UF news

The UF School of Theatre + Dance will present its fall showcase, “It Happened in College,”
October 28-November 1 in G-6 Studio located in the Nadine McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion.

“It Happened in College,” will feature seven senior thesis research projects as well as various other pieces from the MOD UF dance ensemble and guest artist, Brazilian choreographer Fernando Ferraz.

The Fall BFA Dance Showcase discovers its roots through dance film, Afro-Brazilian dancing and contemporary thought-provoking movement.

A dance experience appropriate for all audiences, the showcase will be presented in two program orders. Program A will be performed Wednesday, Oct. 28, at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 30, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 1, at 2 p.m. Program B will run Thurs., October 29, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 31, at 2 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 1 at 4 p.m.

Tickets are $9 and are available through the University Box Office located at Gate 1 of the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, by calling 352-392-1653 or visiting ticketmaster.com. The University Box Office is open Tuesdays through Fridays 12-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Tickets can also be purchased at the Constans Theatre Box Office starting 45 minutes prior to the performance.

The Nadine McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion is located at 687 McCarty Drive. On-campus parking is available at the Reitz Union garage and the Museum Road parking lot. Guests are strongly encouraged to pick up tickets early, as shows run the risk of being sold out.

To learn more about the School of Theatre + Dance, including upcoming performance dates and ticket information, please visit www.arts.ufl.edu/theatreanddance.

For additional information regarding the Fall BFA Dance Showcase, please contact Leah Spellman at lspellman@arts.ufl.edu or 352-273-1489.

Campus Life

Dugout canoes exhibit, inspired by record archaeological find, comes to St. Augustine

October 23, 2015
UF News
St. Augustine, Government House, Florida Museum, history

The world’s largest archaeological find – a trove of 101 ancient dugout canoes near Gainesville – inspired the free exhibit opening at St. Augustine’s Government House Oct. 24. The exhibition is sponsored by the University of Florida Historic St. Augustine, the organization charged with the preservation and interpretation of the city’s state-owned historic properties.

At “Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas,” visitors can explore how dugout canoes were used in North, Central and South America and how scientists study and preserve these ancient watercraft. The exhibit replaces “First Colony: Our Spanish Origins,” which was also brought to Government House by UFHSA and occupied the museum’s rotating exhibit space for two years before moving on to Gainesville. “Dugout Canoes” continues through January 2017 at Government House, 48 King Street in St. Augustine. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

“Like St. Augustine itself, this exhibit showcases fascinating aspects of our country’s history and heritage,” said Allen Lastinger, the chairman of UFHSA. “We’re so pleased to share it with the community.”

This interactive display features ancient artifacts, tools and videos as well as model and life-size vessels. Visitors can take a photo in a dugout canoe, find out how these crafts have affected life and travel throughout the Americas, and learn how the tradition is alive and well in Native communities today. All text and videos are presented in English and Spanish.

“Dugout canoes were important for travel, trade, communication, politics and everyday life,” said Darcie MacMahon, exhibits director at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF, where the exhibit originated. “I think people have an inherent fascination with all boats and their history, precisely because they have been so important to our lives for so many thousands of years. We hope visitors will enjoy this look at dugouts – both their ancient history and their importance in peoples’ lives today.”

A severe drought in 2000 caused water levels in Newnans Lake to fall, exposing the prehistoric canoes hidden for centuries. The discovery is the world’s largest-known find of ancient watercraft.

“We wanted to give the story of the Newnans Lake discovery broader context,” MacMahon said. “So we expanded it to tell the story of dugouts in Central and South America as well as North America, both ancient and modern.”

Local residents and high school students were the first to notice the long pieces of wood in the exposed lake bed. They called archaeologists from the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research that led excavation efforts at Newnans Lake, along with researchers from the Florida Museum. No canoes were removed from the site because centuries of changing water levels made the canoes too fragile to move.

Samples were taken from about 50 canoes before the drought ended and the lake’s water levels rose, covering the canoes in mud and water again. Analysis of these samples revealed the canoes were between 500 and 5,000 years old, with a majority made from pine or cypress trees.

“Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas” was produced by the Florida Museum of Natural History with support from the AEC Trust, Lastinger Family Foundation, State of Florida and VisitGainesville.

For more information, please visit www.staugustine.ufl.edu.

Society & Culture

Civil Rights icon captivates audience at public address

October 26, 2015
Desirae Lee

As the last surviving “Big Six” leader of the Civil Rights Movement makes the rounds of Capitol Hill, he sees young people who remind him of what America looks like: black, white, Asian-American, Native American.

It’s an encouraging sight for U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who delivered a powerful speech focused on the power of unity and perseverance Oct. 16 at University Auditorium.

The voting rights activist’s appearance, sponsored by the College of Journalism and Communications, the Bob Graham Center, the Department of Political Science, the Samuel L. Proctor Oral History Program, the African American Studies Program, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences marked the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

“We need to get people to be just a little more open,” Lewis told a crowd of about 400. “Build a sense that we are one family and we are all one people.”

Speaking from a sparse stage that held nothing more than a lectern, Lewis’s robust presence commanded attention as he reflected on his days growing up on a farm in Pike County, Alabama, and his fondness for raising chickens. What appeared at first to be a rambling tale culminated in a pointed jab at his Washington colleagues.

“My chickens listened to me better than some members of the Congress, and they were more productive,” Lewis quipped. “At least they laid eggs.”

Lewis spoke eloquently of the events leading to first meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. and his involvement with the Civil Rights Movement, which began when he was a college freshman.

 students ask questions

 “My folks told me not to get into trouble,” Lewis said. “My mother thought I was crazy. She thought I lost my mind.”

Risky moves and bold actions marked most of Lewis’ young life. He was arrested 45 times during his years as a Freedom Rider and a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, for which he organized the voter registration efforts that led to the pivotal Selma to Montgomery marches.

Singling out a pivotal moment, Lewis recalled March, 7, 1965, when he was attacked along with hundreds of voting rights activists who were attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. Lewis suffered a concussion after a state trooper hit him with a nightstick.

“Sometimes we have to stop watching, get off our knees and get on our feet,” Lewis said, entreating the audience to not be afraid, “to mobilize, mobilize, mobilize.”

Responding to a question from second-year political science major Oliver Telusma, who wanted Lewis’ opinion on the Black Lives Matter movement, the 75-year-old praised the effort for expanding beyond the limited scope of what Americans consider to be activism.


Sara Clifton, a member of a community organization called Bridges Bettering Race Relations, traveled from Ocala to hear Lewis. Clifton, 57, called the evening a dream come true.

“John Lewis never wavered,” she said. “He never lost his character or his devotion to non-violence.” 

Lewis left the stage with words of encouragement that reflect his still-rebellious spirit.

“Get in the way,” he said. “Get into trouble – good trouble, necessary trouble that inspires people.”





Campus Life

“Class of (circa) ’65” wraps up gallery’s 50th anniversary celebration

October 26, 2015
UF News

The works of two esteemed UF art alumni, Robert Fichter and Mernet Larsen, will be on display in University Gallery Oct. 27 through Dec. 4. The exhibition features paintings and photographs, including some of Fichter and Larsen taken in the early ’60s by Jerry Uelsmann. A public reception will be held Friday, Nov. 6, from 7-9 p.m. The showing is the final of the year celebrating the gallery’s first half-century.

The artists featured in “Class of (circa) ’65” have had interesting parallels throughout their lives. They both grew up in Gainesville and graduated from P.K. Yonge, UF’s developmental research school. Fichter and Larsen earned BFAs from UF’s School of Art + Art History and MFAs from Indiana University. The two worked together as editor and art editor of their high school annual and at a UF student magazine, “Scope.” Between them, they studied with Jerry Uelsmann, Roy Craven, Jack Nichelson, Ken Kerslake, Hiram Williams and other legends of UF’s School of Art + Art History.

“Their work has followed a course in the art world that has allowed for re-births, discoveries, experimentation and significant success,” said Amy Vigilante, director of UF’s University Galleries. “It is an honor to present this rich and layered exhibition that captures specific examples of evolution in art making by two people who have had tremendous influence on many art students in Florida over the years.”

For more information, please contact Leah Spellman at lspellman@arts.ufl.edu or 352-273-1489.

Campus Life

Sea turtle hospital opens at UF's Whitney Lab

October 26, 2015
UF News
whitney lab, st. augustine, sea turtles

Saturday marked the opening of the Sea Turtle Hospital at UF's Whitney Laboratory in St. Augustine. The facility enables UF to help sick and injured sea turtles through surgery and rehabilitation and builds the research potential of the lab. A discovery room teaches kids and community groups about sea turtles and ocean conservation.


Global Impact

UF researcher: One of the rarest bats in the world lives in South Florida

October 27, 2015
Beverly James

Halloween comes around once a year, but for Holly Ober, an interest in a bat found nowhere else in the world but South Florida is a year-round opportunity to study the unique mammal.

The Florida Bonneted bat, one of the rarest species in the world, nestles in tree cavities, palms and buildings in only a few counties in the state. The largest bat in Florida with a wing span of 20 inches, its ears point forward over its eyes, and its fur ranges in color from brown to gray, said Ober, an associate professor in the department wildlife ecology and conservation who works at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy.

“The Florida Bonneted bat was listed as federally endangered in 2013, and since then interest has grown considerably,” Ober said. “We don’t even know the exact geographic distribution or what type of habitat the bat occurs in. We do know this bat can only be found in South Florida.”

Ober and Robert McCleery, a professor in the department wildlife ecology and conservation, are leading several projects to investigate the bat’s ecology. The team is using acoustic surveys to hear the bat at night throughout all of South Florida, she said. “Then we are looking at where the bats roost and what they feed on,” Ober explained.

In 2014, biologists at Avon Park Air Force Range found one natural roost site, the first sighting since 1979.  Since then, Ober’s team has found two more sites: one in Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County and the other in Babcock Webb Wildlife Management Area in Charlotte County. “We are trying to find out if they roost primarily in trees or are they more likely to make their homes in manmade structures,” she said.

A second part of the project is to observe population trends, Ober said.

“Over the course of the past 50 years, researchers have seen or heard very few individual bats, so we have no idea if they are increasing or doing poorly,” she said. “To determine if population trends are increasing or decreasing, we have to individually mark the bats with a passive integrative transponder, which is injected under the skin of the bat. When the bat is recaptured, we know if it stayed in the same roost over time, moved to a new roost or if it is a brand new bat we have never before seen.”   

Ober and other scientists are also trying to develop a monitoring plan.

“There is no standard protocol for this, so we are working in Everglades National Park to compare different approaches,” she said. For example, team members are comparing the efficacy of putting an acoustic survey device on the roof of a car for three hours and driving, or putting such a device on a permanent post to survey in a single location for a much longer period of time.

Ober and other researchers are eager to learn more about the Florida Bonneted bat, which unlike other bats in Florida, gives birth many months of the year. And while many people only think about bats during Halloween, the mammals are vital to maintain ecological balance year-round, Ober said. “Bats consume a lot of insect pests. They are the most efficient predator of nocturnal insects,” she said.

While bats are fascinating, Ober cautioned that Floridians should leave the bat research to scientists.

“If you see a bat on the ground, it is either injured or ill,” she said. “Wear gloves to pick it up and take it to a county health department.  If you handle a bat, it will try to bite you in self-defense. In rare instances, bats can have rabies.”

Science & Wellness

Women may fare better than men in assertive team leadership

October 28, 2015
Milenko Martinovich

Considerable research suggests that when women act assertively and self-promote in the workplace, they are commonly penalized by others.

But does that perception change when a woman stands up for others?

A new study by UF management professor Klodiana Lanaj offers detailed insights into these nuances, which can provide women an effective strategy in exhibiting leadership abilities without being penalized.

The study, “Leadership Over-Emergence in Self-Managing Teams: The Role of Gender and Countervailing Biases” found that when women engage in “agentic” or assertive behaviors in a team atmosphere, they are credited more for their leadership than men who carry out similar actions.

“When women’s assertive or take-charge initiatives are in the service of a team, they not only are accepted but make a greater impression than similar endeavors by men,” Lanaj said. “That may not be commensurate with the resentment we encounter from self-promotion, but it strikes me as significantly enhancing prospects for greater female organizational leadership.”

Why were women celebrated for their assertiveness in these situations? Lanaj offers that men are usually associated with these “agentic” behaviors so when women display them, they are more impactful.

The study followed 181 MBA students during the first year of their program. Students were divided into five-person teams—with at least one female student on each team—and completed three surveys. The first, conducted two months before the teams were assembled, gathered personal data and personality traits of the individuals. The second, conducted six weeks after team interaction, rated each member on three behaviors—task-related (ex. planning and organizing team tasks), boundary-spanning (ex. coordinating outside the team to acquire resources) and social (ex. ability to listen to thoughts and feelings of team members). The third survey, conducted four months after the second one, asked participants to rate each member’s leadership abilities.  

The study’s findings seem to support the assertion of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote in her book, “Lean In,” that women “hold ourselves back in ways both big and small by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in."

Said Lanaj: “Given the considerable research that finds women are penalized more than men for asserting themselves, it seems fairly clear that we are disadvantaged in that way, particularly when self-assertion is on behalf of our individual self-interest. What our study adds to the mix is the insight that, when women’s assertive or take-charge initiatives are in the service of a team, they are not only accepted but make a greater impression than similar endeavors by men. That may not be commensurate with the resentment we encounter from self-promotion, but it strikes me as a significantly enhancing prospects for greater female organizational leadership.”

However, Lanaj warns that women simply displaying more “agentic” behavior will not erase the existing gender bias. A fundamental shift in how effective leadership is judged—both agentic and social—is necessary for true change.

The study appears in the October/November issue of the Academy of Management Journal.

Society & Culture

Global entrepreneurs gather at UF

October 28, 2015
Milenko Martinovich
entrepreneurship, innovation, business

The past few years have seen the Warrington College of Business’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center grow dramatically in terms of its programs, outreach activities, and impact — both at UF and beyond the campus.

This weekend provides an opportunity to celebrate that growth on a global stage. Warrington and the Center will welcome more than 300 entrepreneurship center directors and scholars as they host the 19th Annual Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC) Conference on Friday and Saturday.

“The opportunity to bring in 300 individuals from all over the world, to highlight what we do as a program, to show our facilities, that’s a huge deal,” said Jamie Kraft, the Center’s Director. “I think if every school had the resources and manpower to host this conference, they would. It’s a massive undertaking, but it provides tremendous visibility, especially when you feel like you have a program that is doing great things across the academic outreach and extracurricular space.”

The Center has experienced rapid growth over the past three years. It has implemented community outreach programs like the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, a free program that provides qualified veterans practical training on how to build and maintain ventures; and the Gator100, which celebrates the 100 fastest-growing, Gator-owned or Gator-led businesses. It has increased student engagement opportunities such as relaunching a university-wide business plan competition with $40,000 in venture funding, and making annual visits to Haiti and South Africa to assist disenfranchised entrepreneurs with their struggling businesses. Also, the Center recently established a student incubator—Gator Hatchery—that offers students workspace, mentors and other resources to help their ventures succeed.

“The outreach efforts have grown dramatically,” Kraft said. “That’s probably the biggest space we’ve grown in—certainly more than we were doing a few years ago.”  

The Center’s growth has coincided with a burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem at UF and in Gainesville. UF’s Office of Technology Licensing has launched 175 biomedical and technology startups generating more than $1 billion in private investment since 2001. The inception of Innovation Square, a 40-acre research and innovation community that features Innovation Hub, Innovation Academy and Infinity Hall, has provided students and entrepreneurs both educational and professional working space to develop their ventures. And private co-working spaces and accelerators are being established in and around Gainesville offering even more support and collaboration for entrepreneurs. This innovative environment can serve as a model for conference participants to replicate at their home universities.

 “I think, once they get here, they’re going to see the full landscape and how all the pieces fit together,” Kraft said.  “Our hope is they go back realizing the University of Florida is a campus and community committed to entrepreneurship education.”

Hosting a significant event like GCEC is part of that commitment. Historically, GCEC has chosen schools with elite entrepreneurship programs to host the annual conference. Of the last 12 GCEC conferences held in the U.S., nine have been held at universities that appear in The Princeton Review/Entrepreneur Magazine Top 50 Schools for Entrepreneurship Programs for 2015.

“There’s an expectation that the school hosting the conference is doing tremendous things in entrepreneurship,” Kraft said. “You go in knowing these are good programs, and this is a way to announce to the world to look a little more deeply at our campus and what we’re doing. I think it really does put us on the map and gives us a sense of arrival.”

 Although the Center serves more than 2,000 annually, Kraft said there is still room to grow. He said one of the Center’s priorities in the coming years is to impact as many UF students as possible.

“For us, it’s about going deeper into the university population, and identifying and helping student entrepreneurs,” Kraft said. “Now is an opportunity to take the programs we have and run more students through them, and make them more aware of our resources and get them to take advantage of and engage in our activities.”       

Global Impact

UPDATE: This event has been postponed.
A new date will be announced.

Cybersecurity expert speaks Nov. 5

October 28, 2015

Donna Dodson, deputy cybersecurity advisor at the National Institute of Standards and Technology will speak at the New Engineering Building, Room 100, at 3 p.m. on Nov. 5. The title of her talk is “National Cybersecurity Challenges and NIST.”

Dodson will discuss the role NIST plays in research and development of technologies to provide protections for information and the communication infrastructure as well as the needed standards, tests and metrics for those technologies. The talk will be streamed live at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8vmpFtKLn8.

Campus Life

Beyond the temples, ancient bones reveal the lives of the Mayan working class

October 29, 2015
Stephenie Livingston
archaeology, maya, florida museum of natural history

Most of what we know about Mayan civilization relates to kings, queens and their elaborate temples. To understand what life was like for the 99 percent, one researcher turned to ancient animal bones stored at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Ashley Sharpe, a doctoral student at the museum on the UF campus, says the picture researchers have painted of the Maya people isn’t broad enough.

“When you think about the Romans and the Greeks, we know a lot about all of the different social classes — from the Caesars down to the commoners — but although there were tens of thousands of middle-class and lower-income Maya in big cities, we still don’t know much about the everyday lives of most people.”

For the first time in Maya archaeology research, 22,000 animal remains at the museum, one of the largest collections of its kind outside of Central America, were used as clues about life in the Maya lower classes. The bones revealed that the civilization known for its art and astronomy also had political and economic systems that were more complex than previously thought – systems similar to modern societies. The details are described in a new study appearing online this month in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

“We looked at how the Maya acquired and distributed animal resources in order to learn more about the economy and how the royal, elite and lower classes interacted,” said Sharpe, who has either lived in or made frequent trips to the Maya region since 2008. “It turns out, the Maya states and classes were not all homogenous. They had complicated systems in place for trade relations, distribution of food and access to species, which varied among the cities and social classes much like they do today.”

the ruins of aguateca

Sharpe and co-author Kitty Emery, Florida Museum associate curator of environmental archaeology, examined the animal remains recovered from the ruins of three Maya city-states in Guatemala, including the famous site of Aguateca (photo courtesy of Ashley Sharpe) that was burned after a surprise enemy attack which resulted in a level of preservation similar to the Roman ruins of Pompeii.

Sharpe traced the movement of animals and their resources from trade partners to Aguateca and the capitals of Piedras Negras and Yaxchilan. She also followed the flow of resources between royalty, the rich and the poor at the capital cities and to the less powerful surrounding villages.

“The Maya used animals for things like hides, tools, jewelry and musical instruments, but they were also vitally important as emblems of status, royalty and the symbolic world of the gods, and thus often were prime resources jealously guarded by the rich and powerful,” Emery said.‌

Surprisingly, however, study researchers found that middle-ranking elites used the widest variety of animals. Royalty and other high-ranking elites focused on a select group of symbolic and prestigious animals like jaguars and crocodiles, Sharpe said.

“We had expected that the elites would have the highest diversity but that was not the case,” she said. “The elites ate animals that were considered delicacies, sort of the way people in our own upper class eat things like caviar, but the rest of us think it’s kind of gross.”

Sharpe said poor villagers mostly ate fish and shellfish from rivers near their homes. However, both the poor and middle-elite classes living at the capitals kept a wider variety of animals for themselves than they shared with the surrounding villages, particularly more species from deep inside forests and from the ocean, which was 50 to 100 miles away. At Aguateca, more than 100 miles from the nearest coast, thousands of marine shells were found covering the floors of ancient households and craft workshops.

“These people didn’t have pack animals like in the Old World where they had horses and donkeys to carry goods,” Sharpe said. “They were literally carrying things on their backs from the sea. They did have rivers to help with transportation, but not a lot of rivers, and on land they also had the jungle to contend with.”

At Yaxchilan, more than half of the skeletons found were deer, suggesting residents primarily relied on nearby forests, including the deer that fed on their corn fields. However, much like in medieval Britain, there is evidence the Maya may have regulated hunting and fishing, creating more of a divide in access to animal resources among the classes, Sharpe said. At each of the three cities, elites, middle and lower classes all had access to different types of species, both imported marine resources as well as animals that could be obtained from nearby forests and rivers, she said.

The differences in predominate species, such as marine animals and deer, show the city-states likely had different trade partners, which Sharpe said makes sense because we know there were, at times, hostilities between the cities. The differences could also point to unique cultural identities, she said. For example, the residents of Aguateca were known for their jewelry made from shells.

“This is the first time we’re seeing this sort of evidence for what the middle and lower classes were doing,” Sharpe said. 

ancient teeth from a Maya site

This cut jawbone and teeth of a tapir, a pig-like mammal that inhabits the Maya region, show carvings called ‘rasps’ made by an ancient Mayan. Researchers think these bones were used as musical instruments by rubbing a stick over the surface.

Archaeologists have been working amid dense jungle to understand how the many Maya city-states functioned since the early 20th century. They have raised questions about how states cooperated, or didn’t, with one another, how much control and interaction state capitals had with their subordinate villages, and how the various social classes differed, Sharpe said.

Sharpe and Emery decided to analyze animal bones to begin answering these questions because animal resources played such a vital role in the politics and economy of the Late Classic Maya civilization (A.D. 500-900), Emery said. But buried beneath the jungle floor in Guatemala are enough mysteries to fill Sharpe’s entire career. 

“It almost doesn’t matter where you dig in the jungle near these centers, you hit paved limestone floor. It gives you the sense that at one time, the entire place was deforested and it was a massive city,” she said. “When you travel to these capitals, you drive over unexcavated mounds that were once people’s houses — people we know little or nothing about.”

Society & Culture

Think bats are scary? Life without them would be scarier, UF researcher says

October 30, 2015
Alisson Clark
bats, IFAS, Halloween

If you think you’d prefer a world without bats, here are five reasons to reconsider. University of Florida researcher Holly Ober studies the Florida bonneted bat, one of the world’s rarest species and the largest bat east of the Mississippi River. She explains why having plenty of bats around should make us grateful, not fearful.

1) Without bats, bugs would bug you more 

As the primary predators of nighttime insects, bats cut down on the bugs that bite us after dark. Their contribution to cutting down on pests also benefits agriculture: One study placed their value to North American farms around $23 billion a year. “The world would be a very different place without bats controlling the insect population,” Ober says.

2) Raise a glass – or a guava – to bats

If you like tequila — or mangoes, or bananas — thank a bat for providing it: These and more than 300 other plants depend on bats for pollination. 

3) Bats can help solve medical mysteries

One of the reasons it’s so important to preserve species like the Florida bonneted bat is the clues that bats might hold to solving human problems. “Bats have made real contributions to the medical community, from their system for seeing in the dark to the enzymes in their saliva, which helped us understand how to prevent blood clotting during heart surgery. If we lose a species without learning about it, we lose out on biomedical research that could benefit us.”

4) They’re not going to suck your blood  

Just three of the world’s 1,200 bat species feed on blood, and none of those species is found in the United States, “so you don't have to worry about a bat coming to bite your neck while you’re sleeping.” In fact, one in every four mammals is a bat, so you’re probably around them more than you think. “I think people should feel really happy to have them nearby,” says Ober.

florida bonneted bat in glove

5) They’re kind of cute

When she’s working in the field in South Florida, Ober gets up close and personal with Florida bonneted bats, listening to their calls and tagging them with microchips to monitor their population. Her verdict: “They’re incredibly cute.” But if those giant ears and pointy fangs aren’t your idea of adorable, check out this Australian bat chowing down on a banana. That said, don’t be tempted to touch a bat you find in the wild. (If it’s on the ground, it’s likely sick or injured, so call a local wildlife rescue or animal control agency.) If you’re interested in helping bats in your area, consider building or buying a backyard bat house, Ober says. Bats will have a comfy home, and you’ll have fewer bugs. 

Global Impact

First woman in Gator Marching Band says she’ll keep coming back

November 5, 2015
uf news

Sophy Mae Mitchell was certain of one thing when she landed on the University of Florida campus more than 50 years ago: She just had to march.

She carried the banner for the Gator Marching Band during her freshman year, but then graduated to the bell lyre, an instrument she took up again in 1973 as a member of the first Gator Alumni Band.

This year, she’ll return to Florida Field once again to strut her stuff, this time at the Vanderbilt-Florida Homecoming game on Nov. 7. Mitchell, 83, describes her years with the Gator band as “awfully special.”

“I didn’t know that it would last a lifetime,” she says, “but I did know that it was special.”

Campus Life

Making your skin crawl for science: UF's bug zoo

October 30, 2015
Alisson Clark
bugs, insects, entomology, IFAS

You can tell you're not in a typical office by the maggots hanging from the ceiling. Then your eye travels down to the doll-size bed spattered with bloodstains, and behind it, the tank full of flesh-eating beetles and the skeletal remains of their last meal.

It sounds like a haunted house, but it’s all designed to inspire a love of science: specifically, bugs.

The maggots are giant-size models made of panty hose and rubber bands. The doll bed helps people understand how to find and avoid bed bug infestations. And the corpse-cleaning dermestid beetles? They’re six-legged recruiters for forensic entomology class, where students learn to solve crimes with bugs.

In glass tanks and plastic containers lining the countertops and shelves of the office are the star attractions: the residents of the University of Florida’s arthropod petting zoo. On a given day, their keepers – entomologists Rebecca Baldwin and Erin Powell – might be helping preschoolers pet a scorpion or placing a tarantula on the president’s lapel for a photo op.


They’re happy to share an office with giant cave cockroaches and a 30-gallon bin of squealing Bess beetles – not just because they think bugs are cool, but because they get to share their excitement with people who see bugs as something to squash, not pet.

At fairs and festivals, retirement homes and summer camps, these scientists are spreading the word that arthropods are interesting and useful. They reach about 80,000 people a year: They’ll even be at the Homecoming game, offering Gator fans close encounters with their critters before kickoff.

“The idea of the petting zoo is to spark an interest in science,” Baldwin explains. “When scientists want to know how something in the nervous system works, how insulin is produced or if a nutritional supplement can protect against concussions, they use insects as model organisms. We want people to appreciate how amazing they are.”


Some of the zoo’s residents, like the Chaco golden knee tarantula, were rescued when their owners could no longer keep them as pets. Others are native species, such as the golden silk orb-weaver – known to many Floridians as a banana spider – that Powell lets crawl up and down her arms to demonstrate its harmlessness.

“We socialize them by holding them and touching them until they know we’re not a threat, but this one hasn’t been handled before. They’re just not that scary in the first place,” Powell says.

The bugs in the zoo are not altered to remove their stingers or venom – the scorpions could still sting or pinch, the spiders could still bite. They just don’t. Baldwin does have a scorpion scar – a tiny red dot at the base of one finger – “but it didn’t hurt – and we’ve never had one inject venom. They’ve only given us dry stings.”   

Powell has confidence in the bugs they’ve chosen and her knowledge of their behavior. Take Lola, for example, a five-inch, jet black Asian forest scorpion. She's content to be pet throughout an all-day event without showing any signs of stress.

“I rely on being able to read her. The kids are never in danger.”


Baldwin and Powell also know their secrets. They know that Lola and her kind glow under ultraviolet light. That the Bess beetles work together to raise their young. That the smaller a scorpion’s claws are, the more painful a wallop it can pack with its stinger. They hope that by sharing what they know, they will help people will appreciate bugs more and fear them less. Some of them will even be inspired to try an entomology course. Entomology majors go on to work not just in pest management but in food safety, ecotourism and health professions – quite a lot of them develop their fine-motor skills pinning insects and go on to dental school, Baldwin says.  

She knows that plenty of the people they talk to won’t want to forge a closer relationship with bugs. But at least they’ll be more aware of the world of activity that’s whirring by over their heads, beneath their feet and, quite possibly, in their kitchen cabinets.   


Science & Wellness

UF student wins international peace essay competition

November 5, 2015
Steve Orlando

UF student Narayan Kulkarni, a fourth-year biology/pre-med major, has been named the first-place winner of the Tokyo-based Goi Peace Foundation’s 2015 International Essay Contest for Young People, co-organized by UNESCO. Narayan’s work was selected as the winner from among nearly 13,000 entries representing 148 countries. His essay, “Building Peace Begins from Within,” grew from his experience finding ways to cope with the way some people treated him after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Building Peace Begins from Within”

By: Narayan Kulkarni

On September 11, 2001, two planes hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 individuals and injuring over 6,000 more. That day, also called 9/11, left a stain in the hearts and minds of many Americans. It would impact much of my life, but I would use the opportunity to develop peace from within.

I had recently moved to Florida, transferring to a new elementary school. After 9/11, it was as if I had changed overnight from a new student to a loathed enemy. My peers called me names like “terrorist” and “bin Laden’s son,” excluded me from group games at recess, and avoided me during lunch and breaks. This practice continued years later, making me feel helpless and isolated. These feelings grew stronger as I was the only Indian and Hindu student at my school, with no relatable peers.

Throughout middle and high school, I turned to religion and academics as ways to avoid the unpleasant memories of elementary school. Unexpectedly, through this approach, I uncovered many tools to confront my past. Learning about karma within Hinduism, I gained awareness of life’s interconnectedness by understanding that good or bad actions would positively or negatively affect everyone. Mother Teresa’s work illustrated to me the power of compassion and use of one’s talents to selflessly serve the world. Through reading about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I discovered how his vision for racial equality and nonviolent activism led to legal reform in the U.S. Lastly, by practicing Sun salutations each morning, I realized that awareness of one’s body and breath leads to physical wellness and mental peace.

My college experience contrasted sharply with that of elementary school. I quickly found a community with those of similar backgrounds- not only of peers whose parents immigrated to the U.S., but also those who had similarly been ostracized after 9/11. Talking to these peers, I noticed that, although we had different identities, we shared one common connection: we had no avenue to voice our stories and struggles. Inspired by that insight, I coordinated a community-wide event that empowered my peers to share their stories as panelists, and brought together community leaders to remember the impacts of 9/11 in a candlelight vigil. It was the first time in the city’s history that a student organized a community event about 9/11 which allowed minorities of many different backgrounds to vocalize their seldom heard stories. The experience not only developed peace in my mind and heart, but allowed me to understand how it was built from within. 

Actively listening to my peers’ stories, I became mindful, as in my yoga practice, of their words and thoughts. Relating them to my own experience, I recognized our intertwined destinies, as I did when learning about karma. I imagined, as Dr. King did, a better world, and, like Mother Teresa, I took the initiative to make a change. But ultimately, it started with becoming mindful and using my knowledge to benefit others.

This has significant implications for our world. I believe that many world issues originate from an individuals’ lack of mental and emotional peace. So, the individual, irrespective of background, must uncover the solution. By using tools such as inquiry and meditation, an individual will develop mindfulness. Being mindful, if individuals are exposed with experiences with those of different backgrounds, they recognize shared struggles, develop empathy, respect their differences, and realize the interconnectedness in the world. Feeling their common humanity, these individuals will reflect on their experiences, define their unique story, and responsibly use their knowledge with others for a good purpose. Everyone in this world has experienced a unique internal struggle, but the earlier that one discovers and utilizes the tools to overcome it, the easier it will be to create a peaceful world.

Having overcome my own struggle, I am now the president of one of my university’s largest student organizations. My story motivates me to help others develop internal peace through cultivating mindfulness, interconnection, compassion, and reflection. I have learned that building peace is a process which begins from within, and that it is our responsibility to develop it first in ourselves and then in others.

Global Impact

Dad and daughter share a Gator Growl tradition

October 30, 2015
Steve Orlando

For 36 years, Karl Kaufman has voiced UF mascot Albert during Gator Growl.
This year, his daughter Kelli joins the tradition as Gator Growl’s Director of Show.


Campus Life

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