World’s oldest chameleon found in amber fossil

March 4, 2016
Stephenie Livingston
Florida Museum of Natural History

About 100 million years ago an infant lizard’s life was cut short when it crawled into a sticky situation.

The early chameleon was creeping through the ancient tropics of present-day Myanmar when it succumbed to the resin of a coniferous tree. Over time, the resin fossilized into amber, leaving the lizard remarkably preserved. Seventy-eight million years older than the previous oldest specimen on record, the dime-size chameleon along with 11 more ancient fossil lizards were pulled, encased in amber, from a mine decades ago, but it wasn’t until recently that scientists had the opportunity to analyze them.

In “Jurassic Park,” fictional scientists cloned dinosaurs with blood extracted from amber, but these real-life fossils hold snapshots of “missing links” in the evolutionary history of lizards that will allow scientists to gain a better understanding of where they fit on the tree of life, said Edward Stanley, a University of Florida postdoctoral student in herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Of the 12 lizard specimens, three—a gecko, an archaic lizard and the chameleon—were particularly well-preserved. The new species will be named and described in a future study.

Ed Stanley at his computer with images of the lizards in amber.

"These fossils tell us a lot about the extraordinary, but previously unknown diversity of lizards in ancient tropical forests,” said Stanley, co-author of a new study appearing online today in the journal Science Advances. “The fossil record is sparse because the delicate skin and fragile bones of small lizards do not usually preserve, especially in the tropics, which makes the new amber fossils an incredibly rare and unique window into a critical period of diversification.”

Stanley first encountered the amber fossils at the American Museum of Natural History after a private collector donated them. He knew the fossils were ancient, but it was a combination of luck and micro-CT technology that allowed him to identify the oldest chameleon.

“It was mind-blowing,” he said, to see the fossils for the first time. “Usually we have a foot or other small part preserved in amber, but these are whole specimens—claws, toepads, teeth, even perfectly intact colored scales. I was familiar with CT technology, so I realized this was an opportunity to look more closely and put the lizards into evolutionary perspective.”

A micro-CT scan of a lizard in amber.

A micro-CT scanner looked inside the amber without damaging the fossils, allowing study researchers to digitally piece together tiny bones and examine soft tissue. Scanned images of the detailed preservation provided insight into the anatomy and ecology of ancient lizards, Stanley said.

The amber gecko, for example, confirms the group already had highly advanced adhesive toe pads used for climbing, suggesting this adaptation originated earlier. As for the Southeast Asian chameleon, the find significantly pushes back the origins of the group and challenges long-held views that chameleons got their start in Africa. Stanley said it also reveals the evolutionary order of chameleons’ strange and highly derived features. The amber-trapped lizard has the iconic projectile tongue of modern chameleons, but had not yet developed the unique body shape and fused toes specially adapted for gripping that we see today.

A 3-D print of one of the fossilized lizards.Stanley said the fact that these incredibly ancient lizards have modern counterparts living today in the Old World tropics speaks to the stability of tropical forests.

“These exquisitely preserved examples of past diversity show us why we should be protecting these areas where their modern relatives live today,” Stanley said. “The tropics often act as a stable refuge where biodiversity tends to accumulate, while other places are more variable in terms of climate and species. However, the tropics are not impervious to human efforts to destroy them.”

Global Impact

Birds and gators help each other in Florida’s wetlands

March 1, 2016
Beverly James

Birds and alligators may not seem to be the likeliest of friends, but their interactions help both species to survive in Florida wetlands, according to research by scientists with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

"We have known for some time that ibises, storks, spoonbills and herons seem to always have alligators underneath their nests. Alligators are serving as nest protectors – keeping raccoons out of the colony, which are otherwise devastating nest predators,” said Peter Frederick, a professor in the department of wildlife ecology and conservation.

In the most recent research, graduate student Lucas Nell tells the story from the alligator’s perspective. Birds typically hatch one to two more chicks than they can actually provide food for, and this means that one or two usually die at some point, he explained.  “Many of the dead chicks end up in the water, and their potential contribution as alligator food is substantial. In fact, we estimate that in years with especially high bird nesting, most of the breeding female alligators in the Everglades could be supported during the four–month dry season by dropped chicks alone,” Nell said.

Research shows that alligators residing in bird-breeding colonies are much healthier than those not in colonies, Nell said.  This is especially important because the alligator breeding season comes only weeks after the bird breeding season – and female alligators in better body condition are likely to lay more eggs, Nell said. 

“So, associating with birds may help the gator population to persist in this otherwise harsh habitat,” he said.

There are benefits to alligators and the local ecosystem in which they reside, Frederick said. First, the interaction between birds and alligators is an ecological facilitation—a relationship that benefits at least one of the participants and causes harm to neither.

“Ecological facilitation is an important force in shaping both community composition and distribution of species,” Frederick said. “The birds are protected from raccoons and other predators, and the alligators get food. Both partners appear to derive significant benefits from the relationship, which might enable them to exist in places they otherwise might not.”

Also, the relationship between birds and alligators may affect where they can dwell.

“Colonial birds and alligators occur together throughout the subtropical and tropical biomes of the world, and it seems likely that this relationship is important worldwide,” Frederick said. “For this reason, we believe that the relationship itself should be a focus of international conservation efforts.”

Frederick’s research was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Science & Wellness

UF Academy of Golden Gators honors philanthropists, volunteer leaders

March 5, 2016
UF Office of Development and Alumni Affairs

An entrepreneur whose vision and generosity are helping engineers reimagine research and learning and a student group that has raised more than $10 million to help sick children are among the philanthropists and leaders honored during the annual University of Florida Academy of Golden Gators celebration on Friday, March 4.

Miami couple Herbert and Nicole Wertheim and the student group Dance Marathon were honored along with Mary Ann and David Cofrin and the Cofrin family, Jim and Alexis Pugh, and Ken and Linda McGurn during the university’s third annual Academy of Golden Gators, which recognizes philanthropists and volunteers for investing through the university to improve lives through world-class research, teaching and service.

“All of us — not just the University of Florida but, more importantly, the people who UF serves — are better off today because of the kindness and care of these amazing Gators,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “Their volunteering and investments through UF enrich lives and are helping us solve humankind’s greatest problems.”

Transformational Leadership Award

Dr. Herbert Wertheim and his wife, Nicole’s, $50 million gift this past fall is the second-largest ever to the university, and launched a $300 million initiative to expand and reimagine engineering education and discovery in the 21st century. Founder and CEO of Brain Power Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of ophthalmic instruments and chemicals, Dr. Wertheim attended UF in the early 1960s before becoming a scientist, clinician, entrepreneur, philanthropist and community leader whose discoveries and contributions in eye care and other scientific fields have touched millions. In all, the Wertheims have contributed more than $100 million to Florida public higher education. Their investment in UF puts the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering on the forefront of engineering education, research and technology development.

Lifetime Philanthropy Award

Mary Ann Cofrin and her family have contributed more than $63 million to their hometown university, most notably for UF’s Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, which is named in her father’s memory. She and her late husband, Dr. David Cofrin, have a long history of supporting the arts, education, nature preservation, health care and community development. The Mary Ann Cofrin Pavilion in the Harn Museum is named in her honor, and their gifts include the Cofrin Curator of Asian Art, Mary Ann Harn Cofrin Chair in Urological Bioengineering, David A. Cofrin Chair in Urological Oncology and Samuel P. Harn Eminent Scholar Chair.

Annual Volunteers Award

Jim and Alexis Pugh, an Orlando couple well known for their civic leadership, donated $6 million in 2005 to construct Pugh Hall on UF’s campus. Their UF philanthropic interests also include the Bob Graham Center Fund for Excellence, Jim Pugh Golf Endowment and other campus programs. Jim Pugh is considered one of the nation’s “giants” among home builders, and his Epoch Properties is annually ranked within the Top 50 multi-family builders in the U.S. Alexis has more than 40 years’ experience in advertising and public affairs. Jim earned a UF building construction degree in 1963. Jim and Alexis, who received her journalism degree at West Virginia University, serve on the UF Foundation Board.

Lifetime Volunteer Award

Ken and Linda McGurn are active on UF volunteer leadership boards and numerous Gainesville community organizations. They have invested more than $2.9 million in UF, mostly in the Warrington College of Business and Florida Museum of Natural History. Through the McGurn Management Company, they have helped revitalize downtown Gainesville, and have received more than 50 local, state, regional and national awards, including The Gainesville Sun’s “50 People Who Made a Difference in North Central Florida Over the Last Century.” Ken earned three UF business degrees — a bachelor’s in 1972, master’s in 1973 and doctorate in 1981; Linda earned a bachelor’s in business in 1973 and law degree in 1978.

Young Philanthropist Award

Since 1995, UF students have been standing For The Kids. For more than two decades, the student-run philanthropy, Dance Marathon at UF, has raised more than $10 million to support Children’s Miracle Network at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. The yearlong fundraising efforts culminate each spring with students standing on their feet for 26.2 hours to symbolize the obstacles pediatric patients and their families often face while in the hospital. Dance Marathon at UF began in 1995 as one of the five founding Dance Marathon programs in the nation. Last year, more than 8,000 students were involved in the planning and fundraising that propelled Dance Marathon at UF into the second largest fundraising program in the country, with a record $2 million raised. The monies raised support Children’s Miracle Network at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital through the UF College of Medicine and the Department of Pediatrics and help fund medical research, equipment, and programs and support for the more than 100,000 patients served annually.

The Academy of Golden Gators reflects UF’s aspiration to be one of the most influential and impactful universities by recognizing philanthropists whose courage to care enables UF to touch lives throughout the world. The academy honors the generosity and vision of donors and volunteers who embody the spirit of the University of Florida family.

The University of Florida is one of the nation’s most comprehensive universities. It has a long history of established programs in international education, research and service, and is one of only 17 public, land-grant universities that belong to the prestigious Association of American Universities.

Campus Life

Laser treatment may boost effectiveness of brain tumor drugs

March 4, 2016
Doug Bennett

The human brain has a remarkable defense system that filters bacteria and chemicals. For brain tumor patients, the barrier works almost too well by blocking most chemotherapy drugs.

Now, a team led by a University of Florida Health researcher has found that a laser system already used to kill brain tumors has another benefit: It opens a temporary “window” in the blood-brain barrier that enables crucial chemotherapy drugs to pass into the brain for up to six weeks. The findings were published recently in the journal PLOS One.

The discovery raises the possibility that a host of chemotherapy drugs once rendered ineffective by the blood-brain barrier could now be used against glioblastoma, said David D. Tran, M.D., Ph.D., chief of neuro-oncology in the UF College of Medicine’s department of neurosurgery and co-lead author of the study.

Glioblastoma is the most common and deadliest malignant brain tumor in adults. There is no effective long-term treatment and patients usually live for 12 to15 months after diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“The hope is that we can help patients live longer. We know that there are several drugs out there that should work on brain tumors,” Tran said.

The research was carried out at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where Tran collaborated with a group that included neurological surgery professor Eric C. Leuthardt, M.D., and Joshua S. Shimony, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of radiology.

The findings show for the first time that the blood-brain barrier can be temporarily disrupted at tumor sites, Tran said. That provides a precise location and a longer “window of opportunity” for chemotherapy drugs to enter the tumor and take effect, he said.

Researchers discovered that the blood-brain barrier opens soon after a procedure known as MRI-guided laser ablation. Using a probe no larger than a pencil, physicians use the laser to heat and kill tumors. Tran’s group found there was a beneficial side effect: The laser beam creates the perfect temperature around the tumor — just warm enough to disrupt the blood-brain barrier but not so hot that neurons die.

In a pilot trial, 14 brain tumor patients underwent laser ablation and were treated with doxorubicin, a chemotherapy drug that is normally blocked by the blood-brain barrier. Preliminary data suggest there could be a survival benefit to giving chemotherapy during the four- to six-week opening in the blood-brain barrier, Tran said.

While it was a small number of study subjects, Tran said the results are sufficient to show that laser ablation creates the crucial opening in the blood-brain barrier. The initial findings are part of a larger, ongoing clinical trial involving 40 patients.

Opening the blood-brain barrier also raises the possibility that immunological techniques can be used more effectively against brain tumors. A leaky barrier allows the tumor to be recognized more readily by the immune system and provides immune cells better access to the tumor. Early results suggest laser ablation could enable the body’s immune system to attack the tumor. However, cancer cells sometimes find ways to dodge the body’s immune system. Combining laser ablation technology with a drug known as a PD-1 inhibitor that prevents tumor cells from evading the immune system could greatly enhance immunotherapy, Tran said.

Researchers at UF and Washington University expect final results from the clinical trial involving doxorubicin within a year. Another clinical trial that combines the ablation technology with a PD-1 inhibitor should be completed in two years. Other clinical trials are being developed to improve brain delivery of newer generations of chemotherapy drugs that have more precise targets, fewer side effects, and that do not cross the blood-brain barrier. The idea for the laser ablation study was devised by Tran and Leuthardt. Shimony’s work included using an advanced imaging method to analyze the leakiness of the blood-brain barrier surrounding a tumor after laser ablation.

Tran said he is particularly encouraged by the promise of future treatment options after finding a way to open the blood-brain barrier temporarily.

“This gives us a very significant window of time to give chemotherapy,” Tran said. “We will be able to test a lot of drugs for effectiveness.”

Funding for the research was provided by the National Institutes of Health, the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation and the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis.

Science & Wellness

Building a better tomato: the quest to perfect the 'scandalous fruit'

March 4, 2016
Jeff Klinkenberg

Harry Klee, PhD, works in a one-story building on a rural part of the University of Florida campus. If this were science fiction, he’d wear a white coat and have an assistant named Ygor.

But Mary Shelley probably would find his calm, patient personality somewhat disappointing. The only monster that interests him is a better tomato.

Born in 1952, he is old enough to remember when tomatoes tasted like they were supposed to. “I sometimes wonder if there’s a whole generation of people who have never eaten a decent commercial tomato,” he says.

Sometimes, on an airplane, he’ll strike up a conversation with a gray-haired stranger about his favorite topic. If he explains he’s a molecular biologist he might receive a grunt in reply. If he talks about creating a tastier tomato his seatmate might start drooling. Those of us of a certain age, serious about our tomatoes, understand completely.

Klee grew up near Boston and enjoyed growing things, but at the University of Massachusetts he studied psychology. Interning at a psychiatric hospital, he wondered if mental illness had as much to do with chemistry as emotional trauma. So he changed focus. In graduate school, he got his doctorate in biochemistry, did postdoctoral work at the University of Washington, toiled in horticulture for Monsanto, and moved to Gainesville in 1995.

He served a stint as the director of the university’s plant molecular and cellular biology program, but he’ll answer to “Tomato Guy” or “Harry.” He’s considered a world expert on tomato chemistry.

For the record, he holds the Dickman Chair for Tomato Improvement. The late Paul Dickman founded Ruskin, Florida’s first tomato packing house in 1950; his son Glenn, a Realtor, still grows tomatoes at his “U-Pick” farm. Dickman told me recently he cares passionately about taste, which is why he helps fund Klee’s $2 million program. “The industry can do better,” he said.

So how did tomatoes, especially mass-market tomatoes, lose their mojo? Once upon a time—let’s say before 1960—tomatoes were a local seasonal crop wherever they were grown. In Harry Klee’s boyhood Massachusetts tomatoes were a summer treat, ripened the old-fashioned way, on the vine. Floridians ate them in late fall or early spring. After tomato season we ate watermelon or strawberries.

Tomatoes were temperamental fellows, prone to splitting and bruising, susceptible to cold and drought, heat and humidity, easy pickings for insects. But if eaten straight off the vine they tended to be out-of-this-world delicious.

Companies that supplied national markets, though, wanted what Klee calls an “industrial tomato,” one hardy enough to survive shipping, viruses, and insects. An industrial tomato would grow uniformly large and round. It would ripen, not a little at a time, but relatively quickly and evenly. An industrial tomato plant would produce big, profitable boxfuls of indestructible reddish cannonballs.

Scientists, cross-breeding different varieties, developed a kind of Frankenmato. The new boy was big, hard, and round. Picked green, it could be reddened by exposure to ethylene gas and not rot for weeks.

A Frankenmato could survive rough handling and bumpy shipping on roads and rails from Atlantic to Pacific. Thanks to the Frankenmato, Florida even became the winter tomato capital of North America.

Taste? Who cared about taste?

To read more of the story, go to http://www.upf.com/book.asp?id=KLINK004, where you can download the complete text, available from University Press, for $5.95.

The stories chronicled in GATORBYTES span all colleges and units across the UF campus. They detail the far-reaching impact of UF’s research, technologies, and innovations—and the UF faculty members dedicated to them. Gatorbytes describe how UF is continuing to build on its strengths and extend the reach of its efforts so that it can help even more people in even more places.

Gatorbytes are available from University Press of Florida [URL: www.upf.com] and can be found wherever books and ebooks are sold.

Science & Wellness

Texas A&M official named next UF vice president for student affairs

March 8, 2016
University of Florida News

David W. Parrott, executive associate vice president and chief of staff in the division of student affairs at Texas A&M University, has been named vice president for student affairs at the University of Florida.

His appointment will begin May 16, and Parrott will begin his duties as vice president June 1. 

Parrott has held his position as executive associate vice president since 2008.  Prior to that, he held several positions in the Texas A&M Division of Student Affairs, including interim vice president, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of student life, and dean of student life.

Before joining Texas A&M in 2001, he held positions in student affairs at Western Michigan University and Western Kentucky University.

Parrott has been a member of the graduate faculty at Texas A&M since 2006. He holds a doctor of education degree from the University of Louisville, and master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Western Kentucky University.  He will have an academic appointment at UF as a clinical associate professor in the College of Education. 

Parrott is married to Dr. Kelli Peck Parrott and has two sons, Jackson, 11, and Jason, 9. He will succeed Dave Kratzer, who is retiring.

Campus Life

‘The Math Myth’ vs. the beauty of algebra

March 8, 2016
Kevin Knudson

I discovered recently that my calculus students do not know the meaning of the word “quorum.” Since a course in American government is a high school graduation requirement in most states (including here in Florida), I was taken aback.

How should I react? Should I take to the editorial pages of The New York Times, bemoaning the state of civics education? Should I call out political scientists and high school history teachers for their failures?

Surely you’d admonish me to calm down a bit and perhaps not venture into disciplines where I’m not an expert.

Yet Andrew Hacker, professor emeritus of political science at the City University of New York, recently took this exact approach to attack the teaching of algebra in American schools. He also wrote a book. And he’s done it before.

Nor is he alone. Novelist Nicholson Baker wrote a piece for Harper’s in 2013 that got the math community talking. The real target of Baker’s piece was the accountability movement and the associated standardized testing, but he chose mathematics as his straw man because it (a) is easy, and (b) will sell magazines. He manages to boil the modern course in Algebra II down to this:

It’s a highly efficient engine for the creation of math rage: a dead scrap heap of repellent terminology, a collection of spiky, decontextualized, multistep mathematical black-box techniques that you must practice over and over and get by heart in order to be ready to do something interesting later on, when the time comes.

At least Baker is an entertaining writer.

Hacker makes many of the same points in his Times articles, decrying algebra as a high school graduation requirement that holds back far too many students from having a productive life. He argues instead for “numeracy” and suggests what such a course should contain. It’s mostly statistics and financial mathematics, and lessons in visualizing and analyzing data.

To fight off the counterassertion that it’s possible to learn this material in a high school advanced placement statistics course, Hacker comes up with lists of obscure terminology: “The A.P. [Statistics] syllabus is practically a research seminar for dissertation candidates. Some typical assignments: binomial random variables, least-square regression lines, pooled sample standard errors.”

It’s not just happening in math

Every subject in school has been broken down into a string of often unrelated facts or tasks, not just mathematics.

I recall an episode from my own son’s experience in ninth grade while taking “Honors Pre-AP English I” (yes, that’s the real name of the course, not some Orwellian nightmare). His teacher led the class through the “CD/CM method” of essay writing, which goes like this. Fill out a worksheet with the “funnel” (4-7 sentence introduction), the thesis statement, and then for each of three paragraphs create 11 (!) sentences – the topic sentence (fine) and then CD#1, CM#1, CD#2,CM#2,…,CD#5,CM#5. What is a CD, you ask? Concrete Detail. A CM? Comment, of course.

Now, this is really just a superextended outline for an essay, but my son was extremely frustrated by this, eventually exclaiming, “I just want to write the damn paper!”

Is this example from the humanities really any different from what Hacker and Baker complain about?

Hacker is not completely wrong, however. School mathematics has largely been drained of context and beauty. University mathematicians complain about this, too.

For example, my son has also brought home worksheets full of dozens of polynomials with the simple instruction: Factor. But why?

Light rays striking a parabolic mirror reflect to a common point called the focus (point F above). created in Geogebra by the author

There is no context given for why we care about polynomial equations, no discussion of why parabolas (graphs of quadratic equations) are useful things. Maybe we should explain that without parabolas, we wouldn’t have good headlights on our cars or all those pretty pictures of deep space from the Hubble telescope. But just as mathematicians would not argue for the elimination of English or civics from the high school curriculum, Hacker shouldn’t be arguing for the elimination of algebra.

Let’s be honest. Mostly because of the accountability movement and high-stakes testing, K-12 education suffers from these types of problems in every subject. Picking on math alone because it’s particularly vexing for some people is unsporting.

Credibility gap

Of course, Hacker and Baker have proposals for how to fix this mess. The problem is that the major prerequisite for much of what Hacker proposes is, ironically, algebra. Not so much the grinding, symbol-driven form of algebra taught in school today, but algebra nonetheless. Reading bar graphs in the newspaper is a skill that we should expect high school graduates to be able to do, but nontrivial calculations with data require at least some facility with algebra. Hacker surely knows this, but it would undermine his argument to admit it.

He’s certainly not wrong that some students fall by the wayside, and the way we teach algebra and geometry in the middle grades is largely to blame. Stanford mathematician Keith Devlin wrote a wonderful response to Hacker’s recent piece, pointing out how his ideas may actually be correct but misguided:

Not only did that suggestion [the elimination of algebra from the high school curriculum] alienate accomplished scientists and engineers and a great many teachers – groups you’d want on your side if your goal is to change math education – it distracted attention from what was a very powerful argument for introducing the teaching of algebra into our schools, something I and many other mathematicians would enthusiastically support.

Unfortunately, Hacker undermines his credibility by stating falsehoods. For example, he claims “Coding is not based on mathematics … Most people who do coding, programming, software design, don’t do any mathematics at all.” It may be true that these individuals are not crunching numbers all day (that’s what software is for, of course), but the algorithmic processes underlying coding are the very essence of mathematics. To say otherwise is just delusional.

Hacker also asks, “Would you go to a mathematician to tell us what to do in Syria? It just defies comprehension.” Actually, it shouldn’t. The Central Intelligence Agency and other national security groups employ thousands of mathematicians to analyze data associated with foreign affairs, looking for patterns amid the chaos. So, Hacker is just plain wrong about some things, even if his overall idea has merit.

We’re all on the same team

You see, college math professors know there is a problem with K-12 mathematics. We see the results in our classrooms on campus. As much as Hacker would like to believe his ad hominem assertions about math faculties at high schools and colleges, we really just want our students well-prepared for the beautiful, fascinating and, yes, useful material we have to offer.

Algebra is a beautiful baby; it would be a shame to throw it out with some dirty bathwater.

This article originally was published in The Conversation on March 4, 2016.

Society & Culture

Fighting cavities could one day be as easy as taking a pill, research shows

March 10, 2016
Morgan Sherburne

University of Florida Health researchers have identified a new strain of bacteria in the mouth that may keep bad bacteria in check -- and could lead to a way to prevent cavities using probiotics.

The researchers say the findings could lead to the development of a supplement that patients could take orally to prevent cavities.

While developing an effective oral probiotic will require more research, a possible candidate organism has been identified: a previously unidentified strain of Streptococcus, currently called A12. Robert Burne, Ph.D., associate dean for research and chair of the UF College of Dentistry’s department of oral biology, and Marcelle Nascimento, D.D.S., Ph.D., an associate professor in the UF College of Dentistry’s department of restorative dental sciences, published the findings in late January in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

To maintain a healthy mouth, the oral environment must have a relatively neutral chemical makeup, or a neutral pH. When the environment in the mouth becomes more acidic, dental cavities or other disorders can develop, according to Burne.

“At that point, bacteria on the teeth make acid and acid dissolves the teeth. It’s straightforward chemistry,” Burne said. “We got interested in what activities keep the pH elevated.”

Previous research by Burne, Nascimento and others found two main compounds that are broken down into ammonia, which helps neutralize acid in the mouth. These compounds are urea, which everyone secretes in the mouth, and arginine, an amino acid. Burne and Nascimento had also previously found that both adults and children with few or no cavities were better at breaking down arginine than people with cavities. Researchers knew bacteria were responsible for breaking down these compounds but needed to investigate which bacteria do this best, and how this inhibits cavities. Part of the answer is A12.

“Like a probiotic approach to the gut to promote health, what if a probiotic formulation could be developed from natural beneficial bacteria from humans who had a very high capacity to break down arginine?” said Burne. “You would implant this probiotic in a healthy child or adult who might be at risk for developing cavities. However many times you have to do that -- once in a lifetime or once a week, the idea is that you could prevent a decline in oral health by populating the patient with natural beneficial organisms.”

A12 has a potent ability to battle a particularly harmful kind of streptococcal bacteria called Streptococcus mutans, which metabolizes sugar into lactic acid, contributing to acidic conditions in the mouth that form cavities. The UF researchers found that A12 not only helps neutralize acid by metabolizing arginine in the mouth, it also often kills Streptococcus mutans. 

“Also, if A12 doesn’t kill Streptococcus mutans, A12 interferes with Streptococcus mutans’ ability to carry out its normal processes that it needs to cause disease,” Burne said. “If you grow them together, Streptococcus mutans does not grow very well or make biofilms, also known as dental plaque, properly.”

Nascimento, a clinician, collected plaque samples for the study. Dental plaque is a mass of bacteria that grows on the surface of teeth and can contribute to the formation of cavities. She isolated more than 2,000 bacteria that the researchers then screened to find bacteria that fit the bill. 

“We then characterized 54 bacteria that metabolized arginine,” Nascimento said. “Out of these, A12 stood out for having all of the properties we were looking for in a bacteria strain that could prevent cavities in a probiotic application.”

The researchers sequenced the entire genome of A12 and plan to turn this discovery into a tool to screen for people who are at a higher risk for developing cavities, in combination with other factors such as a patient’s diet and their oral hygiene habits.

“We may be able to use this as a risk assessment tool,” Nascimento said. “If we get to the point where we can confirm that people who have more of this healthy type of bacteria in the mouth are at lower risk of cavities, compared to those who don’t carry the beneficial bacteria and may be at high risk, this could be one of the factors that you measure for cavities risk.”

Next, the researchers hope to find more instances of A12 in a larger sample of people and to test how prevalent bacteria with similar properties are in the human mouth. Burne and his research team of Nascimento, David Culp, Ph.D., in UF’s department of oral biology, and Vincent Richards, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Clemson University, received a five-year, $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. The grant, under award R01DE025832, will allow researchers to study the genomics and ecology of A12 and related bacteria in the oral cavity and examine the mechanisms used by beneficial bacteria to promote oral health.

Science & Wellness

Where the jobs are

March 14, 2016
Steve Orlando
Career Resource Center

Consistently ranked as one of the best in the country, UF’s Career Resource Center is helping more and more students find jobs, Meanwhile, employers say UF students are among the most desirable hires around.


Campus Life

Is Alaska’s first new butterfly species in decades an ancient hybrid?

March 16, 2016
Stephenie Livingston
Florida Museum of Natural History, butterfly, new species

Some might say it takes a rare breed to survive the Alaska wilderness. The discovery of a possible new species of hybrid butterfly from the state’s interior is proving that theory correct.

Belonging to a group known as the Arctics, the Tanana Arctic, Oeneis tanana, is the first new butterfly species described from the Last Frontier in 28 years and may be its only endemic butterfly.

University of Florida lepidopterist Andrew Warren suggests the butterfly could be the result of a rare and unlikely hybridization between two related species, both specially adapted for the harsh arctic climate, perhaps before the last ice age. Details of the finding are available online today in the Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera.

Digging deeper into the Tanana Arctic’s origins may reveal secrets about the geological history of arctic North America and the evolution of hybrid species, said Warren, who led the new study.

lepidopterist Andrew Warren in Alaska

‌“Hybrid species demonstrate that animals evolved in a way that people haven’t really thought about much before, although the phenomenon is fairly well studied in plants,” said Warren, senior collections manager at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “Scientists who study plants and fish have suggested that unglaciated parts of ancient Alaska known as Beringia, including the strip of land that once connected Asia and what's now Alaska, served as a refuge where plants and animals waited out the last ice age and then moved eastward or southward from there. This is potentially a supporting piece of evidence for that.”

The new butterfly lives in the spruce and aspen forests of the Tanana-Yukon River Basin, most or all of which was never glaciated during the last ice age, about 28,000 to 14,000 years ago. Study researchers suggest that sometime in the past, two related species, the Chryxus Arctic, O. chryxus, and the White-veined Arctic, O. bore, may have mated and their hybrid offspring subsequently evolved into the Tanana Arctic. Then, during the coldest part of the last ice age, the Tanana Arctic and White-veined Arctic apparently remained in Beringia while the Chryxus Arctic was pushed south into the Rocky Mountains. This would mean all three species were once present in Beringia before the last ice age, Warren said.

The top side of the Alaskan butterflyFor more than 60 years the Tanana Arctic hid beneath scientists’ noses incognito as its very similar relative the Chryxus Arctic, until Warren noticed its distinct characteristics while curating collections at the McGuire Center.

In addition to expanded white specks on the underside of its penny-colored wings giving it a ‘frosted’ appearance, the Tanana Arctic is larger and darker than the Chryxus Arctic. It also has a unique DNA sequence, which is nearly identical to those found in nearby populations of White-veined Arctics, further supporting the hypothesis the new species may be a hybrid, Warren said.

“Once we sequence the genome, we’ll be able to say whether any special traits helped the butterfly survive in harsh environments,” he said. “This study is just the first of what will undoubtedly be many on this cool butterfly.”

Warren said more field research is needed to investigate whether the Tanana Arctic also exists further east into the Yukon. Other species of Arctics are found in places like Russia and Siberia. The group is known for living in environments too cold and extreme for most other butterflies, and they survive in part thanks to a natural antifreeze their bodies produce.

Because butterflies react extremely quickly to climate change, the new butterfly could serve as an early warning indicator of environmental changes in the relatively untouched areas of Alaska where the Tanana Arctic flutters.

“This butterfly has apparently lived in the Tanana River valley for so long that if it ever moves out, we’ll be able to say ‘Wow, there are some changes happening,’” Warren said. “This is a region where the permafrost is already melting and the climate is changing.”

Warren plans to go back to the Yukon-Tanana basins next year in search of the Tanana Arctic. He hopes fieldwork in this rugged environment will result in fresh specimens to fully sequence the species’ genome, which will reveal the butterfly’s genetic history, including if it is truly a hybrid.

“New butterflies are not discovered very often in the U.S. because our fauna is relatively well-known,” Warren said. “There are around 825 species recorded from the U.S. and Canada. But with the complex geography in the western U.S., there are still going to be some surprises.” 

Science & Wellness

UF microbiology professor inducted into Florida Inventors Hall of Fame

March 15, 2016
Joe Kays

University of Florida microbiology Professor Nicholas Muzyczka, whose groundbreaking work on adeno-associated viruses has driven numerous breakthroughs in gene therapy, is one of seven inventors being inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame in 2016.

AAV, a human virus that causes no perceptible illness, has emerged over the last decade as one of the leading vehicles for delivering copies of good genes to patients suffering from hereditary diseases such as cystic fibrosis.

“In the simplest cases, the patient is missing a normal gene,” Muzyczka said. “What [AAV] delivers would correct the disease; AAV itself just disappears … after it delivers the payload.”

Muzyczka, the Edward R. Koger Eminent Scholar for Cancer, holds 15 U.S. patents and his research has led to potential therapies for neurodegenerative, pulmonary, cardiovascular and eye diseases. In 1994, he became founding director of the Powell Gene Therapy Center, making UF one of the leading institutions in AAV gene therapy. In 2001, Muzyczka founded Applied Genetic Technologies Corp, a Florida-based company that commercializes gene therapy applications.

Joining Muzyczka as 2016 inductees are Nobel Laureate Andrew Schally of the University of Miami; Jacqueline Quinn, environmental engineer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center; William Dalton of M2Gen, a subsidiary of Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute for his revolutionizing developments in cancer treatment; Yogi Goswami of the University of South Florida, for his pioneering contributions and technology development related to solar energy and indoor air quality; Alan Marshall of Florida State University, inventor of Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance mass spectrometry; and MJ Soileau of the University of Central Florida, for his innovative research in the advancement of high energy laser optics used by the U.S. Department of Defense.

All will be inducted at the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame Third Annual Induction Ceremony & Gala on Sept. 16 in Tampa.

Campus Life

Moving inventions beyond the lab

March 17, 2016
Alisson Clark
tech transfer, innovation, startups

Shirley Pincus woke up in her hospital bed and waited for the pain.

Years of failed surgeries had eroded her optimism. The pain always came back.

A nerve block hadn’t helped. Amputating the tips of two toes didn’t, either. A nerve-repair technology invented by University of Florida scientists had given her a glimmer of hope, but after more than seven hours of surgery at a Chicago hospital, Pincus steeled herself for the possibility of another disappointment. 

The human-resource manager’s left foot started aching in 2008. Within months, the pain became debilitating. She and her husband used to hike and walk on the beach, but now she could barely make it through the workday.

“Every day around 2 p.m., I braced myself for the white-hot, stabbing, throbbing, jolting pain that would come,” she said.

Years went by. Treatment after treatment yielded no improvement. Then one night in 2013, she came home from work and got into bed, the pain too overwhelming for anything else. She took out her iPad and started searching for anything that might help. That was when she found two doctors who offered the UF-developed nerve graft, which is made from cadaver tissue.

Nerve transplants from a patient’s own body have a major drawback: The area where the donor nerve is taken loses feeling. Cadaver nerves eliminate the need for a donor site, but faced some obstacles of their own. A thousand miles apart, two scientists were tackling those hurdles from two different angles. UF biomedical engineer Christine Schmidt – then with the University of Texas at Austin – had discovered how to strip away the parts of the donor nerve that spurred an immune response without destroying the nerve’s microarchitecture. In Gainesville, UF pediatrician and neuroscientist David Muir had figured out how to remove the components that inhibited the nerve’s regeneration. Together, the two breakthroughs made it possible to transplant cadaver nerves. There was just one problem.

“It was too applied,” Schmidt explained. “It wasn’t exciting to the scientific community.”

Schmidt feared the discovery had hit a dead end. There wouldn’t be any big grants to take the finding from the lab to the operating room, where millions of patients like Pincus needed it.

“If inventions don’t get into a clinic or the commercial sector, in a sense, what’s the point?” Schmidt said.

The story might have ended there if it weren’t for UF’s Office of Technology Licensing, which connects investors and entrepreneurs with UF inventions, launching more than 175 biomedical and technology startups since 2001. One of those companies was AxoGen, which licensed the nerve-regeneration technology and brought it to market. Setting up in UF’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator jump-started their progress, said AxoGen CEO Karen Zaderej. Instead of spending six months finding an office and equipment, their scientists were in labs within a month. 

AxoGen CEO Karen Zaderej, nerve graft recipient Shirley Pincus and UF's Christine Schmidt, whose research made the graft possible. Zaderej was speaking at UF’s Celebration of Innovation, where startups based on UF technologies courted potential investors. She shared the stage with some of the people who helped bring the nerve graft to market, including Christine Schmidt and an investor whose company had funded AxoGen. At the other end of stage sat Shirley Pincus, who recounted the day two years ago that she woke up after receiving three of AxoGen’s grafts and waited for the pain to return.

It never did.

“The pain that had plagued me for five or six years was gone in a day,” she said. “Thank you so much.”

‌‌Discover more startups based on UF inventions – and technologies available to license – at research.ufl.edu/otl.

Global Impact

Turning mortal enemies into allies? Ants can.

March 17, 2016
Aileen Mack

On an African plateau surrounded by flat-topped trees as far as the eye could see, wind whistled through the acacia thorns like someone blowing across a bottle. Kathleen Rudolph was more concerned with the ants raining down on her from the trees. The hat, long sleeves and garden gloves the University of Florida researcher wore for protection didn’t help.

The acacia ants she studies, Crematogaster mimosae, use their fearsome bite to defend their host trees against large animals such as elephants and giraffes that eat the trees’ leaves. Even elephants’ thick skin can’t protect them from the ants, which bite them inside their trunks.

“They really seem to have a knack for finding your soft tissue,” Rudolph said. “It’s a nasty business.”

Ants are also aggressive toward each other, fighting to the death over their tree territories. While the consequences for losing colonies are stark — loss of territory or colony death — Rudolph and UF postdoctoral research associate Jay McEntee wanted to understand the costs to the winners.

After a fight, victorious colonies have to defend their newly gained territory with a workforce heavily depleted by fighting. In a new study funded in part by a National Geographic Society/Waitt Fund Grant and published in Behavioral Ecology, Rudolph and McEntee found that victorious colonies might offset this challenge by recruiting members of the losing colonies to help.

In experiments based at Mpala Research Centre in Kenya, researchers instigated ant wars by tying unrelated colonies’ trees together, counting casualties in tarps placed below. By simulating the browsing of a large mammal, they discovered that victorious colonies are less able to defend their host trees after fights. After analyzing the DNA of nearly 800 ants, they discovered that fighting changes the genetic make-up of victorious colonies.

Long viewed as fortresses of cooperating sisters, where relatives of the queen work for her benefit, Rudolph’s work demonstrates that non-relatives can become part of the colony — and potentially defend its residents and territory.

Researchers were further surprised to find that, in some cases, fatal fights with thousands of casualties do not produce a distinct winner. Instead, colonies cease fighting and fuse together, with the queen of each colony still alive.

“Colonies are battling so aggressively that many individuals die, but then they are able to just stop fighting and form a lasting truce,” Rudolph said. “It’s pretty remarkable.”

How they know to stop fighting remains is a mystery, showing the need for research on recognition systems. One possibility, Rudolph says, is that fighting changes the odors ants use to distinguish nestmates from potential invaders.

“If so, the updated or blended cues shared by prior foes may help end aggressive responses,” Rudolph said.

Sorting out these processes could contribute to our understanding of an intriguing aspect of physical conflict – that animal combatants become more similar biologically through combat. That can be true for humans, too: A 2013 study showed that the skin bacteria communities of competing roller derby teams converge during bouts, not unlike Rudolph's findings in ants.

"Physical combat not only yields biological winners and losers," Rudolph said. "It can alter the identity of its combatants."

Science & Wellness

UF closes in on No. 1 in Fulbright ranking

March 22, 2016
Alisson Clark
Fulbright Awards

When nursing professor Karen Reed encourages colleagues and students to apply for Fulbright awards, she also issues a warning: “Be prepared for Fulbright to change your life.”

Fulbright Scholars, the federal government’s teaching and research exchange program for faculty, sends professors from U.S. universities to live and work in another country for up to a year. More than 200 University of Florida professors have been selected for the program since 1955.

The eight UF scholars named this year elevated UF’s annual ranking from third to second in the nation, and now a cross-campus partnership has its sights set even higher.

“With the gifted faculty we have, we truly have the opportunity to be No. 1 in the nation,” Reed said.

Leonardo Villalón – the dean of UF’s International Center and a former Fulbright Scholar himself – is leading the effort to encourage and support faculty and student Fulbright applications through workshops, speeches, information sessions, mentoring and other outreach. He agrees that No. 1 is within UF’s reach, but says the real goal is increasing Fulbright participation regardless of the ranking.

“Long-term collaboration creates opportunity for lasting impact,” he said. Whether it’s an international research project, a new study-abroad program or a wider worldview in the classroom, the benefits radiate throughout campus, Villalón says. 

“It makes UF a more attractive place to be as a student or a faculty member.”

Campus Life

Net neutrality may be at risk when companies like Netflix subsidize your data

March 18, 2016
Liangfei Qui, Soohyun Cho, Subhajyoti Bandyopadhyay

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made net neutrality the law of the land and pledged to enforce it when it issued its “open Internet order” 13 months ago. That ruling barred Internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating against certain types of traffic or creating pay-to-play fast lanes.

But a recent trend in the industry in which ISPs such as AT&T or Comcast allow consumers to stream certain content for free (without counting against their data quota) threatens to undermine net neutrality. Such practices, in which content companies typically subsidize or sponsor the bandwidth cost of their data, are known as “zero rating” plans.

So who wins and loses from this arrangement? Does it benefit consumers? And does it violate the FCC’s net neutrality rules, something the commission is currently investigating?

Using game theory, we created a framework in which to analyze the impact of these new zero rating plans, as well as the social welfare and policy implications – something particularly important as Congress and the courts continue to evaluate the FCC’s net neutrality rules.

Origins of zero rating

AT&T was the first to create a sponsored data plan in January 2014. Under the plan, the company decided to let data subsidized by app makers or other content providers pass through its network for free – that is, without consumers being charged against their monthly quotas.

It didn’t take long for its competitors to imitate the idea.

Verizon announced a similar “FreeBee Data 360” in January. The company said it was starting trials with AOL, Hearst Magazines and Lantern Software’s GameDay with full commercial availability later this year.

Comcast, meanwhile, allows subscribers to watch videos for free through its own StreamTV service. Streamers of Netflix and other providers must still use up their data.

T-Mobile’s Binge On program allows subscribers to stream video from Netflix, Amazon and about 40 other sites on their phones without worrying about using up their data. In contrast to its rivals, the carrier so far hasn’t charged for the privilege but seems to favor the bigger providers.

The zero rating model got Facebook into trouble recently. Its Free Basics platform provides free Internet to a limited number of websites in countries like India, Kenya and Colombia through local ISPs. India’s telecom regulator banned Free Basics because it said it violates the principles of net neutrality. The biggest objection is that it offers only a few content providers that are chosen and controlled by Facebook.

Even Netflix, one of the biggest proponents of net neutrality, came under criticism. Its arrangement with Australian ISP iiNet allows consumers to stream Netflix content without worrying about running against their data cap. Netflix conceded that their arrangement could distort consumer choice, but at the same time it said that it “won’t put our service or our members at a disadvantage.”

Provider’s dilemma

In our research on the topic, we developed a game theory model to analyze the impact and incentives of this type of data sponsorship given three players: a monopolist ISP and two content providers who want to maximize their customer reach.

Is there a risk that this type of plan would force the content providers – whether they are behemoths like Netflix or promising upstarts like Fandor – into a bidding war? And, as a result, produce a monopolistic digital content landscape that limits the amount of content available to consumers and tests the bounds of current net neutrality laws?

In our model, we found that under certain market conditions both content providers would pay to subsidize data going through the ISP, when in reality neither of them would prefer to do so. In effect, the content providers are in a classic “prisoner’s dilemma”: both would prefer not to pay – even if they have the wherewithal to do so – but both know that if they don’t pay, the other one will, and drive their rival out of the market.

Our research’s overarching finding is that the ISP always stands to gain when the content providers are subsidizing data usage fees – that is, it will always make more money as a result. The ISP, which knows the game’s results before it even starts, can therefore decide on a pricing strategy that forces both of them to pay.

Consumers and smaller content providers, on the other hand, both stand to lose. Since smaller companies are less able to afford the fees, they risk losing customers to the subsidized websites and apps. A content provider with an established revenue model can drive the others out of the market.

At first glance, zero rating plans would seem to be good for consumers because they allow users to consume traffic for free. But our research suggests the variety of content may be reduced, which in the long run harms consumers.

Once a plan with subsidized content is added, our research shows that many consumers might find that switching to that service – even if it’s deemed to be of lower quality – makes sense given the tradeoff: less favored content but lower connectivity costs. Thus, even a provider with higher-quality content could be completely driven out of the market if it is not in a position to pay to subsidize its data.

Does it violate net neutrality?

Supporters of net neutrality have argued that such arrangements contradict the spirit of net neutrality laws, which hold that all content that is transmitted over the Internet should be treated equally – every single data packet, regardless of its origin, destination or content.

They contend that zero rating plans treat the subsidized packets preferentially, since consumers have more incentive to consume “free” packets over unsubsidized ones. The telecom companies, however, claim that these plans do not violate net neutrality because the sponsored data are delivered at the same speed and performance as the nonsponsored data.

Our study shows, however, that with a zero rating plan in place with one dominant content provider controlling the market, it would make it virtually impossible for new entrants to gain a foothold.

Essentially, zero rating plans undermine the core vision of net neutrality: ISPs should not act as gatekeepers that pick winners and losers online by favoring some content providers over others.

Subsidizing consumers in these zero rating plans will quickly become a way for certain content providers to get a leg up on competition. In digital content markets, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle: the stronger content provider can keep getting stronger.

For startups and entrepreneurs hoping to have their content spread naturally or virally – one of the ways the Internet has leveled the playing field – they are suddenly at a disadvantage after the introduction of data sponsorship. The ultimate result could be a digital marketplace with fewer options for consumers.

Keeping an eye on zero rating plans

The FCC is closely monitoring the practices of zero rating plans to see if they violate net neutrality laws.

In letters to AT&T and T-Mobile, the FCC wrote:

We want to ensure that we have all the facts to understand how these services (data subsidization) relate to the commission’s goal of maintaining a free and open internet while incentivizing innovation and investment from all sources.

But Chairman Tom Wheeler has sent mixed messages. While he has said the commission would be “keeping an eye on” the data subsidization programs, he has also praised them as “highly innovative and highly competitive.”

Our research should help policymakers within the FCC and elsewhere better understand the impact of these zero rating plans and how they can result in less choice for consumers in the long run.

This article originally was published in The Conversation on March 17, 2016.

Society & Culture

University of Florida to launch its first Innovation Station in Sarasota County

March 18, 2016
UF News

With a bold vision for accelerating growth in this region's innovation economy, the University of Florida Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering will open the first UF Innovation Station in Sarasota County. It will be the first physical extension of UF's Florida Engineering Experiment Station (FLEXStation), affording businesses and entrepreneurs unprecedented access to tech workforce talent, applied research, faculty and intellectual property.

“The University of Florida is grateful for the opportunity to share its resources and talents,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “Economic and workforce development are among our highest priorities, and we are pleased to be a partner in building an even brighter future for the residents, business owners and entrepreneurs of Sarasota County.”

In recognition of the potential economic development impact of this opportunity, the Sarasota County Commission unanimously approved today an activity-performance-based grant agreement to help launch the Innovation Station.  

"This is a major investment in our economic future as a region," said Sarasota County Commission Chairman Alan Maio. "Having the UF Innovation Station here in our backyard will be a game-changer for Sarasota County, one that will accelerate our economic diversification by strengthening our ability to compete for and grow innovation economy businesses."

Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation is the lead philanthropic partner and awarded a five-year, $980,000 grant. Gulf Coast Community Foundation made a one-year grant of $63,000, and an additional $1 million will be provided by the University of Florida.

“The Barancik Foundation is pleased to be the lead philanthropic supporter of the UF Innovation Station in Sarasota County,” said Teri A Hansen, president and CEO of the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation. “We have a strong tradition of funding science and math education in Sarasota County, and partnering with the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering allows us to make an even greater economic impact in the region.”

Mark Pritchett, president and CEO of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, added, "We are excited to bring this exceptional engineering talent from the University of Florida to our region so we can continue to support entrepreneurs, businesses and students who are creating a new innovation economy for our future. The engineering partnership fills in a missing piece to complement our STEMsmart initiative in the schools and our BIG initiative, which is building an entrepreneurial support system in our region.”

The Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County led our community’s efforts to bringing business, education, public and philanthropic leaders together to win this opportunity.

The UF Innovation Station is expected to open within six months in 1,000 to 1,500 square feet of leased office space in Sarasota County. However, UF representatives will be in Sarasota County in the meantime working to strengthen existing industry connections and foster new ones.

The UF Innovation Station will be staffed by three to four people from UF: a director and program coordinators focused on industry, workforce development and educational collaboration programs.

UF officials said the Innovation Station will provide the region with unprecedented access to the most important ingredients for building a 21st century economy: tech talent and tech ideas. A variety of local workforce development initiatives are also envisioned, as well as concierge introduction to UF intellectual property. The Innovation Station partners' ultimate goal is to position the region as a global leader in delivering technology.

The UF Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering has more than 9,300 students and $72 million in annual research awards in virtually every discipline. As one of the largest colleges of engineering in the nation, it is uniquely able to serve the pipeline of talent that current and future local companies need, school officials and local business leaders said.

"Our efforts to diversify the economy with tech innovation just received a major boost with this announcement," said EDC President Mark Huey. "The UF Innovation Station will fuel the sparks of tech business innovation already rippling through our local economy."

UF officials said they chose Sarasota County because they believe the university can help accelerate growth in its emerging innovation economy. They envision a wide range of initiatives that will impact startup, high-growth and established innovation companies, as well as assist in attracting innovation economy companies to Sarasota County. Critical to accomplishing this impact are strategic education partnerships with a range of local institutions and the potential for public, private and philanthropic collaborations.

In addition to working directly with local businesses, this groundbreaking project involves a collaborative effort with existing local academic institutions and the Sarasota County School District, which will be able to use UF's presence to craft programs fitting the needs of students desiring to go into engineering.


Sarasota County, located on the Gulf coast of Florida, is a premiere community that features arts, culture, manufacturing, professional sports, eco-tourism and the best beaches in the United States. Approximately 396,000 residents live within the county's unincorporated area and four municipalities, the cities of Sarasota, North Port and Venice, and the town of Longboat Key. Sarasota County Government works closely with these municipalities as well as nonprofit organizations, volunteers and others to provide a superior level of service to its residents, businesses and visitors. For more information, visit www.scgov.net or call the Sarasota County Contact Center at 941-861-5000.


The University of Florida is one of the nation’s largest public universities. A member of the Association of American Universities, UF posted research expenditures totaling $707 million in fiscal year 2015. Through its research and other activities, UF contributes more than $8.76 billion a year to Florida’s economy and has a total employment impact of more than 100,000 jobs statewide. Find us at www.ufl.edu, on YouTube at www.youtube.com/UniversityofFlorida, and learn about UF’s plan to become one of the nation’s top public research universities at ufpreeminence.org.


The EDC of Sarasota County is the private, not-for-profit corporation leading the community’s economic development strategy to add high-wage jobs and diversify the local economy. The EDC provides business assistance to companies in Sarasota County and helps forge solutions to community challenges that affect our capacity to build a diversified economy. The EDC works in partnership with chambers of commerce, local governments and other organizations throughout the county and the region. For more information, visit www.edcsarasotacounty.com.

Campus Life

Does the First Amendment protect people who film the police?

March 22, 2016
Clay Calvert

This October, former police officer Michael Slager will stand trial for murder in the shooting death of Walter Scott following a daytime traffic stop last year in North Charleston, South Carolina. The critical evidence in the case is a smartphone video captured by a then 23-year-old barber named Feidin Santana as he was walking to work. The video shows Slager shooting the unarmed Scott several times in the back. Santana took the video despite another officer telling him to stop.

Santana's video is just one example of a citizen using a smartphone to capture alleged police misconduct. Ramsey Orta took the infamous “I can’t breathe” video of Eric Garner being placed in a chokehold by a New York City police officer shortly before Garner’s death. The twin incidents conjure up memories of the 1991 video captured by George Holliday of Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King.

And in a different but dangerous twist, an April 2015 citizen video shows a burly U.S. marshal in South Gate, California violently smash to the ground the smartphone of another citizen who was simply recording the marshals while standing on a public sidewalk.

The power of smartphones to expose abuses of power by law enforcement officials raises an important question that, as a free speech scholar and director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, I’ve studied: do citizens have a First Amendment right to record police doing their jobs in public places, such as streets, sidewalks and parks?

The U.S. Supreme Court has never answered this question. It has been left to lower courts nationwide to sort out for themselves if such a right to film police exists.

Rejection in Pennsylvania

Last month, a federal court in Philadelphia took up the question. District Judge Mark Kearney determined the answer is no – there is no right to film cops, “absent any criticism or challenge to police conduct.” Writing the opinion in Fields v. City of Philadelphia, Kearney reasoned that Pennsylvania “does not recognize a First Amendment right to observe and record without some form of expressive conduct” and that “photographing police is not, as a matter of law, expressive activity.”

In other words, Kearney is arguing that the act of pushing a record button and then holding a phone up are merely conduct, not speech. This renders the First Amendment irrelevant.

To constitute speech, according to Kearney, the person recording must do so with the specific intent of criticizing or challenging the police conduct being recorded. That was not the case in Fields.

Kearney determined that one of the citizens involved only “wanted to observe” a public protest against hydraulic fracturing, not to criticize or challenge to the police monitoring it. The judge also found that the other citizen, a Temple University student who took a picture of about 20 police officers standing outside a home hosting a party, did so simply because it was “an ‘interesting’ and ‘cool’ scene.”

In other words, why someone records cops is critical, in Kearney’s view, in determining if the First Amendment is involved.

Other courts see it differently

The decision in Fields, however, is somewhat of an outlier.
A 2015 nationwide study indicates that more courts – but certainly not all, as Fields indicates – are recognizing a limited First Amendment right to record police doing their jobs in public venues, regardless of the intent of the person recording.

For example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which includes the states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, concluded in 2014 in Gericke v. Begin that people have a First Amendment right to record officers conducting traffic stops, subject to “reasonable restrictions.”

The problem, of course, is determining what constitutes a reasonable restriction. Reasonableness is a slippery concept. The First Circuit suggested that safety concerns might justify restricting the right to record. The court also was clear that a right to record is not a right to interfere.

In a key passage, it explained:

The circumstances of some traffic stops, particularly when the detained individual is armed, might justify a safety measure – for example, a command that bystanders disperse – that would incidentally impact an individual’s exercise of the First Amendment right to film… . However, a police order that is specifically directed at the First Amendment right to film police performing their duties in public may be constitutionally imposed only if the officer can reasonably conclude that the filming itself is interfering, or is about to interfere, with his duties.

The First Circuit is not alone in recognizing such a qualified or limited First Amendment right to record images of police in public. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which sweeps up Florida, Georgia and Alabama, also found that:

the First Amendment protects the right to gather information about what public officials do on public property, and specifically, a right to record matters of public interest.

Like the First Circuit, the Eleventh Circuit also considers this right to be “subject to reasonable time, manner and place restrictions.”

Additionally, the Ninth Circuit – the nation’s largest, encompassing nine western states – recognized in Fordyce v. City of Seattle a “First Amendment right to film matters of public interest,” including police. A federal district court in New York City in 2015 acknowledged a right to film police subject to reasonable restrictions, yet the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes New York, Connecticut and Vermont, has not endorsed this right.

Viewed collectively, this growing spate of authority confirms that Judge Kearney’s decision in Fields v. City of Philadelphia is an outlier and, in my view, incorrect. Police officers are government officials and public employees. They work for the very people who want to record their actions. And when citizens record police in public places – locations where cops have no reasonable expectation of privacy, like streets and parks – those citizens are acting as watchdogs on possible government abuses of power.

Feidin Santana's video of officer Slager shooting Walter Scott in the back is all the proof needed of the importance of the watchdog role. A simple intent to monitor and observe, not to challenge or criticize, is all that should matter in determining if First Amendment rights are at stake.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court must hear a right-to-record case to make it clear that in every jurisdiction there is a First Amendment right to film police performing duties in public. In doing so, it also should articulate the precise factors that make a restriction on this right reasonable.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania has vowed to appeal Fields before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The case thus has a long way to go before it might ever reach the nation’s high court, which hears only about 70 cases a year, but it could well provide an ideal scenario to resolve the issue.

This article originally was published in The Conversation on March 18, 2016.

Society & Culture

As Obama makes historic visit, is Cuba ready for change?

March 22, 2016
William A. Messina and Brian Gendreau

President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years as he set off on a three-day trip to the island nation on Sunday, the latest step in a thaw in relations that began in December 2014.

Ahead of the trip, the administration issued its fifth set of measures relaxing regulations that restrict U.S. banking, financial, travel, business and economic dealings with Cuba.

Despite the significant attention surrounding Obama’s decision to pursue warmer relations, the United States in fact already does a considerable amount of business with Cuba – far more than most Americans likely realize. For example, the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, passed in 2000, allows U.S. firms to sell food and medicine to Cuba. From 2000 to 2015, the United States exported US$5.3 billion worth to Cuba, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

The latest measures are quickly building on that foundation, particularly in terms of travel. Last year the number of Americans who visited Cuba on “people-to-people” trips – required to be more educational than typical tourism – almost doubled from the year earlier and continues to grow rapidly as airlines prepare to begin scheduled flights for the first time in more than half a century.

So in light of the president’s visit, it is natural to ask what the future might bring for the country – besides a flood of U.S. visitors. Is Cuba ready for this influx? As U.S. regulations change to allow foreign investment, how eager will American businesses be to invest in an economy in desperate need of stimulus?

And is there a chance the candidate who will replace President Obama will want to deviate from his path?

As analysts of Latin-American business, finance and Cuban agriculture, we’re following these fast-evolving issues closely. Here’s our read of the situation thus far.

Ongoing reforms

Relaxation of some of the U.S. restrictions on travel and doing business in Cuba comes at a time when the Cuban government is implementing a series of reforms intended to allow market forces to play a larger role in the Cuban economy.

The reforms, which began in 2008, include allowing individuals and cooperatives to cultivate unutilized plots of land, permitting self-employment in a wider range of activities, relaxing restrictions on operating private restaurants and room rentals, more autonomy for state enterprises and allowing Cuban citizens to buy and sell homes.

Further progress in implementing market-oriented reforms is likely to be uneven, however, and in recent months the Cuban government has, once again, taken an expanded role in the distribution of food.

The Cuban government has been careful to emphasize that changes in policy by the United States will not alter Cuba’s revolutionary philosophy. And despite the resumption of diplomatic relations and other overtures from the U.S. over the past 15 months, Cuba’s food and agricultural purchases from U.S. businesses are plummeting – down 22 percent since 2008 – a victim of the U.S. requirement that purchases be made in cash. Other countries, meanwhile, are offering expanded lines of credit and extended terms for trade.

The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control is required by statute to maintain the requirement that agricultural commodities and items be paid for with cash in advance or by third-country financing.

Americans flock to Cuba

Meanwhile, Cuba’s tourism infrastructure is being pushed to, and perhaps beyond, its limits as foreign tourists and Americans flock to Cuba.

And that’s just the beginning. At least eight U.S. airlines have applied for approval to offer commercial (rather than charter) flights to Cuba, opening the door for possibly more than 100 flights per day between the United States and Cuba later this year.

The explosion in tourist traffic to Cuba has placed increased pressure on the country’s already strained food system. The increased demand for food at tourist hotels and in Cuba’s rapidly expanding network of private restaurants is driving up domestic prices, making it increasingly difficult for Cubans to find affordable food to feed their families.

Cuba’s heavy reliance on food imports makes this a potentially expensive problem for the government. The agricultural sector is in desperate need of capital to expand output, but domestic sources of capital are extremely limited, highlighting the critical need for foreign investment.

Foreign dollars needed

In fact, all sectors of Cuba’s economy deeply need foreign investment.

At Cuba’s International Trade Fair last fall, Cuba’s minister of foreign trade, Rodrigo Malmierca, announced the country’s new list of potential business opportunities for foreign investors – 326 projects that require a combined $8.2 billion in investment. This is above and beyond the 40 projects that had been on the list issued the previous year – all of which have been removed because they were reportedly in the advanced stages of negotiation with potential foreign investor partners.

Indeed, Malmierca has acknowledged that Cuba needs to bring in $2 billion in foreign investment per year to reach its goal of 5 percent annual GDP growth (up from 2.7 percent in 2013). While Cuba’s foreign investment regulations are gradually evolving, they have not yet reached what most would consider to be international standards.

Attorney Jim Whisenand, who has been involved in legal issues with respect to Cuba since the 1990s, has described Cuba as a “frontier market":

and by definition, you’re on the frontier … If you want the same safeguards and regulations of investing in New York or Miami, then you should be investing in New York or Miami.

On the other hand, Cuban-American attorney Pedro Freyre, a partner at the Akerman law firm and chairman of their international practice group, sees that changing:

Clients now have a change in perspective on Cuba. Before they worried about doing something that was not allowed. Now they are worried about being left behind.

Claims and counterclaims

Talk of attorneys raises another consideration: the issue of claims for expropriated properties.

Space here will not allow for a careful discussion of this thorny issue. It’s important to note, however, that the U.S. Justice Department has certified more than 5,900 claims for expropriated properties worth more than $1.9 billion (1960s dollars). Provisions in the 1996 Helms-Burton Act allow Cubans who lost property to expropriation and who have since become U.S. citizens to sue in American courts for their properties (though its legality is contested).

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that some attorneys refer to the Helms-Burton Act as the “full employment for lawyers act.”

Conversely, Cuba has indicated that the United States owes it over $1 trillion from damages caused by the embargo.

Suffice it to say that there would appear to be a long and messy legal road ahead even if the U.S. embargo were to be lifted – a development that would require approval of the Congress and the president, since the Helms-Burton legislation codified the embargo into law.

Where the candidates stand

Relations with Cuba have not, so far, been a big issue in the U.S. presidential race.

Now that Marco Rubio has dropped out of the race, fellow Cuban-American Ted Cruz, citing human rights concerns, is the candidate most opposed to any relaxation of sanctions. He has described the normalization of diplomatic relations with as a “tragic mistake.”

John Kasich has not articulated a position on Cuba, but voted against measures that would have eased restrictions when he was a member of Congress.

Parting with the other Republican candidates, Donald Trump supports diplomacy with Cuba. In September, he said “the concept of opening with Cuba is fine, but we should have had a better deal.”

Bernie Sanders supports normalization of relations with Cuba, as does Hillary Clinton, who has called for lifting the embargo. She has said that if elected president, she would use executive authority to further relax trade and travel restrictions if Congress does not lift the embargo.

Laying the groundwork for growth

As a result of its market-oriented reforms, the relaxation of U.S. restrictions and trade with other countries, Cuba today is well positioned for a strong economic expansion.

The question is whether the government of Cuba, with its concerns about maintaining political control, will restrict or support the policies needed to capitalize on this opportunity.

Indications are that the Cuban government remains strongly committed to move slowly in how its economy and its relations with the United States evolve.

The deciding factor in how change evolves in Cuba will be driven as much by the pace at which the Cuban government decides to move as the rate at which U.S. policies adjust.

This article originally was published in The Conversation on March 21, 2016.

Global Impact

Could free streaming ultimately cost consumers?

March 24, 2016
Milenko Martinovich

That “all you can stream” offer from your Internet service provider sounds like a bargain, but it could have a hidden cost.

Providers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Comcast are allowing consumers to stream movies, television shows and other digital content for free through special promotions. But is this “generosity” setting the stage for a battle among content providers like Amazon, Hulu and Netflix? The ultimate result could be a digital marketplace with fewer options for consumers, according to new research from University of Florida professors.

Liangfei Qiu and Shubho Bandyopadhyay, professors in the Warrington College of Business’s Department of Information Systems and Operations Management, along with UF doctoral student Soohyun Cho, have developed a game theory model where major content providers may be forced into a bidding war -- which could lead to a monopolistic digital content landscape and test the limits of net neutrality laws.

Recently, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon implemented “zero rating” data subsidization plans, where consumers can stream digital content from selected content providers for free. The content providers pay the consumers’ data usage fees in hopes of attracting new customers.

The Federal Communications Commission is closely monitoring these practices to see if they violate net neutrality laws, which mandate that every packet of information that traverses the Internet be treated equally. 

“Here, they are technically being treated equally -- no packet is prioritized over any other,” Bandyopadhyay said. “But what you’re doing is saying, ‘Consumers, this would be free and that won’t be.’ That, many argue, violates the spirit of the laws.”

The research’s overarching finding is that the Internet service provider’s profit is always maximized when the content providers are subsidizing data usage fees. Under certain market conditions, they find that both content providers would be engaged in data subsidization, when in reality neither of them would prefer to do so.

“In effect, the content providers are in a classic ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma,’” Bandyopadhyay said. “Both can afford to pay -- they would prefer not to pay -- but both know that if they don’t pay, the other one will and drive them out of the market. So the ISP, which knows all this before the game starts, decides on a pricing strategy that forces both of them to pay.”

Bandyopadhyay said a major factor in these hypothetical cases is switching costs -- the cost incurred by consumers to switch content providers. If the switching costs are low, the ISP will allow content providers to engage in data subsidization. If the switching costs are high, making it difficult for consumers to switch content providers, data subsidization would not lead to significantly higher revenues for the ISPs. 

One important result, the researchers say, is that under certain market conditions, the more powerful content provider will drive the other out of the market, and leave fewer options for consumers in the long run. With one dominant content provider controlling the market, it would make it virtually impossible for new entrants to gain a foothold, Bandyopadhyay said.

“On first glance, it would be good for consumers because you can consume traffic for free,” Qiu said. “But the variety of traffic may reduce.”

“With digital content, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle, where the stronger content provider becomes even stronger over time,” Bandyopadhyay said. “So, in the long term, from a content diversity point of view, such arrangements make less sense. You want a company like Netflix to succeed because they did something very innovative, but you don’t want them to use their market power to preclude future competition.”

Bandyopadhyay’s previous research has played a key role in the net neutrality debate. His 2012 work, “The Debate on Net Neutrality -- A Policy Perspective,” co-authored with Warrington professor Kenny Cheng and former doctoral student Hong Guo, was cited in Google’s presentation to the FCC advocating for net neutrality. Bandyopadhyay hopes the FCC will consider this research before making any policy decisions.

“The difficulty in such situations is who knows what may happen in the future,” Bandyopadhyay said. “Content might be disseminated in a very different way, and there might be different kinds of ISP competition in the future. So you cannot regulate future innovation based on what exists currently.

“But, in a market environment where one content provider becomes overwhelmingly large, it becomes very difficult for somebody else to come in, and that provider becomes a virtual monopoly.”

Society & Culture

UF, UF Health see significant jumps on Forbes America’s Best Employers list

March 24, 2016
Steve Orlando

For the second year in a row, the University of Florida and UF Health are on Forbes' list of America's Best Employers, with UF Health rising nine spots from last year to No. 16 among all health-care providers and UF ranking 13th among public universities in the survey of workers nationwide.

Overall, both saw marked improvements from 2015. UF Health came in at No. 89 on the list of the top 500 companies, up significantly from 154th last year, while UF also saw a notable rise from 121st last year to 90th this year. In the education category, which includes K-12 school systems and colleges and universities, UF ranked 24th.

“Our employees make it possible for us to focus on high-quality patient care, so we are extremely pleased that our nurses, doctors, faculty and staff would recognize us in this fashion,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “This recognition reflects the UF Health culture of engagement and collaboration among faculty and staff across the academic health center.”

Paula Fussell, UF’s vice president for human resource services, said she’s pleased with the latest results.

“UF being on the list again this year is wonderful news; seeing that our ranking improved so much is icing on the cake,” Fussell said. “It reflects the importance we place on our employees and the effort we put into making the University of Florida such a great place to work.”

Working with online statistics provider Statista, Forbes asked more than 30,000 U.S. workers employed by companies with more than 5,000 staff members to determine, on a scale of zero to 10, how likely they were to recommend their employer to someone else. Forbes also asked workers how they feel about the other employers in their industry.

Employees were contacted anonymously online without the involvement of their employer. Respondents included in the sample are representative of the U.S. workforce by gender, age, region, education and ethnicity.

The full Forbes list is available at http://www.forbes.com/best-employers/list/.

Campus Life

Engineering pageant brings out different side of students

March 28, 2016
Aileen Mack
engineering pageant, society of women engineers, UF

Sahar Kausar’s heart raced as she stood on stage at the Squitieri Studio Theater Feb. 19, a black curtain behind her and an audience of more than 50 in front of her. A first-time pageant participant, the 22-year-old gave herself a quick pep talk as she waited for her big moment.

"Don’t be a scared Sahar, be a confident Sahar," she said to herself.

After dealing with chemotherapy and depression in her freshman year, Kausar, a fourth-year digital arts and sciences engineering major, was eager for the chance to exercise her “confident Sahar” persona. And so she entered the sixth annual Engineering Pageant sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers.

It gave her the opportunity to show a side of herself her fellow students haven’t seen, one that would reveal her talent, accomplishments and style.

“I actually was told it’s okay to take some risks and to try something different,” she said. “I was trying to immerse myself in things I haven’t tried before to see if I could reach a point in my life where I haven’t reached before.”

The Engineering Pageant, originally dubbed “Mr. Engineer,” debuted in 2011. Male students played the role typically played by women at a pageant – being judged by their appearance as well as their talent. The pageant was open to both males and females this year, said Society of Women Engineers president Emily Huber.

“We continued on the tradition mostly because it is so much fun to see all these engineering students go out of their comfort zone and learn some of your friends can sing, dance or play instruments,” she said. “It gives you a whole different side to this person.”

The nine contestants wowed the audience with talents ranging from singing to solving a Rubik’s Cube puzzle in about a minute and a half. Two contestants competed in a lip sync battle, showing off their dance moves while performing hit songs.

Kausar (pictured above, center) chose a self-defense demonstration as her talent, in honor of her former martial-arts master who died several years ago. She had let up on her practice after his death, and had stopped participating in martial arts completely while undergoing chemotherapy.

“I was so happy and proud to share that experience in my life,” Kausar said, “because that was the first time I did martial arts again after several years, in front of other people as well, so it was a very liberating experience for me.”

After the formal wear competition, which featured pageant contestants in suits and dresses, the judges chose five finalists. Each was asked two questions: a serious question and one that was just for fun.

For her serious question, Kausar was asked to name the era she would visit if time travel were possible. She answered that she would revisit her own past, to tell herself everything would turn out okay, and that despite her physical illness and the anxiety and depression that followed, she would one day find herself having an amazing experience at an engineering pageant.

After awarding the fan favorites awards, the judges announced the pageant’s grand-prize winner: Sahar Kausar.

“I was so, so happy,” Kausar said, reliving the moment the crown was placed on her head. “I felt like a lot of scars from my past healed.”

Huber, the engineering society president, said it was gratifying to see Kausar win.

“You could tell even afterwards talking to her she was not expecting that,” Huber said. “It was well-deserved.”

The society allowed the winner to select a prize up to $300. Kausar decided on a DSLR camera because she has always wanted one but never had the money.

“Hearing that I won made my experience for college so much better,” Kausar said. “It was one of the best days of my life.”

Campus Life

To save energy, fish use their heads

March 28, 2016
Jessica Long
research, Whitney Lab, 3-D printing

Scientists used to think a fish’s head motions were just a byproduct of swimming.

Using 3-D printed fish, University of Florida scientists Otar Akanyeti, James Liao and collaborators at Harvard showed that head motion can make a fish’s movement and respiration more efficient. The Nature Communications study sheds light on how other undulating animals — as well as machines — might use movement design to save energy. 

a 3D printed fish undulates in a flow tank

Akanyeti, a research scientist in the Liao Lab at UF’s Whitney Laboratory in St. Augustine, used a high-speed camera to observe live rainbow trout and 3-D-printed fish in a flow tank, discovering that head movement was more intentional than previously thought, and that respiration was closely linked to head movement and pressure from the flow of the water around the fish.

"Moving the head in a very specific way allows fishes not only to swim most efficiently, but also to be most sensitive to the flow environment and reduce the cost of respiration,” Liao said.

The research team at Whitney Lab also included technician Ashley Peterson and biology doctoral student Yuzo Yanagitsuru, who previously studied at the lab through its undergraduate research program.  

Science & Wellness

Three new members named to UF Board of Trustees

March 31, 2016
Janine Sikes
UF Board of Trustees

Gov. Rick Scott has appointed former Board of Governors Chairman Morteza “Mori” Hosseini to the University of Florida Board of Trustees. Hosseini is the chairman and chief executive officer of ICI Homes in Daytona Beach.

He joins Marsha Powers, chief executive officer for Tenet Healthcare’s Florida Region, and Leonard Johnson, a UF alumnus and Tampa Bay area attorney, as the newest board members. Powers and Johnson were recently appointed to the UF board by the Florida Board of Governors.

“Skilled practitioners in their fields, these individuals bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to our board,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “All three are dedicated to helping guide the university in its quest to be recognized as one of the very best in the nation. We are pleased to welcome them.”

Hosseini received a bachelor’s degree from the Chelsea College of Aeronautical Engineering and a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Hosseini founded ICI Homes, one of Florida's largest residential homebuilder/developers, in 1980. Consistently ranked by Builder Magazine among the nation's Top 100 homebuilders, ICI Homes has built thousands of homes in most major Florida markets including the counties of Volusia (corporate office headquarters), Flagler, St. Johns, Duval, Nassau, Seminole, Orange, Osceola, and Brevard.

In addition to land development and homebuilding operations, Hosseini is involved in many other enterprises throughout Florida including a lumber company and a title insurance company.

Hosseini also serves on several corporate, civic and public boards and associations.He succeeds Christopher Corr of Jacksonville, who has served since 2012. Corr is senior vice president of real estate for Rayonier, a public company, and president of TerraPointe, its real estate subsidiary.

Powers, a veteran health care executive, has more than three decades of experience, including operational responsibility for large and diverse hospital networks.

At Tenet Healthcare, Powers is responsible for directing the strategy and operations for 10 acute-care hospitals in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Tenet's Florida hospitals have 3,483 beds, almost 10,000 employees, an annual payroll in the state of more than $670 million and revenues exceeding $1 billion.

Prior to joining Tenet, Powers served as a division president of Triad Hospitals and as president of Quorum Health Service's Southeast Region. Powers holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Sweet Briar College in Virginia, and a master's degree in business administration, specializing in health and hospital administration, from the University of Florida.

Powers succeeds Charles Edwards, an attorney from Fort Myers. Edwards has served on the Florida Board of Regents and Board of Governors, as well as serving on the university’s Board of Trustees for the past five years.

Leonard Johnson practices law in the Tampa Bay area with a focus on real estate law, business law, banking law, construction law and land use and development law. He has represented banks and other businesses, as well as individual clients with complex issues related to buying and selling real estate and businesses, finance transactions, construction matters, and land use and development issues.

Johnson is as a member of the Gator Boosters Board of Directors and is its president-elect. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and a law degree from the University of Florida.

Johnson succeeds Susan Cameron, an alumna who is president and chief executive officer of the public company Reynolds American, Inc. Cameron has served as a trustee for the past five years.

The March 31-April 1, 2016 Board meeting is the last for Faculty Senate Chair Paul Davenport, a distinguished professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine with a joint appointment in the College of Medicine, and Student Body President Joselin Padron-Rasines, a senior studying political science and international studies.

Associate Professor of Agricultural Leadership Nicole Stedman will succeed Davenport, and Susan Webster, a fourth-year student studying international studies and Chinese language, will succeed Padron-Rasines.

UF’s 13-member board consists of six members appointed by the governor and five members appointed by the Board of Governors. The chair of the Faculty Senate and the president of the student body also serve as voting members on the board. Board members serve staggered, five-year terms.

Campus Life

UF ranks 2nd on Forbes 2016 list of Best Value Public Schools, 3rd overall

March 31, 2016
Steve Orlando

The University of Florida is ranked No. 2 on Forbes' 2016 list of Best Value Public Colleges and No. 3 on the magazine's overall list of best value schools nationwide.

Only the University of California, Berkeley, ranked higher than UF on the list of public institutions. The University of California, Los Angeles came in at third, the University of California, San Diego ranked fourth and the University of Illinois rounded out the top five.

“It is gratifying to see that UF is ranked so highly among peer institutions that are known for their excellence and providing an outstanding return on investment,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “UF students and alumni also should be pleased to know that their degrees are becoming more valuable all the time.”

Forbes staffer Caroline Howard wrote, “This is our newly reimagined Best Value Colleges ranking, an analysis of the brainiest research universities and leading liberal arts schools, both public and private, that are well worth the investment.

“Not only do these colleges have a good reputation,” she wrote, “they’re also a great deal. You’ll walk away with both a degree and some extra money in your pocket.”

Last year, Forbes ranked UF seventh among public schools and 10th overall; however, the magazine this year uses a different methodology that included what Howard described as “much more rigorous metrics” so the two years cannot be compared.

To create the rankings, Forbes set out to find out what schools are worth the investment.  Forbes partnered with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, which gathered data from a variety of sources. The five general categories and weights are:

Quality (35%): Based on the 2015 FORBES Top Colleges ranking.

Drop-out risk (15%): Based not on retention rates but rather the percentage of students who do not graduate in six years.

Graduation success (15%):  The average expected number of years it takes to graduate — of those who do graduate within six years.

Post-graduate earnings (25%): Forbes uses its own model of mid-career earnings (meaning at least 10 years of working), based both on PayScale and the new U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard.

Value-added (10%): Last year Brookings created a ranking system of its own, “A Value-Added Approach To Assessing Two- And Four-Year Schools.” That list is described as “an attempt to isolate the effect colleges themselves have on those outcomes [like salaries], above and beyond what students’ backgrounds would predict.”

The resulting score is divided by gross tuition and fees.For public schools, Forbes accounts for differences between in- and out-state tuition based on percentage of in- and out-state students.

Campus Life

Why do people risk their lives for the perfect selfie?

March 31, 2016
Michael Weigold

2016 hasn’t been a great year for the selfie.

In February, Argentinian tourists passed around a baby La Plata dolphin in order to take selfies with it. The endangered animal subsequently died from stress and heat exhaustion.

Then, in early March, a swan died after a tourist dragged it from a lake in Macedonia – all for the sake of a selfie.

While both animal deaths elicited widespread anger, humans have been more likely to put their own lives at risk in order to snap the perfect photograph. In 2015, Russian authorities even launched a campaign warning that “A cool selfie could cost you your life.”

The reason? Police estimate nearly 100 Russians have died or suffered injuries from attempting to take “daredevil” selfies, or photos of themselves in dangerous situations. Examples include a woman wounded by a gunshot (she survived), two men blown up holding grenades (they did not), and people taking pics on top of moving trains.

Heights have also resulted in selfie fatalities. A Polish tourist in Seville, Spain fell off a bridge and died attempting to take a selfie. And a Cessna pilot lost control of his plane – killing himself and his passengers – while trying to take a selfie in May of 2014.

Putting oneself in harm’s way is not the only way our selfie obsession has resulted in death. One male teen – who allegedly suffering from body dysmorphic disorder – attempted suicide after spending hundreds of hours trying to take an “ideal” selfie.

People who frequently post selfies are often targets for accusations of narcissism and tastelessness. But with social networking apps like Snapchat becoming more and more popular, selfies are only proliferating.

So what’s going on here? What is it about the self-portrait that’s so resonant as a form of communication? And why, psychologically, might someone feel so compelled to snap the perfect selfie that they’d risk their life, or the lives of others (animals included)?

While there are no definitive answers, as a psychologist I find these questions – and this unique 21st-century phenomomenon – worth exploring further.

A brief history of the selfie

Robert Cornelius, an early American photographer, has been credited with taking the first selfie: in 1839, Cornelius, using one of the earliest cameras, set up his camera and ran into the shot.

The broader availability of point-and-shoot cameras in the 20th century led to more self-portraits, with many using the (still) popular method of snapping a photograph in front of a mirror.

Selfie technology took a giant leap forward with the invention of the camera phone. Then, of course, there was the introduction of the selfie stick. For a brief moment the stick was celebrated: Time named it one of the 25 best inventions of 2014. But critics quickly dubbed it the Naricisstick and the sticks are now banned in many museums and parks, including Walt Disney Resort.

Despite the criticism directed at selfies, their popularity is only growing.

Conclusive numbers seem lacking, with estimates of daily selfie posts ranging from one million to as high as 93 million on Android devices alone.

Whatever the true number, a Pew survey from 2014 suggests the selfie craze skews young. While 55 percent of millennials reported sharing a selfie on a social site, only 33 percent of the silent generation (those born between 1920 and 1945) even knew what a selfie was.

A British report from this year also suggests younger women are more active participants in selfie-taking, spending up to five hours a week on self-portraits. The biggest reason for doing so? Looking good. But other reasons included making others jealous and making cheating partners regret their infidelities.

Confidence booster or instrument of narcissism?

Some do see selfies as a positive development.

Psychology professor Pamela Rutledge believes they celebrate “regular people.” And UCLA psychologist Andrea Letamendi believes that selfies “allow young adults to express their mood states and share important experiences.”

Some have argued that selfies can boost confidence by showing others how “awesome” you are, and can preserve important memories.

Still, there are plenty of negative associations with taking selfies. While selfies are sometimes lauded as a means for empowerment, one European study found that time spent looking at social media selfies is associated with negative body image thoughts among young women.

Apart from injuries, fatalities and tastelessness, one big issue with selfies appears to be their function as either a cause or consequence of narcissism.

Peter Gray, writing for Psychology Today, describes narcissism as “an inflated view of the self, coupled with a relative indifference to others.”

Narcissists tend to overrate their talents and respond with anger to criticism. They are also more likely to bully and less likely to help others. According to Gray, surveys of college students show the trait is far more prevalent today than even as recently as 30 years ago.

Do selfies and narcissism correlate? Psychologist Gwendolyn Seidman suggests that there’s a link. She cites two studies that examined the prevalence of Facebook selfies in a sample of over 1,000 people.

Men in the sample who posted a greater number of selfies were more likely to show evidence of narcissism. Among female respondents, the number of selfie posts was associated only with a subdimension of narcissism called “admiration demand,” defined as “feeling entitled to special status or privileges and feeling superior to others.”

Bottom line: selfies and narcissism appear to be linked.

How we stack up against others

Selfies seem to be this generation’s preferred mode of self-expression.

Psychologists who study the self-concept have suggested that our self-image and how we project it is filtered through two criteria: believability (how credible are the claims I make about myself) and beneficiality (how attractive, talented and desirable are the claims I make about myself).

In this sense, the selfie is the perfect medium: it’s an easy way to offer proof of an exciting life, extraordinary talent and ability, unique experiences, personal beauty and attractiveness.

As a psychologist, I find it important not only to ask why people post selfies, but also to ask why anyone bothers looking at them.

Evidence suggests that people simply like viewing faces. Selfies attract more attention and more comments than any other photos, and our friends and peers reinforce selfie-taking by doling out “likes” and other forms of approval on social media.

One explanation for why people are so drawn to looking at selfies could be a psychological framework called social comparison theory.

The theory’s originator, Leon Festinger, proposed that people have an innate drive to evaluate themselves in comparison with others. This is done to improve how we feel about ourselves (self-enhancement), evaluate ourselves (self-evaluation), prove we really are the way we think we are (self-verification) and become better than we are (self-improvement).

It’s a list that suggests a range of motives that appear quite positive. But reality, unfortunately, is not so upbeat. Those most likely to post selfies appear to have lower self-esteem than those who don’t.

In sum, selfies draw attention, which seems like a good thing. But so do car accidents.
The approval that comes from “likes” and positive comments on social media is rewarding – particularly for the lonely, isolated or insecure.

However, the evidence, on balance (combined with people and animals dying!), suggests there is little to celebrate about the craze.

This article originally was published in The Conversation on March 24, 2016.

Society & Culture

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